Kick start: Sophomore replaces Huffman

Tania Ganguli

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Looking for something that works, Northwestern coach Randy Walker shook up his special teams again this week. He had Joel Howells place kicking, Ryan Pederson punting and Brian Huffman kicking off and attempting some punts.

Howells made his season debut in the first quarter with his first career field goal.

He tried two unsuccessful kicks last season, both of which hit the offensive line.

But the redshirt sophomore kicker converted two of three field goal attempts. He hit a 23-yarder, had a 36-yarder blocked and made a 32-yarder. He also made both extra point attempts.

“I tried to go for a long time, and I just felt like for our football team it was the best thing to make that change,” Walker said.

Huffman averaged 39.5 yards per punt, but had one returned for a touchdown by Michigan receiver Steve Breaston.

Rooting for Rivals

This weekend might have been one of the few in which Michigan fans rooted for Michigan State.

Tailgaters outside Michigan Stadium cheered as the Spartans scored touchdown after touchdown in a 49-14 win over the Badgers’ and their top ranked scoring defense.

The Wolverines entered the weekend tied atop the Big Ten with Wisconsin at 6-0 in the conference.

But after the Wolverines win over NU and the Badgers’ loss, the Wolverines have a clear path to the Rose Bowl.

Michigan just needs a victory over the Buckeyes at Ohio Stadium next weekend to secure the Big Ten title and a possible trip to Pasadena on New Year’s Day.

REturning Home

Northwestern’s 42-20 loss to Michigan wasn’t the homecoming Detroit County Day alums Ashton Aikens, Kim Thompson and Brandon Horn wanted, but the receivers made their presences felt throughout the game.

Thompson, a redshirt freshman who has seen more playing time each week, caught four passes for a career high 46 yards.

Meanwhile, Horn snagged his fifth touchdown catch of the year late in the fourth quarter.

Aikens and Horn also both had significant catches that resulted in first downs in the Cats’ second scoring drive in the second quarter.

This was the second game this season the three former high school teammates each had at least one catch.

Trick but no treat

Trick plays haven’t worked as well as this season they did last year for the Cats.

While NU successfully converted fake punts twice last season, against Penn State and Wisconsin, the two trick plays NU tried against the Wolverines weren’t successful.

The first came at the end of the third quarter when quarterback Brett Basanez handed the ball to running back Noah Herron to set up a half-back pass. Basanez was open downfield, but Michigan defenders pushed through and tackled Herron for a nine-yard loss.

The other trick play was a fake punt featuring back-up quarterback Chris Malleo, who has lined up in punt formation several times this season, setting up to pass. Michigan’s Lamarr Woodley broke through to knock the ball from Malleo’s hands.

“It seemed like on all our plays that had a little trickery in it they zoned to it, and we couldn’t make our play,” Herron said. “They made the right call, they guessed right almost all the time.”

Sack master

Part of NU’s first half success came from its ability to pressured Michigan quarterback Chad Henne.

Three Wildcats sacked the true freshman in the first half. Defensive linemen Luis Castillo and Colby Clark, and linebacker John Pickens each had a first-half sack.

Clark’s sack and Pickens’ sack were each on third down and Castillo’s was the final play of the first half.

Reach Tania Ganguli at [email protected]