As I mentioned last week here, my beloved Northwestern began their football season really, really badly. Their only win was sneaking by lowly Western Illinois, after having lost to two weak opponents. It looked like they might go the entire year with that single victory.
Then, against all expectations, last week the Wildcats somehow beat Penn State, ranked #27, at Penn State's own stadium on homecoming.
The question was -- was it just some bizarre fluke, or did coach Pat Fitzgerald figure out some way to turn the entire team around 180 degrees in just one week?
This being Northwestern, the jury is still out. Especially since this week they were playing Wisconsin, who is ranked even better than Penn State, the #17 team in the country. But for inexplicable reasons the evidence is pointing towards tentatively "turn around." Because they just beat Wisconsin, 20-14!!.
What helped was a bizarre decision by the Wisconsin coaching staff (which the shocked announcers are probably still talking about). Very late in the game, with the score 20-7, the Badgers had the ball first-and-goal on the 3-yard-line, and their star running back Melvin Gordon had already set a person record with a massive 259 yards rushing. Yet rather than give him the ball, Wisconsin decided to surprise Northwestern and pass instead. It was a surprise -- because it was a really bad decision, and Northwestern intercepted the pass in the end zone.
Wisconsin came back to score another touchdown, but it was too little, too late, and as time was ticking down, they threw yet another interception, their fourth. (Remarkably, three of them, including those last two, were by freshman Godwin Igwebuike.) And NU ran out the clock. Helping, too, was another freshman, Justin Jackson, who ran for 162 yards. All this bodes well for the future. Yet remind utterly unexpected for the present.
I don't even begin to understand it. This team really, actually truly look pathetic after the first two weeks. And now -- now, they're 3-3, and (as I write this) the only 2-0 team in the Big Ten, and bizarrely have an unexpected chance to win six games and become "bowl eligible."
But hey, this is Northwestern, the "Cardiac Cats," so I'm not counting anything out, including being routed the rest of the way. But...after the last two weeks, they have at least made things respectable. Stunningly.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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