In-state rivals face off

By Jarrod Rice

If there is anything the NIU football team should be thankful for at Saturday’s game at Northwestern, is that the Wildcats aren’t on a multi-season losing streak.

The 1982 Northwestern squad was dubbed by ESPN as one of the worst sports teams of all-time, and they were in the midst of a 34-game losing streak that spanned four seasons.

That was, until the Huskies came to town. NIU fell to the dismal Wildcats (31-6) and Northwestern went on to win three of their last eight games that season.

As if that wasn’t enough, in 1990 the Huskies traveled to Evanston only to lose, snapping a 14-game Wildcat losing streak – their third worst of all-time.

Luckily for NIU, those days are long gone and both programs have since been overhauled.

The two teams that will take the field at 3 p.m. in Evanston are no longer at the cellar of their respective conferences and will be playing each other for the first time since 2000.

“It’s always good to play a backyard rival,” said NIU coach Joe Novak, who was defensive coordinator at Miami-Ohio while Northwestern head coach Randy Walker was the team’s fullback in 1974-75. “I’d like to see it more often.”

The Huskies (0-1) come off a loss to Michigan where they committed five turnovers. Junior running back Garrett Wolfe said the team addressed turnovers in practice.

“Turnovers were a really big issue for us,” said Wolfe, who rushed for 148 yards and lost one fumble at Michigan. “I think that if we didn’t have so many we would’ve won the game. We’ve been working on correcting it all week and we’ve been practicing hard.”

Aside from worrying about keeping the ball, the Huskies should worry about what Northwestern does when it has the pigskin.

The Wildcats’ (1-0) offense features senior quarterback Brett Basanez, who threw for 353 yards and two touchdowns, along with a rushing touchdown, in the first half Saturday in a 38-14 win over Ohio.

“[Basanez] is a heck of a player,” Novak said. “He runs and throws the ball well. We will try to limit big plays, but it’s an extremely difficult offense to contain.”

The Wildcats will rely on true freshman running back Tyrell Sutton, who gained 104 yards on the ground on 17 carries and added two touchdowns.

The Huskies’ offense scored just 17 points against Michigan despite amassing 411 total yards, but Wolfe isn’t concerned.

“I thought we were flawless on offense last week except for those turnovers,” Wolfe said. “We were pretty much able to move the ball at will.”

On the defensive side, senior safety Ray Smith is questionable to play. Smith had four tackles against Michigan and suffered a right-hip pointer.