The Waterboy
2010 Archive

Oct. 5, 2010

A Sloppy, Sloppy Mess

Yes, that’s right, an out and out sloppy mess.  On successive Saturdays, the ‘Cats went double ugly as they gagged on and coughed up their 2nd consecutive gridiron hair ball in a row - first, in a penalty-riddled 30-25 victory against the Central Michigan Chipmunks, followed-up by this weekend’s wholly slipshod 29-28 effort against the Minnie Golden Rodent.  Fortunately, on both occasions, in spite of all their stumbles, bumbles and brainfarts, the ‘Cats pulled out enough game-deciding field play rabbits from the helmets of their talented playmakers to capture the Purple “W” flag, albeit, in gut wrenching, heart-stopping fashion.  The Cardiac ‘Cats are alive and thrive in 2010!   

I’m not going to be apologist to Fitz and his ‘Cats, and I definitely will not mince words via some patronizing banter about how the Purple team overcame continued adversity on the road to snag victory from the jaws of defeat.  Instead, I’ll be brutally honest in my assessment regarding the overall quality of our ‘Cats’ performance.  And right now, in retrospect, the 2010 Northwestern University football team is not very good, or more accurately, not as good as they think they are.  Mind you, the Wildcats aren’t terrible and, to be sure, they are nothing close to what those underachieving, poorly-coached, strategy-challenged Minnie Mighty Marmots appear to be.  However, to be quite frank, the ‘Cats are playing nowhere near their collective potential, and subsequently, still face a long, up-hill climb to get themselves even close to the level of quality field play to which they aspire.  If the ‘Cat football team is ever going to realize that potential, they, and I’m talking both players and coaching staff equally here, have got take a hard and honest look at that man in the mirror, then address and resolve the myriad mental, physical and strategic failures that were unambiguously exhibited on the field turf of TCF Bank  Stadium. 

First and foremost of these glaring deficiencies is the ‘Cats’ escalating penalty situation.  In fairness, I’ve got to say that last weekend’s flag fest against the Chipmunks was an aberration in what, up to that game, had been the reputed modus operandi of all Fitz-led football teams: penalty-free field play.  Not only did that game’s referee crew regularly flag highly interpretive procedurals, like illegal player substitutions against standard personnel shuffles commonly made between plays when running the no-huddle O - often a full 25 seconds BEFORE the OL ever set itself into formation at the LOS; but these same zebras, despite having unobstructed views of the action before them, routinely turned a blind eye to overt infractions, like open-field holding by the Chipmunk OL against ‘Cat DL personnel in Central Michigan’s offensive backfield.  But that game’s basket load of dirty yellow laundry was mere prelude to what happened in the Minnie contest. 

NU’s debilitating display of undisciplined field play continued in another penalty party against the Mighty Marmots with 10 total infractions of all types, including 2 rare offensive off-sides and the even rarer defensive holding against a Purple DT, during a Rodent rush no less.  Add to that mix of self-induced wounds, a wholly boneheaded facemask off a ‘Cat TFL that gave the Rodents total amnesty from a clipping penalty on the prior play that had thrown their O down a deep 1st & 25 hole at their own 15 yard. The Marmot offense capitalized on the reprieve provided by that Wildcat bumble by driving the length of the field for 85 yards & a game tying TD, highlighted by a 5 yard square-out to speedy Rodent WR Eric Lair who juked NU CB Justin Vaughn out of his jockstrap along with 2 more would-be NU tacklers and sprinted free & clear down the sidelines for an additional 40 yards to the ‘Cats’ 8 yard line, garnering a good grasp of game momentum in the process.  Could the ‘Cats’ D play any worse?  Short answer: yes, they could… and they did.

Last, and most certainly not least, were the ‘Cats’ 3 light & flaky turnovers, all of which were 100% avoidable if only NU’s offensive playmakers had exercised more respect for the ball. These French pastries were major contributors in the Mighty Marmots’ quest not merely to stay even with their obviously superior opponents, but position themselves quite well to capture their 1st much-anticipated home victory of the 2010 season.  Two of these momentum-changing powder-sugared delights were red-zone blunders, the most devastating of which was Dan “The Prince of” Persa’s uncharacteristic pigskin lay-down on a pass-play-turned-QB keeper at the Rodent 6 yard line, where he was stripped of the bean nanoseconds before his knee hit the field turf of TCF Stadium, resuscitating the Mighty Marmot D from a fatal cardiac arrest episode if they surrendered that 3rd potential TD to the visiting Wildcats in Q1.  Had they respected the bean and successfully converted that TD bid to bolster their lead to 14 points, the ‘Cats virtually would have gone Montezuma on the Golden Rodents in front of 48K Maroon & Gold clad spectators and cut the heart out of their accommodating hosts with a dull obsidian blade.  Instead, this gaffe by “The Prince” provided the necessary catalyst to maintain competitive equilibrium between the ‘Cats and the Marmots for the remainder of the contest.

How the ‘Cats Jumped Over
the Mighty Marmots for a “W”

Herculean Effort - Again

Maybe the Purple Populace should revisit its affectionate nickname for their prolific offensive playmaker, QB Dan “The Prince of” Persa.  Up to now, this rather genteel handle has been a feel-good homage to Mr. Persa’s high quality quarterbacking and rushing capabilities.  However, in light of his consistent high quality yardage production over the season’s first 5 games, perhaps that moniker should be upgraded from “The Prince” to “The Great”… as in: Persa “The Great.”  I’m sure such an exaggerated pet name would not adhere to the precepts of HC Fitz’ preferred public profile to minimize explicit hyperbole directed at his players.  However, in consideration of the ‘Cats’ increased dependency upon the continued superior field play of their primary ball handler, such a nametag upgrade is not only warranted, it is appropriate.

Not only did Persa “The Great” deliver a career game passing performance, going 23 for 30 while gaining 309 yards and 2 TDs, he rushed for another commendable 106 yards (adjusted to 99 to account for a 7 yard sack) to lead all Wildcat ball carriers in that category as well.  That’s over 400 total yards, a truly remarkable day’s work, much of which was collected in crunch-time with the game’s outcome hanging in the balance. Down by 8, with 12-plus minutes left on the game clock, “The Great” took personal control of the contest in NU’s last 2 meaningful possessions of the contest.  In drive #1, Dan accounted for 67 of 69 total yards, going 4-4 through the air for 63 yards, while adding 4 more yards on the ground, culminating in a TD off the most athletic highlight reel pass reception thus far in the 2010 season, that reduced the ‘Cats’ deficit to 2 with 8:17 to left.  Then, after Doc’s D rose to the occasion and converted a sorely needed 3-&-out on the Rodent’s ensuing possession, Mr. Persa continued his game-clinching QB exhibition.  He played pitch & catch to open WRs for completions of 15 and 9 yards sandwiched around 5 improvised QB scrambles off called-for pass plays, two of which were spectacular bolts of 22 and 11 yards respectively, out from NU’s backfield, through the center of the Marmot pass rush and into open space within the Maroon & Gold secondary as the Rodent DBs absent-mindedly turned tail from the LOS to cover 5 ‘Cat spread receivers, all running downfield routes into the 3 deep zones.  It was easy pickings.  After Stephan Demos successfully booted the 27-yard FG to capture that crucial 1-point lead, Fitz laid the game’s outcome squarely on the shoulders of his highly-experienced DC and his troops for one last game-clinching defensive series against the Golden Rodent O in the final 2 minutes.  What happened next was as unbelievable as it was improbable.

Brewster’s Blunder
The great writer Rudyard Kipling once penned: “If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you… Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it; And, which is more, You’ll be a man, my son!”

Can anyone truly or correctly speculate on what goes-on in a college football HC’s mind during those frenetic, waning minutes of a close, hard-fought game?  Regarding the debatable coaching decisions made by Golden Rodent HC, Tim Brewster, over the course of the game’s final period, I truly believe he became overwhelmed and succumbed to a major false read of the game’s whirlwind events, all of which lead him to make a huge game-changing strategic blunder.  Having scored the last Mighty Marmot TD via his ground-n-pound rushing attack in a well-executed, time-consuming possession that scanned Q3 and Q4, Brewster became singularly obsessed and forgot how and by what means his O had victimized the NU secondary for much of the previous 3 quarters.  Simply stated, he stopped passing the ball for most of Q4, and it cost his team a hard fought-for “W”.

I can understand his thought process somewhat.  Brewster had just watched his defense exploit Dan Persa’s 2nd boneheaded INT pass of the game, where, after having methodically driven the ‘Cat O from its 18 yard line to a 1st down at the Rodent 20, on the next play NU’s QB was flushed-out from behind his pocket pass protection into the open right side flat by the Rodent pass rush and, in a vain attempt to create any kind of something out of this nothing broken play, lofted a thoughtless, ill-advised floater in the direction of a Purple WR camped-out at the Rodent 10 and blanketed by over-under double coverage DBs.  Of course, the front DB broke on this quacking duck for an easy pick to end this latest NU scoring threat.  Reacting to this giftie turnover, Brewster made the executive decision to take the air out of the game and exercise their ground game against the NU front 7.  And that decision worked to near perfection.  The Rodent O marched 64 yards down the field exclusively on the ground and into scoring position at the NU 25; then capped-off the drive when Rodent QB Adam Weber victimized the slow-reacting NU secondary with a well-thrown quick-strike TD pass to his favorite Rodent WR Eric Lair running a skinny post route between NU’s cover-2 safeties, extending the Mighty Marmot lead to 8 points. 

When Persa & Co. answered this Rodent score to successfully deliver their own crucial score via that unreal TD reception in NU’s 2nd last significant possession that covered 69 yards in less than 4 minutes, Mighty Marmot HC Brewster and his offensive brain trust decided to burn more precious time off the game clock and turned once more to their ground-n-pound attack.  However, Doc’s Purple D was up to this daunting challenge and stoned the Rodents right in their tracks with gap penetration stunts up the middle and hard crashes from the defensive edge by NU’s front 7 against what I thought at the time was the most unimaginably poorly-called offensive series of the game.  The 1st, play was an off tackle dive that was blown up for a less than 1 yard gain.  The 2nd appeared to be a very weakly conceived draw play that was snuffed-out in short order for a few paltry yards.  On 3rd down, the Brew-Meister called for a pass play that was jumped-on by NU’s DE Vince “Beast” Browne crashing hard off the left defensive corner for a 3 yard sack.  Forced to punt after this meek 3-&-out, Brewster’s strategy to burn more minutes via the same ground-n-pound attack that proved successful on the Mighty Marmots’ previous possession blew-up flush in his face.

Even more bizarre than this questionable series of play calling was what happened on the Marmot’s next possession, their last of the game following NU’s go-ahead FG giving the ‘Cats a tenuous 1-point lead.  Essentially, Brewster kept to his previous strategic mindset, trying to gain precious yardage via his rush attack.  The only significant consequence in exercising this tactic was that there was even less time available for the Marmot O to position themselves for a go-ahead FG of their own as the game clock wore down to zero. Starting this dramatic final drive on the Marmot 38 with two minutes & change remaining, Brewster called for a short zone pass that was limited to 4 measly yards.  On the next play, a pass, QB Weber couldn’t find an open target and was forced to scramble for another scant 4 yards.  With the clock still ticking, Brewster ordered yet another highly questionable draw play that got stoned by the ‘Cat defensive front 7 for a 1 yard loss. As he gazed at a 4th & 3, Brewster courageously called for a naked QB bootleg, similar to the play executed by South Dakota just 2 weekends prior to preserve their upset “W” against the Rodents, which Weber converted into a nifty 16-yard gain and a 1st down at the NU 39 with an automatic halt to the clock.  Then Brewster made his most dubious call of the entire game - another draw play that was pounced upon by NU LB Dave Nwabusi for a 1 yard TFL.  I immediately recognized that this silly draw play was a nothing more than a set-up rouse upon which Brewster planned to reprise a second quick-strike pass to Mr. Lair running the same skinny post route into NU’s middle zone that resulted in the Rodent’s last 25-yard TD.  And I’m certain that this play progression wasn’t missed by Doc either.  Sure enough, on the next play, QB Weber, set in shotgun formation, takes the snap from center, WR Lair runs the skinny post and NU LB Ben Johnson alertly jumps the route and bats the ball down for a well defended PBU.  On 3rd & 11, with the game clock down to 30 seconds, Weber forced a dart pass to his WR attempting to run an inside slant against NU CB Jordan Mabin who had taken an inside cover position against his receiver target, effectively cutting-off this inside route, as the pass shot harmlessly past the WR-CB tandem.  Facing a last-gasp 4th & 11, the ‘Cat pass rush flushed Weber out near NU’s left corner contain, where the QB tossed a taut pass slightly wide of its target receiver in the short right-side flat.  Weber’s WR target makes a stab at the errantly thrown ball, only to tip it softly up into the air, whereupon LB Ben Johnson closes quickly and picks it off for a game-ending INT.  I clearly heard an audible groan from the 48K partisan Mighty Marmot crowd as I collapsed down into my seat, my head in my hands, thanking the Football Gawds for Tim Brewster’s obstinate choice in play selection.    

Lockdown - Somewhat
Despite Brewster’s questionable play selection taking center stage as the game wore on, the onus to halt a Mighty Marmot O that had regained its playmaking confidence and composure in H-1 fell squarely on Doc Hankwitz’ defense in H-2.  And to their credit, Doc’s troops girded themselves for the fight of their lives and did not disappoint.  True, this unit had given-up that long TD drive that followed on the heels of Dan Persa’s boneheaded French pastry INT that was picked-off in the shadow of the Rodent goal line near the end of Q3, but that subsequent Marmot possession was augmented, first, by a truly insane defensive holding penalty flagged against a ‘Cat DT on a rush (did the zebra’s really call that?); and secondly, by NU’s soft deep coverage from their secondary that was exposed in short order on the first Weber-to-Lair skinny post scoring strike from 25 yards out. 

But beyond those few defensive lapses, the ‘Cat D did a fairly decent job at squelching the bloodletting of H-1 and limiting the Golden Rodent O to a scant 55 total yards in Q3 and another 66 yards in Q4 which included that 25 yard TD toss.  If Doc’s D hadn’t reversed their porous ways from H-1 by eliminating all but a single explosion play in the H-2, the Wildcat Nation would be seeing the NU administration building’s clock tower glowing white instead of purple, a beacon signifying a ‘Cat “W”.  As it stood, NU’s defensive brain trust made the appropriate strategic defensive adjustments as the contest progressed and continually rotated fresh, energetic DL and LB bodies against the tiring Marmot OL in an effort to keep Minnie’s offensive playmaking capabilities relatively at bay.  And the increasing effects of that combination of astute adjustments and timely personnel rotation showed itself in spades throughout the Rodent’s offense-challenged 4th quarter.

Whatever the future of this football season may hold, hardly nothing regarding a single game-changing play by an individual NU football playmaker will challenge the shear athleticism, the gut-check determination and the heart-stopping dramatics exhibited by my overwhelming quintessential candidate for Northwestern University football program’s 2010 Play Of The Year (aka: POTY): the wholly impressive over-the-defender’s-head TD pass completion made by WR Jeremy Ebert in Q4.  I’ve reviewed video of this single remarkable completion a half dozen times since I first witnessed it in real time from the visitor’s stands of TCF Bank Stadium; and each time, I am thoroughly amazed that Ebert ever had the chance to make such a clutch catch.  To say that this one play saved the day for the ‘Cats is extreme understatement. 

On a 3rd & 7 down at the Mighty Marmot 25, Persa set-up for another critical pass behind his pocket protection, scanning the Rodent secondary and going through his receiver progressions.  After 3 full seconds, the ‘Cat pass protection breaks down when a Minnie DT gains separation from his blocker and rushes headlong with his crosshairs firmly fixed on Persa, who calmly stands tall, waiting for his target to get open and knowing full well that he’s going to absorb the most brutal body-shot of his afternoon from the rush DT closing down on him with reckless abandon.  Persa steadfastly holds his ground, cocks his arm and lets fly, just as that DT plows into his grill.  The ball arches high and long, dropping right on target to Mr. Ebert who is vying for position in a hand-checking duel with a Minnie cover DB fronting him in the Marmot end zone.  It’s a jump ball.  Ebert soars 6 full inches higher than the defender, stretches his arms and hands over the DB’s helmet and both Ebert & the defender reach-out and squeeze the bean with both mitts simultaneously.  It’s now an all-or-nothing, mid-air wrestling match for sole possession of the pill as the tandem crashes down to the end zone field turf.  Maintaining a virtual death grip on the pigskin, Jeremy gains leverage on the ball when the two combatants hit the deck in unison and rolls hard away from the DB to strong-arm the bean out from the defender’s grasp for a “did-you-see-that” TD completion, as pandemonium erupts on the Northwestern sidelines.  To be sure, this was a highlight reel clutch reception in crunch time for the ‘Cats that, as time goes on, could rival the Kustok-to-Simmons “Victory Right” completion in 2000.

To quote the famous phrase voiced by baseball broadcast hall-of-famer, Jack Buck: “I don’t believe what I just saw!!!”

Without a doubt, if Ebert doesn’t make that leaping two-handed grab over the defender’s helmet, maintain total  control of the ball as the WR-DB duo fight for possession then finally wrest it away as they both hit the turf and grapple against one another in the Mighty Marmot end zone, NU coulda, shoulda, woulda have lost this game. 

‘Nuf said!


I truly don’t know what fuels the raging fire that is the NU-Minnie rivalry, but there’s something competitively substantive lurking under the surface whenever these two teams step onto the gridiron to face one another.  It’s eerily similar to the emotional undercurrent that characterizes NU-Indy WhoZits contests.  The Golden Rodents simply fight the ‘Cats tooth-and-nail - every time.  Perhaps it’s due, in whole or in part, that each team mentally pencils-in a “W” next to this opponent on their annual football schedule and are determined to go-out and prove the veracity of that prediction.  I know for a fact that the WhoZits do so every season.

This contest was not an occasion where the Wildcats played down to a “reputedly lesser” opponent - not by a long shot.  In truth, HC Tim Brewster’s Mighty Marmots have talent on both sides of the LOS who can and will compete well against most middle to lower tier foes from the Big 10/12 conference.  However, against the ‘Cats, the Rodents just bring that little something extra, and it makes all the difference.  That, and the fact that Mr. Brewster’s frequently questionable play selection accommodated the ‘Cats’ down and distance situations in a very timely manner.  From many conversations I and others in my party had with dozens of the Maroon and Gold faithful before, during and after the contest, it’s undeniable that this beleaguered HC has lost the support from a great many Minnie fans.  That’s unfortunate; but it goes with the territory of a HC demonstrating his coaching skills at big time college football program, like Minnesota, that holds a very rich 100-year tradition of success at both the conference and national level. Add to that emotional-filled baggage train, the widespread expectations of the Minnie fan base in support of a program seeking its first home victory of the season; in a utterly beautiful, spanking brand-new house; with an enthusiastic homecoming throng in attendance.  That’s a lot of pressure with which to contend, and I don’t know what it will mean eventually to Mr. Brewster, but I can easily predict that this close, tightly contested dog fight could bring the Minnie HC a few more weeks reprieve before he faces the chopping block in earnest. 

As for the ‘Cats, it’s time to wipe the bullets of sweat from their collective brow and make good on a fast escape from the friendly confines of TCF Bank Stadium with a well-earned “W” in tow.  If adversity is the making of a quality team, then the ‘Cats have met it head-on and persevered, in spite of themselves.  I’m hoping that Fitz and his coaching staff can address the many shortfalls and self-inflicted wound displayed during this game and build on the lessons learned from this struggle against a challenging Mighty Marmot football squad.  

Truly, I don’t want to witness another nail-biter like this until we get to the meat-and-potatoes course (the final 4 games) of our season-long dinner.  The level of competition is set to increase as the ‘Cats progress through their 2010 schedule, and if NU is struggling now, might be a bad omen of things to come.          

The Waterboy
“Win with Grace and Lose with Dignity”      

Oct. 1, 2010

On the Brink Against the Rabid Chipmunks

The ‘Cats’ game against the Central Michigan Chipmunks last Saturday was a monumental exercise in coping with adversity – most of which was self-induced.  First and foremost among the incessant field play blunders and mental gaffes made by both teams was the virtual flag fest of penalties that ground any hint to gain momentum of the game by either team to a dead standstill.  Holding and personal fouls seemed to be the order of the day, along with frequent false starts and wholly frustrating substitution infractions.  I must admit, I found it difficult to understand the concept of calling an illegal substitution penalty when the offending team executes the no-huddle offense.  Obviously, there was something of the devil in the details of running the no-huddle where shuttling the appropriate personnel into the field, even before the offense lined-up to address the LOS prior to the next play, apparently violated the letter of this nebulous rule, but there it was. And it was there in spades - for both teams.  11 yellow kerchiefs thrown against the ‘Cats, while the Chipmunks were held liable for 9 infractions of their own.  Sloppy… very sloppy!

Then to make matters even worse were the light and flaky turnovers baked and served up hot and fresh by both teams; and most damaging of all: the deep red-zone INT from NU’s Dan “The Prince of” Persa, his very first of the 2010 season that was a true game changer. With the ‘Cats poised to take control of the seesaw battle after having recovered a fumble at the Chipmonk 25 and in position to convert the giftie French pastry into an easy dagger-in-the-heart TD with 5 minutes left in H-1, Persa had his first major mental breakdown when he forced a soft floater pass to a WR target, blanketed well by over-under coverage from the Chipmunk secondary, that was picked off with ease at the 12 yard line to end Wildcat threat. Having dodged that potential kill shot, the game Chipmunk O gathered itself and went right to work, driving down the length of the field in blitzkrieg fashion with a balanced mix of pass & run to score the game-tying TD against a seemingly bewildered NU D in just under 4 minutes.  So instead of NU extending its lead to 14 points just before halftime, the Chipmunks turned the tables on the ‘Cats and evened the score going into the locker room at intermission.  To be sure, these Chipmunks showed that they harbored a ton of deep-seeded heart and hard-nosed fight and were not going meekly into that sweet night.  It would be a reoccurring theme of resiliency that was repeated demonstrated throughout the remainder of the contest. 

How the ‘Cats Survived the Chipmunk Comeback

Margin Of Error
Without a doubt, it wasn’t his best performance in 2010, but Dan “The Prince of” Persa showed that he can and will move the bean for substantive yardage even when he isn’t at the top of his game.  Mind you, Mr. Persa wasn’t playing poorly, but with his first INT of the year giving the Chipmunks life and lifting them back into contention, such a 14 point turn-around just minutes before halftime might have deflated or discouraged a lesser QB.  Not “The Prince”.  Like Mike Kafka had experienced before the 2009 season, Mr. Persa had undergone some very valuable “up close and personal” mentoring by former QB great Brett Basenez who instructed “The Prince” not only on several minute nuances to improve his quarterbacking mechanics, but more importantly, on his fundamental mental approach as his team’s primary offensive playmaker as well. When describing the content of this tutelage, both Brett and Dan describe it as MOE and NMT – meaning “Margin Of Error” and Next Best Thing”, respectively. 

In essence, “Margin Of Error” is a concept of minimizing risk and eliminating error in overall QB field play by maintaining focus to execute the little things well – like ensuring that the pass is thrown to the outside shoulder of the receiver running the sideline route or slightly lower when that WR runs a crossing pattern through the middle zones of the opponent’s secondary.  In that way, the ball will never be put into a position where, if it is missed outright or careens off the receiver’s hands back into the air, it becomes easy pickings for the coverage DB to convert it into an INT.  “Next Best Thing” refers to making the correct choice within the course of an offensive pass play where, when the QB is presented with 2 viable receiving targets, which target will minimize the risk factor during the attempt at the completion while successfully addressing the play’s down-distance objective.  Basically, it’s a corollary to the offensive rules of thumb to: “take what the defense gives you” and “live to make another play”.  And to “The Prince’s” credit, Mr. Persa has learned Mr. Basenez’ lessons very well and have put them to practical use on the field of play with due diligence. It was THE main reason why the ‘Cats met the Chipmunk bid to steal the “W” at Dyche’s Ditch and kept their unblemished 2010 record intact at 4-0.

After that mental meltdown and the resilient Chipmunk O converting it into a game tying TD, “The Prince” flushed the whole cause & effect scenario from his memory and played with a steadfast focus and purpose which were testament to those mentored lessons learned.  In fact, on NU’s final possession in H-1, with 75 ticks remaining on the game clock and with his HC and OC facing their own MOE-“what do we want” dilemma, “The Prince of” Persa rallied his O to calmly and coolly complete 3 of 4 passes for 43 total yards and position Wildcat PK, Stephan Demos, at the Chipmunk 27 yard line for an end of the 1st half 46 yard FG attempt.  It was virtually gridiron poetry in motion and set the tone for the NU offense for rest of game, especially in Q3.       

In Control In Q3
I truly have no clue regarding what X-Os adjustments were made or what speeches might have been orated during the halftime interlude in the Wildcat locker room, but whatever those strategic changes were and whatever was said to rekindle the Purple’s pigskin mojo, when NU trotted back onto the green grass of Dyche’s Ditch for the start of Q3 and the ball was put into play, they were a much different team who collectively played like their hair was on fire.

Doc’s D went right to work on the Chipmunk’s 1st possession of H-2 and stoned them in their tracks for a well-played 3-and-out.  When the subsequent Central Michigan punt was booted a mere 35 yards, the tide seemed to turn in favor of the ‘Cats as “The Prince” and Co. took possession of the bean at their own 44 and methodically drove it 46 yards straight at the Chipmunk D, where Demos hit a 27-yard 2nd half-opening FG and a 3 point lead. 

On the very first play of Central Michigan’s ensuing offensive series, Doc called for a zone blitz which set ‘Cat DE Quentin Williams to peel away from his normal location defending the left edge at the LOS and rumble into position within the underneath umbrella coverage to the right side’s short wide zone.  Chipmunk QB Radcliff failed to recognize this coverage switch and threw the pill to what he interpreted as an open Chippie WR running a short curl route into that short wide-right zone. Bingo, Quentin’s re-position motion literally jumped that curl route where he made an easy snare of the errant pass and the ‘Cats’ O was back in business starting their 2nd possession of H-2 at the Chipmunk 25.  On the next play, Persa throws a laser beam pass to what now appears to be his favorite vertical pattern WR, Jeremy Ebert, running a skinny post between the Chipmunk’s cover-2 safeties for a quick-strike TD.  Bang, the ‘Cats extend their lead to 10 with a mere 6 minutes burned off the H-2 game clock.  The Chipmunk defense slinked off the field listless, dumb struck and reeling.

After a mutual change of possession between the two combatants, NU gets hold of the bean in Chipmunk territory at their 47 after a brutally short 28-yard boot off the punt-challenged foot of Chipmunk P, Brett “Do Not Confuse Me with Ray Guy” Hartmann.  In response, Mick McCall and the ‘Cat O decide to kick-start their flagging ground game with 5 straight  punishing rushes between “The Prince”, Mike “The Terminator” Trumpy and Jacob “Hodag” Schmidt, covering 47 yards in a scant 70 seconds for their second TD of H-2 that swelled the ‘Cat lead to 17 points. Game over, right?  Not so fast…   

Takin’ What Yer Given
One undeniable. consistent fact of the game: Miss Momentum was a fickle significant other, sharing herself equally between both teams over the course of the afternoon’s contest.  Swings in game control and momentum turned on virtually every turnover or every missed scoring opportunity.  NU’s first TD of the game came on the heels of the Chipmunk’s first INT.  A Jack DiNardo block of a 40-yard FG attempt by the Chipmunks sparked the ‘Cat O into an 11-play, 88-yard drive on the subsequent possession for a go-ahead TD.  After an exchange of turnovers, the 2nd of which was Persa’s fateful first INT of 2010, the Chipmunk O took a wild ride on Miss Mo’s coattails and, mimicking NU’s previous scoring possession, converted that tasty French pastry into an 11-play, 88-yard drive of their own that culminated in a game tying TD just before the end of H-1.  Truly, Miss Mo was not showing favoritism to either team.

H-2 was more of the same, where Quentin’s pick off Doc’s zone blitz call was converted into what seemed to be a game-clinching TD via the 1-play Persa-to-Ebert pass completion score. Then Wildcat RB Arby “Beef-n-Cheddar” Fields made the biggest gaffe of the game and quite possibly of his collegiate career at the 11 minute mark of Q4, where NU appeared poised to wrest total, lasting control with a potential 3rd unanswered scoring drive in H-2, only to be slapped back to reality when the beleaguered RB gagged on and coughed up the pill at the Central Michigan 36.  The Chippies gladly took possession of bean and Miss Mo’s hand once more at that juncture and converted it in a 64-yard TD score to reduce their 17 point deficit to 11 with 7:36 left in Q4.  When the Chipmunk O continued their comeback quest via a follow-up 86 yard TD drive that included explosion pass plays of 22, 20 and 25 yards, it was the Wildcat D who were shocked and in awe, facing an on-side kick-off that would be a game-clincher. 

The ultimate game deciding factor was that the ‘Cats converted 2 Chipmunk turnovers and a missed FG attempt into 17 points, while the Chipmunks converted 2 NU gifties into 14 points of their own.  That 3-point scoring differential, coupled with 5 missed scoring opportunities by Central Michigan at various points of the game, especially in Q4, contributed heavily in the critical +5 scoreboard points for the ‘Cats – all of which proved to be the game’s final “Margin Of Error”.

Cat Paws
Which bring this commentary to its last crucial, significant reason why NU overcame that furious comeback bid by the Chipmunks – unconverted PATs.  Jack DiNardo and Niko Majuli were the definitely NU’s defensive players of the game when they each drove through the Chipmunk PAT lineups at the LOS, lifted a paw and batted-down the PAT attempt.  Both blocks were game-changers.  Then there was DiNardo’s monumental block on that 40-yard attempt to be added to the Chipmunk’s list of missed score opportunities, increasing the missed-point total to 5.  And finally, those 2 failed 2-point-after-TD conversions for the Chippies.  That’s another 4 points to be included in the Chipmunk missed-point sum – making the final game total: 9 points (7 if those PATs were of the standard kick variety). 

That’s a lot of missed points for the Chipmunks.  Had they converted the blocked FG and one of the 2-point conversions, the game very well could have been undecided at the end of Q4 and quite possibly have been forced into OT.  This game was THAT close to becoming the ‘Cats’ first potential OOC “L” of the season.  

But that’s all shoulda, coulda, woulda speculation for Monday morning quarterbacks or rabid Io-a fans to debate and grouse-about among themselves over their morning coffee.  However, the bottom line fact remains: Doc’s defense DID block those PATs & that FG and stoned those 2-point conversion attempts for zero points. 

Game Over!!!   


Whatever might have been regarding that feared shoe-to-drop “L” by the ‘Cats sometime during their OOC schedule, it just didn’t materialize.  Of all the myriad positives which might be made of the fact that the ‘Cats didn’t fold in the face of the Chipmunk’s furious comeback scramble, any casual football fan must admit to the game’s final factoid:  all 3 phases of the ‘Cats team – offense, defense and special teams - came-up big when they were not playing their best football.  And you can be sure of one more item: the Central Michigan Chipmunks, in spite of losing a significant portion of last season’s offensive playmakers to graduation and a subsequent career transition into the ranks of NFL rosters, remain a very good, very competitive football program; and will make some well-deserved hay in the West Division of the MAC.  In fact, I’ll predict now that the Chipmunks will win their 4th MAC Championship in the last 5 seasons come this November and will play in a quality post-season bowl.  

And perhaps that is the measure of how far the Fitz, Doc and McCall-led Wildcats have come in their collective maturation process and their up-hill quest to become a perennial Big Dog among the Big 10/12 conference’s elite football programs. I’ve gotta admit, in part seasons, the ‘Cats could have dropped this game and come back down to earth with a resounding thud.   But they persevered and survived, and it’s all a very good thing. 

My heartiest congratulations go to the ‘Cats on a job well done!!!

So now…  About those pesky golf course varmints, The Minnie Golden Rodents.  Or do you call them the Mighty Marmots?

The Waterboy
“Win with Grace and Lose with Dignity”      

Sept. 24, 2010

Review By Braille

To say that this commentary has had its composition challenges is the quintessential understatement.  Foremost among these challenges was the fact that I only witnessed perhaps a total of 20-25 plays over the course of the entire NU versus Rice game.  This was due to an absolutely abdominal internet-based streaming video vehicle called OwlVision - conceived, produced, networked and marketed as the sole propriety product for broadcasting Rice University’s football game against the NU Wildcats last Saturday.  And it failed to deliver anything remotely close to the advertised visual access to the live game.  OwlVision was a frustrating series of woeful buffering scrolls, display latency cut-outs and frequent network connection drops. And I wasn’t flying solo on this experience.  I was one of approximately 300 NU fans shoehorned into the Evanston BWW restaurant who spent most of 3-hours-plus of wholly wasted personal time trying to see through this horrid internet-based video cast while poignant questions such as: “What down is it?” or “Was that a first down?” or the most frequently voiced plea: “How much time is left on the bloody game clock?” swirled among the viewing crowd.  What a debacle.

Bottom line: all personal observations of the game’s field play, upon which I normally base my post-game review and commentary, were severely compromised simply because OwlVision wasn’t able to provide anything substantive in real time.  Consequently, this game’s critique and conclusions are based solely on what video has been rendered onto You Tube-type recordings from several various intrepid sources, most of which have a decidedly Northwestern bias to them.  However, in spite of the overly Purple predisposition of those videos, several critical field play characteristics for the ‘Cats came through which were as undeniably conspicuous as they were game-deciding.  So that is what I’ll focus upon.

How the ‘Cats Caged the Rice Hooters

QB Domination - Again
I stated in my last commentary regarding the ‘Cats’ dominating “W” against the Illinois State Dead Birds that a weekly superior quarterbacking performance from Dan “The Prince of” Persa could become something that the Wildcat Nation could get used-to both very easily and very quickly. And Mr. Persa’s continued high quality QB field play against the Rice Hooters did nothing to diminish that sentiment.  Clicking on all his playmaking cylinders, “The Prince” maintained his prolific passing profile by completing 24 of 32 attempts, generating 307 total yards and a TD, distributing the bean among 8 different targets, while keeping his reputation for error-free quarterbacking perfection very alive and intact by not throwing an INT in his 3rd straight game.  Most certainly, Mr. Persa is beginning to garner some well-deserved attention from the usual suspect college football pundits from both the Big 10/12 conference and the nation at large, as well as opposing Defensive Coordinators. 

Way to keep it (and us ‘Cat fans) up, Danno!

DL Domination
In spite of the limited number of defensive plays I was able to view, the collective field play of the Wildcat DL was nothing less than impressive.  DT’s Corbin Bryant, Will Hampton and Jack Dinardo were absolute monsters, consistently pushing the LOS a full 2 yards back into the Hooter offensive backfield and straight into the grill of the Rice ball carriers.  Coupled with the superior outside-in crash techniques executed by ‘Cat DEs Kevin Watt and Vince “Beast” Browne off the defensive edge to compress the Hooter backfield and limit the operating space for whatever Hooter skill position player had the bean in hand, it became clear that the Rice OL were simply dominated from the opening whistle on.  One item of particular note was the plethora of un-flagged holding that was rampant among the Hooter OL against the ‘Cat DL personnel.  From what incomplete perspective I could glean from the intermittent OwlVision video, I saw constant overt jersey/pad grabs, shoulder wraps and downright takedowns by the Rice OL on virtually every Hooter offensive play – most of which were uncalled.  In retrospect, I can imagine that the game Zebras recognized the NU defensive front 7’s dominance over the Hooter OL early on and, in an effort to keep the competitive balance of this game, decided to keep their yellow handkerchiefs stuffed in their pockets and just “allow the players to play.”  Otherwise, this game would have degraded into one big offensive holding penalty fest. 

The final defensive game statistics really don’t do this squad’s contribution justice, because much of what this unit does for the rest of the ‘Cat D truly doesn’t get recorded on paper.  However when viewed live, you can be sure, even to the untrained eye, that this unit is beginning to gel and become a true defensive force to be reckoned-with.  DC Doc Hankwitz is fine-tuning his troops into a well-oiled defensive machine, and I’m just juiced at the prospect of how much this Purple D might or can improve under Doc’s tutelage as this season progresses.    

Wide-Open WRs
I truly don’t know if it’s due to the inferior coverage competition over the last 2 games, or anything else for that matter, but Mick McCall’s WRs have had a receiving field day each of the last 2 games against the Illinois State Dead Birds and now against the Rice Hooters.  Simply stated, NU’s receiver corps have been pouncing upon their opposition’s beleaguered defensive secondary and imposing their will, reducing the complexity behind QB Dan “The Prince of” Persa’s job to deliver the pill in stride and on target, and making his task-set that much easier.  Every member of this squad has shown a notable penchant to exercise his speed and elusive route running ability to gain separation then drive into the open space within the short and intermediate zones of the defensive secondary almost at will.  And last Saturday’s game against the Rice Hooter DBs was no exception to this continuing trend.  Bottom line: “The Prince” has his pick within this target rich environment to complete the pass. And this aerial attack tandem of precise pass route execution coupled with precision passing proved itself an extremely lethal combination to the Hooter defensive secondary.  End of story.

And man, they make it look so damn easy!!!      


So much for devouring yet another cream-filled, yellow sponge cake opponent (aka: a Twinkie).  As much as this game provided further positive confirmation regarding the offensive yardage production capabilities of the ‘Cats’ 1st unit O, and the improved stopping power of Doc’s 1st string D, this game, as a whole, seemed to be little more than a glorified intercollegiate football scrimmage. Still, Fitz’ and his Wildcats’ football goal for Rice Week was to go 1-0.  Mission accomplished – and, thankfully, with no major injuries.

However, one critical item of concern was the drop-off in quality field play by NU’s 2nd string offense and defense – and they’ve been given plenty of PT over the last 2 Saturdays to show their abilities.  Against the Hooter 2nd string O, the players populating NU’s 2nd and 3rd team D just did not produce, allowing backup Hooter QB Taylor Cook to look like the second coming of Joe “Gun” Montana and backup RB Chuck Ross to run roughshod on them – flexing their combined talents in a 97-yard final-possession drive that culminated in a garbage time TD in the game’s waning 3 minutes.  This type of precipitous drop-off from 1st to 2nd team D is just NOT acceptable regardless of circumstances.  I’m sure it was/will be a major topic for discussion between Fitz/Doc and their non-first string defensive personnel.

Next Saturday… the ‘Cats face their greatest OOC challenge of their 2010 season in the Central Michigan Chipmunks at the friendly confines of Dyche’s Ditch.  The Chipmunk O looks talented, showing that they can generate yardage and move the ball for scoring opportunities, and finally put it all together in a 52-point balanced-attack outburst against the less-than-stellar D of the Eastern Michigan Beagles.  My early take on this weekend’s game is that OC McCall will direct “The Prince” & Co. to air it out early and open-up the ‘Cat ground game; while Doc will get his ‘Cat D loaded for Bear… er… make that… loaded for Chipmunks, and unleash them on the little striped rodents. 

If the ‘Cats don’t self-destruct with self-inflicted wounds, I predict multiple striped-rodent road kill splattered all over Ryan Field by H-2.  TBD… 

The Waterboy
“Win with Grace and Lose with Dignity”      

Sept. 16, 2010

All the Comforts of Home

On the heels of last weekend’s nail-biter against Vandy, I thought anything was possible with the 2010 ‘Cats - including getting ambushed by the defense-challenged Illinois State Dead Birds.  After all, in spite of the Dead Birds’ problematic inability to stop the pass, their O rose to overcome the team’s defensive deficiencies to lay 55 points in an exciting shootout win against Central Mizzou; and while Vandy’s offensive talent cupboard isn’t quite chuck-full, it had enough weapons to take the ‘Cat D to the wall on a pleasant, serene evening in Nashville.  Now the ‘Cats were facing an opposing offense who had shown in their previous game that they actually knew how to move the ball with consistency and verve, and with the great football equalizer, rain, a prominent feature in the weather forecast, I was apprehensive regarding the ‘Cats’ ability to maintain their competitive profile.

Silly me.

Not only did Fitz and his Wildcats break-out a lock-down D against a decent offense, the Purple O finally put together a complete 60-minute game in all phases, including a much-maligned ground game, and trotted off the field of Dyche’s Ditch with an easy, well-deserved “W”.

After that, there is only a few specifics upon which to elaborate after this clean dispatch of an overmatched opponent.

How the ‘Cats Buried the Dead Birds

A Princely Performance
When facing an overmatched opponent, one key for the superior team is paramount: efficiency.  If the superior team’s field play is efficient - meaning it executes its conceived game plan, not necessarily to perfection, but methodically without making glaring mistakes - then it minimizes the inferior opponent’s ability to match that field play with its own emotion, guile and luck.  This is exactly what happened to the ‘Cats on both sides of the LOS, but in particular to NU’s offense.  In short, they just didn’t make many mistakes.  And it all started with the efficient field play of their primary ball handler, QB Dan “The Prince of” Persa. “The Prince”, who had a very commendable error-free game against the Vandy Commodes last weekend, didn’t miss a beat against the Dead Birds and picked-up right where he left off.  He handled Mick McCall’s offensive schemes with veteran composure and command both on the ground, scoring a TD via a QB sneak, and through the air, going 19 for 23, with two TDs to TE Drake Dunsmore, while a 3rd on-target TD pass was dropped in the endzone by a wide open WR.  All-in-all, Persa delivered another set of gaudy yardage production and scoring numbers that almost seemed to defy the effort expended in their generation – and all this without a single INT.  

As a former player, I was very impressed with the consistent poise exhibited by this Junior QB, in only his 3rd career start, as he went through his receiver progressions, identified the open receiver and delivered the bean on-time and on-target, time and again.  As a fan, I was giddy with delight at the ease to which “The Prince” executed the 2010 version of the NU spread and moved the ball downfield, scoring on 5 of the ‘Cats’ 6 possessions or 30 points in H-1.  Without a doubt, Persa is the embodiment of offensive efficiency at the QB position.

I’ve gotta admit, I could get used to this type of extraordinary performance very easily.  So too could the Wildcat Nation.  But then again, everyone should temper their enthusiasm in the afterglow of this “W”, if only because this extravagant production was against one of the more porous defenses at the Division 1A level.      

Degrees of Separation
One major item was abundantly clear as the game wore on - the ‘Cat WR corps could gain separation and get open against the Dead Bird secondary virtually at will.  And with Persa at the top of his game in finding them and delivering the bean with precision and accuracy, this passing attack combination spelled disaster for Illinois State.  It didn’t seem to matter who was in the lineup at the WR position - be it Stewart, Brown, Ebert, Fields or newbie tandem of Mark and Lawrence - they all could get open and present “The Prince” his pick of a final target receiver. With Persa and Co. running the NU version of the hurry-up offense, the Dead Birds DBs were outta gas and totally spent from the ‘Cats’ 2nd possession on, compounding their pass coverage woes.  Thankfully, this garish yardage production in H-1 allowed NU to sit their starting ball handlers and give their 2nd stringers plenty of PT in H-2 to operate behind the 1st team OL for some much needed real game experience. 

WOW… and I didn’t gnaw on my nails once.    

Trench Warfare
Much talk among Wildcat fans after the game concentrated on the ‘Cats’ superior offensive showing, and quite frankly, that squad’s collective field play was well deserving of such high praise.  However, IMHO, the unit deserving the most accolades was NU’s defensive Front 7.  Although, statistically, the lion’s share of the D’s total tackles were accounted-for by the ‘Cat secondary personnel, I truly feel that the overwhelming performance of the ‘Cat DL against the Dead Bird Big Uglies was THE ultimate difference maker in keeping what, up to last Saturday’s contest, appeared to be a relatively strong Illinois State O in check most of the day. After the only significant Dead Bird possession of game, their 2nd, which resulted in a well fought-for FG, Illinois State’s O would penetrate NU territory only 3 more times for the remainder of the game, and only once where they were in position to convert a significant score to stem their growing deficit - and that opportunity came only after the “Cat O had lost a fumble that was picked-up deftly off the turf and returned to the NU 17 yard line. 

Across the board, the ‘Cats’ Front 7 were simply awesome and gave the Dead Bird ball handlers fits for whole portions of the game, especially QB Matt Brown who, after connecting on a spectacular 32-yard bomb in the Dead Bird’s singular scoring drive, was summarily neutralized and limited to a paltry 106 unimpressive passing yards for the rest of this contest, mainly because he had some Purple-clad DL breathing down his neck after settling-in behind his “pocket protection”.  And you can bank on it… the coverage responsibilities of the NU secondary become that much more simplified when the focus of the opposing QB is forced on looking-for and avoiding the pass rush pressure rather than scanning the secondary for the open receiver.

Poppin’ Fresh
One significant consequence that the ‘Cats’ unrelenting pressure had on the Dead Bird passing attack, was TOs -as in 3 flakey, powder-sugar laced, poppin’ fresh turnovers - in the form of INTs.  And mind you, these timely picks of errant passes weren’t converted by the usual suspect NU DBs, but by those same Front 7 defenders who were causing so much havoc in the Dead Bird offensive backfield.  The disruption wreaked-upon Dead Bird QB Brown not only coerced him to consistently overthrow and underthrow his WR targets, this previously fluid playmaking passer was cornered early and often into throwing into double and triple coverage. Every pick that Brown made was an underthrown toss into multiple defender coverage simply because he was pressed into breaking-off his pass progressions by NU’s hard-charging defensive Front 7, leaving him with no other option than to force the pass to receivers blanketed by coverages that included NU’s underneath zone umbrella composed of their LBs and the occasional DL who peeled-off the LOS on a zone blitz stunt.  It was a beautiful thing to witness – especially when DT Corbin Bryant snagged the bean at the NU 29 then rumbled downfield for a 17 yard return that would have been much more had he not routed his return run straight towards a would-be tackler, reserve Dead Bird QB Drew Kiel, to deliver another body blow shot on the QB, only to trip over this human speed bump for an unsightly roll-over tackle.   


Well, the ‘Cats delivered what was expected: a “W” against a relative Twinkie opponent.  In spite of the inclement weather, the myriad doubts regarding the viability of the ‘Cats’ ground game and the associated speculation that Mick McCall’s O overly relies-upon the prolific yardage production of his rising star QB as a one-dimensional offensive attack option, the ‘Cats came through in flying colors – most of which were outlined in royal purple.

Now comes a next “weak-sister” test for the ‘Cats… the Rice Owls.  These are the same Hooters who took the measure of the Big Bad Texa$ Long-Bucks and danced with them for a full game while making them look like mere mortals or, at least, like a bunch of undisciplined sleep walkers.  Then the Hooters garnered a hard-fought “W” in a back-and-forth pillow fight against North Texas, and found a starting QB in the process to compliment their ex-Dazed & Blue wunderkind/phenom RB Sam McGuffie.

And this time around, the Wildcats will be pressed into service on a hot late summer evening that surely will test their mettle and conditioning more than their prior two trails by fire against lesser opposition.  If the ‘Cats can overcome the expected heat, in another semi-hostile away venue, against another team peppered with skilled, yet relatively unproven playmakers to capture the “W”, then they might start to garner some real attention – most especially from upcoming Big 10/12 conference foes.

Time to tighten the chinstraps and go 1-0 for the 3rd week in a row, fellas. 

The Waterboy
“Win with Grace and Lose with Dignity”      

Sept. 8, 2010


24 hours after having endured the emotional roller coaster that was the ‘Cat’s self-inflicted, tooth & nail dog fight with the ready & able Vanderbilt Commodes, I’m still vacillating between being a Wildcat apologist one minute and a hardened college football critic the next.

First, let me get a few observations out of the way.

One: Nashville is a FUN PLACE.  I’ve enjoyed many NU road games at many different venues located in many diverse cities over the years, but Nashville is near the top of ‘em all because of its high enjoyment/entertainment factor.  The locals are friendly, the food (as in BBQ & other regional cuisine variants) is great and the pricing structures are very reasonable.  If the ‘Cats ever get an invite to this city’s post season bowl game, The Music City Bowl, I’m making plans within 60 seconds of the announcement that NU has accepted the bid.  My experience in Nashville was that fantastic, as was many among the Purple Populace making this roadie to whom I’ve spoken.

Two: NU’s rushing attack is NOT as non-existent or as broke as many have opined after the game.  To be sure, whatever edition of rushing attack was rolled-out against the Commodes, it relied much too much on the toughness, pluck and grit of its hard-nosed QB, Dan “The Prince of” Persa.  NU’s ground game plan appeared to be focused obsessively on attacking & gaining control of the defensive corners.  It worked very well in Q1 as the ‘Cat O cruised to what seemed to be 2 all-too-easy scores.  However, in Q2 and beyond, the Commode defensive brain trust recognized this corner attack plan and made a huge, effective adjustment.  When NU’s obvious option motion showed, with the QB-RB tandem running parallel to the LOS, Vandy’s entire secondary sold-out to defend the defensive corner contain by converging en masse upfield across the LOS to the ball. And it stoned the NU option very well.  I never could understand why NU’s OC Mick McCall (and to a larger extent, Fitz) didn’t make a counter adjustment in their option run paradigm in the face of Vandy’s full-blown, upfield rush support move.  One of the best attack counters would have been to run a delayed drag pass route by a TE lined-up opposite the side of the option flow, into the deeper zones behind the Commodes’ secondary as they vacated those zones when executing that sell-out upfield run defense. All Persa had to do was to pull-up short as he got to the defensive edge and, with Fields (or whatever RB was acting as the pitch-back) providing a lead block against the CB or SS coming up hard to challenge NU’s option tandem, deliver an easy 15-yard dumper pass over the heads of the on-coming DBs.  I was waiting for this simple pitch & catch trap to be sprung, but it never happened.  Instead, NU’s option tandem (read: Persa & Fields) found themselves hemmed-in, looking for any seam between the converging sell-out DBs to avoid the TFL and continually losing 5-10 yards a play in the process.  Come-on McCall… Come-on Fitz, time to take what Vandy’s D was giving you!    

Three: The SEC football mystique of speed, speed & more speed was on full display.  Auburn demonstrated it in the Outback Bowl and last Saturday, the Vandy Commodes showed their version of it as well.  Mind you, it’s not as if the ‘Cats were a full step slower than the opposing personnel they faced or that the ‘Cats played like they were wearing Frankenstein boots instead of cleats, but Vandy’s overall team speed, especially among their offensive skill position players, was undeniable.  IMHO, the strategic idea behind Vandy’s defensive schemes was to shed blocks and drive into the opposition’s backfield (as if this isn’t the “idea” for every college football defense in the nation).  But the foot speed of the Vandy DEs, in getting around the blocks of the ‘Cat OTs, and the DBs in their en masse, sellout upfield run support against the NU option, was impressive.  On the offensive side of the LOS, the Commodes’ game plan was constructed primarily to exploit the superior speed and elusiveness of their QB, Larry Smith and their RB-by-committee trio of Zac Stacy, Warren Norman & Kennard Reeves, who communally generated 207 yards rushing over the course of the game.  There were times during the game where it seemed that Doc’s D just couldn’t keep up with that universal turn of foot shown by the Gold & Black ball carriers.  Basically it was this foot speed that kept the Commodes within striking distance of the ‘Cats throughout most of the contest. 

How the ‘Cats Flushed the Vandy Commodes

Opening Salvos
Prior to last Saturday, questions swirled like a tornado among members of the Wildcat Nation regarding “The Prince of” Persa and his quarterbacking capabilities as NU’s primary ball handler.  Well after Dan’s 19-for-21 passing performance that yielded 222 yards and 3 TDs to 3 different receivers, including one each to the starting & backup superback, any and all doubts towards Persa’s passing acumen have been unambiguously laid to rest.  Couple that aerial productivity with another 82 yards on 17 rushing attempts, a total that  includes a -28 yard adjustment due to 3 sacks, then Persa’s total yardage numbers for the game are all the more remarkable.  Simply stated, he showed himself nothing less than an offensive force for OC Mick McCall, breaking-out fast from the starting gate in imposing style, and maintaining that daunting dual threat profile through to the final whistle.

On NU’s 1st possession of the game, “The Prince” personally accounted-for 63 yards in a drive that culminated in a chip-shot 26-yard FG, for a 3 point lead.  Persa continued his stellar play in the ‘Cats’ drive No. 2 with another 49 yards off 2 pass completions - the 2nd, a well-thrown 33 yard touch throw to NU WR, Jeremy Ebert running a precise deep crossing route between cover-2 DBs that resulted in a lightening-strike TD, swelling the ‘Cats’ lead to 10 points.  In the opening 9:33 of the game, McCall’s offensive game plan – of Persa executing a strong, effective option attack that compromised the Vandy defensive edges for large gains, augmented by Dan the Man’s pin-point passing perfection (going 4-for-4) – knocked the Commodes D back on their heels, head spinning and wondering what Mack truck had run them over in that short timeframe.

Only problem for NU when executing this offensive game plan, was that if Mick McCall kept calling his starting QB’s number on designed keepers, it wouldn’t be long before NU’s OC would be calling upon 2nd team QB Watkins or either of his newbie frosh QBs as replacement to an injured 1st stringer.  Still, ambushing the Commodes for 10 quick points before most of the Vandy student population settled into their seats set the tone in favor of the ‘Cats for the remainder of the game.               

Giving ‘Em the Boot
NU’s 2010 kicking game… What a difference from last season!  In 2009, the ‘Cat kicking game, by design,  degraded itself into a near afterthought with a constant dependency on pooch kick-offs and rugby-style punts in a desperate attempt to minimize any/all quick strike disasters that might be wrought by an opponent’s kick return potential.  However, that was then; and this is now…  

The performance from NU Kicker Stephan Demos, finally given the opportunity to concentrate exclusively on his skillset at booting the pigskin off the turf, was simply outstanding.  His 5 kickoffs were absolutely massive - averaging over 68 yards apiece, as they consistently backed the Vandy return man to or just in front of his goal line for the reception.  And the results were very telling.  Bottom line: NU’s kick coverage team allowed only 1 kickoff return (on the opening kickoff, no less) past their 31 yard line, forcing the Commode O into facing long green for their scoring opportunities. 

In similar fashion, punts from newbie ‘Cats’ Punter, Brandon Williams, were howitzer-like boomers, sailing high and far, for a 42-plus yards average, while keeping the Vandy O pinned back to face still more long green off the change-of-possession.  What was once a feared liability in the ‘Cats’ punting game is now a game-changing, field position weapon!  Way to go Brandan!!! 

Less Is More
Without a doubt, this first game of the 2010 season, for both teams, was more a matter of controlling mistakes than demonstrating that the offensive or defensive squad on the field could execute their individual game plans successfully.  Field play breakdowns of all kinds were the order of the day for both the ‘Cats and the Commodes.  Missed blocks, missed tackles, blown pass coverages, TFLs galore, a muffed PAT snap & blocked FG for the ‘Cats and a missed PAT & missed 46-yard FG attempt for Vandy, and, most damaging of all, blatant penalties, many of the personal foul variety, were abundant for both sides.  NU survived 4 fumbles by turning over only one; while the Commodes had 3 fumbles of their own, but helped their cause immensely by recovering all of them.  Vandy QB Smith consistently missed his intended targets via overthrows or underthrows, giving-up one pick in the process which was converted into NU’s 2nd TD of the contest; while the ‘Cat secondary dropped two other potential INTs that would have summarily salted the game away for the ‘Cats.  In the end, it was the ‘Cats who prevailed by limiting the number of these game-changing, self-inflicted wounds.

All-in-all, it was a sloppy game that could best be summed-up with the phrase: “Winning F-ugly.”   

It’s What’s Up Front That Counts
One squad, in particular, deserved high praise: NU’s DL.  Although plagued with their own occasional missed tackle, for most of the game, the unit kept pressure on the Vandy OL, driving them back into their backfield and forcing the action wherever, whenever, however possible.  DT DiNardo was a beast and his battery mates, DT Bryant and Mafuli constantly took-on double team blocks.  The rotation of ‘Cat DEs, Browne, Watt & Williams effectively crashed and compressed the offensive flow in the Vandy backfield; however, they often, by design, were crashing hard to the inside to where their corner contain was compromised and taken advantage-of by the swift Commode Qb and RBs.  One major item of note that this squad accomplished: they frequently flushed Commode QB Smith out from behind his pocket pass protection and forced him into toting the bean solo through seams at the LOS, funneling him towards the ‘Cat LB crew and secondary who converged on Smith with bad intent.  The game’s tackling statistics bear this fact out as MLB Nate Williams lead the ‘Cat D with 12 tackles, while OLBs Quentin Davie and Ben Johnson added 7 and 5 tackles respectively.   

PAT Gaffes
Having scored a TD to reduce their deficit to 2 points, Vandy’s HC exercised conventional wisdom and went for the game-tying 2-point conversion – following 2 separate TD scoring drives.  Unfortunately, there are only two possible results when attempting to score those crucial game-tying points – and one of them is bad.  Luckily for Fitz & the ‘Cats, the Commode O came-up short on both tries. 

The 1st conversion attempt was stoned for no gain by a great read by NU’s MLB, who converged on the Vandy QB running a draw and dropped him in his tracks.  The 2nd conversion attempt proved to be Vandy’s biggest gaffe of the game. While Vandy QB Smith was voicing an audible from shotgun formation and looking back towards the Vandy sidelines for the new play call, the OC snapped the ball, sailing the bean a full 15 yards past the shoulder of his surprised QB.  The ‘Cat D saw the ball sail and pounced on the pigskin to put an end to the attempt, all of which kept NU’s lead at 2 points.      

Consider if the Vandy HC had called-for and his team had converted the standard 1-point PAT after TD No.1, he would have placed his team in position for the tie with a 2nd successful 1-point PAT after scoring TD No. 2.  But that type of Monday Morning speculation is nothing more than wishful thinking and rear-view mirror hindsight.  In the heat of the battle, the Vandy HC made the correct call.

Still, on both failed attempts, the missing 2 points provided NU with their prayed-for margin of victory and, in essence, sealed the deal for the ‘Cats. 


OK, so this game was far from a thing of beauty.  However, when it comes right down to it, the ‘Cats travelled into hostile territory, carrying a ton of question marks with respect to the quality of their offensive playmakers, against a game and speedy SEC foe, and delivered the expected “W.”  I could grouse all day long about the missed scoring opportunities, the arm tackles, the brain fart penalties, the fumbles, the failure to squeeze the ball to complete the in-your-hands INT,  the very suspect offensive play calling after the ‘Cats captured that 10 point lead (especially the OC’s obsession for rushing the ball on 1st down when the short to intermediate pass was wide open for the taking), and the failure of the ‘Cat DBs to keep contact with the Vandy WRs – specifically on the Commode’s 2nd last TD pass in Q4 - but it would be a moot exercise.  The fact remains that there were many positives to focus-on and be thankful-for: like the emergence of Dan “The Prince of” Persa as Mick McCall’s dependable offensive leader & playmaker, a vastly improved kicking game both from off the turf (kickoff & FGs) and from the hand (punts) and, while admitting to some glaring missed tackles, the overall effective field play from NU’s DL. 

I have complete confidence that Doc, McCall and Fitz will break down and analyze every aspect of this performance and will identify the areas for improvement then make the appropriate adjustments as they devise this weekend’s game plan and deliver it to the ‘Cats in preparation for NU’s home opener against the Illinois State Dead Birds.

After all, a college football team’s greatest single period for improvement is between the first and second game of its season.  I certain that 2010 will be no exception to that rule of thumb for our Wildcats.         

The Waterboy
“Win with Grace and Lose with Dignity”      

July 28, 2010

Go U Purple – a 10th Anniversary Commentary

Allow me to offer my heartiest congratulations to Larry and his GoUPurple website on its commendable Tenth Anniversary. Ten years in the making and still going very strong!  His dedication to accurately document and sponsor everything involved with the Northwestern Football Program, most especially in regards to steadfastly conserving its past while vigorously supporting the intrepid progress of its future, gives his website a distinctive perspective which has garnered high interest and praise among those who populate the Wildcat Nation.  I am both proud and humbled to be considered a valued contributor to this unique website and to be among those fortunate individuals who can call Larry, his bride Carissa and their growing family dear friends.

Way to go Larry!  And thank you, from the bottom of my heart!!!

So in keeping with GoUPurple’s historical point-of-view to Wildcat Football, I’d like to relate a few thoughts regarding what I believe has been THE major contributing factor in NU’s rise to prominence among the Big Dogs of the Big 10/12 conference and, to a larger extent, among the traditional football powers in all of Division 1A.

All The Right Moves

… or NU’s most significant hires of the last 10 years.

Take It From the Top
Similar to the demise of a football program, where the proverbial fish rots from the head on down, the rise of a football program equally begins with the man at the top.  Many might say that it was Rick Taylor, the famed Northwestern University Athletic Director who orchestrated one of the most improbable and unexpected reversal of fortunes in the annuls of modern collegiate football, who had the vision and exercised the required energy and sweat-equity to built the foundation for the highly competitive position among its conference peers where the Wildcat football program finds itself today.  After all it was Mr. Taylor who, first, convinced the historically apathetic NU heads of state to buy into the concept that a university’s athletic environment should be and could be a major contributor in constructing a attractive, positive culture among both its current university population and its alumni base.  It was Taylor who helped launch a very successful campaign among NU’s alumni base to raise the necessary funding to completely revamp our college’s crumbling, archaic athletic infrastructure into something that would bring its physical facilities, not on par, but at least onto the same stage (albeit a back stage location among the rank-&-file members of the chorus) of those facilities found among the lower to middle tier football programs of the Big 10/11 conference.    

And as much as Rick Taylor deserves high praise for kick-starting a dead-in-the-water athletic department to move forward, it was the astute hire of his successor, Mark Murphy from Colgate, who took the NU football program to the next level. Mr. Murphy was the perfect fit for NU at that time, possessing an able, charismatic personality coupled with a determined will to make positive things happen.  The Wildcat football program was in dire need of yet another round of major renovations to Dyche’s Ditch, as well as upgrades to its weight room, its indoor practice facilities, the outdoor practice venues and the offices within both Nicholet and the Athletic Department building, and the former safety and co-captain of the Washington Redskins was just the man to oversee the details to their successful completion. 

However, more than his credible management of those critical physical infrastructure improvements, it has been Murphy’s mentorship abilities that have provided the most substantive contribution to the Wildcat football program. Every crucial personnel hire within the Northwestern Football program over the last 10 years has Mark Murphy’s thumbprint on it – most especially the decision to fast track Randy Walker’s hand-chosen heir apparent, Pat Fitzgerald, to HC when NU’s very own Rock tragically passed away from heart failure in 2006.  This fateful personnel decision was rife with potential failure on many levels, not the least of which was that this choice would be the youngest HC in all Division 1A and, lacking any prior HC experience, would be a huge gamble.  But Murphy saw to it that Fitz was prepared and focused to maintain the continuity of the former HC’s personal vision for the program - from retaining its current coaching staff, to keeping much of its spread-oriented offensive playbook intact and especially to continuing the philosophy by which the program would develop their student-athletes – all geared towards minimizing the negative impact of this sudden, tragic change.  Simply stated, Mark Murphy did a masterful job in the face of this daunting challenge, and the Northwestern University football program has been much the better for the care, effort and attention to detail that he provided. 

Like a Glove
As stated above, the hire of Pat Fitzgerald to HC was an enormous gamble – and one that has paid and continues to pay tremendous dividends.  To say that the former 2-time All American and Nagurski Award and Bednarik Award winner fit this unique head coaching position like a glove is the greatest of understatements.  Fitz is a Northwestern man through-and-through - a tireless worker who bleeds Royal Purple, believes that the Wildcat football program can become a recognized member among the nation’s football elite and steadfastly drives everyone involved with the program towards that singular goal. 

First and foremost, being a mere dozen-plus years older than his players, Fitz has reversed any and all doubts regarding his relative youth and newness to the HC fraternity by simply relating on the most basic levels with the student-athletes he and his coaching staff  have recruited.  From the first day he entered the office of HC, he has picked-up and continues to bear the torch of Randy Walker’s vision: that of the tough-love, yet caring Wildcat football family, one that nurtures players through the trials of their individual college athletic and academic careers and is meant to endure way beyond their graduation into the real world beyond the walls of Purple & White.  This engaging relationship of belonging to a close-knit family has forged a powerful, endearing bond within the team to succeed.  And thus far, the results are very telling.  

I personally have always measured the success of a football program in terms of its development of the individual player, both on the field and off, because as the continued success of a football program’s singular parts progresses, so does its overall product.  And since Fitz has held the Northwestern head coaching reigns, his Wildcat football teams have seen marked year-to-year improvement both in season records and individual player development.  Over the last 4 seasons, NU not only has transitioned more players into the ranks of the pros, but the program has maintained its place among the top 5 graduation rates in all of Division 1A.  And it all starts with recruiting the “right” student-athlete for the program.  If anything, this is where Fitz and his coaching staff excel the most – they target and sign those players who fit their unique paradigm of brains, brawn, will to succeed and dedication to team.  It’s not for every elite player; in fact, it’s often the overlooked, diamond-in-the-rough player who is the best fit for Fitz’ program.  However, those special few who buy into his message, who are willing to pay the price and strive for excellence, just get hooked by the passionate Fitz, his up-and-coming program and the outstanding model for life-success within the Wildcat family.  And, like Joe Pa of State Penn, Fitz is committed to construct, not merely a house, but a rock-solid castle of academic and athletic achievement that will last for decades to come.  

Thankfully the Dark Ages are a distant memory, and it’s with great confidence that I, among many others, predict that the Golden Years of Northwestern Football is ahead for the program, poised to commence under the leadership of RW’s hand-picked successor, Pat Fitzgerald.  Better queue-up for your tickets, the Purple Pokël Boot of gridiron excitement will be pulling away from the dock. 

The Pinball Wizard
I had my doubts regarding Mick McCall’s hire as Northwestern’s QB coach and offensive coordinator in January, 2008.  My initial thoughts were: “Not another MAC coach – and as OC, no less.”  But I must admit that I was wrong - totally dead wrong - regarding the colossal positive impact that Coach Mick McCall has had on NU’s football program over the last 2 seasons.  Sure, I was aware that he had garnered success at his previous coaching gig as QB coach for BuGSU, having mentored All American QBs, Josh Harris and Omar Jacobs; however my enthusiasm was tempered by the sobering perspective that those QBs and their gaudy offensive statistics were compiled primarily against MAC-level opposition.  On the other hand, this was the Big 10/11… you know, Big Time college football… not the 2nd tier journeyman competition one expected when facing foes like the Kent State Hot Flashes or the Ohio Bobbleheads on a week-to-week basis.  So I was in wait-and-see mode on this selection.  I didn’t have to wait very long.

Mick McCall didn’t miss a beat in year one of his OC tenure at Northwestern, mentoring the transition of C.J. Bacher from a good QB into a high quality college QB who became the second most productive signal caller in the Big 10/11 conference in 2008, while compiling a 9-3 record and a bid to the Alamo Bowl against a ranked Mizzou squad.  And Coach McCall had his Bacher-led offense in position to claim NU’s first bowl “W” in 50 years; however two devastating special teams gaffes sent the ‘Cats limping back to Evanston empty-handed.  Still, in spite of the setback, McCall had demonstrated that he, in fact, possessed the right stuff to develop All Big 10-level QB talent at Northwestern and to do so despite having been given a compressed timeframe towards mentorship.

In 2009, Mr. McCall’s 2nd season as QB coach was a thing of beauty, if only because his QB cupboard was relatively bare, PT-wise, since he depended so heavily upon Bacher to take the majority of snaps-from-center over the course of the previous season.  Not only was McCall given a starting QB in senior Mike Kafka, with very limited game-time snaps, but his No. 1 signal caller was reputed more for his rushing prowess than his ability to identify the open WR and deliver the ball on target.  McCall was more than up to the challenge and took Kafka under his wing, with plenty of off-season help from former NU QB, Brett Basenez, deftly converting him into an offensive force to be reckoned-with.  Both to reduce the pressure on his very young and inexperienced OL to keep opposing DL out of his QB’s grill and to take full advantage of the quick-release off the LOS capabilities of his equally less-than-experienced WR corps, McCall adjusted his passing attack to a controlled, dink-n-dunk variety, where Kafka could use his ability to pin-point the open receiver out of the shotgun position within 2-3 seconds while avoiding sacks and TFLs due to breakdowns in his up-front pass protection.  It took several games for Kafka to “get it” (as in exercising McCall’s quick release training to distribute the pill across as many as 8 WRs regularly) but as the season progressed, McCall’s 1st season protégé became a master.  The skillful QB guidance of Mick McCall was on full display in NU’s final 3 games in 2009, where he mentored Kafka and his backup, Dan “The Prince of” Persa, to lead the ‘Cat O in a virtual yardage-generating juggernaut against the #4 HogEyes, a game Ill-Annoy team and the season finale against the #16 Wisky Drunkards, capturing 3 consecutive “W”s in the process.   

However, McCall’s crowning coaching achievement from last season was NU’s January 1st Outback Bowl game, where the Kafka-led ‘Cat O overcame 5 INTs (the first 3 of which were muffed receptions by the target WR) and twice came-back from 14-point deficits only to absorb another gut-wrenching “L” in a wild and wooly OT contest against the ranked Auburn Tigers.  Through it all, Kafka, as NU’s primary offensive playmaker, was brilliant, even in the face of those damn 5 picks.  The QB’s final stats: 47 of 78 completions, 532 yards passing (4th highest in Div. 1A bowl game history) and 4 TDs, lends solid testament to the high quality effectiveness of Coach McCall’s ability to train and elicit the best performances from his primary ball handler, and that including his backup QB.                    

The Doctor Is In
IMHO, the most significant football hire made by NU’s athletic department, beyond that of Fitz as HC, was that of Mike “Doc” Hankwitz, as defensive coordinator, a day after the hire of Mick McCall in January, 2008.  His entry into the Wildcat football family was downright earth-shaking and wholly improbable, especially given the fact that his deep resume is peppered with outstanding coaching and defensive coordinating success at the Division 1A level, most recently at Wisconsin, where his defenses consistently garnered top 10 rankings.  In an age where high-success coaches of Doc’s caliber often are proffered HC positions by high-profile collegiate football programs when they become available, Wisconsin AD, Barry Alvarez, bowed to a pre-arranged ascension of Hankwitz’ successor to the DC position within the Drunkards’ program, thus making Doc available in the open college football marketplace, despite the fact that he had been named interim HC at both Colorado and Arizona following HC changes in those programs.  So… what was Wisky’s loss is now Northwestern’s gain – albeit, a gargantuan one at that!!!

Prior to Doc’s joining Fitz as new defensive coordinator, NU’s DC responsibilities were assumed by the now infamous Greg “Behold the Power of Swiss Cheese” Colby, under whose watch, the ‘Cat defense reach new lows in field play.  Simply stated, NU’s D was putrid – from concept, to game plan, to execution, to results and beyond – and it wasn’t as if Colby’s defensive roster was devoid of quality collegiate and NFL-level talent (e.g.: Luis Castillo and Barry Cofield, to name 2).  If “The Swiss Meister” had produced these horrid DC results anywhere else but at NU, he would have received a well-deserved pink slip after only a season or two.  However, Greg Colby was one of those Randy Walker-carryover coaches who summarily was declared “untouchable” at the time of RW’s death, if only to maintain program continuity, especially among the shaken ‘Cat players.  So in keeping with that conservative approach to minimize the impact of a sudden transition at HC, Fitz’ first two seasons were rife with continued badly-conceived defenses that got eviscerated on a weekly basis by medium to less-than-stellar opposing offenses.  The Purple Populace was beside itself with anger, frustration and, most of all, dissatisfaction at the highest levels of NU’s administration and ranks of alumni boosters.  Then the miracle happened… just days after being handed his hat and shown the door following a universally boneheaded coaching move by the Wisky AD, Doc was contacted by AD Mark Murphy for the soon-to-be-vacated DC position at NU, and he accepted.  And his impact was as immediate as it was gigantic.

Almost overnight, Doc took the exact personnel who were ineptly governed by Colby’s “read and react” style defense and transformed them into a motivated, high energy unit.  These same players, who had the dubious reputation of playing soft and were hesitant to converge at the point of attack a mere season ago, now, exercising Doc’s new “attack-first” posture, resembled a rabid pack of junk yard dogs, willing to run through brick walls while eating raw meat to meet & greet the ball carrier.  Running from sideline-to-sideline, in pursuit of the ball and attacking it with extreme prejudice, they embodied Fitz’ mantra of:  “Do not take a play off.”

Consequently, what was once a team liability is now a depended-upon asset.  With Doc’s D exercising his attack-first strategy, Mick McCall’s O doesn’t need to score 28 points or more to position the ‘Cats for the “W”.  The final, missing piece of the NU coaching puzzle was the introduction of an highly regarded veteran defensive genius with the appropriately aggressive approach to defense, the vision to adjust his personnel accordingly and the skill to teach its execution to a group of willing young players then let them have at it against their opposition.  Not only has it has worked very well for individual players, it has accelerated over the last 2 seasons on the team stats sheet.  And I can’t wait for the 2010 edition of Doc’s D!

What a coach!  What a leader!  What a difference maker!!!  

Looking Forward

The 2010 season is the easiest in recent memory for Fitz and the Wildcat family.  That isn’t to say that it doesn’t have its pitfalls and trap games.  Indeed, one could consider NU’s season opener against the Vandy Commies as a first trap game.  However, what until 2 weeks ago was a game against a reputed SEC bottom feeder whose program mimicked that of the ‘Cats less than 4 seasons ago (read: a hungry, want-to-prove-itself team), now is somewhat of an enigma, given the sudden retirement of its own energetic HC.  So who knows what to expect?  The Commies could be a surprise, yet more likely, could end-up being just another soft, edible, nutrition-value-less creampuff for Mick McCall’s latest QB project, Dan “The Prince of” Persa and his untested OL to feast-upon with relish and abandon.  One thing you can be sure of: the ‘Cat offensive attack will be much more balanced and effective, with a better, much more experienced OL opening holes and protecting Persa and his backup Watkins and with a RB-by-committee ground game that is a year more experienced itself and hungrier than ever to show that NU’s O is not a continuation of 2009’s seemingly one-dimensional, dink-n-dunk, pass-happy squad.

And as for Doc’s defense.  Just wait and see them fly around.  To be sure, the 2-deep roster is the deepest it’s been in years and Doc WILL have them well prepared.

I fully expect a 4-0 OOC record going into the Minnie game at the Mighty Marmots’ new digs, TCF Stadium.  If the ‘Cats can hand the skill position-depleted Golden Rodents the expected “L” in this conference opener, then they will be set to take-on the Perdue Broiler-Chickens in their home conference opener at Dyche’s Ditch.  A “W” there would give the ‘Cats an easy-as-pie 6-0 slate, making them bowl eligible for the 4th consecutive season, while setting the table going into their 2010 bye week, with a full 2 weeks to salve their wounds and prep for their first real test of the 2010 season against Moo U. in Evanston.  From there, who knows?  Except, of course, the two very winnable games that remain… first against the Who-Zits, who could have this game highlighted as a red-letter tilt within the confines of their locker room; and second, against Ill-Annoy, a team who by that point of the season should be over & done playing grass games with the funny-looking, 2-pointed ball and anxious for their Cage Wars campaign to begin, in Jim Phillips’ made-for-media retro/revival pigskin contest at the Friendly Confines.  

If the planets align without a usual toe-stub/brain-fart at the hands of one of these afore-mentioned cream-filled sponge cake opponents, it all shoulda-woulda-coulda make for a very satisfying 8-9 “W” season and an expected bid to some warm & sun-laced post-season football game sometime in January.      

The Waterboy
“Win with Grace and Lose with Dignity”      

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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