Healing, reflection focus of bye week

Tania Ganguli

After their big win over Ohio State, distractions threatened to prevent Northwestern football players from focusing on last week’s opponent. But with a bye this week, the Wildcats have an excuse to think about themselves before they have to focus their attention on Wisconsin.

It will be a week of healing for the players and recruiting for some of the coaches. The team will work on aspects of its game that haven’t been very effective, such as red-zone efficiency and any part of the running game that doesn’t involve Noah Herron, the Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week.

“Watching the film, it sure made me frustrated,” quarterback Brett Basanez said. “But now we kind of have this week off, and we’ve got some things we really need to work on. Great teams, when they get in the red zone, they score, so that’s something we really need to work on.”

Instead of jumping back into the cycle of practice, film and preparation for Saturday, the Cats have this week to heal, rest and maybe catch up on some work.

As the college football season progresses, more and more players start frequenting the training room. There are more guys wearing the orange and red practice jerseys. which indicate injuries, and fewer players are completely healthy.

That has been especially true for NU’s defense this year. At the start of the season, several defensive lineman got injured. In the next few games, the secondary was thinned due to injuries, and every segment of the defense took a hit in the last game.

The week will provide extra healing time for cornerback Jeff Backes’ ankle sprain, linebacker Tim McGarigle’s groin strain and shoulder injuries to linebacker Nick Roach and safety Dominique Price.

“We’ll get some guys patched up feeling better,” Walker said. “Got half the season left, and it doesn’t get any easier.”

The Cats are 3-3, but Walker said they easily could have been 0-6 or 6-0.

“I feel good about being 3-3 at this point,” Walker said. “I wish we could’ve been 6-0, because in a lot of ways I thought we could have.”

The Cats know they still have their toughest challenges ahead. The Buckeyes were ranked No. 7 when NU defeated Ohio State, but they have since lost to Wisconsin and dropped considerably in the polls. The Cats have yet to face No. 5 Purdue, No. 10 Wisconsin and No. 14 Michigan.

If Wisconsin beats Purdue next weekend, the Badgers will be the sixth undefeated team the Cats will have faced this season.

They also will play Penn State and Illinois, two teams that nearly upset Purdue.

NU played then-No. 17 Wisconsin after a bye week last year and defeated the Badgers 16-7 in Evanston.

“To be the best you’ve got to play the best,” Basanez said. “We’ve got a gauntlet of a schedule coming up. The Big Ten’s wide open every year.”

Reach Tania Ganguli at [email protected]