Football: Injury shelves best receiver 4 to 6 weeks

Teddy Kider

Northwestern wide receiver Mark Philmore will miss four to six weeks with a right knee sprain he suffered in a 13-10 win over then-No. 17 Purdue on Saturday.

Philmore is the Wildcats’ leading receiver with 79.1 yards a game and his 6.8 receptions per game is 14th best in the nation.

The junior sustained the injury with 1:06 left in Saturday’s game during his 10-yard completion that put the Cats (4-4, 3-2 Big Ten) at Purdue’s 33-yard line. NU eventually scored the winning touchdown on that drive.

“He’s our No. 1 guy,” NU senior running back Noah Herron said at Monday’s weekly news conference. “To lose him hurts a lot.”

Cats coach Randy Walker said junior cornerback Jeff Backes will probably return punts, something Philmore has done all season.

Philmore missed the final four games of the 2003 regular season after injuring his left knee. His injury was one of many to receivers that plagued NU’s passing game last year.

But with this season’s roster, Walker said he thinks he’ll be able to compensate for the loss of his leading receiver. Redshirt freshman Kim Thompson is listed as the starter without Philmore.

“We can go to two backs more, and tight end play increases perhaps,” Walker said. “We think we have enough receivers to stay in our spread attack and have our four wides on the field.”

Walker also commented Monday on the Cats’ defense, which has had players return from injuries in recent weeks.

With defensive end Loren Howard, linebacker John Pickens, cornerback Jeff Backes and linebacker Nick Roach all playing at or close to full-strength Saturday after early season injuries, NU’s defense had its best game.

The Cats held Purdue’s then-No. 12 offense to just 332 yards and 10 points.

“I thought (the defense) had a great plan,” Walker said. “Our kids played assertively and with abandon, and I thought they were really effective against Purdue.”

Linebacker Tim McGarigle earned Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week honors for his performance against Purdue, and he leads the nation in solo tackles and ranks second in total tackles, with nearly 13 per game.

Walker said he was most impressed by NU’s defensive performance on Purdue’s second-to-last drive of the game, which resulted in a stop that gave the Cats the ball with fewer than two minutes to play.

“That was a huge three-play series, because we’ve been in a couple of games where we didn’t do that,” Walker said.

But after reviewing film, Walker said the play of the game went to junior Sundi Brewer-Griffin, who knocked Purdue’s Jerod Void out of bounds at NU’s six-yard line after Void returned a kickoff for 71 yards in the first quarter.

NU’s defense held the Boilermakers to a field goal on that possession, and the Cats still led 7-3.

“There are six or seven plays in every football game that change the outcome, and that was a big one,” Walker said.

With NU’s upset win over Purdue, the Cats have a chance to be invited to a bowl game for a second straight year if they win three of their last four games.

But Walker isn’t making reservations just yet.

“It’s real premature right now to talk about a bowl game,” Walker said. “But I do like being in November with something to play for.”

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