Avoiding repeat of 2002 mess is crucial

Tania Ganguli

Step 1: Denial.

When the Wildcats lose big, first they say it wasn’t as bad as it looked.

The Monday after Northwestern’s 52-21 loss to Arizona State, coach Randy Walker said this was a chance for his team to learn what its weaknesses were and fix them. He even said he was glad the loss happened.

Step 2: Acceptance.

Then, they realize it actually was that bad.

“I kept trying to find something redeeming about the outcome,” Walker said during his Big Ten teleconference. “And maybe the fact that it was on so late and maybe nobody saw it or heard it might have been the only redeeming quality.”

The Cats held off the Sun Devils for one quarter, and then Arizona State scored. And then they scored again. And again. And again.

And it looked disturbingly familiar. It looked like 2002, the last time anybody dropped more than 50 points on NU.

Last weekend’s blowout loss to Arizona State and its shock and awe offense, may have been an abberation, but the Cats have to prove that this weekend. Now they are at a crossroads, in danger of slipping into the mess that was that 3-9, 2002 season.

“It could have the early makings for it, but I’m not ready to jump to any conclusions,” quarterback Brett Basanez said.

Me neither. At the beginning of the season, this team looked a lot like that one. Both teams featured a successful offense with an accurate and productive Basanez under center, and a prolific running back (Tyrell Sutton in 2005, Jason Wright in 2002) consistently rushing for near 100-yards a game, and an inexperienced defense which could have trouble backing up the potent offense.

After the season-opening win over Ohio, I thought I was wrong.

After a narrow win over Northern Illinois those old comparisons started creeping back. Big offensive numbers, but big defensive numbers, too.

NU is in good company after getting destroyed at Sun Devil Stadium, Arizona State does it often – just ask Iowa. But the downhill tumble started this way in 2002 as well. Two non-conference wins before digging into the unkind conference season.

“Last year we got thumped by Minnesota and then came back and beat Ohio State,” senior defensive end Barry Cofield said.

Last year’s team did not cave after devastating losses. The 2002 team did. That’s a mentality Cofield and the defensive leaders are working to keep far from their young guys.

This weekend we find out if they succeeded.

Step 3: Recovery.

Sports Editor Tania Ganguli is a Weinberg senior. She can be reached at [email protected]