Thanks to some solid defense and for the first time this season a couple breaks Northwestern pulled an epic upset on Saturday afternoon in Iowa City by beating the #4 ranked Hawkeyes 17-10. In a game which for a large part was a battle of backup quarterbacks, Northwestern got just enough offense from Dan Persa to score the only offensive touchdown in the final 59 minutes of the game. Iowa actually had 41 more total yards than Northwestern, but the Wildcats capitalized with 14 points off turnovers to secure bowl eligibility for the third straight year. Despite not getting invited to a bowl in 2007 and not yet officially clinching a birth for this year—this is a huge accomplishment for the program and for Pat Fitzgerald as head coach. Now the ‘Cats are on a mission to post enough wins to enough wins to avoid spending the Holiday season in Detroit at the Motor City Bowl. Can NU do so? Well, that will be a challenge that starts this weekend at Illinois and is just one of two major events for Wildcat Nation this weekend in the state.
Before the ‘Cats march down to Champaign to take on the Illini, Northern Illinois’s men’s basketball squad will march into Welsh-Ryan Arena to take on Coach Bill Carmody’s team. With the NU hoops squad getting loads of national media attention already this year, the hoop squad’s game against NIU will be just as important as the football game against the Illini. Considering the fickle nature of the media and NU fans, a loss to NIU in basketball would be a very poor way to start the season. Much of the good will Coach Carmody’s ‘Cats have going into this year will evaporate if the ‘Cats fail to show up versus a talented, but inferior foe in NIU. That would be very bad as NU’s next basketball game is home against #10 Butler and the ‘Cats will need solid fan support in Welsh-Ryan to pull that upset.
On the other side of things, NU’s football squad and ‘Cat fans obviously want the win versus U of I in football, and I think we can agree Illinois isn’t looking like the pushover they were early in the year anymore. Also, you have to consider that today NU won against Iowa with an injured Mike Kafka and Dan Persa got hurt in the game as well. If Persa is out for the Ilini and Kafka isn’t healthy enough to run (as he wasn’t today), that’ll mean NU is super one dimensional against Illinois unless a special package is installed for WR Jeremy Ebert as the ‘Cats running QB. NU can beat the Illini even if they don’t have a mobile QB, but it’ll really help the ‘Cats if Kafka is 100% or Persa is able to both pass and throw as he looked like he was before his injury today.
Bottom line for NU fans, both these games are important and both will be tough. Let’s get out and support both teams. I’d love to see Welsh-Ryan Arena get at least 4,500-5,000 fans on Friday night and I assume that, as always, a nice NU crowd will travel to Memorial Stadium on Saturday. A win on Friday would be a great start to the 2009-10 basketball season and a win on Saturday would put the 2009 football season in a position to end in a very special way. With as tight as the middle of the Big Ten is this year a number of bowls have to at least be considering the ‘Cats and getting to 7 wins would help. Basketball wise, many have talked about how NU needs a strong RPI to make the NCAA tournament and that’s true. Along the same lines, the other thing NU needs is to avoid bad losses such as dropping a home game to NIU.