Cats look to reverse trend against cradle

Robbie Levin

For a program that has lost 14 of its last 17 games by double digits, Miami (OH) has had a surprisingly large influence on college football generally, and on Northwestern specifically. The RedHawks have 649 wins in their history, 23rd all-time among FBS programs. The so-called cradle of coaches, Miami has produced legendary sideline prowlers Sid Gillman, Woody Hayes and Bo Schembechler.

Over time, Miami and NU have had oddly intertwining histories. Two former NU coaches got their starts at Miami – Ara Parseghian, who led the Purple to Pasadena in 1949, and Randy Walker. The schools have gone head-to-head eight times, with Miami owning a 6-2 lead in the series. In particular, the Cats’ 1995 loss to the RedHawks still makes many NU fans cringe. Coming off one of the biggest victories in program history, a 17-15 victory over No. 9 Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind., the Cats returned home only to be stunned by the RedHawks, 30-28. That loss would be NU’s only defeat of the regular season.

When Walker left Miami in 1999 to coach NU, his first opponent as coach was his former team. That year the RedHawks embarrassed the Cats in Evanston, 28-3. When Pat Fitzgerald took over after Walker’s passing in 2006, his first game as coach was also against Miami. This time the Cats won in Oxford, Ohio, 21-3. In that game, the Cats started a redshirt freshman quarterback, Mike Kafka.

“I was totally cluless,” said Kafka of his first career start. “I was just trying to find myself and do my job as best I could. Guys were demanding a lot out of me, and to figure all those things out and lead a team and do all these different things, my head was just spinning.”

On Saturday, the Cats will look to take down the RedHawks in Evanston for the second time in eight tries. Miami coach Mike Haywood is the fifth new coach NU has faced in its first six games. A former Notre Dame offensive coordinator, Haywood wiped the slate clean and brought in nine new assistant coaches. This year, the RedHawks have struggled on defense, allowing an average of 40.8 points per game and almost 400 yards of offense.

One bright spot for Miami is the play of redshirt freshman quarterback Zac Dysert. In three starts, Dysert has rushed for 213 yards and thrown for 697. “The offense is a lot better and Zac is playing well,” Captain Cat said. “This is a team that’s improved each week it just hasn’t shown up in the win column.”

After struggling in their last two nonconference games, the Cats are hoping to avoid a letdown against the RedHawks. “The main thing is being consistent,” senior cornerback Sherrick McManis said. “And finally meshing as a team. Doing it all together in all phases of the game.”

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