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Thursday, January 8, 2009
Obscure Northwestern game resonates for Meyer

By ESPN.com staff
ESPN.com

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

A game that wasn't even supposed to happen had a profound impact on Florida head coach Urban Meyer and holds sigificance in tonight's FedEx BCS National Championship Game.

On Nov. 17, 2001, Meyer brought his Bowling Green squad to face Northwestern at Ryan Field in Evanston. Northwestern's schedule originally didn't include the Falcons, but after a game against Navy was postponed becaues of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the Wildcats needed a game and landed one with Bowling Green. 

As Pete Thamel writes in The New York Times, the 43-42 shootout won by Bowling Green on a two-point conversion in the final minute left a mark with Meyer. It also introduced him to the offense Florida will face in tonight's game. Oklahoma offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson held the same position at Northwestern in 2001 and employed a no-huddle spread that piled up points. 

"'It was the most damnedest thing you've ever seen,' Meyer recalled with a smile. 'I don't know if I've been part of a better game.' ... 

"As quickly as Meyer can recall the wild final sequence that allowed Bowling Green to erase a 14-point deficit in the final 80 seconds, he can also break down his defense's ineptitude. Bowling Green allowed 624 yards on 97 offensive plays. Northwestern never punted."

Bowling Green's offense wasn't bad, either. As a student reporter covering the game, I remember how impressive Meyer's team looked as it moved the ball down the field. His decision to go for the win and make a gutsy call -- a reverse to wide receiver Cole Manger -- showed a lot about the rising star in the coaching ranks.

The game eliminated Northwestern, the 2001 preseason favorite, from bowl contention. Bowling Green finished 8-3 but missed a bowl. 

So the game didn't really mean much at the time, but Meyer and his assistants didn't forget their first brush with Wilson's offense.

"[Offensive coordinator Dan] Mullen said that while boarding a plane to Starkville, Miss., to be introduced as the head coach at Mississippi State, he called Meyer and defensive coordinator Charlie Strong to remind them again.

"It was the fastest thing that I've ever seen," Mullen said. "I don't mean the fastest players, I mean the fastest offense, how fast they snap the ball. I wanted those guys to remember how fast that it actually goes, that's what's important to remember."