Every week, InsideNU writers Josh Rosenblat and Henry Bushnell will wrap up Northwestern game coverage with some final thoughts (we'll try to stay away from topics addressed in game columns), along with our big takeaways from the rest of the Big Ten. Following Northwestern's 43-40 overtime victory at Notre Dame, here's the 2014 Week 12 edition of the Weekend Rewind:
Prevailing thoughts on Northwestern
A first-person account of Saturday
We often use these Weekend Rewind columns to provide one final bit of analysis of the past weekend's game. This week, I can't bring myself to do that. Saturday was a day where emotion superseded analysis. A first-person account of that emotion, therefore, is far more appropriate.
With four minutes and ten seconds remaining, after Trevor Siemian had just scampered across the goal line to bring Northwestern within one score, I, along with a few other media members, made the decision to head down to the field for the final few minutes. There were certain disadvantages to that decision. Our views of Jimmy Hall's pass interference and Cam McDaniel's critical fumble were somewhat obstructed, and we didn't have the benefit of replay.
But as media members, we are sheltered throughout the game in the press box. On one hand, we stay warm. But on the other, we are significantly detached from the atmospheres that make college football so awesome and unique. Down on the field in South Bend, we felt that atmosphere. We felt the nerves. We felt the tension. Eventually, we would feel the elation and pride.
As Siemian led Northwestern down the field with time ebbing away, the student section behind us collectively groaned with every completion. All the while, there was a growing sense among us, perhaps even a feeling of disbelief. Could Northwestern actually pull off this comeback? When Jack Mitchell's kick was true from 45 yards out, the looks from the adjacent Notre Dame sideline were priceless. Despite the fact that overtime still loomed, the players were deflated.
As overtime unfolded right in front of us, the writing was on the wall. Whether it was Matthew Harris bouncing around energetically while the receiver opposite him looked lifeless, or the crescendoing "defense" chants from the opposite upper deck that quite clearly perturbed a stadium full of navy blue and gold, a Northwestern triumph almost seemed inevitable. And of course, it came.
As NU players stormed the field, it was hard to remain composed. Nobody really knew what to do, not even the players. Some ran over to the fans, some to the band, some to nowhere in particular. A fellow reporter exclaimed, "Oh. My. God!... What?!"
And after seeing the emotions on some of the players' faces, it was even harder to remain objective. When you cover a team all year, you get a pretty good sense of the emotional highs and lows of a season. For this group of players, it had been almost exclusively lows. It had been distress, frustration and dejection. Circling the postgame celebration, I personally couldn't help but feel happy for them.
Trevor Siemian's demeanor was emblematic. Criticized profusely this year, including by us, he was giddy. There was no sense of satisfaction or ‘proving the doubters wrong.' There was just pure joy. Past exasperation was totally overwhelmed by delight.
Purple-clad fans descended from all over the stadium to sing the fight song with the team. Minutes earlier, Notre Dame students and players had labored through a somber rendition of their alma mater. The contrast summed up the emotion of sport.
As players filtered back to the locker room, they did so reluctantly. Fans resisted heading for the exits. Everybody wanted to savor the moment. Some players embraced family members. Others embraced each other one more time. Kyle Prater and Fitz headed for the tunnel, the former's arm around the latter, before they encountered an ailing Greg Kuhar, who was on crutches. Fitz and Prater placed themselves on either side of the big defensive tackle, and helped him all the way to the locker room. The faces of all three shone of pride.
The whole on-field scene embodied everything that Pat Fitzgerald wants this program to be about. It was a prolonged moment of fulfillment. It was the culmination of resilience; of banding together with a "backs-against-the-wall" mentality. Fitz may not be a good Xs-and-Os coach - after all, this team still has a lot of work to do just to avoid a second consecutive 5-7 season - but he sure motivated his players to trust each other and keep fighting, and the result was a memory that will last a lifetime for all involved.
- Henry Bushnell
'No cheering in the press box'
While Henry covered most of the emotions he and others' felt while on the field of the finish of Northwestern's win over Notre Dame above, I have a short story about what it's like to cover a Notre Dame football game.
First off, the press box is enormous. It's longer than any press box I've ever been in and also has at least four rows, which were pretty much all full. Since the stadium isn't very tall, the press box is at a lower vantage point than most and the fans in the last row can easily peer into the press box.
I kind of felt like a zoo animal at times.
Whenever a call would be controversial, the Notre Dame fans in the last row would turn and knock on the glass and ask us what the call would be. Depending on the way we said the call would go, they reacted accordingly.
But the oddest part of the experience for me was what happened after Notre Dame scored.
In every press box, they make the same pregame speech. "This is a professional working environment. Cheering for either team will not be tolerated and you may be asked to leave" or something like that. But on multiple occasions after Irish scores, the PA announcer in the press box had to remind everyone that cheering was not allowed.
Stuff is just different in South Bend.
- Josh Rosenblat
Around the Big Ten
Melvin Gordon sets NCAA record
Many Northwestern fans, especially those in attendance Saturday, probably got caught up in NU's game at Notre Dame only to realize afterwards that up in Madison, history was being made.
Wildcat fans know Melvin Gordon is good. They also understand that the fact of Wisconsin's run game being unstoppable is one of the inescapable truths of college football. But never before was it or he as good as they were Saturday.
Gordon gashed a respectable Nebraska run defense for 408 yards, topping LaDainian Tomlinson's previous record of 406. Tomlinson, however, did it on 43 carries. The most absurd part about Gordon's day? He only touched the ball 25 times, and didn't see the field at all in the fourth quarter.
This wasn't just a duplication of Wisconsin's 70-31 thrashing of Nebraska in the Big Ten Championship in 2012. This was something else. This was other-wordly. Never has a team dominated top-25 defenses so one-dimensionally.
Wisconsin's offensive line obviously deserves a lot of credit, but Gordon is a special talent. He's not just a product of the system. The junior will likely only grace a college football field four more times before he bolts for the NFL, so savor every moment that you get to see him with the ball in his hands.
- Henry Bushnell
Ohio State should be a national contender
If you're any team in the country contending for a national championship, the last team you'd want to play in the first round of the College Football Playoff is Ohio State. The Buckeyes are so explosive on both sides of the ball and J.T. Barrett is playing as well as anyone in the country. The Big Ten is Ohio State's to lose and it seems as if they're picking up steam as they roll toward the playoff.
- Josh Rosenblat
Big Ten Power Rankings
1. Ohio State
3. Michigan State
11. Penn State