A game to forget (Football)

Tania Ganguli

Northwestern’s 41-10 loss to No. 5 Michigan was a game few people wanted to think about when it ended.

The Wolverines were thinking about their next opponent, Ohio State, and the Wildcats just wanted to put the game behind them.

The Cats gave up 26 first downs, more than it has given up in any other game this season. They allowed 325 yards in total offense — in the first half. Their leading rusher wasn’t even a running back, he was the quarterback, and he only managed 35 yards. They converted only four third downs while Michigan converted all but six. And when the Cats left the field, all they wanted to do was forget about it.

“We’re not interested in what happened out there,” coach Randy Walker said. “We have a lot to play for in the next six days.”

At the end of the first quarter the Cats were only down 7-3, but Walker said they were fortunate the score was that close.

NU’s luck ran out in the second quarter. Michigan outscored the Cats 24-0 in the second frame and NU never recovered.

NU’s tendency to turn the ball over cost it 14 points to start the second quarter. After a 25-yard kickoff return by Derell Jenkins, quarterback Brett Basanez took over. He ran six yards to the 38 and fumbled the ball.

Michigan running back Chris Perry, wide receiver Braylon Edwards and quarterback John Navarre marched the ball back into the endzone.

“We knew we didn’t have to play a game of perfect today to win, but we had to play well,” Walker said. “Playing well means you execute, you win the turnover ratio and you don’t have any self-inflicted wounds.

“You don’t beat a good football team like this.”

The Cats’ next possession was even less successful. Jenkins backpedaled to catch the kickoff but couldn’t hold on to it, fumbling at the 26. On the next play, Navarre threw to Edwards for Michigan’s second touchdown of the quarter, making the score 24-3.

Their third turnover came in the third quarter when Basanez threw an interception intended for wide receiver Shaun Herbert.

“All day we just shot ourselves in the foot,” running back Noah Herron said. “I mean, we say that every week and somehow we still keep finding a way to do it.

“I guess it takes a little wind out of your sails when you just hand them points.”

But Michigan didn’t just dominate NU after turnovers, they did it every time they had the ball in the second quarter. Michigan’s third drive of the second quarter didn’t start with a turnover, but it ended with a touchdown. Receiver Jason Avant jumped to pull down a high pass from Navarre with his right hand and tumbled into the endzone.

Michigan didn’t score on their fourth drive of the second quarter, but that’s because the half ended.

“The defense got put in some bad situations, but (Michigan) didn’t do anything special,” NU linebacker Pat Durr said. “We knew it was coming, but there were too many guys not winning their individual battles.”

By the end of the first half Perry had racked up 72 yards on the ground. That was more than NU’s top two rushers, Basanez and Wright, had by the end of the game. At the end of the game Perry totaled 122 yards on the ground and 50 yards receiving.

When running the ball, the 6-foot-1, 228-pound back would run through the first defender that hit him and power on until other NU defenders jumped in to help.

NU safety Torri Stuckey said part of Michigan’s rushing success should be credited to their offensive line.

“Their O-line really controlled the game and made it tough on us,” safety Torri Stuckey said. “When we got to 3rd-and-shorts it was almost a guaranteed first down.”

The offensive line also held defenders off Navarre to give him time to throw the ball. And when he finally launched it, he usually had receivers who were wide open waiting. Navarre threw for 288 yards and two touchdowns.

Michigan was up 31-3 at the start of the second half and quickly made it 34-3 with a field goal after Navarre threw an incomplete pass under pressure from defensive end Loren Howard.

That made 27 unanswered Wolverines points. The Cats finally ended their drought with a reverse to receiver Brandon Horn on a 4th-and-goal from Michigan’s 13.

Navarre and Perry had stepped out for the first drive of that quarter. But, with Michigan’s lead cut from 31 to 24, they returned to finish the game.

And as the Wildcats left the field to the sound of Michigan fans chanting “Beat the Buckeyes,” the fact that the Wolverines dominated the game wasn’t lost on them. Durr called them by far the best team in the Big Ten and Herron said that they weren’t just the best individually, they played the best as a team.

But Herron didn’t want to think about it any more than he had to.

“We can’t do anything about it,” he said. “It’s in the books, it’s gone forever, we can’t play this game again.”