Football wary of Wildcats ahead of matchup


Sophomore tailback Joel Bouagnon (28) blocks a Presbyterian defender Thursday at Huskie Stadium. Bouagnon made his first career start at running back in the Huskies’ 55-3 victory over the Blue Hose, taking 16 handoffs for 97 yards and four touchdowns, including his first career rushing touchdown.

By Ryan Barnard

Football will meet the Northwestern Wildcats on the field for the first time since 2005 when the teams play Saturday in Evanston.

The 2:30 p.m. match at Ryan Field will mark the eighth meeting between the teams, with all the games taking place in Evanston and the Wildcats posting a 6-0-1 record against the Huskies; the teams tied 16-16 in 1987. In the last meeting, the Huskies lost by the slimmest of margins, 38-37.

The Huskies executed their game plan well in the season opener Aug. 28, beating Presbyterian in a 55-3 rout; but, the Wildcats are a different animal than the Blue Hose of the Football Championship Subdivision.

“They’re big, they’re athletic, they’re fast, they’re strong [and] they’re unbelievably well-coached,” said head coach Rod Carey. “They have a great staff over there, and obviously coach [Pat] Fitzgerald does a good job with them, and they have a proven track record of being really successful.”

Wildcats quarterback Trevor Siemian began 2014 with the third-most career passing yards among Big Ten starters. Siemian, who is 6-foot-3, completed 23 of his 44 pass attempts for 229 yards and one touchdown against California in a season-opening 31-24 loss. Siemian also flashed his mobility against California when he scampered 17 yards and eluded several defenders to score on a quarterback throwback play.

A year ago, the Northwestern defense ranked among the nation’s leaders with 19 interceptions in 12 games. In the Wildcats’ season opener versus California, they showed they plan to keep up that style of play in 2014, with Collin Ellis and Ibraheim Campbell grabbing interceptions in last week’s loss.

In 2013, the Huskies defeated the Iowa Hawkeyes and the Purdue Boilermakers to become the first MAC team to beat two Big Ten teams in the same regular season.

NIU will look to continue its recent success against Big Ten opponents with redshirt junior Matt McIntosh, who Carey named the starting quarterback Tuesday. McIntosh shined in the season opener for the Huskies, going 10-of-14 for 87 yards and one touchdown and rushing for 27 yards on four carries.

“We feel like we have real good depth there, but it’s time,” Carey said, according to a Wednesday Northern Star article. “Matt played well enough to be named the starter and [will] go ahead and be given that right now.”

For players like redshirt senior linebacker Michael Santacaterina, who grew up in the Chicago area, the in-state matchup is “big,” but it’s also “just another game.”

“As a kid you look up to schools in the Big Ten like Illinois, Northwestern, and now to get a chance to play them is awesome,” Santacaterina said. “This whole battle of the state thing [is] going on, which is cool and everything, but to us it’s just another game on the schedule. We’re going to go in there and handle business.”