Cats play games with your heart (Sterrett column)

David Sterrett

MADISON, Wis. — The 2004 Northwestern football team is the hot girl who teases you all night but won’t come home with you.

After NU pulled out two straight Big Ten victories, I thought the Wildcats could beat Wisconsin. The defense would shut down the Badgers’ running attack while the NU offense would make enough plays to win.

Well, none of that happened.

Early against Wisconsin, Noah Herron busted through holes and bowled over the Badgers’ run defense. NU linebacker Tim McGarigle and Co. corralled Wisconsin Heisman hopeful Anthony Davis and made quarterback John Stocco look like he played for the Chicago Bears.

NU had a chance to beat the No. 6 team in the country in one of the conference’s most hostile environments.

But receivers dropped balls, Basanez missed open targets and the defense gave up big plays.

When NU fell behind 10-0, it looked like the hot girl left the building and the Cats were going to cash it in.

NU looked pitiful in the end of the second quarter and the start of the third quarter as the Badgers built a 24-0 lead. The team reminded me of the 2002 squad, which was blown out week after week. That team looked like the ugly girl you felt so bad for you couldn’t even make fun of her.

But this year’s squad didn’t quit. The Cats waltzed down the field twice and put 12 unanswered points on the board.

Where was this offense earlier?

Don’t worry. After the disappointing loss to the Badgers, NU still can beat Purdue this week. And, yes, I am drunk off the purple punch.

Every week with the Cats is a guessing game. Few expected them to beat Ohio State. Few expected them to nearly lose to Indiana.

At points this team has looked like a title contender. At other times this team drew comparisons to its embarrassing counterpart in Champaign-Urbana. Well, to be fair, the Cats aren’t anywhere close to being that bad.

But after seven games, it appears NU is a team that could win any game or lose any game and will end up with between five and seven wins.

The problem is that Wisconsin was a key game in the Cats’ bowl hopes after squandering a victory against TCU in Week 1. NU needs to finish 7-5 to qualify, and now must take care of business against three teams it should beat — Penn State, Illinois and Hawaii — and needs to upset either Michigan or Purdue.

But if the Cats miss out on a bowl game, it won’t be a huge set back for the program. The schedule has been more difficult this year, and NU has improved each of the past two seasons.

Cats fans shouldn’t be looking for the hot girl. I mean, we are NU. Instead, the Cats faithful need to look for the long-term relationship.

Gradual and consistent improvement should be the measure to evaluate coach Randy Walker and his team.

Before the game Saturday, Walker spent 10 minutes talking with Badger coach Barry Alvarez at midfield. Alvarez pointed to the massive luxury boxes and additional end zone bleachers that have been built since Walker and the Cats last visited Camp Randall in 2000.

Alvarez built Wisconsin, and now the students and alums come. There is no better place in the Big Ten to watch a game. The whole stadium shakes as the students jump around between the third and fourth quarter, and Camp Randall feels just as homey as Ryan Field, except it has twice as many people.

And this year, Badger fans are going to go home with one of the cute blondes with long straight hair, jeans and a sweatshirt who stroll up and down State Street. Wisconsin’s faithful just has to decide whether to bring its date roses or oranges.

But just because the Badgers are taking the cute girl home, that doesn’t mean NU fans can’t keep dreaming about the girls on State Street.

I still am.

Reach David Sterrett at [email protected]

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