The Waterboy
2006 Archive

November 21, 2006

Defending Our House

OK, so it wasn’t the 2006 edition of the “college football game of the millennium,” but the Passion play performed on the gridiron stage of Dyche’s Ditch last Saturday was NU’s notable rivalry game against those insufferable Pumpkin-Headed rubes from Shampoo-Banana.  You know, the ones who are so much sunshine patriots regarding their football team, that they will root/gloat over a squeaker “W” over soon-to-be Big 10/11 doormat, Moo U., then go into spin-doctor mode two weekends hence when recounting their dunderheaded flop against Frank Solich’s Bobbleheads from Athens, Ohio (that’s Ohio University, not da Ohio State University).  Ill-Annoy sauntered into Evanston sporting a “stellar” 2-win record and blowing smoke at anyone within earshot on how they would pound the hapless Mild-Kitties into submission in the same manner in which they “stoned” Da Big, Bad BuckNuts in their 7-point loss two games prior.  If they could only extract their collective heads from their bottles of MD 20-20 just long enough for an overdue reality check – one which would admit that dOSU HC, Jim Tressel, down-shifted his nitrox-injected top-fuel dragster offense into cruise control lest one of his Big Guns become a casualty in a contest against a conference bottom feeder that had little relevance to their mission to bag the crystalline 2006 Sears Trophy beyond chalking another ho-hum “W” to their national championship ledger.  

In the minds and hearts of NU’s first year HC, Pat Fitzgerald, and his troops, this season-ending grapple meant a great deal and held special significance, especially when viewed against the backdrop of somber emotions surrounding the passing of HC Randy Walker just weeks before the start of this fall’s football campaign.  A prevailing principle that had been indoctrinated emphatically into every player on Walk’s football teams was to “finish strong.”  RW’s “finish strong” principle was re-affirmed and sustained by Fitz and his coaching staff as they assumed the reins of command from their fallen mentor, and served as a catalyst to another Rock precept: “never take a play off.”  To be sure, this “finish strong” character and its corollary, “never take a play off,” were in full evidence among the ‘Cats as they squared-off against the Pumpkin-Heads.  Simply stated, the puffed-up, self-absorbed Ill-Whine-I  were summarily shot down and brought back to earth against a highly motivated NU team, especially in H-2, where our Wildcats reduced their penchant for turnovers and giving-up impact plays via field play breakdowns, and basically let their play-making capabilities shine.  And after the final gun sounded, Ill-Annoy’s players and fans limped out from Ryan Field, licking their gridiron wounds and shifting their fickle sporting interests, once again, towards winter hoop dreams to salve their bruised pigskin aspirations.     
How the ‘Cats Smashed the Pumpkins

Stoned Just In Time
If the ‘Cat defense or kick coverage squad didn’t make the bone-headed field play blunder that contributed to the Ill-Whine–I completing an impact play for substantive yardage, an argument that the ‘Cats were relatively successful in keeping the Pumpkin-Head O at bay could be made.  Although NU’s defense limited Ill-Annoy’s offense to 7 first downs for the entire game, these approximately half-dozen impact plays, which gained 20 yards or more, kept the Ill-Whine-I competitive though most of H-1.  In any case, when that big-yardage play was ripped-off, NU’s defense responded by re-focusing on correct tackling and/or coverage techniques, and stoned the Pumpkin-Head offense for little or no gain, forcing the critical change in possession.  

The pumkinheads console each other...

On Ill-Annoy’s 1st possession of the game, off a fumble recovery proffered on NU’s 1st possession, QB “Juice” Williams weaved his way thru a series of missed tackles and poor pursuit angles for 22 yards to NU’s 8.  At that juncture, the ‘Cat D stiffened, stubbornly holding the Ill-Whine-I O to a mere 5 total yards in 3 plays, all within the shadow of their own goal post.  Thankfully, the Pumpkin-Heads were victimized by their suspect kicking game as the chip-shot FG attempt boinked off the left upright, giving reprieve to the taxed ‘Cat defense while preserving a 0-0 score.

After NU tallied their first TD off a 41 yard drive on the heels of a badly shanked punt, the subsequent kickoff was returned by the Ill-Whine-I to the NU 11, with the Pumpkin-Head O salivating at their opportunity to deliver the game-tying TD.  On the ensuing 3rd play from scrimmage, NU’s much-maligned LB, Adam Kadela, atoned for his earlier tackling gaffes by blitzing into the face of “Juice” and separating him from the ball, which was pounced upon by a second blitzing comrade, Brendan Smith.  Another bullet dodged by the ‘Cat D responding big time to the challenge of the Ill-Annoy offense sniffing at doorstep of their end zone. 

In Q4, the struggling Ill-Annoy offense finally generated a sustained last-ditch drive, augmented by enigmatic poor tackling by NU’s defensive front 7 between the 20 yard lines and highlighted by consecutive rushes of 25, 19 and 9 yards, giving them a 2nd down and 1 at the NU 15.  Once more, the ‘Cat D rose and stoned Ill-Annoy’s wholly inconsistent offense from gaining a single yard for the next 3 downs.  Pumpkin-Heads DENIED!!!… AGAIN!!!

Hands of Stone
Making matters worse for the Ill-Annoy O, was the predilection of the Ill-Whine-I receiver corps to mishandle the accurately delivered pass.  There had to have been at least 7-8 such occasions.  Maybe it was flat light, or the Lake Michigan water used in their Gatorade, or perhaps it was the masonry at the ends of their wrists.

Whatever the cause, the Pumpkin-Headed WRs contracted a deadly, debilitating case of the dropsies as they continually displayed their collective “hands of stone” and failed to complete the drive-sustaining grab, especially wide-open targets in critical down situations.  Ill-Annoy HC, Ron Zook, whose reputation was built on his ability to develop quality collegiate passing offenses, had to be pulling out his hair by the roots.

“Good Hands” doctor’s prescription to the Ill-Annoy WRs: “Take a couple of these brown, 2-pointed pigskins pills, carry them around for the day, then call me in the morning…” 

I be losin' again, Matey!!"

Freshly Squeezed “Juice”
When conceiving his defensive game plan, NU’s DC, Greg “Will this truly be the end to the Era of the Swiss Cheese D?” Colby, must have concluded that the passing game of Ill-Annoy’s newbie QB, “Juice” Williams, could be compromised whenever his immediate attention was drawn away from his secondary pass reads and towards the oncoming pass rush.  So… he directed his LBs and DBs to blitz early & often and get into the face of “Juice” whenever possible.  This strategy proved very effective, as “Juice” was squeezed by the ‘Cats’ persistent pass rush, inducing poor reads and poor deliveries.  Coupled with the dropsie epidemic raging among his receiver corps, the squeezed “Juice” only generated a paltry 65 passing yards off a laughable 4 for 18 completion rate.  Nice to see an opponent’s newbie QB battle his own passing attack demons for a change.    

Playing the part of a river boat gambler, Fitz made THE momentum-turning decision of the game, when he called for an on-side kick attempt as the ‘Cats kicked off to start H-2.  The play caught the Ill-Whine-I kick return team’s front 5 completely off guard, as they turned tail, running towards their blocking assignment positions, just before NU K, Joel Howells, completed his approach to the teed football.  Howells made the perfect approach angle adjustment and pounded the bean into the turf, causing it to bounce 12 feet into the air and downfield the required 10 yards.  The ensuing scramble for the loose pigskin was never in doubt, as the startled Ill-Annoy front men try to reverse their field towards the kicked ball, only to get wiped out and shoved further downfield away from the free ball, which was swarmed under and gobbled up by several members of the ‘Cat kick coverage team.  I watched, awestruck, through my field glasses and never identified who specifically completed the recovery, although I definitely saw a player in a purple jersey make the grab and cradle it to the turf.  Truly, the call and its execution was a thing of beauty, swinging old mo’ in NU’s direction for good.  GREAT CALL, FITZ!!!   

Ground & Pound
Finally, NU’s OC Garrick McGee was not discouraged by the limited efficiency of NU’s ground game over the course of the game.  Although neither of the ‘Cats’ ‘Rell Brothers, Ty or Terr, popped a true impact rush play of their own, both pounded the ball and got positive yardage on most of their individual carries.  Even after Terrell Jordan served that hot & flaky turnover to the Ill-Whine-I in Q1, following his nifty 20-yard pass completion that had given NU a 1st down on the Ill-Annoy 41, McGee’s resolve to maintain NU’s balanced attack paradigm didn’t flag.  He continually called-on the rushing attack of the ‘Rell twins behind the effective blocking of the ‘Cat OL.  It was pound, pound, pass, pound all afternoon - with the lone possession exception being NU’s successful FG drive at the end of H-1.  By Q4, Ill-Annoy’s high-energy, “tackle everything” LB, J. Leman, who had radared whichever of the ’Rell Brothers had lined-up in the NU backfield for laudable 11 solo and 11 assist tackles for the game, was dead on his feet and could not answer NU’s rushing attack bell.  The ‘Cat O doubled-up on Ill-Annoy’s time of possession in the game’s last stanza, and, with the ‘Cat defense having stoned the Pumpkin-Heads’ last-gasp drive, played-out the remainder of the contest with their own version of “keep-away,” scoring NU’s game-clinching TD with a scant 2 minutes and change left on the game clock.  Game Over.       


This game wasn’t the dominating masterpiece that NU laid on the I-Away Black-Eyes, but it was equally as satisfying.  The ‘Cats’ resolve to “finish strong” for the game’s full 60 minutes took precedent over the comparable lackluster, “mail-it-in” field play clunker displayed by the Pumpkin-Heads, and was the difference-maker.  In the end, the ‘Cats’ superior effort defended their home turf and captured a well-deserved “W”. 

As the 2006 season progressed, the game-time performance of the coaching staff improved markedly, especially the play-calling of newbie offensive coordinator, Garrick McGee.  Responding to the myriad of emotional distractions with increased focus and resolve, the players garnered their own improvement, most notably, among the offensive and defensive lines.  This season’s 2-deep roster was peppered liberally with young personnel having limited game experience.  Now they have the invaluable knowledge of what it takes to compete in the Big 10/11 conference and, more importantly, what it takes to be victorious. 

The 2007 season will be one where the team’s overall path towards maturation and perseverance in the face of adversity will continue.  This latest win against their downstate rival will cement what lessens were learned throughout this roller-coaster campaign, and will pay dividends in the upcoming recruiting wars for attracting upper echelon football talent.  I’m excited for the team and HC Fitz.    

No better way to end a season.       

The Waterboy

November 17, 2006


Does anyone even care about the NU-BuckNut game anymore, let alone bother with a post-game analysis?  5 minutes after the final gun sounded ending last Saturday’s contest, the national media hype machine was in full roar focusing-in on this season’s “college football game of the millennium.”  Every cable, network and newspaper sports analyst possessing a heartbeat resembled a rabid hyena looming over a fresh kill, jockeying for position to become the recognized spokesperson for the BuckNut vs. Dazed & Blue Horde “instant classic.”  What was once prelude is now a forgotten afterthought, obscured in the dark shadow cast by this monumental clash of Titans.  However, I still retain strong personal interest, so here goes…   


NU played in their 2nd BCS Bowl game for the 2006 season, hosting the BuckNuts of C-bus last Saturday (the first being against the Dazed & Blue Horde of Ann Arbor 2 weeks prior), and most everyone among the Purple Populace who witnessed the 44-point differential bloodletting had an epiphany, of sorts.  In a nutshell, the big revelation came down to 2 specific messages -
1.    The ‘Cats aren’t as good as their wholly unexpected “W” against I-Away falsely indicated.
2.    The ‘Cats’ offensive production is much better with C.J. Bacher receiving snaps from center.

Beyond that, the contest proved that the ‘Cats definitely are not ready for college prime time, and that the hype surrounding the 2006 BuckNuts’ undisputed ranking atop every college football poll imaginable is more than well deserved.  IMHO, every other Division 1A collegiate football team is 2 levels lower – and yes, that includes the Big, Bad Wolverines.  I know that’s a bold statement given that the Dazed & Blue Horde have the same undefeated status going into this season-ending, marquee showdown as does dOSU, but comparisons of the two end there.  The BuckNut O is too diverse, their D too smothering and they have the ultimate trump card in HC Jim Tressel (against whom, D&B HC, Lloyd Carr, couldn’t wash Tressel’s team bus).  But enough of next weekend’s mega-game.

Simply stated, the ‘Cats were overwhelmed by superior talent and field play efficiency from their first offensive series on.  What surprised me most was how effortless most of the BuckNuts’ offensive scoring plays appeared.  However, there was a faint ray of hope shining out from the gloom of last Saturday’s blowout: NU’s offense, once again led by QB C.J. Bacher and employing the substantive play-making talent of his main offensive weapon, Tyrell, “Streak” Sutton, showed that they could compete.  While the ‘Cat D struggled mightily, their offense gained 297 yards on the BuckNuts defense, with “Streak” accounting for almost half - 57 on the ground and a credible 75 off 7 pass receptions.  All those yards, accumulated in spite of multiple turnovers - 3 lost fumbles and 2 picks to be specific - revealed that the ‘Cats weren’t exactly de-clawed by the Big, Bad BuckNuts, but strived to maintain their competitiveness in the face of such daunting self-inflicted wounds.  If those turnovers were eliminated, the ‘Cats would have challenged the BuckNuts much more.  But they weren’t, so they didn’t and the results were what they were. 

How the BuckNuts Creamed the ‘Cats

C.J.’s Day
NU’s QB, C.J. Bacher’s day against the BuckNuts could be described as a full spaghetti western – the good, the bad and the ugly. 

Example #1…  The good: in his first series of the game, C.J. came-out throwing well, completing 2 of 3 passes for 24 yards to his go-to receiver, Shaun Herbert.  The bad: after grabbing his second pass, Herbert turned upfield, gang-tackled by 4 Bucks, then stripped of the ball by a very hard yank from Butkus award finalist, LB Jim Laurinaitis.  The ugly: the refs completely missed the fact that Herbert’s knee was clearly down when he was stripped of the bean and never reviewed the play, while the TV broadcast replayed the action from multiple angles, all of which would have negated the turnover, allowing the ‘Cats to retain possession.  With the short field, the BuckNuts converted NU’s first proffered French pastry into 7 points after a mere 5 plays. 

Example #2…  The good: on the first down in NU’s 2nd offensive series, C.J. completes a sweet 14 yard pass to Ross Lane.  The bad: on the next play, C.J. mis-handles the shotgun snap from center, bobbles the ball to the ground, and instead of falling on it, tries to make the pick-up in-stride, only to kick the ball straight out from between his hands with his foot, missing its recovery.  The ugly: instead, the BuckNuts converge on this second powdered sugar turnover, gobbling it up at the ‘Cats’ 27 yard line.  4 plays later, once again, the BuckNuts take full advantage of the short field for their 2nd TD of the day dumping the ‘Cats down a 14-point hole.

Example #3…  Well, I’ll skip right to the ugly:  on NU’s 4th possession, after gaining a series-opening first down, C.J. drops back to pass, stares down his intended receiver running a short square-out pattern to the near sideline.  BuckNut CB, Brandon Mitchell, reads C.J.’s telegraph, breaks on the thrown ball, completes the pick and rumbles 46 unobstructed yards for the Buck’s 3rd TD, off NU’s 3rd turnover in its first 4 offensive possessions.

Who wants (yet) another helping???

It was that kinda day for C.J.  After his starting QB threw his 2nd INT midway through Q3, again having stared-down his intended receiver, Fitz recognized that Mr. Bacher, while desperately trying to make positive plays, was forcing the ball into coverage and ordered him to ride pine for the remainder of the game.  Not a bad move.  However, C.J. did show that he could be effective when he kept his head and his composure under fire.  Still it was in his best interests that his field play ticket was punched for the day, because in doing so, his coach protected C.J. from re-injuring his battered ego as well as his bad wheel.   

dOSU O-Boys
The BuckNut passing attack is nothing less than a juggernaut.  WR Ted Ginn’s reputation as a game-breaking  WR and kick return specialist, is solid and well-deserved.  Complimenting speedster Ginn is the dOSU’s true speed merchant, WR Tony Gonzalez, a former Ohio H.S. 100 yard dash champion, who possesses the quickest turn of foot and the best hands in the Big 10/11 conference.  Add to the mix, the uncanny ability to find the open receiver and pinpoint delivery accuracy of dOSU’s very high quality QB, Troy Smith, this combination comprises a very formidable offensive force.  And its efficiency was on full display in Dyche’s Ditch against the ‘Cats.  14 Troy Smith passes were distributed across 9 targets, with no one receiver grabbing more than 3, for 4 TDs.  In the spotlight of a prime-time national broadcast, BuckNut receivers used this game as a glorified scrimmage, and ran routes into open zones and made the completion virtually at will against the beleaguered NU secondary.  Couple this play-making efficacy with NU’s penchant for baking/serving light and flaky turnovers early and often to this offensive machine, the outcome of the game was never in doubt.    

Swarmed Under
A ground game limited to 89 yards on 24 carries coerced NU’s OC Garrick McGee to re-focus his offensive attack primarily towards the pass.  In doing so, the Cats’ original game plan had become one-dimensional and totally dependent on the play-making passing acumen of their QB, which fell right into dOSU’s defensive game plan.  It has been no great secret among NU’s opponents throughout this fall’s campaign, passing efficiency among the ‘Cats’ newbie QBs, from game to game, has been inconsistent at best and downright unattainable at its worst.  And against the swarming, penetrating, heat-seeking missiles, also known as the BuckNut DL, this capricious inconsistency was amplified.  The 2006 ‘Cat offense has never garnered success without a balanced attack, and with the O forced to rely almost exclusively on their passing game, NU’s offensive capabilities unraveled in short order.  At least they have the game films to review in the off-season to analyze where their deficiencies lie and focus on correction and improvement in their field play for 2007.         


So the 2006 ‘Cats know what it’s like to stand toe-to-toe with Division 1A’s consensus No. 1 collegiate football team.  Their bloody noses and bruised egos are testament to the fact that they didn’t back down from the Big, Bad BuckNuts, but met them head-on and were beaten soundly, fair and square.  OK, time to turn the page. 

The Pumpkin-Heads from Shampoo-Banana are next and this rivalry game offers a chance at redemption from the multiple gaffes and shortcomings from last Saturday’s experience.  And believe you me, the Cats ARE BECOMING a good, competitive football team.  On the other hand, the Ill-Annoy Ill-Whine-I football players are just that - annoying, puffed-up, egotistic cry-babies.  Defending our House, Dyche’s Ditch, and its symbolic bronze statue overlooking Ryan Field from the south end-zone, Hannibal, from the classless mockery and abuse that was heaped on him several years ago by the Pumpkin-Heads is motivation enough to smack these rubes square on the beezer and send them packing, tails between their legs, back to the corn fields of central Illinois. 

No better way to end a season.       

The Waterboy     

November 8, 2006

Balance Quest
Or… How the ‘Cats snatched the “W”
via a balanced, coordinated effort.

Who woulda thunk it?  Finally, the 2006 Wildcats sealed a victory with a complete game across all phases of field play.  This highly unexpected, yet welcome win in Iowa City was not so much a destination than it was a confirmation of the potential possessed by this football program and its current new coaching regime.  From the ashes of what has been a dismal season fraught with shortfalls, from poor execution, to shoddy game plan generation, to lack of leadership, to some the most questionable game-time play calling in over a decade, arises the best exhibition of competitive, Big 10/11 quality football of the 2006 campaign thus far.

This team achievement was the result of two key factors.  First, every individual player focused on completing his assignment. By focusing on the completion of all the incremental, critical technique details of a single play -- the sharp initial charge off the snap of the ball, getting oneself to the assignment location, gaining separation from the blocker or maintaining contact with the blocking target, decisively driving off the opposite foot to quickly cut into that seam at the LOS or into that open space within the pass route, stepping up into pocket protection and scanning the field for the open receiver, driving off the back foot and delivering the pass with precision, catching the delivered pass with the hands first before any subsequent move, recognizing play flow and closing on the ball with abandon, delivering the hit with extreme prejudice -- the team realized that they could match up and succeed at the fundamental level.  

The second factor was the overall balance of execution across all squads, offense, defense and special teams.  What separated this game from the previous ones: there wasn’t that glaring deficiency from one squad that weakened or negated the effective play from another squad.  The offensive game plan and its attack strategies worked in seamless harmony.  The passing attack forced the Black-Eyes from stacking the box with numbers to stop the rushing tandem of NU’s ‘Rell Brothers, Ty and Ter, which opened rushing seams at the LOS; while the effective ground game opened up the quick slant and the drag or crossing route for low-risk possession completions to the open receiver, as well as vertical pass patterns.  Complimentary defensive strategies kept injured Black-Eye QB, Drew Tate, at bay, unable to exploit the well-chronicled coverage woes among NU’s secondary consistently; while the ‘Cat DL controlled the LOS well enough to neutralize the potent I-Away rushing attack and to penetrate and close on Tate as he dropped back behind his pocket protection screen.       

And although occasional breakdowns in execution occurred, there were enough cumulative completions in the details of the individual play that, when reviewed collectively, showed that this much-maligned football family could compete with a reputedly better opponent on both sides of the ball for an entire 60 minutes.

Balanced offensive attacks + balanced defensive coverages + imperfect but effective kicking game = a “W”.

How the ‘Cats Sealed the Deal
against the Black-Eyes

Superior OL Play
The strength of the 2006 Children of the Corn has been their defense, especially as they prey upon second-tier Division 1A opponents and Big 10/11 conference also-rans.  However, as the I-Away defense lined up opposite the ‘Cats last Saturday, it showed the wear and tear of having faced the Big 2 of the Big 10/11 over the last several weekends, especially within their DL ranks where injuries to key personnel rendered this usually dependable unit damaged goods.  Identifying the resultant pedestrian field play from these players, NU’s offensive brain trust generated a game plan to exploit them like the wounded animals they are and directed the OL to go after them with a vengeance. 

With the emergence of an effective passing game over the last 2 contests, the first order of business was to solidify NU’s pass protection.  Against the “lesser” conference QBs that they faced, namely Perdue’s Curtis Painter and the Who-Zits’ Kellen Lewis, who passed for 249 and 255 yards respectively, the secret was out that the I-Away D were vulnerable against the pass.  Simply stated, the diminished Black-Eye DL struggled to fight through pass blockers well enough to apply anything resembling play-altering pressure on an opponent’s QB.  And the ‘Cats’ offensive front 5 delivered a stellar pass protection performance, consistently keeping the I-Away pass rush locked down, while giving up just one sack for the entire game.  The final result: NU QB C.J. Bacher had a field day, unhurriedly throwing for 218 yards to open receivers, often in long-distance down situations to keep drives alive and move the ball downfield.    

Next objective was to blast seams into the weakened Black-Eye defensive front 7.  With their secondary already back on its heels attempting to defend NU’s resurgent aerial attack, I-Away defensive coaches employed 6-man formations against the ‘Cat ground game.  These defensive sets were easy pickings for the ‘Cats, who had faced 7-8 man fronts throughout most of the 2006 season, as the ‘Rell Brothers slashed and pounded their way through and around the hard-pressed Black-Eye D for substantive yardage. By H-2, the legs of I-Away’s beleaguered 6-man front were vulcanized and spent as NU’s OL continued their domination of the LOS.  The Black-Eye DC, desperate to augment his rush defense, opted to blitz his LBs to disrupt the ‘Cats’ offensive flow.  Unfortunately, these blitzing backers came up a step tardy on virtually every occasion, and NU’s RBs, behind the relentless pounding provided by their OL, burst past the blitz defender gaining yards in bunches.  With 6 minutes left on the game clock, Terrell Jordan cemented the win by blasting through a huge hole off zone blocking in the middle of the exhausted Black-Eye DL for a 34-yard scamper.  TD… Game Over.  The usually raucous home town fans voiced their discontent with a chorus of boos and griping. 


Superior DL Play
Not to be outdone, NU’s DL answered the game’s opening bell with an inspired performance of their own that recalled the ‘Instant Classic” defensive efforts of NU’s past championship seasons.  From I-Away’s first offensive series, the ‘Cat DL were on a mission to penetrate the Black-Eye backfield and wreak havoc.  The ‘Cat DTs constantly neutralized the initial push by the Black-Eye offensive middle at the LOS while the DEs were very successful in stringing out attempts by the I-Away ground game to gain the defensive corner.  On passing attempts, NU’s DEs crashed hard from the outside-in, compressing the field in which Drew Tate operated.  ‘Cat DC Greg Colby, seemingly reversing his “Swiss Cheese” strategies, abandoned his 3-man pass rush formations and used 4 DL pass rush for most of the contest, bolstered by liberal use of LB and CB blitz packages, to maintain pressure on Mr. Tate.  In addition, NU’s defensive back coach, Jerry Brown, shelved his soft, ineffective 10 yard cushion coverage sets by his backs and positioned his DBs up at the LOS in the face of the I-Away receivers to eliminate their free release off the line.  It worked perfectly, tying up the receivers at the LOS, which gave their DL teammates that additional full second to get into the ball carrier’s shorts.  

The results from this unified effort of the DL and the aggressive secondary were remarkable: a meager 264 total yards off 59 offensive plays for the Black-Eyes – both season bests for the Wildcat defense. 

Early Return
TV broadcasters commented frequently about Drew Tate and his early return from ligament surgery to his non-throwing hand.  Although pre-game interviews reported that Tate dismissed speculation that it might affect his field play, I have to disagree.  With a full-glove soft cast on his surgically repaired paw, broadcast cameras fixed on Tate caressing and massaging the gloved hand after the completion of many plays, most notably after his INT pass into triple coverage at the NU goal line.  Without a doubt, it was painful, and I believe it took him out of his normal game. 

As one of the conference’s premier QBs, Tate shoulders heavy expectations that he perform at very high proficiency levels week-in and week-out.  But last Saturday, there was a noticeable difference in his field play.  His pass reads appeared minutely labored and many of his pass deliveries were slightly off.  He looked a tad slow on hand-offs, especially when turning to his right and completing the ball exchange with the repaired hand.  His ball carriers were also that fraction of a second slower to complete the exchange, lacking that quick snap off the hand-off to cut and burst to the LOS.  Certainly, it was a major contributor in his fumble off the Mark Koehn sack.  

And instead of turning the offensive reins over to his backup QB, redshirt frosh Jake Christensen, Black-Eye HC Ferentz decided to stay with his battle-hardened offensive leader throughout this surprising pressure-cooker contest.  And it compromised the play-making efficiency of I-Away’s O in a big way.     

Mr. McGoo On Hiatus
For whatever the reason, OC Garrick “Mr. McGoo” McGee decided to make full use of an offensive attack that had been repressed greatly in games prior to the meteoric rise of current QB starter, C.J. Bacher – the vertical pass.  In those previous games, it was obvious that Mr. McGee absolutely had no confidence whatsoever that his replacement QBs, newbie redshirt frosh Mike Kafka and Andrew Brewer, could effectively execute the vertical passing attack.  Through the first 6 games of the 2006 season, NU’s passing game was DOA, relegated solely to low-risk passes like the swing pass to the flats, quick inside slants and the infamous, ineffective screen pass.  These pass plays are designed to be “set up” primarily by a downfield passing scheme that stretches an opponent’s coverage vertically into the deeper zones while opening the sorter zones.  However, these short possession passes were executed without such set-up plays and every opposing DC studying films of these early games positioned his DBs close to the LOS to stone this short pass attack and subsequently were in fantastic position to support the rush defense.  NU’s offensive production plummeted to game totals not seen since the Dark Ages, and McGee refused to alter his game plans to employ the vertical passing attack until… the return of Bacher from injury.

In his two games as starting QB, Bacher proved himself a reliable and effective downfield passer.  Now, against one of the strongest defenses in the Big 10/11 conference, McGee canned his “Mr. McGoo” strategy of protecting his QB from the vagrancies of throwing the vertical pass, and employed it from the game’s first offensive series on.  And Bacher delivered.  At that point, with I-Away defense formations geared towards stopping the vertical pass, his somnolent ground game rose from its slumber as well, due in no small measure to the domination of his OL.  Now, McGee held the Holy Grail of college offense in his hand: the balanced attack.  And he employed it very well – 218 passing yards supplemented by 225 rushing yards. 

Hopefully, his "Mr. McGoo" persona has been permanently retired from active service.      


Satisfying!!!  What more can be said.  The most I expected for this game was that the ‘Cats would be competitive throughout the game.  And were they ever – and then some.  However, the Wildcat Nation’s unbridled euphoria in the wake of this wholly unexpected positive should be tempered in the knowledge that this victory, a catharsis of sorts, was against an injury-riddled team.  This is not an excuse, but serves as an analytical qualification.  I-Away was ripe for the taking and NU made the most of the opportunity.  Congrats to all… from Fitz, McGee and Colby/Brown, et al, to every player busting his butt on every down.  It was a well deserved “W.”      

Now the Big, Bad BuckNuts darken the doorstep of Dyche’s Ditch.  The sweet taste of victory against a quality opponent comes at a price – one that this team experienced and now understands.  It is a monumental challenge.  Can this team reprise that attention to detail shown against the Children of the Corn?

Trust Yourself!!! 

The Waterboy   

November 3, 2006

Dazed & Blue Light

OK, so NU wasn’t blown out by Lloyd Carr and his big, bad Wolves last Saturday.  There were many shallow, reactionary media pundits who questioned the resolve of the Dazed & Blue Horde of Ann Arbor regarding their effort to flick the pesky purple-clad gnat off their BCS bid for a national title – but those opinions were nothing less than the media searching for some notable story line.  Still, many among the Wildcat Nation took great solace in the fact that the ‘Cats weren’t run out of the Big House on a rail, as was totally expected.  But those points of view gave little recognition that the ‘Cats were dominated in most facets of the game. 

The Powers-That-Be who coach/control the 2006 Dazed & Blue Horde knew what they were doing: secure the “W” with as little impact to the overall health of their current roster as possible.  Well, to that end, the casual observer could conclude that the game was “mission accomplished” as the ‘Cats were under-whelmed 17-3 in front of a less-than-enthusiastic, half-filled stadium.

The ‘Cats never mounted a serious threat of any kind throughout the afternoon’s proceedings, despite rolling out a passing attack that accumulated 204 total yards, and was dismissed summarily without any heightened embarrassment – if only because the ‘Cat offense constantly manufactured their own S.I.W.s (self-inflicted wounds).  Simply put, NU never matched up at all with the Dazed & Blue personnel, and the superiority of the Wolves at their skilled positions was more than apparent.  So, HC Lloyd Carr took the high road and set his troops to execute a much lighter, less complex offensive game plan just well enough to get the job done.  After all, why bother with incidental contests against the also-rans of the Big 10/11 conference when their spotlight showdown with the BuckNuts looms in 3 weeks and the victor’s subsequent invitation to the January 8th bowl game in Arizona. 

How the Dazed & Blue Horde
Dusted Off the ‘Cats

”Streak” in a Bottle
Prior to Moo U. contest, the ‘Cat offense had more than its fair share of problems when trying to move the football with any consistency.  This lack of offensive production was due in no small part to the very limited offensive game plan and debilitating play calling of OC Garrick, “Mr. McGoo”, McGee.  It was no small secret that every opponent in the 2006 campaign recognized that NU’s 2005 Freshman All-American RB, Tyrell “Streak” Sutton was the ‘Cats’ #1 returning offensive weapon.  With the opposition's defensive game plan focused primarily on stopping “Streak”, Mr. McGoo sought to use other attack options.  Unfortunately, instead of turning to a vertical passing game, which would have depended heavily on the downfield passing proficiency of his inexperienced and unproven newbie QBs, he decided to adopt a ground game primarily based on the rushing QB.  It was a disaster.  Against “7-8-in-the-box” defensive sets, the QB-based ground game went nowhere fast, while the passing attack, relegated to short, controlled passes, such as the swing pass, various bubble screens and the generic, standard screen to the RB, was shut down in short order. 

So it didn’t surprise anyone when the Dazed & Blue defensive brain trust adopted this same “stop the run first” defensive strategy.  And it didn’t hurt that the Wolves fielded the best rushing defense in all of Division 1A.  The Dazed & Blue D bottled up “Streak”, and every other NU rusher for that matter, in the ‘Cats’ backfield, stoning the NU ground game for -13 yards net for the entire game. 

However, with NU’s rushing attack ground to a halt, the door was opened for the vertical pass, and the ‘Cats’ most experienced returning QB, C.J. Bacher, returning from injury and starting in only his 2nd game this season, was able to exploit that strategic weakness.  Bacher didn’t scorch the Dazed & Blue secondary necessarily, but he certainly was able to move the ball between the 20 yard lines with regularity.  Only problem: against suffocating penetration by the Dazed & Blue DL which greatly augmented their unrelenting pass rush, the self-inflicted wounds came early and often for the ‘Cats.

Poppin’ Fresh
C.J. Bacher had proven himself a capable passer against Moo U. accumulating 245 total yards through the air.  If NU was going to stay with the Big Bad Wolves, it was imperative that he reprise this aerial output.  And for several portions of the game, he was able to deliver, but not with the consistency to keep NU firmly in the game.  3-and-out possessions were the order of the day, with the Dazed & Blue D stoning the ‘Cat O for 6 in H-1 alone.  So with the rushing attack effectively neutralized by the Michigan defensive front 7, Mr. McGoo took a hint and attacked this stone wall, throwing over it.  Unfortunately, what looked like a productive alternative attack plan self-destructed when the ‘Cats’ skill positioned players turned into pastry chefs by baking multiple turnovers that were gobbled up with glee by a hungry Dazed & Blue defense.

The Turnover Special gets an encore!

Both Dazed & Blue TD possessions were off turnovers by the generous ‘Cat offense, where the ball was recovered or returned in NU territory, giving the Wolves O short fields in which to execute their simplified offensive game plan against NU’s weaker defensive personnel.  The first powdered sugar offering came after NU had taken the opening kickoff and surprised the home-field crowd by driving 40 yards to the D&B 35, only to  fumble the ball off a sack of Bacher, at the Michigan 38.  6 plays later and the Dazed & Blue Horde had a 7-0 lead.  The second came in Q3 off a harassed Bacher INT that was returned to the NU 36, where it took the Wolves another 6 plays to pad their lead to 17-3 and dash NU bid at an upset.  After this second TD, HC Lloyd Carr pulled most of his starters and the game became a nondescript scrum between the combatants burning the final 20 minutes.

Lights out in the pool hall…


Moral victories be damned.  Although NU acquitted themselves well on the scoreboard, when it came right down to it, this game was nothing less than the predictable mismatch from the opening whistle.  Lloyd Carr’s Dazed & Blue Light offense delivered the expected win and the Wolves’ roster remained intact and  uncompromised by injuries to any of their primary offensive or defensive weapons. 

However, substantive positives must be recognized from last Saturday’s efforts.  First and foremost is the rise of QB C.J. Bacher as leader of NU’s offense.  His second consecutive quality passing performance certainly solidified his undeniable value to OC McGee’s earlier troubled game plan generation.  Hopefully, Mr. McGee can formulate an effective, more balanced offensive game plan where Bacher’s vertical passing game can set up the rushing contribution potential of “Streak” Sutton, et al.  The Black Eyes of I-Away City are next, and what better occasion to confirm that the ‘Cat offense is not one-dimensional.   

The Waterboy     

October 27, 2006

G.O.A.T Horns for NU

Last Saturday, the 2006 Wildcats made their mark on NCAA history distinguishing themselves as a Number 1 among Division 1A football programs.  This mark is so monumental that every college football review program that evening carried the message as one of their top news items. 

Northwestern football program had garnered a G.O.A.T - as in “Greatest Of All Time.”  Only problem with this #1 distinction: it was in regard to the dubious category of being on the short end of the greatest college football comeback of all time. 

With NU up 38-3, 23 minutes remaining on the clock and in total control of field play, the game was a laugher.
NU could do no wrong, and Moo U. could do no right – as the Green Meanie WRs appeared to have exchanged their hands for bricks, dropping catchable pass after pass from their QB Drew Stanton.  Moo U. HC, John L. Smith, roamed the east sidelines, looking so very much like a living/breathing version of the famous cartoon character, Droopy Dog.  Simply stated, the contest was a catharsis for everyone wearing Purple – from the NU coaching staff, to the players themselves and to the suffering, but supportive fans that arrived for Homecoming 2006.  Finally, for the first time this season, the ‘Cats featured a true balanced offensive attack – one where their effective vertical passing attack forced the Moo U. defensive brain trust to abandon their original 7/8-in-the-box defensive sets for formations to defend both the pass and the rush equally.  And NU overpowered this “balanced” defensive mindset with an explosive offense that had Smith and his troops back on their heels, reeling from the onslaught.  However, this domination was cut short when a sure TD pass was bobbled by “Streak” Sutton, caromed-off his facemask, then dropped into the hands of the coverage DB for an improbable INT in the Moo U. end zone.  Momentum shifted to the Green Meanies and the unraveling began.

The circumstances comprising this unraveling were varied and complex, mirroring the reversal of fortune that the Chicago Bears had laid upon a vulnerable and overly confident Arizona Cardinals team the previous Monday night.  Field play breakdowns, very poor offensive play calling, devastating turnovers and some of the most horrific pass coverage schemes in 10 seasons all contributed to this G.O.A.T. come-from behind victory for Moo U.  

How Moo U.  G.O.A.T.’ed the ‘Cats

Kind of a Drag
After NU had scored their 5th TD of the day, Moo U.’s offensive brain trust threw any semblance of a controlled balanced offense out the window, went into full no-huddle, “2-minute-drill” scramble mode and opened-up the passing attack against the ‘Cats.  At the same time, NU’s DC, Greg “Swiss Cheese” Colby, reacting to his very unfamiliar 35 point cushion, went into full prevent mode to neutralize the possibility of the quick aerial scoring strike and grind time off the clock, as he backed his CBs 12 yards off the LOS and his LBs a full 8 yard into the ‘Cats’ secondary.  Recognizing this defensive set as a bend-not-break formation, the Moo U. OC directed his QB, Drew Stanton, to exploit the soft underbelly of this prevent formation and called for his WRs to run crossing routes and delayed drag routes 6 yards off the LOS in front of NU’s LBs set in their deeper coverage zone wall.  This was the perfect counter attack not only because the ‘Cat LBs didn’t recognize the outside-in crossing routes, but they couldn’t react quickly enough to the speedy receiver crossing their faces to come forward and latch onto him in close coverage as these targets ran at will across this short, open passing lane.

Stanton deftly dumped dinker after dinker into the hands of the open WR running within this soft underneath slot and the Moo U. receivers did the rest.   Most passes traveled a mere 8-12 yards in the air and, with the ball delivered into their hands while in full stride, the WRs headed for the far sideline and cut up-field, converting the completion into a 25-45 yard gain virtually every time.  Neither the Swiss Meister nor his sidekick Jerry Brown ever did anything to counter it. 

Not once were the drops of the LB zone coverage reduced to 6 yards to fill the pass pattern lane.  Not once did the LB corps ever adjust their zone coverage technique to scan from the outside-in to help them recognize that Green Meanie receiver executing this crossing route and react to it more quickly.  Not once were CBs set up on the LOS, lined up into the face of the Moo U. wide-set receivers in bump-technique position to prevent or delay their free release off the LOS into this short crossing lane.  And what was a NU laugher was shifted into a Moo U. offensive freebie.  With an open route lane underneath allowing your receivers to run free after the catch for an additional 15-plus yards, why pass vertical into the teeth the opposing defense set 15 yards off the LOS?.  The “stick-your-head-in-the-sand” and “hope for a fast game clock” prevent defense of Greg Colby and Jerry Brown just killed the ‘Cats’ ability to stop this ongoing Green Meanie aerial circus.  What a travesty!!!  Mark Murphy – time for this brain-fart collaboration to be shown the door. 

Pressure Drop
Contributing heavily to the woes of NU’s ineffective deep pass coverage zone deployment, was the ‘Cats’ infamous 3-DL pass rush strategy.  I truly don’t know if Greg Colby has ever recognized the fact that he simply doesn’t have the horses who possess the skills to execute this pass rush strategy.  Every one of NU’s DL has the problematic tendency to lock horns with their OL counterparts during a pass rush.  A 35 point advantage on the scoreboard does not change the fact that your DL has never shown the ability to gain consistent separation from their blockers to pressure the opposition’s QB in his pass drop.  So why try it over and over and over? 

The ‘Cats’ pass rush in 2006 has always been most effective when augmented by the blitzing LB shooting from a different angle to position himself into the face of the opposing QB.  Without at least 4 pass rushers, the Big Ugly offensive linemen of any Big 10/11 team can and will keep NU’s unaided DL at bay, allowing their QB the opportunity to pick apart the less-than-stellar NU secondary with virtual impunity.  And this is exactly what happened last Saturday.  Sure, Colby tried to mix things up with other strategies, like the zone blitz, where one of his DTs would peel off the LOS and into the short passing lane, but the Green Meanie WR just left this lumbering 300 lb’er in his dust.  Then there was NU’s jailbreak blitz, where every LB would rush the QB – which forced that crossing WR to “go hot”, execute his crossing route shorter and more quickly, and make quick grab of the flip pass off the QB’s three-step drop.  38 unanswered points scored by your opposition via this crossing route dinker passing attack means that your current pass defense schemes are not working…  Time for a clue and a change in tactics!!!           

Coming Up Short
With the defense tanking on Colby’s prevent strategies, the task of hanging onto what had appeared to be an insurmountable lead, just minutes earlier, fell to the NU offense.  However, this is when ‘Cat OC Garrick, "Mr. McGoo" McGee’s conservative playcalling made NU’s offensive disappear in short order.  Spanning Q3 and Q4, the ‘Cats’ last 5 possessions of the game were nothing less than a total disaster.  Two failed to convert first downs on 3rd and short situations that would have kept the ball away from the now steam rolling Moo U. passing attack, while burning precious minutes off the game clock.  The subsequent punt on the second of these possessions was blocked by the Green Meanie punt return squad, scooped-up and returned 33 yards for a TD.  Another possession failed to capitalize on a brilliant 65 yard scamper By "Streak" Sutton, placing the ball at the Moo U. 11, after which, a potential game-sealing TD pass was picked off by a Green Meanie DB in the endzone after it bounced off Sutton’s hands and then his face mask.  A devastating series of gaffes, miscues and failures to make that single momentum-saving, game-deciding play all contributed to the ‘Cats’ undoing.  Momentum was clearly all in Moo U.’s camp in the last 23 minutes of the game and NU’s coaching staff could do little to stop the bloodletting. 


Well, NU has now sealed its place in NCAA football history, being on the losing end of the G.O.A.T. comeback game.  What appeared to be the strongly-anticipated offensive breakout game turned out to be nothing less than a cruel illusion, a mirage in the wasteland desert of the ‘Cats 2006 season.  The ‘Cats just could not seal the deal – even in the shadow of a 38 point lead with 23 minutes left to play.  IMHO, this was a coaching loss.  The players deserved better.

The Waterboy     

October 19, 2006

No Clue For McGoo

Having kept my mouth, and laptop, silent following the 'Cats’ 3rd consecutive blowout loss, in the  “Mauling in MadTown,” I’ve had about all I can stand.  I was so distraught at the wholly inadequate game plan and its execution against the Drunkards of Wiscy, that I virtually had nothing more to say that would have been any different than what I had written in earlier commentaries after the debilitating debacles against the Nevada Rat Pack and the Inmates of State Penn.  So in reaction, I didn’t submit anything.  Why re-state the obvious?  I’ve witnessed NU’s current coaching staff take a talent-laden 2006 Wildcat team and convert it into a squad populated with players who are tentative, inconsistent, leaderless and, from my view in the stands, afraid to put themselves on the line and make plays in crunch time.  Some might say that this is what one might expect from a team and its coaching staff as it searches for identity and direction in the wake of the sudden, tragic loss of their mentor and chief football philosopher, Randy Walker.  Others might quip that the dismal results of this fall’s campaign is due mostly to a lack of experience at the QB position and the lack of nerve that this critical player exhibits when facing defensive game-time challenges.  I say bull!!!  It’s all a matter of mentorship, or, in NU’s current situation, a lack of it. 

The present state of the Northwestern Wildcat football program is in complete disarray.  It is unraveling before our eyes and we, as true supportive fans, are hard-pressed to do anything about it except ka-vitch and bemoan the fact that this season has gone (notice I’m not using the present tense verb) down the tubes. 

Front and center to this train wreck in-the-making is the unmitigated failure of NU’s offensive brain trust to perform.  In fact, the use of the term “brain trust” is totally inappropriate because the product displayed on the 2006 gridiron is little more than brain dead at this juncture.  The primary architect of this failure is NU’s first-year offensive coordinator, Garrick McGee.  His abysmal play calling, coupled with the leaderless field play of his offense, exacerbated by the “babe-in-the-woods” indecisiveness of his QB-for-the-day, down after down after down, underscores the simple fact that he is utterly clueless and way over his head, operating in his current role.  Having witnessed the latest evisceration of his offense by a very pedestrian Broiler-Chicken D, with fellow Wildcat fanatic, MidvaleDave, I’ve given our OC an appropriate moniker: Mr. McGoo.  And like this myopic cartoon character, Garrick, “Mr. McGoo”, McGee fails to see the obvious before him – that his offensive game plans are not only totally ineffective, but they are undermining the entire team’s morale and their ability to be competitive.

From lurking on the Rivals Pollyanna Board this week, it looks like the moniker has caught on…

How the Broiler-Chickens
Blind sided the ‘Cats

Oh Deer!!!
Another Saturday, another “deer-in-the-headlights” performance by Andrew, “Don’t Confuse Me with Vince Young,” Brewer.  Only difference this week was his refusal to “give it up” – the ball that is.  It didn’t matter what play had been called, Mr. Brewer kept everything, especially the bean, to himself and himself alone.  On the option, the outside contain defender would collapse on him and instead of shoveling the ball to his option RB, as the play is originally designed, he kept it, trying desperately to cut up-field inside that contain man – only to get blasted for little gain or more often, a TFL.  Or how about the drop-back pass.  Make your read progressions from the outside to the middle, son, then chuck the ball downfield.  Holding it 5 full seconds staring at your primary receiver only results in you staring up from the turf into the face of that big ugly defender, bad breath and all.  Or how about the roll-out pass.  If your primary receiver is covered, then go through your read progression from the outside to the middle on the field.  I saw 6-7 times when this play was run where an open wideout was planted, waiting for the reception in the middle of the field.  Stop, set-up quickly and go vertical, young man.  I like pork as much as anyone else, but a constant diet of eating the pigskin will make anyone sick – especially the people wearing purple in the stands. 

Mr. Brewer is more than indecisive, he’s downright overwhelmed.  Someone needs to convince him that he’s no longer playing in Jenks, Oklahoma where he was the primary offensive weapon for his team’s offense.  Keeping the bean to himself when the original play is DOA does no one any good.   Mr. McGoo, your QB is knocking on your door asking for much needed direction and mentorship.  Time to answer the call….

Out of Focus
I know it’s repetitive, but I can’t say enough about the ineptitude of OC Garrick “Mr. McGoo” McGee and his stay-the-course, go-nowhere offensive game plan.  First item is his insistence on employing his newbie QBs as his primary rushing attack weapon.  I truly don’t know why he is so obsessed with using his very talented, hard-running RBs like duck decoys, while continually calling the number of his QB in his ground game.  If I ever see that damn QB-follows-the-just-faked-to-RB-off-tackle rush one more time, I’m gonna explode.  I bet Joe Tiller was scratching his head a lot when viewing game film on this ridiculous  play.  It went nowhere every time it was executed, especially when the corner defender on the LOS and the DT saw the fake handoff, collapsed late towards the RB allowing him to run untouched thru the seam, only to find the QB running right behind the back, just in-time to sandwich this ball carrier for a TFL.  And McGee ran it most often on long distance down situations.  And to have called this particular play so often, it seemed almost criminal.

Then there is McGoo’s love affair with the screen pass.  Hey, Garrick, wake up… the screen is a set-up play.  Running it on 1st down is not executing it in the manner of its original design.   And calling it twice every offensive series, only gets the defense more familiar with the nuances of its execution. By Q3, the Broiler-Chicken defenders could read its execution for miles and were bolting so quickly to the screen back, that it was a toss-up (pun intended) whether the RB or the crashing defender would get to the dink pass first. 

Mr. McGoo, time to get a clue; your offensive game plan vision is out of focus. 


“The Power of Swiss Cheese compels you!!!”  Please, somebody, teach effective pass coverage techniques – like stuffing the WR at the LOS by your CBs.  It can’t get worse – at least not from the perspective of the 448 yards passing laid on your secondary by another “Nobody QB,” like Perdue’s Curtis Painter!!!

I don’t know who is more inept at his job, OC McGoo or DC Greg “Swiss Cheese” Colby.  Both squads now rank near the bottom of all Division 1A football programs. 

It certainly doesn’t help Colby’s cause when his game plan rushes only 3 pass rush defenders on long distance situations as a regular defensive set.  The 2006 NU defense is a joke – a very bad one.  They don’t tackle well, they don’t shed blocks and get separation, and they certainly don’t cover receivers off the LOS whatsoever. 

And, unfortunately at the end of Q3, I saw that Colby and Jerry Brown lost contact with their squad.  The players were demoralized, lifeless and just playing-out the string. 


I’m not going to gloss over this train wreck and patronize the program.  All I was expecting this season is for the team to be competitive through 4 quarters.  This current level of field play was what has been witnessed previously throughout NU’s Dark Ages.  Intervention is becoming a necessity.  Mark Murphy… Help.

The Waterboy     

October 5, 2006


What many witnessed during NU’s thumping at the hands of a good, not great State Penn team is what, I fear, they will see for the remainder of the 2006 season.  This isn’t to say that the 2006 version of the Wildcats are poised to mail the rest of the season in, but if the team continues to exhibit the play-out-the-string level of field play that was rolled out in Happy Valley, then it is clear indication that there is much more wrong with the NU football program than meets the eye of the casual observer.  To put it mildly, at the present time, the ‘Cats are leaderless.  It remains to be seen whether that leadership comes from the coaching staff or from among the players themselves.  But the pigskin product that faced the Inmates from mid Q2 through to the end of the game showed that they were a beaten, demoralized and listless entity. 

Everyone associated with the program, from AD Mark Murphy, to HC Pat Fitz, to OC Garrick McGee, to the seniors, and yes, even to the newbie redshirt frosh QBs should take a good long hard look in the mirror and ask themselves if they are willing to pick-up the gauntlet of ownership and accountability to right the Pökelboot, which had been launched and piloted originally by the late Randy Walker, back on the course of competitive consistency.

And mind you, this author’s opinion is not one of doom and gloom, but it is merely a call for a reality check.  One major point regarding this assessment is to recognize that this team does possess the weapons with the appropriate skills necessary to be competitive in the Big 10/11 conference.  But these weapons must be wielded in such a manner where their effectiveness is optimized.  And at this juncture, I’m just not seeing this quality in utilization on the gridiron.
How the Inmates locked-down the ‘Cats

A brief inspection of the play-by-play stats is all that’s necessary to unveil the major contributing factor regarding why the ‘Cats got stomped last Saturday: too many 3-&-out possessions.  Of their first 4 drives, 3 were 3-&-outs.  Every other drive in H-1, with the exception of the quick, short field TD drive off Nick Roach’s return of an INT to the Inmate 16, was the “delayed” 3-&-done variety – each of which followed a “big” (and this term is used very liberally) gainer on the particular drive’s initial down.  H-2 was S.O.S. (a.k.a: Same Old S#it-ski), where in Q3 alone, the ‘Cats’ resist-able object offense turned in 3 consecutive 3-&-roll-over drives, followed by Brewer’s French pastry in the final possession of this forgettable stanza.  After the Inmates converted this giftie into a quarter-ending TD, NU’s O was virtually down on the canvas and never answered the bell for the remainder of the contest. 

And why all these 3-&-outs, you ask? 

Well, some astute fans might point to the lack of a viable vertical passing game, or at least to OC Garrick McGee’s apparent failure to exercise one for more than a single pass attempt per possession (when is he ever going to trust his QB d’jour, whoever it may be, to actually throw downfield on a regular basis).  Others might attribute this weak-sister effort to Mr. McGee’s insistence on employing his highly hyped RB, Tyrell “The Streak” Sutton, mostly as a duck pond decoy, while making his “QB for the day” choice, Andrew “Do not confuse me with Vince Young” Brewer, his main rushing attack option – to the tune of 17 rushing attempts for the game to Sutton’s 8. 

But most knowledgeable football fans would point to…           

The Clunker
Were NU’s continual 3-and-out possessions caused by collective piss-poor field play by NU’s OL, or did OC McGee’s piss-poor situational play calling ham-string his OL’s ability to complete blocking assignments?  Locker room lawyers could formulate good arguments backed by corroborative evidence to substantiate either.  Regardless of whatever point-of-view one might take, the bottom line characteristic to which anyone who has the ability to see past his/her nose must admit is: NU’s OL turned in a clunker of mammoth proportions.  Over the course of the entire game, the offensive line, as a unit, did their best interpretation of a sieve.  

Obviously, defensive penetration was the key component to neutralizing the NU offense, and Joe Pa’s defensive troops executed it well on every down in the game - blowing up most every rushing attempt at or behind the LOS; or when Brewer was forced to pass, they were in his face, in his shorts, and most of all, in his head most of the afternoon.  And for the most part, it was done with 6-7 man defensive front sets, not the 8-in-a-box formations used by NU’s previous 4 opponents.  State Penn has the DL hosses to get off at the snap of the ball, get separation from their intended blockers, get into NU’s backfield and create substantive havoc with whatever offensive flow was attempted on that particular play. 

And the ‘Cats’ OL appeared powerless to contain the onslaught, looking like overmatched boys in comparison to the men populating the Inmates’ DL for the game’s first 3 quarters.  In Q4, Joe Pa called off his rabid defensive dogs and substituted freely.  By then, the ‘Cat O played with the enthusiasm and resolved of a bunch of whipped puppies, gaining yardage and first downs only on occasion.  This was the worst performance that I’ve seen by an NU OL since the debacle that was the 2001 season.          

Running on Empty
Conversely, NU’s D was hard pressed from the opening whistle to the final gun to keep up with the Inmate O.  With most of the ‘Cats’ offensive possessions lasting a mere 90-120 seconds, the ‘Cat D could hardly get to the bench, catch their breath and begin to discuss particulars of the State Penn offensive attack strategy before they were called back onto the field to stop the potential bloodletting once again.  And for most of Q1 and the first half of Q2, they had done a commendable job of keeping Joe Pa’s O relatively at bay.  Then, in the last 3 minutes of Q2 through the entire Q3, the wheels came off the NU defensive tricycle, as the Inmates scored 24 unanswered points.  Within that time frame, Joe Pa’s offensive braintrust exploited the pass coverage deficiencies of the Wildcat CBs, especially Deante Battle, and just hammered them with the home run pass sandwiched between hard rushes – almost at will – especially off the short fields provided by NU’s crap-tastic, high school-equivalent punting game.  Broadcast closeups of NU’s defensive secondary showed them with hands on hips, sucking wind and absolutely gassed.  Lights out in the pool hall, fellas…     

Playing-Out the String
By Q4, the game took on the appearance of a glorified inter-squad scrimmage, with Joe Pa substituting his first teamers freely with personnel listed well down on his positional depth chart.  Even then, with the supposed diminished skills of Inmate 3rd team players and members of the cheerleading squad peppering the State Penn huddle, NU never did mount anything remotely approaching a scoring threat.  At this point, on what seemed to be a cruel joke or a flight of lunatic fancy, OC McGee finally opened his playbook to the vertical passing attack chapters and started to execute the downfield pass.  Much too little, much too late, Garrick.  The only positive that might have been gained in this soul-less exercise was to expose his offensive personnel to what these previously under-utilized sections of the NU attack might look and feel like in game time speed situations – other than what was experienced against his own demonstration squad back in Evanston. 

This point may not be a contributing cause for NU’s debacle from last Saturday, but it most certainly was a characteristic that underscored the point that NU’s offensive game plan is not only flawed, but it’s shallow and wholly deficient against Big 10/11 competition and its execution is wallowing and leaderless.       

This game was nothing less than a blowout loss.  No earth-shattering revelation there.  The one main item for which that I had hoped during this first season of the post-Randy Walker era, was to limit the occasions of the demoralizing blowout loss.  Well, this was the first.  And it was as tough to watch, as, I am sure, it was excruciatingly tough to have played in by the quality football players that populate this team. 

No, I’m not throwing in the towel on the season, not by a long shot.  But man, am I thinking that someone must step up and claim ownership of the overall field play of this team without blowing euphemistic kisses during post-game interviews regarding how the team “played hard” and “never gave up” and other such coach-speak clichés.    

The offense is searching for those leaders who are willing to take ownership of execution and take this squad to the next level.  The defense is looking to establish its own identity beyond the putrid albatross that was hung around its neck by a last place defensive ranking from the 2005 season among Division 1A football programs.  And hopefully, OC McGee recognizes the deficiencies of his game plan and devises a set of strategies that will use his offensive team’s strengths to their utmost potential.

The Drunkards of Wisky are next, and they are fat, dumb and lumbering about MadTown in a tottering stupor after their 40-point blowout of a hapless Indy Who-zit team from last weekend.  I refuse to believe that the Wildcats are not gonna be their 2nd consecutive cupcake game.

The Waterboy

Sept. 28, 2006

Crunched in Crunch-Time

What a wild game, and what an ending.  And in the end, it was all too predictable.  There were many situational circumstances that contributed to the ‘Cats’ unraveling in the last 12 minutes of the game against Reno Rat Pack, some of which were…
•    The fact that newbie QB, Mike Kafka doesn’t have the refined quarterbacking skills of a true Big 10/11 college football playmaker to seal the deal and complete passes or make correct field play decisions in the heat of the moment, when the game is on the line… yet. 
•    The fact that newbie OC, Garrick McGee, didn’t have the stones to dive into the little used chapters of the NU playbook that would have diverted the ‘Cats away from his predictable “minimum gain – maximum risk” late-game play calling that led to the ultimate failure of his offense, as lead by this newbie QB, to execute in crunch time… yet. 
•    And the fact that newbie HC, Pat Fitz, failed to make the hard personnel decisions to substitute his injured playmaker QB for a healthy playmaker QB when it was obvious that the former was damaged goods – with the game still in the balance… yet.     

But through it all, the ‘Cats’ perseverance to task, especially by a defense who collectively rose to meet the challenge of countering the debilitating field play of their kicking game players and the turnover-prone offensive ball handlers, had positioned their offense to make a final game-deciding charge in their last drive of the contest.  But alas…  

How the ‘Cats folded to the Reno Rat Pack

The Dough Boy
I’m going to christen NU’s starting newbie QB, Mike Kafka, “The Dough Boy” strictly because he is so adept at baking light and flaky turnovers.  And the French pastry that “The Dough Boy” fashioned last Saturday was gobbled-up with glee by a hungry Rat Pack secondary.  It’s a statistical fact - the football team that loses the turnover battle will lose the game as well to the tune of 85% (or more).  And this statistical fact held true as the ‘Cats baked a dubious 5-to-1 turnover differential against the Rat Pack, with the Dough-ie One contributing to the total with 3 of the worst picks of the year against a relatively weak, yet opportunistic pass defense. 

Kafka’s first aerial gaffe killed what would have been a sure momentum sealer where, having just received the pigskin off a 3-and-out, first-possession stoning of the Rat Pack offense by the NU D, the ‘Cats, on their 2nd possession of the game, had driven down to the Nevada 34 via a series of powerful rushes by Tyrell “The Streak” Sutton slicing through seams opened by an inspired NU offensive line.  At that critical juncture, the Rat Pack D appeared almost totally done-in, with the home field defenders looking at one another leader-less, confused and wondering what they could do to stop the impending bludgeoning.  And what could be done was to re-familiarize themselves with the well-chronicled tendency of NU’s newbie QB to telegraph every pass to his intended primary receiver and wait in the weeds for the game-changing potential pick.  And Rat Pack CB, Joe Garcia, fulfilled that potential when “The Dough Boy” dropped back, stared down his target, and delivered the bean – right into his hands, after he had read Kafka’s  telegraphed intended WR and broke straight to the ball at the Nevada 16 to complete the pick.  Bingo!!!   Instead of being down 14-zip and completely demoralized, the Rat Pack gets resuscitated by the timely turnover, where, during the ensuing possession, the previously DOA Nevada O completes passes of 10 & 18 yards, followed by consecutive rushes of 7 and 11 yards, then finishes the series with a 25 yard strike to a wide-open RB for the game-tying TD – 86 yards in 5 plays.

This was a huge turn in momentum, and revealed to all that NU’s newbie QB could be had.

Then there was “The Dough Boy’s” 3rd pick of the afternoon…  Same telegraphed pass, same delivery, same INT by the same Nevada CB, only this time, the pick was run back for the game-clinching TD in the last 2:14 of the contest.           

So the big secret is out.  The Wildcat Nation must admit, to their utter dismay, that Kafka constantly radars-in on his primary receiver and does little if anything else regarding progressing through his standard receiver route reads as the pass play unfolds.  This progression is something that should have been taught in his high school playing days, and its employ certainly is a major factor in his qualification as a highly sought-after recruit to play QB for a Division 1A college program in one of the country’s premier conferences.  But somewhere, somehow this essential passing technique has been abandoned in his bid to occupy the No. 1 spot in the QB depth chart here at NU.  And exacerbating the entire enterprise is that it’s become very obvious that his mentor, OC and QB coach Garrick McGee, seems to have allowed this most basic of skills to slip away from his No. 1 selected prodigy.  

I don’t know what’s worse – that Kafka continually fails to execute his pass route progressions as a regular part of his standard passing technique or that his position coach has stopped emphasizing its utility when assigning his chosen QB’s position on NU’s offensive depth chart.     

The Short Field
Scoring opportunities - what French pastry starts, the shortened field off the giftie will solidify.  Unfortunately for the ‘Cats, every NU turnover following Kafka’s first INT deep in Nevada territory resulted in very short field against which the home team offense could operate:
•    Sutton’s lost fumble at the ‘Cat 20 – result: Rat Pack FG
•    Kafka's 2nd pick, returned 25 yards to the ‘Cat 5 – result: Rat Pack TD
•    Kafka's 3rd pick, returned 24 yards for Rat Pack TD
•    Cobb’s fumble of Nevada’s ensuing pooch kick-off at the ‘Cat 23 – result: Rat Pack O runs-out the final 2:00 to seal the “W”

To be sure, the score-off-turnover pattern doesn’t need expansion.  Suffice it to say that the ‘Cats choked big time on their own French pastry.  And the Rat Pack didn’t refuse any of these sweetened flaky offerings, converting them collectively into 17 of their 34 total game points (and actually 24 points, if Nevada’s momentum reversal-driven TD off Kafka’s 1st pick is included into the mix).      

A Refusal to Learn
Of all the strategic shortcomings that the NU coaching staff may have, OC McGee’s insistence to insulate his starting QB from the vertical pass in crunch time and his turning a blind eye to improper passing techniques by “The Dough  Boy” is the most glaring thus far this season.  And it’s killing his team in the worst way, simply because his offensive personnel have the talent to execute the proper techniques necessary to get the job done – even when the pressure to perform is on.  Worse yet was that he insisted on sending Kafka out onto the field when he was clearly under duress from a pulled hammy following his 13 yard TD run off the option that cut the Rat Pack lead to 24-21 at the start of Q4.  Even the TV broadcasters voiced incredulity that Kafka was kept in as the QB of choice when he, obvious to all, was damaged goods.  His last 2 series were nothing less than confirmation of his limp-legged condition – 3 incompletions and his 3rd pick of the day.  Coach, you’ve got a lot more poison-tipped arrows in your quiver besides Kafka.  You’d better learn to use them at the appropriate time…   

One thing that is clear regarding Pat Fitz’ head coaching style: he delegates to his coordinators and assistant coaches.  This is not a bad thing, and for a young, inexperienced HC, his dependency on the coaching acumen and decision-making prowess of his assistants is very proper.  But when he sees that there are deficiencies in an assistant coach’s game-time choices, he must intervene and take charge.  I truly have no idea if Fitz was ever aware of his starting QB’s physical plight in Q4.  I’m sure that the fact that everyone in the TV viewing audience, including some not-too-astute broadcasters, saw that Kafka could not plant his foot and complete a throwing motion when pushing-off his hammy-injured leg was not lost on either McGee or Fitz.  The biggest gaffe of entire game was not taking ownership of the injury situation to his starting QB and not making the appropriate switch in personnel.  I understand that it’s in Fitz’ nature to allow a player rise above the physical challenges of his injury and tough it out, especially with that game still in the balance.  And depending upon your offensive leader, who has been a primary fixture in the ebb-and-flow of the afternoon’s field play and executing your offensive game plan over the course of the contest, is very important.  However, it is equally important, if not more so, to recognize the detriment that a damaged primary ball handler has on your team, especially in his limitations to move the pigskin downfield expeditiously via your passing attacking.  IMHO, I truly feel that Fitz needed to take ownership of the situation and get a healthy QB into the mix in Q4.  The new entry certainly couldn’t have done worse.  And since Andrew Brewer has shown that he can move the ball in previous game situations as the offense’s QB, why not give him a chance?   That’s called putting your team in position to win the game. 

It’s all part of the learning process…


This loss was a tough one to swallow, especially since the ‘Cats had every opportunity to take control of the game and come-away the “W” – even at the last offensive possession in Q4.  However, this season has been one where failures have had game-deciding consequences and the Nevada contest was just another example.  Only issue from here is that such failures will be amplified big time in conference play.  And rest assured, no one among your upcoming Big 10/11 conference opponents will give you any quarter at any time within the next 8 games.  

Next up… The Inmates of State Penn.  Away, in the friendly confines of “Not-So-Happy” Valley, against a team who has just dropped 2 of their last 3 games and is looking for redemption and to get back on the winning track.  NU appears just the right team against which to do so.  

The Waterboy        

Sept. 21, 2006

Failure to Launch

Same Story – Different Day.  It was more of the same last Saturday as the Northwestern Wildcats’ offense seemed to be going nowhere fast – once again.  In the ‘Cats’ previous game against an inspired University of New Hampshire, the White Mountain Wildcat O validated their Division 1AA No. 2 national ranking, having been piloted by the quick feet and very accurate arm of QB Ricky Santos chucking the bean to his equally talented target, WR David Ball, and doubled their pleasure in a 34-17 drubbing laid on the Evanston ‘Cats.  In counterpoint last weekend, the Beagles of Eastern Michigan darkened the doorstep of Dyche’s Ditch carrying their own notable national rank: a well deserved position among Division 1A’s bottom 10.  But that dubious low rank mattered little simply because, over the early course of the 2006 season, NU had failed to fulfill the pre-season promise of their talent-laden depth chart and played down to their competition, or worse, for the second consecutive Saturday.

Last weekend’s major exception was that the under-achievement albatross was hung not only on one, but both newbie NU QBs, Mike Kafka and Andrew “The 2nd Coming of Vince Young” Brewer, equally.  However, the individual most deserving of the Big Bad Bird Award for last Saturday’s under-performance was ‘Cat OC Garrett McGee.  To put it mildly, his play-calling stunk up the stadium.  Not only did he hamstring his potent offense with the most predictable play-calling in recent memory, but his game plan seemed to have been delivered directly into the hands of the EMU defensive braintrust, as the Beagle D stoned the much more talented ‘Cat O on every series following NU’s opening possession of either half. 

Does anyone in Nicolet Hall recognize the totally ineffective play book pattern emerging here or does the entire offensive coaching staff have their collective heads buried in the sand?  Reputedly, the 2006 ‘Cats possess one of the conference’s best RBs and an OL talented enough to blast holes to and through opposing defenses – especially one whose unit ranks in the bottom 10 of all Division 1A.  But where is this dominant spread-based ground game?  Why does OC McGee insist on banishing the true spread attack to his personal circular file and employ a game plan that is more attributable to the Big Dogs of the Big 12 – especially the power I and single back rushing attack of his alma mater, the Okie Swooners?  Witnessing the exceedingly poor quality offensive field play playing out before them, especially against the clearly inferior competition from Ypsilanti, the Wildcat Nation is nearing revolt – and its negativity towards this lack of mentoring from the offensive braintrust is more than well deserved.   This is a train wreck in the making and according to the post-game commentary made by HC Pat Fitz when addressing this weak-sister offensive effort, it appears any serious concerns regarding this deficiency has been assuaged by the “W” garnered at game’s end.  What is this?  Milquetoast, patronizing rhetoric of this sort is reminiscent of what was spewed from NU’s coaching staffs to the general public starting from the Rick Venturi Dark Ages era and beyond. 

Bottom line: this scenario is nothing less than a failure to launch NU’s spread offense.  Perhaps this is all in the grand plan of Fitz and OC McGee to transition to a more “traditional Big 12” offensive paradigm.  If this is true, then we fans are in for a dismal remainder of the 2006 season.

How the ‘Cats survived the Beagle Boys

One thing that can be said of NU’s 2006 defensive squad: they do what they can, when they can… and, to their collective credit, they virtually muzzled the Beagles at every phase of offensive attack that the EMU coaching staff threw at them.  Needless to say, this dominating defensive effort was aided immensely by the truly putrid performance by starting Beagle QB, Andy Schmitt.  His 3-for-9/10-yards total passing production was a major contributing factor in the ‘Cats even being in this game in H-1.  Yet still, on the heels of his paltry passing stats in which he continually overthrew his open receivers, Mr. Schmitt positioned his team close enough to the NU goal line to give his quality special teams’ kicking game a chance to keep the ‘Cats within striking distance with 2 well-executed FGs.  Heartburn and Maalox moments were in evidence everywhere in the home stands as NU’s offense could only muster a measly 7 points of their own in all of H-1, giving the ‘Cats a tenuous 1-point lead going into the halftime break.  Had there been any defensive breakdown leading to a Beagle TD, the ‘Cats would have found themselves staring at yet another halftime deficit and the painful prospects of another dog-day afternoon nail-biter similar to last Saturday’s against New Hampshire. 

Thankfully, this didn’t happen. 

In fact, during halftime, the Beagle offensive braintrust recognized Mr. Schmitt’s field play deficiencies and promptly turned the reins over to their No. 1a, run-first QB, Tyler Jones.  Throughout H-2, Mr. Jones had his own problems moving the pigskin – restricted very efficiently by a swarming ‘Cat defensive front 7 that shut down the Beagle ground game and a complimentary shut down effort from the ‘Cat defensive secondary, a deadly combination which limited the Beagle O to 61 total yards and scoreboard goose eggs for Q3 & Q4. 

And although that this defensive stoning was against a noted Division 1A bottom feeder, who, admittedly, remained in position to score a potential game-tying TD and 2-point conversion in their last possession of the game, the Purple Populace should recognize this lockdown for what it truly was: a good defensive effort all around 

Just Enough
Regardless of OC McGee’s questionable offensive game plan, NU’s basic offensive skill positions executed just well enough to push two TDs across the Beagle goal line in the first possession of each half.  After that, the game plan looked like something devised by Hollywood sitcom writers:  “Hey bartender… Another QB draw… on the rocks!” 

If I see another of these “don’t-let-the-newbie-QB-lose-this-close-game” bailout rushing plays called anytime in the next 6 games, it will be too soon. 

One thing that I just can’t comprehend…  When, finally, a RB counter off the tackle trap would be called, promptly delivering a double-digit rushing gain, it wouldn’t be called again for the remainder of the current offensive series, nor at any time during the next 2 possessions, for that matter.  And though these effective rushing plays were infrequently called, they contributed heavily in NU’s 2 TD drives.  But that they were called at all was enough to get the scoring job done at just the right moment of the game. 

And fortunately this was just enough against one of the worst defenses in Division 1A.  However, against any quality defense, this game plan just won’t fly.  First and foremost, the newbie QBs are rushing too much, period.  A quick glance at the game stats shows that the Sutton/Jordan RB tandem combined for 22 rushing attempts, while the Kafka/Brewer QB combo totaled 20 of their own.  If this numerical mix of RB-versus-QB rushes were the result of executing a true spread offense, whereupon after the shotgun snap to the QB, the QB would put the ball into the hands of the RB at his side, scan the LOS for the running lane or seam, then decide whether to fake the hand off to the RB going one direction and tuck it under his own arm and sprint to that seam himself, or complete the hand off to his RB who would sprint to the point of attack on his own, this equalization in rush attempts would not raise a single eyebrow.  But that these QB rushing attempts were executed singularly on QB keepers off option action or called QB draw plays, is nothing less than an accident waiting to happen.           

Unfortunately, both newbie QBs have shown that they are pigskin retention challenged during individual rushes executed across this season’s first 3 games.  Against UNH, these turnovers held serious game-defining consequences, whereas against the Beagles, these drops proved to be relatively benign.  However, there is strong potential for these ball  retention gaffes to seal the ‘Cats’ fate, especially when considering shortened play count and fewer number of offensive possessions that are characteristic of the new rolling game clock rules.  Having a dropsie-prone newbie QB rush 15 times a game while your premier RB gets only 18 is just not a good game plan. 

Mr. McGee, please drop the Mr. McGoo impersonation and look clearly at the facts.  Compose a game plan that employs what strengths your offensive personnel possess.  Run the true spread… Please!!!          
French Pastry Time
With the game still in the balance on the Beagles' final possession of the game, the potential for EMU to complete the improbable quick-strike, game-clinching TD remained very high.  Thank Gawd that the Beagle offensive braintrust had a brain fart and made a critical QB switch, swapping Jones for the incidental face-masked Andy Schmitt.  And fortunately, QB Jones is as challenged to make a pressure-packed end-game pass completion as either NU newbie QB is to holding onto the pigskin in critical offensive situations. 

With a blitzing ‘Cat SS McPherson in his face, poised to complete a game-clinching sack in the game’s final minute of play, Jones makes the poorest of choices and puts the bean up for grabs in a futile pass attempt to get the first down.  ‘Cat CB Deante Battle makes a nice play recognition, breaks for the ball, completes the pick and rumbles 31 yards to ice the game for NU.  French pastry - just at the right time.  Good job, Mr. Battle.  Excellent blitz execution, Mr. McPherson.     


The mind boggles at the thought that the strongest, most talented squad of the 2006 Northwestern Wildcats are struggling to gain a first down, let alone complete a drive for a TD.  The defenses of NU’s first 3 opponents do not represent the immovable object on any level whatsoever.  So what’s the issue? 

I think that the ‘Cats are in the midst of re-defining their offensive identity.  One thing is for certain, their current offensive game plan strategies do not utilize the strengths that the current offensive player personnel possess.  The majority of the current O depth chart is composed of players who are geared towards executing the true spread attack.

True, the true spread requires a QB who has the capacity to scan the LOS and recognize a play’s defensive attack strategy quickly and correctly, then make the appropriate decisions on the method and point of attacking or countering it.  In addition, it requires a QB who is adept at delivering the downfield vertical pass on target and in stride to his open receiver.  Neither of these 2 newbie QBs have these refined skills in their individual kit-bag… yet.  I’ve viewed 2 games thus far where open receivers are not identified, simply because the QBs have not completed their progressions when scanning the defensive secondary for that target.  Too many open wideouts are left empty handed, while the ball is misdelivered either short, over or behind the intended WR, or, more frequently, not delivered at all.  

Perhaps it’s too much to ask a newbie QB at this stage in the maturation process of his field play skills to deliver the goods with this level of precision and decisiveness.  IMHO, this isn’t the case.  “Son, welcome to Big 10/11 football!  Only those who execute successfully will survive!!!”  Both newbie QBs are actually sophomores, and have been groomed over the last 2 years to assume the offensive leadership reins left by one of the best QBs ever to play the position in the Big 10/11 conference.  Sometimes the maturation process simply requires a baptism of fire.

And this baptism starts with the Offensive Coordinator and his level of confidence in mentoring his charges – especially at the quarterback position.  Right now, it’s painfully obvious that Garrett McGee is not comfortable with the level of his newbie QBs at this stage of the season.  And it’s equally obvious that he’s modifying the game plan to keep the QBs progress on track.  But calling planned QB rushing plays regularly, especially when they have trouble keeping their grip on the bean, is just not sound. 

Mr. McGee… Try tapping that black 2-by-4 with the words “Trust Yourself” a couple of times.  Better still, try carrying it around for a couple of days.  Maybe you’ll absorb its message and trust your mentorship of your newbie QBs. 

The Waterboy

Sept. 14, 2006


Well, this is my first installment of analysis for the 2006 ‘Cats.  Prior to this date, I have not submitted anything simply because I had not observed the 2006 version of the ‘Cats with my own 2 eyes, due mostly to a very demanding weekly commute to the West Coast, and therefore was reticent towards making any analysis and conclusions based on what others have seen, heard or thought they saw.  And being a realist, if I don’t see it myself, any conclusions or predictions on my part would be nothing less than baseless and unfounded. 

So what I witnessed last Saturday was an eye opener, to be sure. 

What you see is ... What we have

Going into the game against the White Mountain Wildcats, I was both cautiously optimistic and truly apprehensive.  One significant item was that I wasn’t overwhelmed by or drawn into believing much of the hyperbole heaped upon the ‘Cats from others who had made their own well-chronicled observations/conclusions whether they were made from “On the Hill” up in Kamp Kenosha, through the pre-opening game practices, or to and through the Miami Redneck contest. 

Now don’t get me wrong here.  I am thankful for many of these opinions which, to varying degrees, predicted the results of last weekend’s Miami game.  However, after some deeper inspection of the game stats, especially the play-by-play notes, I was still relatively unimpressed with the effort.  First and foremost, was the goose egg that the ‘Cats laid in Q1 and Q2 against a depleted and what seemed like an overmatched Redneck squad.  But then again, it could all come down to the way one might view and interpret the game as a whole – either as a glass half empty or half full.  One thing is very apparent: this team is in a rebuilding phase at all levels – from player personnel, through position coaches and especially at the head coaching post.  This team will need ample time to mature and grow into itself and hopefully gain a strong sense of identity and purpose along the way.  And the grapple against the Rednecks from Oxford proved that this entire program, from top to bottom, is a work in progress. 

Many eye-witnesses to the Miami win reported that, although NU’s O struggled mightily in H-1, having been led by newbie QB Mike Kafka, it came-alive in Q3 and dominated play well enough to take the game in hand and maintain control.  And as for NU’s D, there was marked improvement compared with the last several seasons, if only from the fact that the ‘Cats’ DL seemingly stoned the Redneck offensive line, limiting Miami’s ground game to a mere 72 total yards and accounting for 5 sacks against which the Redneck O could only muster 3 measly points by game’s end.  And although there were only a few flashes of brilliance, there were enough good plays made by the ‘Cats over the course of the entire contest to rise above the high emotion and heavy hearts of the pre-game Randy Walker memorial services to give NU a relatively satisfying, if not pedestrian “W”.    But…

Whatever happened to NU’s much ballyhooed yardage-gobbling rushing juggernaut featuring Tyrell ‘The Streak’ Sutton and his bid for a 2000 yard season?  Where was NU’s vertical passing game?  Where was the consistency in offensive execution, particularly from NU’s most experienced squad, the offensive line?  And thank Gawd that newbie Redneck QB, Mike Kokal, wrestled with his own field play consistency demons throughout the afternoon and never mounted a substantive challenge to NUs most vulnerable liability, its defensive secondary.  

All these items and, more importantly, their causes, cast a dark cloud over the Miami victory, making any predictions regarding NU’s upcoming game against a veteran, Division 1AA playoff-proven UNH team, an exercise in pure speculation. 

And quite honestly, from the get-go, my critical football sense didn’t think that the Evanston Wildcats matched-up very well with the White Mountain Wildcats.  And in the end, what the Wildcat Nation witnessed from the stands is exactly what the Gridiron ‘Cats are at the present time.   

How the UNH ‘Cats de-clawed the NU ‘Cats

A.k.a: “same old s#it.”  Whatever elation the Purple Populace had regarding the much improved field-play of NU’s defensive unit from the Miami game, it was short-lived.  The very first offensive possession by the White Mountain Wildcats showed everyone in attendance that Greg Colby’s Swiss Cheese D is still alive and just as vulnerable to an opposition’s mobile QB as they ever were in his previous seasons as DC.  Simply put, NU’s defensive secondary was owned by UNH QB Ricky Santos.  He may play for a Division 1AA team, but this quality QB is the primary reason that UNH is ranked #2 in the nation by all major football pundits.  Whenever yardage was needed, Santos delivered the bean to the open wideout with precision and panache – as was displayed during his expertly engineered two minute drill at the end of H-1 where he completed consecutive passes for 23, 12, 27 and finally 13 yards for a TD with a befuddled Deante Battle draped all over UNH’s All-Everything WR David Ball.  And Colby’s defensive formations, especially the 3-4 non-blitzing sets, were generally ineffective in preventing the carnage.  I haven’t a clue why Colby insists on employing a 3-man pass rush in long yardage situations.  NU’s blitz packages did prove to be effective; however, I didn’t see it used half as much as what I had expected – given the glowing reports I received from the Miami game.  I cringe at the thought of what the Swiss-Meister’s game plan rolls-out when facing other quality passing attacks… like the BuckNuts.  Wes Craven could use it for his next teen-scream film.  If Mo Cole, Battle, McPhearson, and Smith are NU’s best DB unit since the St. Barney era, as many posters have opined on the PollyAnna message board, this season will be a long, painful lesson in how not to defend the mobile QB with an accurate passing attack.         

French Pastry
A.k.a: “turnovers,” both those given-up and those not made by the Evanston ‘Cats were their grand undoing.  Right on the heels of UNH’s game opening drive where Ricky “The 2nd Coming of Dan Marino” Santos competed 6 straight passing attempts, culminating with a masterful 20 yard TD pitch to David “Don’t Confuse Me with Jerry Rice” Ball, NU’s first possession lasted a mere single second - wherein Gerry “The Brooding Dane” Hamlett was late in shaking off his first-game-of-the-season stupor and misjudged the ensuing very short kickoff, ran 15 yards at the very last moment, then dived to make the possession grab around the NU 20, where the unaccommodating pigskin caromed off his hands right into the paws of a UNH coverage player at the NU 14.  So much for the much hoped-for improvement of NU’s woeful special teams play.  Hopefully, newbie HC Pat Fitz reminded “The Brooding Dane” that diving for the catch of a kickoff ball is ill-advised if only because the muffed ball doesn’t fall incomplete, but is still live.  Mr. Santos promptly took this giftie and needed only 4 plays to convert the short-field possession into a second TD.  

This scenario was repeated at the end of Q3, during NU’s bid to mount a H-2 rally to overcome its earlier ball-possession gaffes and other defensive shortcomings, where newbie NU QB Mike Kafka cranked out a 10-yard gain via a nifty QB keeper from the shadow of the NU goal line, only to get stripped of the ball at the NU 17.  Four plays later, the Evanston ‘Cats were looking up from the bottom of a 17 point hole and fighting a ridiculous rolling game clock as much as the White Mountain Wildcats. 

Making matters worse were several missed opportunities where NU failed to bake their own French pastry at the expense of the UNH offense.  Most notable was the muff of a sure INT by NU LB Mike Dinard off a rare errant Santos pass during UNH’s possession following NU’s FG in Q2 that closed the gap to 20-17.  Complete that pick, turn the ball over to NU’s O at the UNH 35, and it’s a whole new ballgame. 

Shoulda, woulda, coulda…     

Newbie OC
IMHO, this was a major sticking point in the overall demise of the Evanston ‘Cats last Saturday.  Sometime, somewhere, new OC Garrett McGee is gonna have to put the entire playbook - spread rush fake handoffs, vertical passing game and all - into the hands of his newbie QB, Mike Kafka.  From all reports from the Miami game and from what I witnessed in H-1, McGee seemed content to insulate Kafka in a relative comfort zone of a low-risk dink-n-dunk passing attack through much of the first 3 quarters of the game – even when facing a two TD deficit and a rolling game clock.  And to that end, Kafka proved he could deliver the bean regularly into the hands of his receiving corps executing their short passing game routes when the pressure of the game’s final gun wasn’t looming over him.  But when that end-game period came, Kafka didn’t have the field play tools or the confidence to execute with the required decisive precision in the clutch with the game on the line, and he was victimized by the limited playbook that OC McGee had employed through the previous 3 quarters.

In addition, where were the offensive game plan adjustments when it became more than obvious that the UNH defensive braintrust finally figured-out how to counter the power blocking schemes that NU exhibited in Q1?  In their first 2 sustained possessions after that disastrous opening kickoff fumble, NU’s rush attack used zone block and reach block schemes to great effect, cutting seams into and through the smaller, yet quicker UNH DL for a slashing Sutton or the power rushing Terrell Jordan to exploit.  The result: a 74 yard TD drive, followed immediately by another of 54 yards, with NU seemingly re-capturing control of the LOS and the game, while holding a 1-point lead heading into Q2.  But that domination unraveled in short order when the UNH DL canned their helmet-to-helmet defensive attack and began shooting gaps, avoiding the immediate locked-horn blocks by NU’s OL at the LOS.  This shoot-the-gap scheme was very effective, and neutralized much of NU’s power ground game and forced the home team’s offensive attack to depend more upon the arm and decision-making acumen of their newbie QB.  Where were the counter or trap block rush plays that would blow up the penetration of the NUH DL?  Where were the reverse or counter action packages of the true spread attack?  I kept waiting for McGee to open the playbook to these chapters, and allow Kafka to execute them.  But then, that would require his newbie QB to make that quick play flow recognition and its subsequent “hand-off-or-keep-the-ball” decision that is the hallmark of the true spread attack.  As the game wore on, it became more apparent that McGee was unwilling to position Kafka out from the comfort zone of that limited game plan cocoon, and put the true spread attack plays into his hands – until he was forced to do so in NU’s final frantic possessions in Q4.     

Are we fans seeing the end of the NU spread attack as we’ve known it over the last 7 years?  Quite possibly.

Newbie QB
Behold the expected QB transition - where the "cool-execution-under-fire" poise of a veteran Brett Basanez is replaced by the "deer-in-the-headlights" indecision of newbie Mike Kafka.  Sorry to say, Kafka exhibited all the traits of a newbie QB thrust into the spotlight and game-time speed of the Division 1A college football game.  And unfortunately, he’s not yet good at it.  Or at least he’s not very good in the clutch when the necessity to execute and deliver is amplified beyond his current experience.  And perhaps that’s why OC McGee is so inclined to insulate Mr. Kafka within that limited game plan comfort zone of “hand the ball off to your veteran RBs” and the dink-n-dunk short passing game plays. 

And this inexperience and failure to make plays in the clutch all unfolded in NU’s frantic final possessions in Q4.  

•    When given the opportunity to execute the QB keeper off the option… he fumbled the ball away, leading to the final dagger-in-the-heart score by Mr. Santos & Co, increasing NU’s deficit to 17 points. 

•    On the next possession, Kafka completes a 20 yard pass, to position the ‘Cats on the UNH 35.  After which his play-making capabilities fall apart, highlighted with a dinker 1-yard pass completion on a 4th and 7 to go down. 

•    Following a timely blocked punt that gives NU the ball on the UNH 30, Kafka misses his open receiver on 1st down, followed by 2 quick completions - a 3 yard dinker and another 4-yard dinker.  On 4th and 3, Kafka overthrows a wide-open WR running a post route with a clear lane to the UNH goal line.

•    Next possession, Kafka underthrows an open receiver in the corner the UNH endzone that is picked off by at the New Hampshire 2.

•    NU’s final possession of the game, Kafka throws 4 straight incompletions - the last pass as a throw out-of-bounds on 4th and 5 at the UNH 32.

I rest my case…


There really isn’t much more to say, and I’ve said plenty.  Maybe, too much. 

At present, the 2006 ‘Cats are not a very good team and need all the game experience they can garner to get any better – especially regarding NU’s offensive braintrust.  Beyond the rockiness of a newbie QB and the continuing foibles of a relatively weak defensive secondary when facing a quality mobile QB and his passing attack, NU’s deficiencies are more basic than player personnel.  IMHO, it begins with OC McGee.  He better look long and hard at that black 2-by-4 with the words “Trust Yourself”, a Randy Walker legacy that is patted by all the players as they exit and enter the north end locker room as affirmation to meet and overcome the physical challenge at hand.  In fact, I think he should put it under his pillow at night and absorb the meaning of its message.  Maybe then he’ll trust his newbie QB to execute the true spread attack and its counter flow off handoff fakes and use the entire NU playbook cover-to-cover. 

The Waterboy

April 25, 2006

Spring Game 2006

Now this event was more like it!  There was NUMB, the cheerleaders, the scoreboard, the PA announcer, tailgating before & afterwards, Wildcat Alley, TD Terrance, all the trappings of a true football game – with about 2500 in attendance.  This is what a real spring football game is supposed to be – an event for everyone: established fans, boosters, kids, family & friends and of course, the media at large.  Three out of the last four “spring games” for NU ended up being non-events, often merely a scrimmage held in Treinens Hall, because of inclement weather (imagine… rain during a Chicago spring day) with interested parties crammed into a 15 yard by 53 yard area in the indoor facility’s “end zone” and ridiculous sight-lines where the observer sees nothing except crossing bodies moving against a backdrop of other moving bodies.  This year's event, however, was a true game-like scenario. 

Regarding “starting” and “second string” units, essentially there weren't.  Most units were combinations of player levels, mixed and matched to observe the dynamic between individual players, in what seemed to be a free substitution format.  The “1st” team OL was the only unit that seemed to retain a semblance of a group concept with the standard G-C-G combo: Rees, Tripodi, and Keenan being played as a single, cohesive entity.  All other positions were substituted with regularity to give every player some exposure and PT in combination with others.  All-in-all not a bad approach, because this would reflect what a true game would be like, especially rotations to keep fresh, healthy bodies into the action at all times.  

Many may grouse about the convoluted scoring structure, but this is what a true spring game scoring is: points for plays made (e.g.: defensive stops, PBU’s, turnovers, TFL’s, 1st downs made, “impact” offensive plays, among others - not just TDs and/or FGs).  True it’s biased towards the offense, but IMHO, it’s not so bad. 

And all on a beautiful, sunny, warm spring afternoon.  Idyllic!!!

Kudos to Mark Murphy for resurrecting this very important promotional vehicle!  You’ve taken the hint that this event is a golden opportunity to expose the NU football program to your fans and especially to the media to drum up interest and a following among football-crazed Chicago college football fans for the summer months.  

And now an analysis of the field play, broken down per position…

Defensive Line
IMHO, no one among the entire squad distinguished themselves on an individual basis.  Several “2nd teamers” (although I don’t think that I could really call anyone a true “1st teamer” yet) were rotated into the mix-n-matched combo of  Kennedy, Mims, Ngene and Gill.  Kennedy and Ngene appeared to get the most reps, yet with the free substitutions, it was difficult to get a true handle on the personnel from series to series.

One thing of note is that the unit as a whole has a whole lot more work ahead of them before they are fall football ready.  The unit did show decent to good run-stopping capability, but all too often they would get locked up with their blocking counterparts.  The best technique the entire group showed was lateral speed to close on the ball from sideline to sideline, parallel to the LOS, during rushes.  There was the occasional lapse where they would give up a seam and get burned by a ball carrier, but for the most part this rush defense is a strength of the DL and it showed well periodically. 

But the pass rush… or better described, the lack of a pass rush.  Oh my Gawd…  This was a BIG problem holdover from the 2005 season, and moving into the spring practice 2006, it remains ever so.  As described above, every DL to a man just locks horns with their blockers, and against pass blocking the DL were utterly neutralized where attempts to shed and gain separation from the block resulting in extended hand-fighting drills.  Admittedly, there was substantive push upfield by everyone, but this alone is not going to be effective in the least against the Big OLs of the Big 10/11 powers executing their pass protection techniques.  In fact, the pass rush seamed almost negligible – even against “2nd teamer” OL personnel.  Had it not been for a blitz or two, the QBs were relatively untouched the entire game and free to scan their downfield targets and to count down their receiver progressions.  To this end, every member of the DL must decide to step up and make a difference.  They certainly didn’t this afternoon; not by a long shot. 

DL coach Eric Washington held a post-game meeting and, from the view through my field glasses, he gave the entire unit a hefty piece of his mind.  I didn’t know what was said, but it was crystal clear that he wasn’t a happy camper and his body language during the delivery of his message was emphatic.  Some of the DL hung their heads, others looked straight at him, but Washington definitely got and held their attention for over 15 minutes.  They were the last position meeting to break up to meet with family, friends, fans and media.  I can imagine that the deficiencies I saw in their field play were the subject of this apparent dressing-down.  Much work lies ahead for this unit.             

Over the course of the spring practice season, this unit contributed its share to the Orange brigade (walking wounded).  Of those LBs actually hitting-ready to play, Roach, Black and Johnson were highlighted and logged the most field play minutes.  Dinard played sparingly; Jeske, though suited up, was only in on passive FGs and punts plays.  I can’t recall seeing Malleo, although I was told he was in a few series (the free substitution format making the personnel switches tough to follow).  All who saw action showed decent to good closing speed, but everyone needs work on their rushing reads.  One thing of note: they were enthusiastic and when they came up to fill a gap or hole, whether it be inside or outside run support, they were prepared to deliver the hit.  Very nice to see.  I didn’t see overtly missed tackles, but members of this unit would get shielded from offensive flow occasionally and worked hard to get separation to close on the ball.  Of note, Black got a sack off a delayed blitz and got an INT off of Bacher, while Roach grabbed another pick off Kafka.  Of all the defensive position units, this group was the most effective throughout the proceedings.  Yet, the unit still gave up yardage in bunches, especially via run-off-pass-action (e.g.: the designed QB draw) and the QB “tuck & bolt” off roll-out pass action.  However, with the overall foot speed and elusiveness of our QB corps, I can’t put much onus on this group for the substantive yardage gains from QB rushes through or around the defensive corner.  Unfortunately, the DL had failed on keeping corner contain often, so the hesitant inside-out read, reaction and support by the LBs to the QB rush once he tucks and runs upfield or on RB swing routes to flats, were understandable.  Still, the need recognition to this inside-out rush support must improve.  This will come with more reps against the speed within the NU offensive backfield.  I gotta say that Fitz does a great job getting his troops both prepared and focused to apply heavy lumber when defending the rush.  There isn’t a shy one in the bunch.  Lots of cahones shown today.         

Defensive Secondary
Wow… this is not good; and consequently, I’m not gonna candy-coat my impression of this unit.  In a word, this squad is just plain wanting.  Wanting for the ability to transition from pass coverage to run support, wanting for getting separation from downfield blocks by receivers, wanting for the ability to recognizing pass routes of their coverage targets, wanting for the ability to play anything remotely approaching even minimal coverage of short-to-medium sideline routes.  It didn’t matter if the QB focused on his primary receiver immediately off the snap of the ball or if he telegraphed his intention to throw at a target by handing the CB a hand-written note, CB pass coverage was terrible at best.  It certainly didn’t help that they were positioned at 10-12 yards off the LOS and that their first move was backwards.  The 7-10 yards square-out was open all afternoon.  The z-in slant to a wideout was generally open also.  The deep middle third was available frequently.  The only zone that I saw covered with any effectiveness was the short middle crossing routes and, on occasion, the flats.  Beyond that, there was a lot of free and clear running.  True, the defensive secondary has only one true starting CB in Marquise Cole, with Peterman and Hamlett listed among the afternoon’s walking wounded roster and Battle gone for good.  However, those in their place just didn’t get the job done at any level.  I’m not gonna name names.  Suffice it to say, NU is gonna get a new orifice bored in its defensive posterior from any average passing attack come this fall if there isn’t substantial improvement among the CBs.  I will say that there was the occasional good play on the pass once it was thrown (a couple of nice PBUs and Cole’s INT), but they were few and far between.  I will admit that the DBs, in general, flew to the ball once it showed on the rush or was caught upon delivery from the QB, but as for initial coverage capabilities off the LOS, it's just not there on any dependable level.  I knew walking into the friendly confines of Dyche’s Ditch last Saturday that this was a big hole in the NU D, but seeing it first hand is more than telling – it’s shouting “HELP ME!!!” – especially regarding pass coverage reads.  This position is the hardest of all positions on a football team to play and play well, so the solution to this glaring deficiency is not going to be an easy, simple fix.  It remains to be seen if this coaching staff has the acumen to fashion and adjust coverage techniques that best suit the physical characteristics and experience levels of their CB personnel in order to reverse this debacle in the making.  The result of having not recruited specifically to this position of greatest need has now come to the fore - and it’s u-g-l-y.  I don’t know what else to say.  The ‘Cat CBs need practice and reps, then more practice and reps, then still more practice and reps.  There is no substitute for field play experience at the CB position.       

The Safeties are another story – a pleasant one, as I witnessed.  Essentially, I must give them some props, especially on their run support effectiveness.  As a unit, they did recognize receiver pass patterns in both outside deep thirds and got to their coverage targets then stayed with them relatively consistently.  However, it was in covering deep middle third routes that they had glaring breakdowns – which usually means that their coverage targets were open for a big impact pass completion.  And the QB candidates, especially CJ, recognized those breakdowns and took full advantage in their attempts to deliver the pill to those targets.  Granted, the ‘Cat WRs are a strength of the O and will give opposing DCs and secondaries all kinds of headaches this fall, especially on the deeper patterns.  That overall coverage on these deeper routes has improved somewhat from last season gives a faint glimmer of hope regarding NU’s overall pass coverage woes.         

Each of the three principals vying for the starting role had their moments – both good and bad.  One thing is apparent among each, they all can tuck and run with the bean – and all had ample opportunity to show their elusive rushing styles. 

CJ was the leader in terms of poise in the pocket and the ability to make his pass route read progressions.  He stood tall in the pocket the best, even in the face of a compressed protection umbrella, and threw the ball with authority from behind his OL wall.  On true drop-back pass plays, he was less inclined to tuck and bolt than Kafka and Brewer – which means he’s more willing to trust his wideouts to complete their pass patterns in the standard 3-plus seconds and wait for one or more to drive to the open seam while he scans the secondary for the open target(s).  If it’s all about poise and pocket presence, then the nod goes to Bacher.  Regarding passing accuracy, CJ was on and off from one series to the next.  Early on, he forced a couple of passes into downfield coverage, one hitting his receiver in the butt, and another hitting the DB in his rear end as well.  He also made a terrible INT into the hands of LB Campbell Black off a pass that he telegraphed badly.  However, to his credit, he did move the ball, first with his dink-n-dunk possession passing as he followed his pass route progressions, especially when no open targets showed downfield, and second by his feet via the typical spread offense QB rush.  In addition, he did recognize the open receiver in the deep middle third and delivered two very sweet passes into the hands of speedy WR Ross Lane – who dropped one and then caught the other off an interference-induced bobble for a nice 30-yard TD completion.  Final stats for his day: 128 yards off 8 of 12 passing attempts with 2 TDs against one INT, and 16 yards on 2 rushes.  All-in-all, he had a workman-like and effective afternoon.  However, before travelling to this fall’s Kamp Kenosha, he must improve upon his selection of passing targets and avoid telegraphing.

Kafka was another item.  He was either very “on” when he decided to tuck & bolt, or was very “off” during many of his pass attempts.  On two long distance downs, he hit the short receiver failing to get the 1st down.  But then, he could find the open short and get the 8 yard completion when under no pressure, or would deliver the bean on target to the downfield receiver who unfortunately failed on the reception.  Argh!!!   He did have a tipped INT and gave up a second game-ending INT to Cole after being rattled by a sack by a blitzing Campbell Black on the previous down.  This game was not his best passing attack outing, to be sure.  But then there were his rushing attempts.  This kid has real turn of foot and speed to get to and through an opening in the line.  Many seemed to be off roll-out pass plays where, after scanning the secondary for a open receiver and not targeting one, he recognized the opening at the defensive corner, especially outside the defensive corner contain, and just tucked the pill under his arm and ran… wild.  He had two 15-20 yarders, then ripped off a nifty 50 yarder after he deeked a DB out of his jockstrap.  The most impressive item here is his speed and elusiveness.  This kid has rushing talent, without a doubt.  If he can improve his passing reads and his accuracy, he could be a force – but not at this time.  He definitely needs refinement before he gets the bean from Our master & Commander on a regular basis.

And now, Mr. Brewer.  His two TD series were the most impressive of the three QBs; however, when he was off his field play mark, he looked exactly like what he is, a newbie signal-caller.  Many of his rushes appeared to be designed QB rushes – as in QB draws or runs off roll-outs if/when he recognizes a hole off tackle or through/around the defensive corner.  Whatever, when he tucks and bolts, he’s a load (as he demonstrated when he bounced rover-back Hunter backwards off his thigh on a QB draw up the gut at the LOS).  Not only that, he has deceptive speed – he looks like he doesn’t have quick feet, but when moving he’s really covering some big green in each stride.  And he’s not shy to take (or give) the shot from the secondary (at least this secondary).  He had many rushes on his two TD drives and looked comfortable in command of the offense.  I like this guy, and am excited about his QB option playmaking ability, but, like Kafka, his passing skills need much more refinement.  If this fellow can improve his passing game reads and accuracy, he’s gonna make Our Master & Commander and his new OC, Gerrick McGee, two very happy coaches.  NU’s offensive braintrust has to be salivating at this kid’s potential.  But don’t expect any comparisons to Vince Young quite yet (in spite of the frequent enthusiasm given him by Rivals board posters).  He remains a rough jewel and requires a lot of seasoning and polish before I’d ever let him control a game.  Having said that, if his passing reads and delivery technique raise a couple of levels over the next season or two, then it’s “Katie bar the door” and he’ll be the next wunderkind of the Chicago and Big 10/11 sports press corps.  Good stuff.

“You know Toto, we’re not in Iowa City any more.”  NU’s RB corps is just as banged-up as the LB squad – some may say even more so.  With Sutton safely held out from contact this spring for his own protection, Hamlett’s move to CB (and injured) and Conteh nursing his own dents under an Orange jersey while patrolling the sidelines, I fully expected to see the well-advertised “bigger, faster, stronger” Terrell Jordan show unveiled to one and all.  Unfortunately, Mr. Jordan’s re-occurring hammy reared its ugly head last week and he was relegated once again to the PUP (physically unable to play) list.  That left the RB position populated by Brandan Roberson and Nathan Shanks for the spring game.  And with the departure of Roberson during a later offensive series due to an on-the-field injury, the role of feature RB was given to Shanks by simple attrition.  Upon seeing Roberson hobbling off the field, I could only recall Iowa’s RB foibles during its 2004 season where the first 4 rostered RBs on their depth chart went down to season ending injuries, and the feature ballcarrier was a 5th string running back.  Well, this scenario wasn’t quite that bad, but it certainly came close to it – especially when one considers what could happen if the injury bug bites NU’s RB depth chart.  Needless to say, even with Roberson toting the bean, the rushing attack from the featured RB position was stymied, limited to a series of 5 yards or less rushes.  Perhaps DC Colby positioned his front 7 primarily to stop the featured RB, perhaps not; but this position was a virtual non-factor until Roberson had a nice 5 yard dive for TD – in the series just prior to the one in which he got his injury ticket punched.  With Roberson’s departure to the sidelines for the remainder of the game, the RB position became a verifiable non-factor (with apologies to Mr. Shanks).  ‘Nuff said.

With the offensive production focused on the battle for starting QB, the field play of NU’s WR corps became almost a footnote to what NU’s trio of relatively inexperienced QBs were doing.  It wasn’t like the wideouts disappeared, but little could be said regarding the quality of their field play.  All performed relatively well but with little notoriety, except when they missed the delivered on-target pass.  The QB trio evenly distributed the pill among 11 named receivers – WRs, TEs and RBs alike.  There were only a half-dozen true vertical passes, the most significant of which were a 40 yard completion from Bacher to Ward and the two TD shots from Bacher to Ross Lane.  The rest were mainly possession-type passes for 5-12 yard gains.  One item to note is that OC McGee called passes to endzone positioned receivers when the ball was within the 10 yard line – one to TE Abernathy (wow, the TE finally used in the passing game – whodda thunk it!).           

Offensive Line
Without exception, the OL came to play and were very effective, showing this unit to be the strength of the NU offensive attack, if not of the entire team.  The standard trio of Keenan, Rees and Tripodi were a force – especially in pocket pass protection for the newbie QBs.  Their backups operated just as efficiently.  Run blocking was problematic, especially since the feature RB was not one of the rostered top three on the depth chart and since DC Colby seemingly positioned his front seven to stop the rush first, but they did open seams, if not holes, when it counted.  Pass blocking, for the most part, was equally effective, if not for an occasional breakdown, especially against the delayed blitz.  They will improve on this, I’m sure. 

The technique mantra of an offensive lineman is to:
1.    Get off the LOS at the snap of the ball;
2.    Maintain contact with your blocking assignment (by moving the feet); and
3.    No holds or clips when the blocking target starts to get separation.
I saw plenty of each of these target technique items executed with precision and efficiency throughout the game.  All three QBs, especially the redshirt frosh (Kafka and Brewer), better understand that they ain’t going anywhere with their rushes if the Big Uglies up front don’t do their job.  They did so consistently, affording each QB the available option for the “tuck and bolt” run through an open seam as they saw the opportunity – even during pass plays.  Sweet, sweet, sweet!!! 

Special Teams
With no kick offs during the game, there’s nothing to be said.  There were a several FG attempts, and each PK on the roster, Howells and Vallareal, were given their shots at varying distances, and collectively I recall that they made 3 of 4 attempts (although I didn’t make mental note of this stat as the game progressed).

But the punting… what a mess!!!  I only saw one punt out of approximately 7-8 executed that was Big 10/11 caliber.  The rest were what might be expected from high school personnel.  Sorry fellas – your collective performances were that putrid.  As an interested party, I cannot and will not hang the 2006 season’s punting responsibilities completely on incoming newbie, P/PK Stefan Demos – it’s just too critical a phase of the college game to do so.  So one of the incumbent punters, either Slade Larcheid or Kyle Daley, better raise his level of play, or NU’s defense is gonna be given dubious starting field positions dictated from a constant diet of pooch punts and “out-of-bounds-after-20-yards” kicks for the 2006 fall campaign.  This is an atrocious situation and is screaming to be addressed.  I really don’t know what can be done…  Perhaps hold open tryouts for former soccer players from among the student population – but that’s what is done to get PKs, not punters.   I can only shake my head at this point.

As for kicking game snaps from center, the results from this skill specialty was one notch above the level of the punting product.  I saw at least 3 punt snaps hit the ground before getting to the punter, and 2 FG snaps rolled to the holder as well.  This snapping skill is honed through reps – lots of reps.  The red flare on this deficiency is in the air as well.  I wonder if it will be addressed before Kenosha?  You tell me…   

The Waterboy

The Waterboy is a former football player and a Northwestern alumnus.  Aside from these facts, he has no affiliation with Northwestern University.  The commentary he posts here is his own, and does not necessarily reflect the views of

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