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Original Issue

12 Northwestern Skeptics beware: The Wildcats should score in droves again and play better defense too

To be a Northwestern football player is to perform under a
shadow of doubt. The Wildcats have won or shared the Big Ten
title three times in the last six seasons--as many as Michigan
has and more than Ohio State (two), Wisconsin (two) and Penn
State (none) have in that time--but skeptics of the program
remain. Dealing with that became a lot less important last
Friday, however, when senior strong safety Rashidi Wheeler
suffered a severe asthma attack on the practice field, collapsed
and died. "Rashidi was full of life and was an unbelievably
gifted athlete," said new secondary coach Pat Fitzgerald. "He
had the size and speed to play on Sunday."

Wheeler was one of the few bright spots on a defense that needs
to improve quickly and dramatically, because last year
Northwestern needed every bit of its offensive firepower to win
games by scores of 54-51, 47-44, 41-35 and 52-33. There is no
such concern on offense. Coach Randy Walker estimates that 10
schools sent staff members to Evanston during the off-season to
learn his team's spread offense.

Last fall the Wildcats led the conference in total offense
(475.6 yards per game) and scoring (38.6 points a game), thanks
mainly to a scheme that capitalized on their multitude of
receivers and on quarterback Zak Kustok's ability to recognize
defenses, thus neutralizing teams that had superior speed. With
10 offensive starters returning, Northwestern should be even
more efficient this year. The best of the lot is 5'11",
204-pound senior tailback Damien Anderson. In 2000 he finished
second in the nation in rushing (2,014 yards) and set or tied 23
school records.

There's a lot to like about Walker's style of football. In
particular, his players don't give up. Last year they twice won
on the last snap of the game and another time pulled out a
victory with 20 seconds to play. Sad to say, the Wildcats have to
learn how to handle adversity off the field as well.

--Ivan Maisel

COLOR PHOTO: JONATHAN DANIEL The Big Ten's No.1 offense begins with Anderson, who had 2,014 rushing yards and 22 touchdowns last fall.


2000 record: 8-4 (6-2, T1 in Big Ten)
Final ranking: Not ranked


Offensive plays run by the Wildcats in last year's 61-23 win over
Illinois, a season high in I-A.

An opposing team's coach sizes up the Wildcats

"Offensively they have a good concept, and when they run out of
the spread, it creates problems for the defense. Their trap game
is really tough, and it's all determined by what the coaches see
from the press box. They use a variety of tempos and go
no-huddle a lot.... Quarterback Zak Kustok runs the offense
well, and running back Damien Anderson is tremendous in the open
field.... Linebackers Billy Silva and Napoleon Harris aren't
big, but they're exceptional players."

Strength: 50th of 117

Sept. 7 at UNLV
22 at Duke
Oct. 6 at Ohio State
27 at Purdue
Nov. 3 at Indiana
22 at Illinois