Walker juggling injured starters (Football)

Tania Ganguli

After two physically and emotionally charged games, the Wildcats are “a little nicked up,” as Northwestern coach Randy Walker likes to say.

Currently down are wide receivers Roger Jordan, Mark Philmore and Ashton Aikens, running back Jason Wright, kicker Slade Larscheid and cornerback Jeff Backes.

Jordan hurt his upper body after a diving catch against Purdue. Walker said Jordan would probably come back to practice late in the week and called his injury a “pain threshold thing.”

Larscheid pulled his hip flexr during the bye week and three weeks later he still can’t kick without pain.

Backes wouldn’t specify what was wrong with him but just said it was an ongoing problem. Backes wore a red jersey in practice, while more severely injured players wore orange.

“I’m not in orange, that’s the key thing,” Backes said.

As of Tuesday Walker wasn’t sure how much progress Wright had made. After Saturday’s game at Purdue Wright said he wasn’t good enough for the team unless he was 100 percent. His coach disagreed and said Wright would still be important to the team at less than full strength.

“Will he be at 100 percent?” Walker asked. “Probably not. But you tell me one Big Ten player that is 100 percent by November.”

OLD SCHOOL: The prospect of facing 76-year-old Penn State coach Joe Paterno makes Northwestern coach Randy Walker a little sentimental.

When asked about Paterno’s age, Walker smiled and thought back to 1976 when he started coaching Division I football.

“I remember when I was 22 I said, ‘Boy, 55 sounds right,'” Walker said of retirement age. “Well as I close in on that, I don’t know if 55 was right. As long as you keep waking up every day and that’s what you love to do and you’re vibrant, you keep doing it.”

Walker said that the best thing about coaching was seeing his players rebound from a tough loss like the one at Purdue. He called them “100 of the best guys” he’s known.

In 1976 Walker started his coaching career as a graduate assistant at Miami (Ohio). Since then he’s coached running backs at Miami (Ohio) and North Carolina and quarterbacks at North Carolina. In 1988 he came to Evanston for a year as a running backs coach.

Walker got his start at head coach in 1990 back at Miami (Ohio) where he coached nine years before coming back to NU.

“At some point it’s good for somebody to walk away, I guess when you’re tired of putting in 12 or 14 hours a day and all that stuff,” Walker said. “I haven’t gotten to that point, I haven’t even seen it.”

CONSCIOUSLY CONSERVATIVE: In 2000 and 2001 a high-scoring offense was typical of NU, but that’s not the case anymore.

Walker said that style of play just doesn’t fit with this year’s team.

“In some says we were very unconventional in 2000 and 2001,” Walker said. “We were doing things I’ve never done in my life.”

He said playing to the team’s strengths has forced him to play a more conservative offense. Although their passing game wasn’t connecting “as well as we need to,” Walker felt the more prominent reason is that their running game is good.

Another factor is that the Cats are missing three receivers, and Walker doesn’t want to make a freshman lose his redshirt just for three games.

“We’d be mistaken as an offense if we tried to have a run and shoot approach,” Walker said. “It just doesn’t fit this team.”