Penn State has a habit of ruining Northwestern’s football season.
When the Nittany Lions come to Evanston on Saturday, the Wildcats know that to win they will have to focus on moving past their history with Penn State.
In 2001 the Nittany Lions beat NU, as coach Joe Paterno tied the Div. I-A record for the most career wins with 323. And the Cats didn’t win another Big Ten game until they beat Indiana a year later.
When NU went to Happy Valley in 2002, Penn State blanked the Cats 49-0.
“They stole our mojo,” safety Louis Ayeni said. “The last two games against them have just been the worst, so hopefully we can redeem ourselves with a win this week.”
NU coach Randy Walker never likes to think about the past — he just likes to move on. In addition to moving past their history with Penn State, the Cats (4-5, 2-3 Big Ten) hope to rebound from last weekend’s loss at Purdue.
This year it isn’t Penn State (2-7, 0-5 Big Ten) that’s closing in on bowl eligibility, as the team hasn’t even won a Big Ten game yet. But with quarterback Zack Mills back at full strength, the team almost got a conference victory against Ohio State. Hours after the Wildcats lost to Purdue, the Buckeyes broke the Nittany Lions’ hearts in a one-point loss to Ohio State last week.
This weekend the Cats hope to win the battle of the rebounding teams.
From the way his team looked the day after the game, Walker said they seemed ready to bounce back.
“They had a great attitude in practice yesterday, ” Walker said Monday. “I don’t think they feel like all is lost.”
Still, he said, it’s going to take more than a good attitude to win Saturday.
“We’re going to have to play exceptionally well and not get caught up in the things that go along with playing a great national program like Penn State,” Walker said.
For Walker part of playing “exceptionally well” means not losing the turnover battle. In NU’s homecoming win over Wisconsin two weeks ago, the Cats didn’t turn the ball over once and caused two Wisconsin turnovers.
On the other hand, last weekend’s four lost fumbles caused NU to fall from first in fumbles lost to 29th nationally.
But the Cats are working on that.
“You come out and try to get better every week, but sometimes that’s not how it goes,” said quarterback Brett Basanez, who fumbled twice against Purdue. “I’m trying the best I can not to beat us. If you start doubting yourself, then you’re not going to play to the best of your ability.
“You can’t let other teams dictate how you are.”
For the past two years, that’s just what Penn State’s been doing to the Cats.
With that in mind, the Cats don’t need any more motivation. But safety Dominique Price has his own personal vendetta against Penn State. He missed two full games after spraining his ankle in last year’s contest.
“It’s a good game for me to come back,” Price said.