Wildcats go to Detroit as winners of two straight (FOOTBALL)

Matt Baker

Tonight’s game against Eastern Michigan has all the makings of the classic letdown.

A Northwestern team coming off of two key Big Ten wins. An opponent from the Mid-American Conference that’s dropped three straight. A match-up looming next week against a Purdue team that looks vulnerable after two straight losses.

Combine those with a shortened week and the excitement of playing at an NFL stadium, and the game has all of the ingredients for disaster.

But the Wildcats are confident they won’t look past the Eagles (2-5).

“Our goal for this week isn’t to get the rest of the season off the right way – it’s to go 1-0 this week,” junior quarterback C.J. Bacher said.

While NU (4-3, 2-2 Big Ten) avoided one distraction by keeping its practice schedule the same this week, it can’t avoid the pitfalls of playing at Ford Field. The dome is home of the Detroit Lions and the Motor City Bowl – a possible bowl destination for the Cats, who need two more wins to become eligible for postseason play.

“The Big Ten, it’s pretty weird right now,” senior cornerback Deante Battle said. “There are probably not going to be enough slots for everybody, so we need as many wins as we can in order to get into this bowl picture.”

To get closer to a bowl berth, NU will have to adapt from Evanston’s fall conditions to playing in a dome. Younger players will have to adjust to an environment that is different from Big Ten stadiums said Battle, who played at Ford Field when NU lost to Bowling Green in the 2003 Motor City Bowl.

Coach Pat Fitzgerald stressed the importance of staying hydrated to his team this week to prepare for Ford Field’s 72-degree heat.

“From the minute you start warming up to when you walk out of the locker room an hour after you shower, you’re going to be sweating,” Fitzgerald said.

Aside from adapting to the weather, Battle said the defense will need to step up with more turnovers against an Eagles team that has scored 64 points the last two weeks.

Although the Cats are tied for ninth in the conference with seven forced turnovers, they had a strong outing last week, with two interceptions and five pass breakups.

“Those are plays you’ve got to turn into interceptions,” Battle said. “We’ve just got to cause more turnovers.”

With three of NU’s next four opponents entering this weekend with a winning record, leaving Detroit with a win is crucial.

A victory tonight at Ford Field will go a long way in helping secure another trip to Detroit in December, for the second time in five years.

“We only get one shot at Eastern Michigan, so we better take advantage of it,” Bacher said. “And that’s the way we need to approach the game.”

Reach Matt Baker at [email protected]