Starting a game with an onside kick raises questions. Northwestern coach Gary Barnett has stamped his program with moves like these and it has led him to back-to-back Big Ten championships. However the magic that “took the purple to Pasadena” has been flickering and his bag of tricks has become less ingenious and more a means of survival. He must have known that his Wildcats were outmatched.
If only everything we learned in college would come in this handy. The lessons learned from the Boise State game four weeks ago about finishing games strongly would be put into action again in Evanston. The game was part of ESPN’s night lineup. At the time, Big Ten games at night were somewhat of a rarity. Therefore, the energy in the stadium was naturally overflowing. Half of the stadium was purple and the other half was red, which is the typical way Ryan Field reaches a sellout. Both bands were there and it offered a bowl game-like atmosphere.
This game had every bit of drama followed by the one of the most stunning finishes that I have ever witnessed. The Wildcats looked to be putting together another Big Ten championship run when they rolled into Madison. The Badgers were coming off two three-point losses to Penn State and Ohio State. Both needed the victory.
Up to this point, I had seen every Big Ten team – except Michigan. Without question, I was looking very forward to seeing the famous maize and blue with their historical winged helmets. On top of that, I was excited that this was my first game that did not involve Wisconsin. I felt like I was broadening my horizons a bit. Last year, during Northwestern’s unbelievable Rose Bowl run, I was unable to attend any of their games. So, I was completely clad in purple looking forward to seeing the new and improved Wildcat team.
I never knew how much I liked purple – not that there was a lot of it in the stands on this day. I figured the low attendance was a result of the cold rain that dampened Dyche Stadium. But, I soon learned that Northwestern has had an unfortunate athletic history. 1949 marked their last Rose Bowl experience – or any bowl expereince for that matter. So, even though Wisconsin lost to Michigan State the week before, I felt confident that the Badgers would win with ease.
Wisconsin’s glory season was underway as they entered this contest 4-0 and nationally ranked for the first season in years. A crazy Camp Randall made things difficult for the Wildcats and they lost 53-14. Quarterback Darrell Bevell completed his first 14 passes, and Wisconsin accumulated more points than they had in a single game in ten years – all this in front of a sellout crowd of over 77,000, a number that included a few bowl scouts.