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From the Chicago Tribune

IN THE WAKE OF THE NEWS
Skip Bayless

Northwestern shown how it's done


Murphy, Irish display mettle
Jan 24, 2001

While on defense, Spartans state case
Jan 24, 2001

Surviving in Big East a beastly task
Jan 23, 2001

So close, yet so far away
Jan 23, 2001

West Virginia player leaves team after spitting incident
Jan 22, 2001

Defensive switch key for Irish
Jan 22, 2001

DePaul nips Temple
Jan 21, 2001

Complete game propels Illini rout
Jan 21, 2001

December 31, 2000

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SAN ANTONIO - Maybe the heady dreaming was inspired by too many tequila shots on the River Walk. Maybe so many way-we-were cocktail parties for so many Northwestern alums led to the runaway scenario.

Maybe word that a foolish Chicago columnist picked Northwestern to beat Nebraska by two touchdowns contributed to the epidemic of Purple Fever.

You heard it from NU students and boosters who did the near-impossible Friday and Saturday: Match numbers and noise in downtown San Antonio with Husker Hordes known for dominating bowl sites. You heard the unimaginable from Purple People who, until now, couldn't have uttered the words with a straight face.

You heard national championship.

You heard NU fans saying, "If everything goes right, next year could be The Year." You ran into fans who whipped out next season's schedule faster than business cards and went game by game. At UNLV. Navy. At Duke. Michigan State. At Ohio State. Minnesota. Penn State. At Purdue. At Indiana. Iowa. Perfectly timed bye. At Illinois.

In honor of the Sylvania Alamo Bowl, you could see the light bulbs switch on in their heads. Eleven and oh? With all but one starter returning on one of the country's most difficult offenses to defend, you heard happy-new-year predictions from proud, successful alums wearing purple cowboy hats.

Then came Saturday night's game, which hit NU faithful like a cold slap in the face. Talk about sobering. If only football didn't include defense and kicking.

Fans watched their Wildcats basically get what several players were asking for all week. Instead of respectfully sneaking up on a 14 1/2-point favorite, several players and even some assistant coaches talked about what they were going to do to the Huskers. They were going to keep knocking down Eric Crouch. They were going to hit Dan Alexander's lead blockers in the mouth until they said, "No mas."

Instead of going for a George W. Ambush, the Wildcats began sounding like they were the prohibitive favorite. Sleeping dogs were awakened. Huskers who played like dogs in several key games no doubt read Northwestern's quotes in local newspapers. If not, coaches read the quotes to them, along with a prediction column or two.

The result was that Nebraska took this game Orange Bowl-seriously. It almost looked as if Bears safety Mike Brown had slipped back into a scarlet-and-cream uniform and started hitting everything in purple. Former Husker Brown was on the field during warmups slapping backs that badly needed slapping.

Against Oklahoma, Kansas State and Colorado, Nebraska's "Blackshirt" defense appeared to be a polyester blend, allowing an average of 415 yards. Early in Saturday's game, that defense turned NU's Zak Attack into refried beans. The Huskers turned Kyle Vanden Bosch into Dan Hampton and turned all sorts of rushers loose on quarterback Zak Kustok, whose throws fluttered like lonesome doves.

But as NU's offense began to find a few cracks, its defense shattered like light bulbs. The two members of the defensive line who had a few moments were Dwayne Missouri and Javier Collins. Both are seniors. How much better can this sorry unit be next season?

By halftime—Nebraska, 38-17—Alamo Bowl records had fallen like Chicago snow. Northwestern turned Alexander into Jim Brown. The Nebraska line opened holes so wide that Curtis Enis could have run for 200 yards. If Crouch weren't as inaccurate as Cade McNown, officials might have called off the game and sent everyone back to the River Walk to help improve the local economy.

When the defense wasn't being embarrassed, the Wildcats were kicking themselves in the tail with poor kickoffs and poor punt coverage. What happens next season when the Wildcats take no one by surprise? When the Hail Mary falls incomplete? When the double-overtime miracles cease? When the offensive line gets manhandled as it did against Purdue, Iowa and Nebraska?

What could have been a launching-pad stage for coach Randy Walker's program—Saturday's only bowl, played against a traditional power—turned into of preview of what could be "2001: A Lost-in-Space Odyssey."

When Nebraska increased its lead to 52-17 late in the third quarter, you found yourself reassessing next year's schedule. Gee, the Cats could lose at UNLV. Michigan State? Ohio State? Suddenly 4-7 started looking far more realistic.

Copyright 2001 The Chicago Tribune

 


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