Cats drop the ball in loss to Boilermakers (Football)

Tania Ganguli

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Before Saturday’s 34-14 loss to Purdue the Northwestern football team was first in the country in fumbles lost, having coughed up the ball only twice, and theirs was the only backfield in the country without a fumble.

But by end of Saturday’s game, the Wildcats (4-5, 2-3 Big Ten) no longer held either distinction.

NU quarterback Brett Basanez matched the Cats’ fumble total for the year within the first two drives, dropping one on NU’s 39 and other on NU’s 12.

“They were blitzing,” coach Randy Walker said. “Sometimes, especially in the gun, you get your eye on the blitz and you start worrying about the heat more than catching the (snap).”

The Boilermakers took over at the 39 after the first fumble. The drive ended as quarterback Kyle Orton ran into the endzone for his first rushing touchdown of the year.

The second fumble was at the 12 yard line. That one was followed by Purdue wide receiver Ray Williams running 12 yards into the endzone for his first rushing touchdown of the season.

And on the Wildcats’ third drive, running back Jason Wright did something neither he nor any other running back has done all year — he fumbled, ending his streak of 383 carries without a fumble.

“I was fighting for extra yardage and somebody came behind me and raked the ball,” Wright said.

Wright, playing on an injured left ankle, carried the ball just seven times for 33 yards. As late as Thursday, Walker considered keeping Wright out for the game.

“I couldn’t do certain things I wanted to,” Wright said. “But I certainly could have held onto the ball.”

He didn’t make any excuses for the team’s rampant fumbling, but gave credit in a large part to Purdue’s defense saying they had “a fire in them.”

Purdue linebacker Gilbert Gardner, who tied a school record for recovered fumbles in a game with two, said that the real credit belonged to his coaches.

“They preached to us to play an optimistic defense,” Gardner said. “They always remind us to try to get turnovers. Turnovers just don’t happen — you have to create them.”

By the end of the game, the Cats had five fumbles and lost four of them. Basanez dropped three and running backs Wright and sophomore Terrell Jordan dropped two.

Even NU’s first touchdown couldn’t be done without a fumble. At the end of the second half Jordan dropped the ball at Purdue’s two yard line. Noah Herron scooped up the ball and ran it into the endzone.

The Cats had more rushing yards than any of Purdue’s opponents this year and beat the Boilermakers in time of possession, but that wasn’t enough.

“You can’t beat a good team and lose the turnover ratio like that,” NU head coach Randy Walker said. “I bet when (the turnover ratio) is three to nothing, four to nothing the percentage is 99 percent, you lose.

“You could have put the Tampa Bay Bucs out here today and they’d lose.”

Although the stingy defense that shut down Wisconsin a week before was missing in West Lafayette, the Cats held the Boilermakers to 178 rushing yards and 212 passing yards. Cornerback Marvin Ward led the team in tackles with nine, including seven solos.

Safety Dominique Price had a career high of three tackles for loss which totalled 10 yards, but the first word he could think of to describe the Cats’ defensive performance was a deflated “bad.”

“I don’t deny anybody’s passion, we played hard today, ” Price said. “But there were a couple things we weren’t prepared for, and a few things we were prepared for that we should have been able to stop.”

They kept heralded wide receiver John Standeford quiet for most of the game, until he caught a 33 yard pass at the NU 8.

Purdue found success with play action passes that seemed to confuse a battered NU defense.

“We just ran (those plays) a little more today, ” Standeford said. “We thought that would be successful against this team.”

And at the end of the game, NU just wanted to forget the game they had just played and move on. In the final minutes, Walker pulled Basanez and replaced him with backup quarterback Alexander Webb. Webb led the offense to a touchdown at the end of the game, but by then it didn’t matter.

“Brett was mad at me, he wanted to keep playing,” Walker said. “But I go ‘Hey, we have nothing to gain by doing this. Nothing.'”