1949 Rose Bowl Sidebar: Game-by-game season breakdown

Danny Daly

Sept. 25 – Los Angeles, Calif. – Northwestern 19, UCLA 0The Wildcats beat the Bruins for the second time in two years, and it was an even bigger blowout than the final margin indicated. UCLA gained only 33 yards of offense for the game, while Northwestern racked up more than 10 times that amount and scored three touchdowns. Quarterback Don Burson connected with end Joe Zuravleff on a 46-yard pass to put the Cats on the board shortly before halftime, while fullbacks Gaspar Perricone and Art Murakowski added scores on the ground in the second half. Oct. 2 – Evanston, Ill. – Northwestern 21, Purdue 0Playing at home in front of a capacity crowd, the Cats surprised the favored Boilermakers by outplaying them in every phase of the game. Though Purdue had just lost to eventual No. 2 Notre Dame by a single point, NU easily took care of business behind another suffocating defensive effort. The Boilermakers’ aerial attack was 0-for-13 with five interceptions. Halfback Ed Tunnicliff’s 44-yard punt return set up the first score, while a pair of Purdue turnovers put NU in position for two touchdowns in the final quarter. Murakowski gained 102 yards on 13 carries. Oct. 9 – Evanston, Ill. – Northwestern 19, Minnesota 16Even falling behind by 16 points in the first nine minutes didn’t hand NU its first loss of the season. The Golden Gophers recorded a safety and two touchdowns before the Cats knew what hit them. But NU responded by finding the end zone three times before halftime, holding Minnesota scoreless the rest of the way. Halfback Frank Aschenbrenner made up for a fumble with a 1-yard scoring burst to give NU momentum going into the second quarter, in which Burson passed for the other two scores. Oct. 16 – Ann Arbor, Mich. – Michigan 28, Northwestern 0Mistake-prone football doesn’t do the job against the top team in the country, and the Cats shot themselves in the foot to turn a close game into an embarrassment. NU was competitive in the first half, trailing only 7-0 at intermission. But a fumbled kickoff and interception allowed Michigan to score three touchdowns in three-and-a-half minutes during the third quarter, which put the contest well out of reach. Wolverines halfback Leo Koceski accounted for the first three scores, all on the ground. Oct. 23 – Evanston, Ill. – Northwestern 48, Syracuse 0An overmatched foe was exactly what NU needed to get over the previous week’s disappointment, and it took out its frustration out on Syracuse. The Orange didn’t advance past midfield until the fourth quarter, at which point the game was far out of hand. The Cats gained more than 500 yards of total offense and scored at least nine points in each quarter, even when the reserves entered during the second half. Syracuse’s turnover-on-downs inches shy of the goal line with a few minutes left preserved NU’s third shutout of the season. Oct. 30 – Evanston, Ill. – Northwestern 21, Ohio State 7NU fans celebrated homecoming by packing Dyche Stadium and watching an unlikely hero propel the home team to a victory. Halfback Johnny Miller, one of the Cats’ least-used threats in the running game, picked up 120 yards on 14 attempts with two touchdowns. The secondary stepped up again by holding Ohio State to 3-of-19 passing and two interceptions. With the victory, the Cats moved into sole possession of second place in the Big Ten, setting themselves up for a Rose Bowl berth. Nov. 6 – Evanston, Ill. – Northwestern 16, Wisconsin 7It was a sloppy performance by both teams, but ultimately NU capitalized on more of its chances. Both of the Cats’ touchdown drives started in Badgers territory, and their defense provided an early safety. That helped offset NU’s five fumbles, four of which occurred in the first half and made the game more interesting than it had to be. The ground attack continued to pick up big chunks of yardage for the Cats, as Aschenbrenner, Tunnicliff and Perricone combined for 31 rushes and 239 yards. Nov. 13 – South Bend, Ind. – Notre Dame 12, Northwestern 7If there were any lingering doubts about NU’s legitimacy as a Rose Bowl contender, its showing in South Bend, Ind., put those concerns to rest. The Cats took a 7-6 lead into the fourth quarter, thanks to Murakowski’s 90-yard interception return for a touchdown, but they weren’t able to finish off the undefeated Fighting Irish. Two reserves, William Gay and John Landry, saved the day for Notre Dame with their contributions on the go-ahead drive in the final period. Meanwhile, NU’s offense struggled to move the ball throughout the game and was outgained by a 3-to-1 ratio on the ground. Nov. 20 – Evanston, Ill. – Northwestern 20, Illinois 7Needing a win to clinch a trip to the Rose Bowl, the Cats delivered in decisive fashion. The suspense was all but taken out of the game by halftime, since NU jumped out to a quick 20-0 lead over Illinois. Burson attempted only two passes due to strong winds, but one was a 23-yard touchdown strike in the second quarter to Zuravleff – who was playing with a cast on his broken arm. The score came one minute after a bizarre defensive play in which cornerback Pee Wee Day came down with an interception and lateralled to end Chuck Hagmann, who took it to the end zone for NU’s second score. Jan. 1 – Pasadena, Calif. – Northwestern 20, California 14The Cats overcame long odds by relying on what got them to Pasadena: a devastating running game and opportunistic defense. Aschenbrenner was named the game’s Most Valuable Player after tallying 119 yards, including the longest run in Rose Bowl history to that date, and NU’s defense forced five turnovers en route to a stunning victory over previously-undefeated California and former coach Pappy Waldorf.

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