Walker at a loss over defeat, frustrated by inconsistency

Tania Ganguli

Northwestern coach Randy Walker wasn’t in a much better mood Monday about the Wildcats’ 43-17 loss to Minnesota on Saturday.

At his weekly news conference, he pointed to lack of consistency as the team’s problem, but the coach couldn’t pinpoint why that consistency was so elusive.

“All great teams, all great athletes have it,” he said. “It’s a little frustrating at this point that we aren’t farther along.”

While Walker was disappointed with his team’s play, he didn’t place the blame on all of the team’s injuries.

With several starters already sidelined, the Cats lost safety and kick returner Derell Jenkins in the loss Saturday. The junior suffered a broken wrist blocking during a kickoff return.

But the news on quarterback Brett Basanez’s injured shoulder was more positive for NU. Walker said Basanez, who returned for one series after suffering a stinger Saturday, is probable for this week’s game against Ohio State.

“I expect him to play,” Walker said. “He might be limited. He would have been limited (Sunday) night, but we didn’t practice (Sunday) night.”

The Cats’ offense came into the contest Saturday averaging nearly 29 points a game, but were stymied by Minnesota’s defense as they were held to almost half of their season average. On the other side of the ball, the NU defense which gave up 46 yards on the ground to Kansas, yielded more than 200 yards rushing to the Gophers.

But the inconsistency Walker noted wasn’t just between games. He pointed to inconsistency within the game as just as damaging.

“You look at our defense — and we say this too many times — but other than a couple plays we played well against Minnesota,” Walker said. “We can say ‘gosh, out of 80 plays we did pretty good on 75.’

“Well five plays get you beat in the Big Ten.”

Walker went on to say that the team’s confidence level didn’t suffer because the team played well on several plays. But he said to be truly confident they would need consistency.

Running back Noah Herron added that the fact that the team created a lot of its own problems helped restore its confidence. He said the players would believe in their abilities as long as they limited their mistakes.

“We had some sort of penalty on 11 out of 12 drives of the game, and the one drive we didn’t we scored on,” Herron said. “It’s kind of like, what play do you call on first- or second- and 15? You can’t throw the ball down the field on every play.”

NU was penalized nine times for a loss of 77 yards, while the Gophers committed one penalty for five yards.

NU converted only three of 13 third downs on Saturday, a statistic Walker attributed to the number of plays that were backed up by penalties and negative yardage plays.

“We’re not a good third-and-long football team, but I don’t know how many people are,” Walker said.

Despite his depleted defense, Walker refused to give injuries as a reason for NU’s lack of production. Instead, he said injuries may have led to a bigger problem.

“The injuries, that isn’t a reason we aren’t executing,” Walker said. “Maybe it’s a reason we think we have to do my job and half of another guy’s, it’s the reason for the lack of trust. It’s easy to say the word trust and we talk about trust a lot but until you really trust and play with that, it’s just another word.”

The over compensation for other players was something defensive tackle Luis Castillo noticed as well.

He saw the Cats’ defensive performance as a marked difference from the 2002 defense because he said there was no question of effort this year.

“It’s guys playing with a lot of passion so it’s tough to say ‘turn it down and just do your job,'” Castillo said. “I look around and everyone’s doing as much as possible and sometimes it’s just guys doing too much.”

Reach Tania Ganguli at [email protected]