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Northwestern downplays revenge factor

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Brendan Smith cites two reasons why revenge might not be Northwestern's best recourse Saturday against Duke, even if it's the most obvious one.

No Wildcats loss from 2007 stung more than a 20-14 home setback against Duke, which snapped the Blue Devils' nation-long 22-game losing streak and possibly prevented them from setting an FBS record for consecutive losses, a mark held by none other than Northwestern. For the Wildcats, the game was a total meltdown, from coaching decisions to penalties to missed opportunities in the red zone. As the team looked back on a 6-6 season without a bowl appearance, the Duke loss stuck out like an offensive lineman at the salad bar.

If there's ever a game to boil the blood, its Saturday's rematch in Durham, N.C. But Smith, a junior safety, turns down the heat.

"If you go into a fight angry or into something and you're just so mad and you're trying to use all that aggression, it's going to be a disadvantage," he said. "You're not going to go through your game plan. You're not going to have the same technique and you're not going to be on your job as well as you would be if you were just focused on that play. Duke has players. They're Division I athletes. They have new coaches, new players. It's a new game."

Smith's second reason to reject revenge might be even more important.

A win against Duke last year would have been nice, but he wouldn't have gotten too giddy about a 7-5 record and a lower-tier bowl. And though avoiding losses to teams like Duke is a critical step for Northwestern, which still gets grouped in with the BCS' bottom rung despite some success since 1995, it's important to aim higher.

"I'm just happy to be out there with a team that wants it," he said. "The past couple years, you want to win, but I feel like this team is a little different. Guys expect more. We've had enough of having 6-6 be a good year. The [2005] Sun Bowl, 7-5, that's still a letdown to me. Our team is better than that. This team and this year, and hopefully in the future, we'll expect to do better things."

Running back Tyrell Sutton has his own motivation for Saturday night after sitting out last year's contest with an ankle injury. Sutton felt helpless watching the game slip away, a feeling that "feeds the fuel" for Saturday.

Like Smith, Sutton stiff-arms revenge but senses a different attitude this year.

"Everyone has a sense of urgency," he said. "There's a lot of things that are going the way we want it because we're taking control of this team. The coaches are backing off and giving us a lot more control than we have had in the past."