The Waterboy
2007 Archive

September 25, 2007

Bucked-Up – Totally Owned

Much can be said, and little need be said regarding the passion play that unfolded on the banks of the Olentangy River, in the venerable ‘Shoe.  However, a single phrase can sum it all up: Totally Owned. 

The Wildcat-BuckNut mismatch was overwhelming.  This disparity in football skill sets isn’t any new revelation, but what has become apparent is that the product on the field is the direct result of the mentorship given that product.  In short, the 2007 NU football team is what we thought they were – not very good.  It’s not that the individuals on NU’s team have that much less talent than what the BuckNuts field, it’s that the team lacks the direction and mentorship to mold them into an effective unit to compete with the Big Dogs on their schedule.  Lack of mentorship in teaching the correct, effective blocking, tackling, read & react techniques; lack of mentorship in formulating a comprehensive game plan that can exploit what holes the opposition present; lack of mentorship during game week preparations to communicate the nuances of the aforementioned game plan and practice those offensive & defensive formations and plays based on those effective field play techniques; lack of mentorship in making the proper real-time, field play adjustments to effectively counter what the opposition is trying to exploit against your team; and most of all, lack of mentorship in instilling the “want-to” hunger in their players to execute under pressure.

When appropriate mentorship is not provided, breakdowns in field play occur.  In this game, the breakdowns were widespread and complete – from the offense, to the defense and right on through the kicking game.   

Unfortunately, when it comes to mentorship, it all starts from the top and trickles down through the individuals on the coaching staff.  And I’m talking HC Pat Fitzgerald.  Simply stated, what we Wildcat supporters have witnessed in the first 4 games in 2007 is his learning curve.  And it ain’t pretty.  IMHO, as a newbie HC, Fitz is doing what any reasonable football fan would expect of a relatively inexperienced head coach, meaning: delegate responsibility and depend on his senior staff members to do their jobs and direct their individual squads on what to do to get the “W”.  Unfortunately, the coaching deficiencies that have been revealed in past seasons are now grossly magnified, primarily because a 30-something HC really can’t personally mentor staff members who are 10-25 years his senior.  It’s equivalent to telling your parents or grandparents what to do.  Whatever recommendations or admonitions you communicate, as appropriate and correct for the scenario at hand that they might be; in the end, the old folks are gonna do what they feel is best regardless of the advice given.  And right now the offensive and defensive coaching staffs are not mentoring their troops well at all, and the field play of the team reflects this shortfall.        

Most unfortunate, this headless horseman was on full display in front of a Midwest broadcast on network TV, and its ramifications could be far reaching.

So rather than belabor the commonly well known, I’ll attempt to be brief in my post-game commentary. 

How the BuckNuts Owned the ‘Cats

Obviously, game film unveiled a major deficiency in the NU kick-off return game plan.  Simply stated, NU’s kick return blocking was soft and could be had.  From the opening boot, the BuckNut kick-off coverage just steamrolled the ‘Cats' return blocking schemes to the point where it looked like there wasn’t a blocking scheme at all.  The members of the BuckNut suicide squad sprinted full bore, blasted through the soft blocks, and met the ball with extreme prejudice.  It didn’t help matters that the BuckNut place kicker was able to drive the ball 50 feet high and routinely drop it near or past NU’s goal line - with a full 6 seconds hang time.  What a defensive weapon!  Those 6 seconds were just enough for the BuckNuts to shed the token resistance blocking and converge at the return man then lay heavy lumber on him consistently around NU’s 15 yard line. 

And dOSU repeated the process over, and over and over – forcing the ‘Cat O to look at very long green.  Fitz and his special team’s kick-off preparation were wholly inadequate to counter this juggernaut, giving up deep field position to the BuckNuts on every kick-off. 

Hellova way to start a war…  

Lightning War
Blitzkrieg... or, Lightning War.  Again, the BuckNuts identified another glaring hole in the ‘Cat offense: NU’s OL just doesn’t pick up a blitz well – even against weak-sister defenses like the Dookie Blue Imps.  From NU’s first offensive series through all of H-1, the BuckNut defensive braintrust used well-disguised blitz packages to penetrate the NU backfield and compress the field of the ball carrier.  Especially effective was the zone blitz, where the BuckNut D would rush the MLB and an outside LB into gaps opened by the DE & DT on a side opposite NU’s TE formation, giving a 4 against 3 blocking numbers mismatch, while the opposite side would drop off a DE into short zone coverage against the TE and the DT would just “take-up space” or drive the soft NU DT 3 yards into the NU backfield.  And similar to the Dookie game, the befuddled ‘Cat OL didn’t recognize the defensive move and “peel off” the uncovered/free opposite side pass blocker to provide inside-out protection to even the numbers of the blitz.  On television, NU’s OL resembled a sieve, with one or more blitz defenders gaining an unopposed route into the NU backfield to search out and meet the ball.

And meet the ball they did.  The BuckNut defensive front 7 looked lightning quick compared to the slow-reacting and labored ‘Cat blockers who appeared to be playing in knee-deep mud.  The result: ‘Cat RBs gained a miniscule 18 yards on 17 rushes – for the entire 1st half!!!.  Strictly overwhelmed.  NU’s QB, C.J. Bacher, fared worse, completing 8 passes for 30 yards total in H-1, and was sacked 3 times in NU’s first 4 possessions, one of which was fumbled and the ball picked up by the BuckNut D and subsequently run back for an giftie TD.  Stink-Ola!!!

All the while, NU OC Garrick McGee had absolutely no answer.  His game plan was totally blown up by the All-out penetration strategy of the dOSU defensive front 7 and he was forced to call 3-step drop-back passes and designed roll-out plays, which vaguely resembled the Nevada “pistol” offensive attack that the ‘Cats faced 2 weeks prior.  Regrettably, all NU did, when executing this poorly planned offensive strategy, was shoot themselves in the foot time and time again, while the BuckNut D’s LOS penetration pinned the ‘Cat O deep in their side of the gridiron on every possession.  This was BuckNut HC Jim Tressel’s genius defensive game plan, specifically geared towards maintaining superior field position and setting up his O for short-field drives.  

Mr. McGoo’s offensive vision was not only myopic, his original play-book and any possible variant adjustments that might have been conceived looked wholly clueless in the face of this juggernaut defensive assault.  And on the sidelines, broadcast cameras focused on Fitz clapping his hands after each overwhelmed offensive series got stoned.

Rah-Rah, Boys!!!

Demos-lition Man
Contributing to NU’s field position woes was NU’s punting game turned putrid.  Whereas in prior games, NU’s quality punter, Stefan Demos had been a dependable beacon of playmaking hope, he fell apart in the face of the unrelenting defensive pressure of the BuckNuts, as did NU’s poor punt coverage squad.  If Demos wasn’t shanking his boots (one for 18 yards and another for 24), his good punts were returned constantly inside the NU 45, giving the 8th-ranked BuckNut O consistent short fields.  Not the best way to help a beleaguered, overwhelmed defense.  

Crispy Critters
To say the Wildcat CBs were the toast of the game would be a poignant understatement.  While the infamous Colby Cushion coverage technique allowed the BuckNut WRs a free release off the LOS for virtually the entire game, their deep pass patterns transformed the NU corners into Purple traffic cones.  Obviously, previous game films directed the dOSU offensive braintrust to paint a bullseye on CB Dante Battle in particular, as he was summarily scorched on 2 long-distance TD play-action passes in the first 2 BuckNut possessions - with a mere 3:30 having elapsed in Q1. 

Mmmm, aged over five years!

The BuckNut carnage continued as they scored another 2 TDs – the 1st on a short field, 5-play drive off a punt that was returned 21 yards to the NU 31, and the 2nd off the second of 5 Bacher sacks and a subsequent forced fumble that was converted into an easy 25-yard scoop & scoot TD by veteran BuckNut LB, Gholston.

With 5:20 left in Q1, NU had dug its own 4-TD-to-zippo grave, stumbled-in headfirst and were declared dead at the scene.   

Colby’s Swiss Cheese defensive schemes had gone one up on itself – now his gameplan was Shredded Swiss Cheese. 


Ouch…  After the 5th BuckNut TD off another vertical pass at the start of Q2, dOSU’s HC Tressel called off the balanced attack dogs, and restricted his play-calling primarily to rushes to burn clock and limit the blood-letting.  By the end of H-1, even the broadcasters had little to add but their vocal sympathy to the newbie Fitz and his devastated team. 

When Simmons’ 99 opening kick-off return for TD kept NU from doughnut land at the start of H-2, Tressel let one last play action pass fly – which of course was converted for another TD.  After that, the BuckNuts substituted freely and the game was essentially over as the ‘Cat O continued to struggle mightily in its feeble attempts to establish anything remotely resembling a true scoring drive. 

I don’t know what to say at this point.  I’m still gonna support the ’Cats, but this evisceration at the hands of Division 1A’s No. 8 team was nothing less than a late afternoon “Nightmare on Central Street”. 

The coaching staff has got to get their collective acts together and motivate this demoralized squad.  The Dazed & Blue Horde are coming to town for a possible sequel to this replay from the Dark Ages.

I want to see fire across a competitive team.          

The Waterboy        

September 19, 2007

Forked – A Total Embarrassment

What a difference a week makes.  My optimism going into Northwestern’s game against the Dookie Blue Imps was absolutely unbridled.  Here were the ‘Cats, fresh off their latest astounding, improbable “W”, captured in the last 72 seconds against a very game and well-prepared Nevada Rat Pack (who will win its share of games throughout the WAC, incidentally), about to confront another Twinkie.  And not just your run-of-the-mill, garden-variety cream-filled sponge cake dessert team, but one who had garnered its own notoriety for futility; one who wore the fetid albatross of a 22-game losing streak about its neck, and one whose prospects for ridding itself of this dubious distinction sometime this decade was so remote that it was a virtual foregone conclusion among most college football pundits that ownership of the longest losing streak in the history of Division 1A football would be passed to the Dookies in due course.

I was giddy at the thought of the transition of that record from NU to the Blue Imps, and even more in the expectation that NU would lay its own brick upon the Dookie’s wall of woe, via this “walk-over” contest.  

I was little prepared for the ‘Cats instead to lay an egg of their own making, then smear the gooey mess all over their own mugs.

This game was nothing less than a total embarrassment – one that resurrected dormant memories of many others that I had witnessed personally during the Dark Ages, and arrogantly never expected to see the like again.

Well I, like the Wildcats, had my come-uppance, and this “education” left deep scars. 

For the 3rd game this season, NU was convincingly out-played and out-coached by a weak-sister team whose roster didn’t come close to wielding the offensive firepower and yardage-stopping defensive capabilities that the ‘Cats reputedly possessed – on paper.  But I guess that’s why the game is played.

Make no mistake, this fall’s version of the ‘Cats has many very talented individual football players.  However, this team, when taken as a whole and evaluated under the tutelage of the current coaching regime, has a lot of room for improvement.

Last Saturday’s exhibition of a good football team gone bad advertised this message to the college football-crazed nation in capitalized bold print. 

How the Dookie Blue Imps Forked the ‘Cats

Opportunity Squandered
There is a major rule of thumb in the game of football: NEVER take points off the board, unless it results in a 1st down to extend a drive – specifically if it provides an opportunity to score more points (IE: a TD).  To this unwritten rule, HC Pat Fitzgerald blew it big time when he decided to eliminate Amando Villereal’s 33-yd FG with 1:40 left in H-1, because a Dookie offsides penalty gave him an additional 5 yards, reducing the current 4th down’s “to-go” yards from 8 to 3.  Even with the 5-yard mark-off, the ‘Cats retained the 4th down, not a 1st down, and the withdrawn points, which had been excruciatingly difficult to come by thus far in H-1, were extremely valuable.  Taking the penalty and wiping those sure 3 points off the scoreboard gave Fitz nothing except the false hope that his offense, which had been stymied in the face of an “everything including kitchen sink” sell-out blitz on the previous play’s 3rd and 8 scenario, could convert.  The bigger internal problem was that Fitz’ OC, Garrick McGee, had no play (or at least, didn’t call a play) specifically designed to counter this “student body” sell-out blitz effectively to get the necessary yardage – and Fitz never recognized this glaring hole in his OC’s game plan.

This whole enterprise comes down to experience and maturation in NU’s relative newbie HC.  The fact remains that Fitz is still a rank neophyte in his position.  His decision making, based on a false assumption made at that specific juncture of the game, and his failure to identify McGee’s deficiency in his current play book repertoire to overcome the desperate defensive measures that the Dookie defensive braintrust had shown in the previous play, underscores this fact.

One might argue that had the 1st down been made, NU could have taken control of the scoreboard and game in one swift aerial strike.  Well, that logic is nothing but “shoulda- coulda-woulda, locker-room lawyer” speculation and does not hold up to bottom line scrutiny. The salient point remains that his OC didn’t call the appropriate play to get the job done, which was predicated on removing valuable points off the board, all of which held significant consequences to the play calling in late Q4, and the game’s final score. 

This is Fitz’ learning curve, displayed for every armchair quarterback to masticate and spit out in personal opinion and critique afterwards.  Understand, Randy Walker’s reported timeline for Fitz to assume the mantel of Wildcat HC was in 5-6 seasons, and during that timeline Rock would have groomed his protégé for the rigors of the position.  Unfortunately, that timeline was scratched with RW’s passing and the HC torch was prematurely passed to the still raw and unpolished Fitz, and his newbie decision making contributed greatly to that “L” egg on his team’s face.  

Separation Anxiety
Similar to their previous 2 games, NU’s DL continued with its all too well-known H-1 field play foibles.  This squad just can’t get consistent separation from their opposition’s blockers for a full 4 quarters; and this time, the familiar failure was a major contributing factor in the game’s final score.  And you can make book on this: every 2007 opponent is well-aware of this deficiency, and will devise an offensive game-plan specifically geared to exploit it.  Game film ensures this.

Normally, I avoid venturing into the blame game arena, but this shortfall lands squarely on the shoulders of DL coach, Eric “Erratic” Washington, and his boss, DC, Greg “Behold the Power of Swiss Cheese” Colby.  In virtually every preseason interview, this dynamic duo echoed the same mantra: NU’s 2007 defensive line is the strongest they’ve coached at NU.  Well, something is sorely lacking – somewhere between the practice-field and Ryan Field – that is the root cause of this group’s persistent poor performances at the start of every game this season.  IMHO, it’s mentorship.  These two coaches have communication issues.  Whatever message is being delivered during game week through the moment the D trots out onto Dyche’s Ditch before the game, it is not being received or retained by the players.  From the stands, NU’s defensive personnel appear, at best, hesitant, and at worst, unmotivated.  Perhaps its pre-game informational overload, where the players are afraid to make a mistake, so they play tentatively.  If this tentative field play was merely an opening game item, then I could shrug it off to jitters.  With a 2-game appearance, then I’d chalk it up to possible confusion.  But after the 3rd time around, this early-game craptastic performance is now a pattern.    

Regardless of the cause, the effects are undeniable – NU’s D comes out of the locker room flat as yesterday’s soda left open overnight on a kitchen countertop. 

This is a coaching/preparation issue. 

The Colby Cushion
Like a dead-beat relative knocking on your door or that morning-after zit on your nose, the spotty field play of NU’s CBs reared its ugly head once more against the less-than-formidable passing attack of the Blue Imps, highlighted by that very familiar coverage technique, the “Colby Cushion.”  Throughout H-1 and beyond, ‘Cat cornerbacks were positioned 5-7 yards off the LOS, fronting their coverage targets; and, at the snap of the ball, immediately fell-back another 4-6 yards giving the opposition’s WRs the infamous 10-12 yard Colby Cushion.

From his 2nd offensive series onward, the Blue Imps’ QB, Thaddeus “Don’t confuse me with Tom Brady” Lewis, tossed that WR bubble screen into the open space generated by the Colby Cushion coverage.  And true to form, the CB’s were very soft, not only in their attempts to disengage from the stud blocks of their coverage WRs but in meeting the ball carrier with “passive” prejudice after they gained separation.  To assist the harassed CBs, NU’s interior LBs were flying to that flat zone space in an attempt to contain the bubble screen yardage gains, to little or no effect; which in turn, opened the middle 3rd zones to either the shortie dump pass for critical yards or the medium vertical varietals between the LBs in mid-flight for substantive yardage – especially in long passing down situations.      

Hello, Jerry Brown… Your pass coverage schemes are not working.  Memo to Capitaine Fromage… Giving your opposing WRs an uncontested release off the LOS is not preventing anything, especially the opposition from your endzone.  After 3 consecutive games where currently employed coverage tactics have transformed a limited-experience QB into the 2nd coming of Joe “Gun” Montana and converted a mediocre to outright poor passing attack into a replica of the New England Patriots, it’s high time for a change – and a monumental one at that.

Why not call for “bump-n-run” single-man coverage against your opponent’s wideouts, with a well-disguised 5 man-blitz?

Hey, Fitz…  Isn’t it time to hold your defensive coaching staff accountable for their mentorship of yet another embarrassing defensive game plan?   

Clueless Is as Clueless Does
As alluded to above, the only answer the Dookie defensive braintrust employed when the ‘Cats faced a crucial down-distance situation or had driven into the red-zone, within the shadow of the Blue Imp goalline, was the balls-to-the-wall, “student body,” sell-out blitz.  This is where every defender crept-up to within 5 yards of the LOS as Bacher barked out his signals, then shot whatever gap had opened, while the outside DBs played man-to-man, “bump-n-run” coverage on NU’s outside spread receivers.  This defensive set/play was never masked very well.  In fact, on many occasions the Blue Imp defenders simply canned its disguise altogether and openly shifted to it as C.J. shouted his snap cadence. 

Where in the world was that audible to shift the point of attack to an open space?  Where was that standard hot receiver or better still, those 2 go-to hot receivers?   Where was that H-back quick-delay route just wide of the vacated defensive corner? Where was that QB roll-out to the wide side of the field that could minimize or localize your opponent’s blitz personnel to half the LOS?

I never saw a hint any of these.  And to that end, I can only conclude that McGee either doesn’t have such a go-to, audible play series in his playbook designed specifically to attack this sell-out blitz scenario, which I highly doubt, or he hadn’t included such a play series during the game week preparations with his offense.  I really don’t know McGee’s game plan for the Blue Imps, but when facing this “kitchen sink” blitz, the OC’s play calling didn’t just look lame, it looked clueless.            

Zebra Time
I can’t analyze this game further without comment on the absolutely horrid officiating.  Throwing blame on a loss into the laps of the officials is normally an exercise in sour grapes and deflects the focus for the game’s outcome away from the real culprits, the players.  However in this case, clearly something was going on here where the refs were casting a radically critical eye on the field play of the contestants, especially NU. 

I have never witnessed a football game on any level - college, high school or Pop Warner, for that matter - that contained more phantom field play penalties, against both teams, than in this one.  Flags were thrown with such frequency and for so many borderline infractions that the refs became a debilitating 3rd-party factor instead of the game’s agents who ensure fair play.  NU never could establish anything approaching offensive continuity without some drive-stopper penalty thrown in their faces.  At times, it appeared that the ‘Cats were fighting the zebras as much as they fought the Blue Imps.  

This game’s referee calls stood in stark contrast to the “let ‘em play” approach taken by the refs from the previous Saturday’s game against the Nevada Rat Pack.  It had to be utterly frustrating for the Wildcat players to adjust their field play to accommodate these two opposite ends of the enforcement spectrum on consecutive games.

However, the irony of it all were the infractions that were not called – most specifically during NU’s last gasp bid to score the go-ahead TD in the game’s final minute.  With NU possessing the ball 1st and goal on the Dookie 7, all hell broke loose.  On 1st down, the Blue Imp D lined up for their sell-out blitz, as the ball was snapped.  Bacher takes the shotgun snap as WR Kim Thompson runs a fade route to the endzone’s SE corner pylon clearly free of his coverage DB as C.J. lofts the ball for what looks like a jump-ball, ally-oop pitch-n-catch attempt.  In desperation, the DB bulldozes into Thompson, knocking him out of the endzone as the ball floats untouched overhead… No flag!!!

The NU stands erupts in boos and cat-calls for the non-call. 

On 2nd down, the Dookies call another “student body” blitz, and, out of the shotgun set, C.J. chucks a laser beam strike off a 3-step dropback to NU’s Ross Lane running a crossing pattern in the middle 3rd zone, along the endline…  The defending DB undresses Lane, clearly draped all over his back before the bean arrives anywhere close to this tackling tandem…  NO FLAG!!!  This interference was the most obvious and blatant infraction of the entire game, yet the back judge kept his yellow hankie in his pocket. 

The Wildcat fans went bonkers and I could only shake my head in disbelief.

The 3rd and 4th downs were repeats of the 2nd down with the same Blue Imp “kitchen sink” blitz in the face of NU’s 3-step drop QB, except that the deliveries from Bacher were slightly off target and the DB contact was less egregious than the first two pass attempts.  But still, I was watching the offensive series unfold from the west stands and wondered out loud…

“The fix was in.”


There is so much more that can be commented upon regarding this game and its nuances.  Needless to say, a better team with a more savvy coaching staff would have risen above all the adversity and yanked out a “W” regardless of all the negative influences.  However, the 2007 ‘Cats are not that team.  The players are searching for a direction and their coaches were as handcuffed as they were at game-time - from their deficient game plans, to their poor decision making, to adjustments that were either lacking in substance or simply non-existent.

But make no mistake, this team is in disarray and it starts with its leadership.  This game was a coaching loss, period.  And the folks who occupy the football offices of Nicholet Hall had best do some serious soul searching.  In my opinion, they let their players down.     

This loss to one of the worst collegiate football teams of the current decade will not be forgotten anytime soon.  It is already ESPN 2007 college football highlight material and will be fodder for truck-loads of future derision from all the Big 10/11 “Big Dogs” for years to come.  As well it should be. 

And next is da BuckNuts.  I shudder to think of the bitter commentary to come.    

The Waterboy        

September 11, 2007

Zero to Hero

"These are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of his country (football team); but he that stands it NOW, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny (double digit deficits), like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly....."
- (with apologies to) Thomas Paine, The American Crisis

Wow… 48 hours later, my heartburn still rages and my heart still pumps-out maximum adrenalin.  The above quotation was a true, honest thought that came to mind after ‘Cat QB C.J. Bacher had just finished his 2nd crucial, gut-wrenching, long-yardage scramble during NU’s last-gasp offensive series to down the ball within the shadow of the Rat Pack goal-line at the 13.  And although this moment’s sporting scenario could never approach the enormous weight and life-threatening circumstances which prompted its original composition, it was very apropos to the final 72 seconds of last Saturday’s contest against the Nevada Rat Pack.

Here were the Wildcats, out-played and out-coached by a very tough, gritty and thoroughly prepared Nevada team, on the doorstep of completing one of NU’s most improbable, unimaginable and enigmatic gridiron come-backs of all time – one rivaling the 2000 season’s come-from-behind classic against The Dazed & Blue Horde.  With half of the Dyche’s Ditch attendees heading towards the exits, grumbling about yet another putrid performance by the NU against a very beatable opponent, the ‘Cats were defibrillated, quite literally, from the brink of death, via the most masterful improvisation by ‘Cat QB C.J. Bacher this author has witnessed to date.

But first, before any further elaboration is given, I must say that NU, or more appropriately, NU’s coaching staff didn’t deserve to be in this position. 

Once again, DC Greg Colby’s “Swiss Cheese Curtain” defensive schemes were in full evidence, exhibiting an all-too-familiar game-plan that contained more holes than a slice of Alpine Lace.  In H-1 alone, the Rat Pack O led by a very capable QB, Nick Graziano, executed HC Chris Ault’s balanced “pistol” spread attack to near perfection, gaining 332 yards against Colby’s poorly-prepared, agonizingly slow-reacting, easily neutralized personnel.  If it wasn’t the ‘Cat DL getting position blocked or driven 3 yards off the point of attack while hand-fighting their blockers with inexcusable regularity, it was LB corps’ failure to recognize and react to their reads in time to attack the ball at the LOS, as Rat Pack ground game ran over, around & through the ‘Cat front 7. 

Then there were Capitaine Fromage’s infamous pass coverage schemes where NU’s DBs would yield 10 yds to their opponent’s split WRs at the snap of the ball. (Henceforth, this coverage technique will be called the “Colby Cushion.”)  With NU’s CBs predominantly playing inside-out pass coverage techniques to eliminate middle third routes, like the inside slant or the post pattern, the 10-yd outside square-out, the flag and sideline fly routes were open all afternoon.  And these open passing zones were exploited by the strong arm and accurate throwing capabilities of Graziano, who deftly delivered the bean to his receivers early and often from behind pocket protection or off the sideline sprint-out. 

Making matters worse for the Purple defenders, Nevada’s offensive braintrust concocted an effective OL lineup strategy where splits were reduced to mere inches forcing NU’s front 7 into a greatly compressed formation at the LOS on either side of center. 

For its rushing attack, this “bunch” lineup allowed the Rat Pack OL to augment their relative superior quickness off the snap and foot speed to get to the point of attack and exploit NU’s “scouted” (IE: someone did some game film analysis) slow initial charge and their penchant for locking horns with their blockers.  At the snap of the ball, Nevada’s OL simply maintained contact with their target DL, pushing them laterally along the LOS – not off the LOS - most often out towards the sideline which opened running lanes.  In addition, the Rat Pack OL often shifted into a 2 TE stack set where the shifting H-back would line-up stacked close behind the TE-OT gap.  The TE would position block NU’s DE to his inside, walling him away from outside the point of attack, then the inside OG-OT duo would execute a short pull around the walled DE to pick-off the MLB & OLB to just to the outside of TE position block.  The Rat Pack RBs would hit that inside-off-tackle/outside-corner seam at a full sprint, routinely gaining big yardage. It was a fantastic blocking scheme designed to take full advantage of a DL that characteristically doesn’t get consistent separation, like that of the Wildcats.  In their 1st offensive series alone, the Rat Pack RBs ripped-off consecutive runs of 15, 17, 9, 2 and finally a 14-yarder for a game tying TD.  (Can you say “S#it through a goose?”)  

For UNR’s passing attack, the “bunch” lineup was tailor-made to keep NU’s “hand-jive” penetration-challenged pass rush packed-in and at bay, allowing an un-harassed, squeaky-clean Graziano free to scan the ‘Cat secondary for an open receiver.  And boy, he didn’t take long to find them.  On Nevada’s Q1-to-Q2 possession, the Rat Pack QB completed consecutive passes of 19, 14, 9 and capped-off by a 24-yarder for the go-ahead TD.         

The H-1 “tour de farce” was Graziano’s homerun heave with 00:00 registered on the game clock.  With NU’s deep cover-2 safeties hovering a-midfield, apparently covering their goalpost, they failed to recognize that lone Nevada WR camped-out and growing roots at the west near-corner pylon.  Graziano, having narrowly escaped NU’s first sack of the season, scrambles to his left, turns & chucks the pigskin to this loner for a wholly preventable giftie TD, dumping the ‘Cats into a 14-point half-time hole.  (Can you say, “Crap-tastic coverage?”)

Northwestern’s O fared little better in H-1 as well.  On NU’s 1st offensive series, OC Garrick McGee appeared to have the perfectly crafted game-plan to overwhelm the Rat Pack’s blitz-crazy-penetration defensive schemes.  A short, controlled passing attack had the ‘Cat O rolling to a 12-play, 68-yard opening-possession TD.  However, the Rat Pack defensive braintrust adjusted their standard defensive alignment to a 4-3 set with a rover-DB, essentially giving UNR’s D an 8-man defensive front.  From this new set, Nevada unleashed a constant barrage of blitzes from all possible angles into the face of ‘Cat QB C.J. Bacher.  And it was effective, especially the blitzes off the corner.  If not harried or sacked, Bacher‘s normally accurate delivery became erratic. Often, C.J.’s live route-reads differed from those of his WRs, and the delivered pass was either under-thrown at the intended receiver’s feet or over-thrown above his target’s head.  Bacher was rattled and out-of-sync.

But then, something miraculous occurred… The ‘Cats charged out from the locker room for the start of H-2 and collectively, and individually, went from zeroes to heroes…

How the ‘Cats a-Mazed the Rat Pack

Adapt and Overcome
I must hand it to Capitaine Fromage, for Nevada’s first 6 offensive series in H-2, he unleashed his caged ‘Cats.  Hell, what else was he to do?  Simply stated, his defensive front 7 were owned by Nevada’s “pistol” offense in H-1 and were on virtual life support.  To recover big mo’, Colby needed to do something dramatic: his defense needed to toss a shutout - to give the ‘Cat O a chance to reverse their own fortunes.  So he suspended his Swiss Cheese Curtain schemes and busted out his full repertoire of DL slants and blitz packages.  And it was effective, especially the DL slants away from the Rat Pack O’s tandem formation that compromised their blocking schemes and the blitz coming hard off the defensive corner to get into the Nevada QB’s face and into his head. 

On their1st offensive series in H-2, the Rat Pack RB’s did not shred the ‘Cat front 7 for the big yardage typified in H-1, but were limited to modest gains.  When Graziano attempted a rare deep middle 3rd pass, NU DB Reggie Mac recognized the route, swooped in front of the target receiver to grab the season’s long-overdue first turnover then returned the pick deep into Rat Pack territory.  Although the ensuing NU possession stalled at the Nevada 10, the D had recaptured big mo’, resuscitating themselves and the ‘Cat O in the process, setting the stage for a momentous comeback opportunity.  

Bottom line: the ‘Cat D took the fight right to Nevada and stoned the Rat Pack O through their next 5 consecutive possessions, repeatedly turning the pill over to McGee’s O who responded with 17 straight unanswered points and the lead, via rush and pass plays which got the ball into the open fields vacated by the blitzing Rat Pack defenders.

Stand and Deliver
The single defensive breakdown in H-2 was a potential game-breaker.  With NU holding a tenuous 3 point margin late in Q4, the ‘Cat O received the ball once more off a forced fumble at the NU 16 with 6:00 showing on the game clock.  A methodical drive of 4 first downs would have killed the remaining time on the clock.  However, this NU possession was stymied in short order by the Rat Pack D, executing a series of sell-out DE crashes and CB blitzes, primarily off the defensive corner forcing a punt which was downed at the Nevada 27.  Then Graziano went to work with consecutive pass completions of 23, 22 and 27 yards for the go-ahead TD and a 4 point lead - all in the space of 33 seconds against a shell-shocked NU secondary.  When the following ‘Cat offensive series was stoned by a psyched-up Rat Pack D, mauling NU’s Mark Woodsum for no gain in his 4th down rush to move the ball 6 inches for the drive-sustaining 1st, the Wildcats looked dead at the scene.

The game clock displayed a mere 2:04 left as the Wildcat D lined-up for one final, all-or-nothing stand against a Rat Pack O that had just scored the go-ahead TD in lightning fashion.

Only 2 time-outs were left for the ‘Cats, after their 1st was burned to stop the clock following the change of possession.  The Wildcat defense needed to do something special – and their much-maligned LB corps delivered. 

On 1st down, Dinard and Kwatang stopped the Rat Pack rush at 5 yards… time-out… 1:58 left.

On 2nd down, Dinard and Kadela stuffed the RB for 1 measly yard… clock running…

And then…

The Village Idiot
What happened next was the single most important game-changing event of the entire afternoon.  Rat Pack OT, John Bender, who had given the ‘Cat DEs and DTs blocking fits all afternoon, lost his composure.  I didn’t see it well through my field glasses, but immediately after that 2nd down stoning and the subsequent whistle had sounded to end the play, Bender turned on a NU defender (obviously, someone who stuffed his attempted block rather well) and leveled him flat with a blast from behind – in full view of a referee who was charging-in to set the ball for the next down.  Up flies his yellow hankie.

What a monumental blunder!!!  What an idiot!!!  The Rat Pack had the ball and the game well in hand, with the clock rolling down to the final minute, with 2 more downs to burn another 50 seconds at least, and NU holding only a single time-out left to delay the inevitable.  But now…

A DEAD-BALL PERSONAL FOUL!!!  AN OFFICIAL’S TIME-OUT!!!  Minus 15 yards, re-setting the ball at the 50 yard line… and the CLOCK STOPPED after the end of this 2nd down!!!

A governor’s reprieve as the ‘Cats stood upon the trapdoor atop the gallows of ignominious defeat with the noose around their necks.

But this turn of Miss Fortune would be moot if…

The Last Stone Cast
Nevada still had one more play left.  Could lightning strike twice in the last 3 minutes? 

But, no.  Contrary to the Rat Pack’s last scoring drive, in which their QB had completed 3 straight passes for 20-plus yards apiece to take the lead, Nevada’s offensive braintrust had their own brain fart and took the ball out of their best playmaker’s hands.  Instead of tossing the ball downfield for the game-clinching 1st down, HC Chris Ault opted for a run on 3rd and 19!!!

Bang… ‘Cat LB Mike Dinard makes his 3rd consecutive tackle of the series at the NU 41, after which Fitz burns its last timeout.  Nevada is forced to punt the pigskin back to the ‘Cats, who stoned the Rat Pack’s “lightning in a bottle” O in an unbelievable 52 seconds. 

NU’s defense, especially its linebackers, went from zeroes to heroes in H-2, and most importantly, in this crucial, game-defining defensive stand.         

Now the stage is set.  The ‘Cat offense must stand and deliver in their own right…

Zero To Hero
Unlike Nevada’s fateful decision to take the ball out of the hands of their No 1 offensive weapon, Fitz and OC McGee would not replicate this mistake.  With 72 ticks of the game clock at his disposal, OC McGee places the ball and the game into the waiting hands of his primary playmaker, QB C.J. Bacher, and his bevy of skilled WRs.

In this Fitz/McGee era, the true spread is dead.  The ‘Cats’ offensive paradigm no longer employs the Walker/Wilson designed side-by-side RB-QB tandem, and a QB who, at the snap of the ball, reads the opposition’s defensive flow, then either completes the handoff to the RB or fakes the handoff, retaining possession, then that ball carrier sprints to the point of attack.  This original version was a run-first strategy, using deception and counter-action flow at the LOS to slash the ball through seams in the opponent’s front 7. 

Today, the ‘Cats execute the more conventional college spread variant that balances the passing attack with a complimentary rush attack, focused primarily on the feature RB.  The main difference: that standard handoff/fake handoff is gone along with its associated counter/trap flow by the OL, because all this action is considered too slow in its development when countered by the new defensive crash techniques intended to compress the offensive backfield.  Now, the QB is primarily a passing component, virtually eliminating his role as a major rush option.    

Well, in this game’s last critical offensive possession, Bacher showed that the mobile QB, within the context of NU’s new spread strategy, remains a very viable rush option.

With the ball 80 yards from paydirt, the task facing C.J. & Co. was daunting, especially since the Rat Pack D had stopped NU’s O cold on its last 2 series.  Not only had the Nevada defense employed the sell-out corner blitz to great effect, they depended on their DB corps, who had grabbed and chucked their opposing WRs well beyond the 5-yd limit with impunity throughout the game, to keep their coverage targets contained.  And why not - if the back judges were “letting the players play” and allowing the downfield grabs and hand checks by their secondary to go penalty free.  But the step-up was perfect.

Bacher responded immediately by connecting to WR Ward on a 10-yard square-out, who immediately stepped out of bounds to stop the clock.  A 2nd brilliant delivery to WR Kim Thompson over Nevada’s LB zone-umbrella and in front of the free safety for another 23-yard quick-strike, underscored the obvious: the Rat Pack D was back on their heels. 

The next play, the WRs ran deep vertical routes, with Nevada’s coverage DBs grabbing and hand-checking all the way, per usual, while their LBs turned tail and flew to their deep cover zones in the middle third, all the while with their backs to Bacher as he scanned the secondary.  Recognizing the field just beyond the LOS was defender-free and open… C.J. tucked the bean under his arm and sprinted into the open space – for 20 yards before getting leveled at the Nevada 28.  All this in a scant 24 seconds!!!  Nevada’s D was in panic-mode and the NU fans who remained to the bitter end were deliriously loud.

When the next play repeated the exact scenario of the previous one, C.J. repeated his read, sprinted into the vacated space and cut inside a downfield WR block for a 15-yard scamper to down the ball at the UNR 13.  The NU stands went bananas, while the clock was held until the ball was set for play.  When the next play was well-defended, Bacher opted on a clock-stopping bailout toss through the endzone, setting-up the game’s finale.

Recognizing man-to-man coverage, Bacher delivered a laser beam to WR Ross Lane, completing an inside curl route in front of the Rat Pack DB and making a sliding catch for game-winner. 

C.J.’s composure in the face of all the pressure and delirium surrounding him and his cool decisiveness in exploiting what open zones the Rat Pack D presented with his arm and his legs in those final 72 seconds cannot be understated.  His metamorphosis from H-1 zero to H-2 hero solidifies his place in the legacy of the Cardiac ‘Cats.


“I’ve seen enough to know that I’ve seen too much” 

There were many identifiable zeroes in this game: DC Colby, the ‘Cat DL and LB corps, C.J. Bacher, even OC Garrick McGee when one considers some of his more debatable play selections.

But all turned their poor performances around in H-2.  This “W” was not the consequence of superior field play by a select few among the Purple-clad warriors running around Dyche’s Ditch.  It was each and every player, playing his heart out, with his chinstrap buckled-up tight and his head clear and focused at finishing his assignment at hand. 

They all became heroes after this one.    

The Waterboy        

September 4, 2007

Reality Check

Well, the first installment of NU’s 2007 pigskin campaign is in the books, and from the casual observer’s viewpoint, the game was satisfying, if only because the ‘Cats garnered the highly expected “W” with little or no negative ramifications (e.g., injuries to key personnel).  However, upon further review, I left Dyche’s Ditch with more questions than answers regarding the overall field play level of the 2007 edition of the Wildcats.

First off, the game was the most vanilla exhibition of Division 1A college football that I’ve witnessed from the ‘Cats in the last several years.  As the game progressed, it became more than obvious that NU’s offensive and defensive braintrusts were holding back a great deal regarding executing the full potential of their playbook, most probably because the contest against the Northeastern Hucksters had projected to be such a monumental mismatch.  However, the Huckster O wasn’t buying into their David versus the NU Goliath pre-game expectations.  No, in fact the Hucksters ran onto Ryan Field for the win, and were executing their offensive game plan relatively well as they drove on the Wildcat D to within the ‘Cats’ 30 on 3 out of their first 5 possessions with what appeared to be relative ease.  If not for a dismal kicking game, Northeastern could have challenged the ‘Cats on the scoreboard as much as they did moving the ball last Saturday.

Second, was the lack of dominance by the Wildcat defense, especially the DL.  For the majority of the contest, NU’s DC, Greg “The Swiss Cheese Meister” Colby, employed a bland, straight-up 4 man front with little stunting by his line and the occasional blitz from his LBs and cornermen, particularly in H-1.  Play after play, at the snap of the ball, the DL simply stood up from their 3-point stances and locked horns with their offensive counterparts.  Face-to-face hand fighting was the predominant defensive technique of the afternoon, and NU’s DL never did get anything approaching consistent separation or penetration across the LOS to disrupt the offensive flow of the Hucksters.  The result: if Northeastern’s featured RB, Mo Murray, wasn’t slicing thru seams for 5 yards a crack, the Huckster QB stood behind his pocket protection to scan the NU secondary for the open receiver as the ‘Cats’ hand-jiving defensive front 7 effectively were neutralized and taken out of the play.  I must say, if NU’s opponent wasn’t a middle-of-the-road Division 1AA team with limited skill position talent and the Huckster’s OC hadn’t panicked at NU’s 4th score in H-1 and completely tanked their offensive game plan in H-2, the ‘Cats and their 2nd year HC were ripe for the skinning.      

But in the end, the Huckster coaching staff hamstrung themselves with some questionable play-calling and Fitz & Co. had done just enough defensively to lay a pedestrian shut-out on their less-than-stellar opposition and jog off the field with a 27-point “W”.  

However, the facts that NU’s “too hands-on” defensive front 7 recorded no sacks and forced no turnovers over the course of the game; and that the entire ‘Cat D had totaled 6 TFLs for an unremarkable -10 yards showed everyone in attendance that the 2007 ‘Cats are not yet ready for their more challenging OOC opposition, like Nevada next weekend, let alone their Big 10/11 conference foes. 

I don’t think that this shortfall is lost on Fitz, his coaches and especially his players.                  

How the ‘Cats Humbled the Hucksters

C.J.’s Coming-Out Party
For all the technique problems that NU’s defense exhibited, the ‘Cat O showed that, as a squad, they could execute – and do so relatively well.  In fact, the O looked downright good for portions of the game.  But then Northeastern unloaded their corner blitz packages…    

But I’d rather emphasize the positive.  And the most positive aspect of the game was an effective C.J. Bacher and his ability to scan the defensive secondary and deliver the ball to the open man.  And he did so early and often, going 7-for-7 and a TD on the ‘Cats’ opening possession.   In fact, C.J. did so for most of the contest – at an 80% completion rate, distributed across 7 receivers – something that hasn’t been seen in Dyche’s Ditch for quite some time.   What a refreshing difference a healthy, mobile and completely poised QB can have on Garrick McGee’s offensive game plan – even if that game plan limited itself to about  a quarter of the entire playbook, and featured the WR bubble screen as the predominant play of choice.  But even with OC McGee keeping a lid on the more creative pages of his playbook, the dependable, consistent C.J. kept the ‘Cats offense moving downfield with pin-point accuracy complimented by the occasional 10 yard burst from an under-used Tyrell, “The Streak,” Sutton, who served McGee’s game-time play-calling as much an offensive decoy than as a true offensive weapon.

NU’s offensive effectiveness seemed so effortless at times, that the game took on the aspects of a glorified scrimmage, due in no small part to Bacher’s contributions at QB.  However, as impressive C.J.’s passing stats may have been, the fact that they were garnered against an under-manned, unimpressive secondary trying to cover NU’s superior corps of speedy wideouts cannot be understated.  Last season, Northeastern’s D had given-up an average of 350-plus yards per game… and this game was merely more of the same.  Reality Check #1.    

Kick It Up a Notch
What a difference a year makes.  In 2006, the ‘Cat kicking game was in such disarray, 1st-year HC Pat Fitzgerald was forced to routinely employ the infamous pooch kick on kickoffs rather than deliver the bean to his opposition’s kickoff return squads and hope for the best as his dubious coverage corps did their worst to keep the return yardage to reasonable levels.  This tactic produced very limited results, often awarding NU’s foes starting field position at the 35 yard line – and often far beyond. 

But that was then, this is now.  And now means that HC Fitz finally unveiled his newest weapon, Stephan “Thunder-Struck” Demos.  And what an unveiling it was!  With kickoffs now grounded at the 30 yard-line, NU’s prospects of improved kickoff coverage for the 2007 season looked grim.  In fact, projections looked downright depressing.  But now, the “Thunder-Struck” show has come to town.  Demos’ first 2 kickoffs were rifle shots that traveled 20 yards off the turf and 75 yards long - landing 5 yards deep in the endzone… for touchbacks.  What a difference!!!  What a leg!!!  

And that was just the start.  Demos’ next 4 kickoffs were received, in sequence, at the Huckster 5, the 1, the goalline and… the goalline.  The best field position that Northeastern had claimed coming off an NU kickoff was their 27 yardline.  This is a 10-yard improvement from most starting positions in 2006.  And barring unforeseen injury, the ‘Cats have this formidable weapon for the next 4 years!!!  With the kicking game accounting for 33% of the game’s field position and scoring opportunities, this difference is substantive.  In fact, it’s unbelievable.  The ‘Cats finally has a Division 1A level leg in their stable.

And he most certainly has kicked NU kicking fortunes up a notch… maybe 4 notches!  BANG!!! 

No Self-Inflicted Wounds
With Bacher’s passing attack on cruise control, spreading the ball all over the field, counter-pointed by “The Streak” Sutton’s alternative attack of a 108 yards off 24 rushes, comes another major factor to the team’s 1st victory of the 2007 season to the fore: no light & flaky French pastry (i.e.: turnovers).  Turnovers, both forced and unforced, have been an irritating burr under the ‘Cats’ saddle over the last several seasons, and were a substantial contributor in NU’s early season losses in 2006 against very beatable competition – most notably Nevada and New Hampshire.

The fact that NU had no self-inflicted wounds in this contest cannot be underestimated.  With the ‘Cat defense struggling to gain separation from Huckster blockers, and the offensive line’s problems picking up Huckster blitzing personnel off the defensive corner, the fact that NU respected the ball and retained possession throughout the game, kept Northeastern at bay.  The Hucksters just couldn’t pry the ball away from Bacher, Sutton or any of the receivers handling the pigskin, and by Q4, Northeastern abandoned their controlled offensive attack, and opted for the quicker scoring strike - often chucking the bean downfield to receivers regardless if they were open or not.  From the stands, it looked like an act of desperation on the part of the Huckster coaching staff – to keep the game within reach via a quick score.  And with “Thunder-Struck” Demos pinning their offense deep in their territory following every NU score, Northeastern’s offensive braintrust needed a dramatic turn-around. 

Thankfully NU’s skill position players did not oblige.          


So the ‘Cats did the expected… they gobbled-up a Twinkie.  Little satisfaction can be garnered from munching on such a cream-filled, airy sponge-cake dessert as your first entree of the season. 

Still, a reality check must be made.  The ‘Cats are a work in progress and need to improve upon many aspects of their current field play levels. 

At this early point in the 2007 campaign, NU’s DL personnel are not as good or effective as advertised in the pre-season – although the argument could be proposed that Fitz & Colby did not employ their entire repertoire of defensive strategies – like slants and cross stunts (although a few were in evidence in Q4), peppered liberally with the all-out blitz package sets.  Essentially the limited defensive game plan left the ‘Cat D looking mediocre at best 

Similarly, although OC McGee held much of the offensive playbook for another afternoon, the ‘Cat OL was not adept when executing their standard blocks – most notably their failed attempts to pick-up the Huckster’s blitz, especially off the outside corner, from which Bacher would get rolled-up and sacked from time-to-time.  Blocking schemes were another issue – although I must admit, I can’t recall even a single counter or trap play having been called throughout the game, which would have bolstered “The Streak’s” rushing yardage in a big way.  But the OL’s man-to-man blocking techniques had many breakdowns, especially at the center and guard positions who got stuffed on a regular basis.  Anyway, it was obvious that Fitz and McGee did not want to reveal all the cards in their hand against weak-sister opponent.  Instead, they opted to keep their full arsenal of weaponry undercover at least for another week for what, I suspect, would be a more appropriate and competitive challenger who possesses better personnel and much better coaching with a more diverse game plan.  

Like Nevada…     

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

© 2007 The FEWGroup   "The Purple belongs in Pasadena!"