The Waterboy
2011 Archive

Nov. 11, 2011

Chewin’ On the BugEaters

Finally, a full 4 quarters of quality, competitive field play from every squad on the Northwestern Wildcat team.  Refreshing?  Sure it was, but more to the point, last Saturday’s performance against the tough 9th-ranked Nebraska BugEaters could best be described as REASSURING.

Why reassuring you might ask?  Most certainly… As in reassurance from an enigmatic team that, over the course of its last 4 games, had displayed their amazing potential to dominate a ranked opponent throughout the early quarters of a contest, only to be man-handled and overwhelmed by that opponent who made the critical, necessary adjustments that would stuff the earlier proficient yardage production of the Cat O to insignificance, while simultaneously taking the normally porous ‘Cat D to the shed for its weekly late-game thrashing. 

Well, against the BugEaters, it just didn’t happen. And what was the difference of this game from the ‘Cats’ previous 4?  Let me count the ways… 

How the ‘Cats Zapped the BugEaters

“Keep ‘Em Under 53…
and we’ll have a chance” - a quote voiced by NU’s QB-slash-WR-slash-RB Kain Colter during an on-field post-game interview when asked what was said to the ‘Cat defense that might have sparked their spectacular performance to neutralize the high-powered BugEater O.  Nothing like some ironic tongue-in-cheek ribbing from one’s offensive teammates to light the fuse and shove a motivational burr under the saddle of the much-maligned ‘Cat D. 

Whether or not that quote was actually true; or, if true, whatever the background context might have been when that poignant message was delivered, it proved to be a cold-water wake-up call thrown into the collective faces of the Wildcat defense.  And, to a player, they responded with vitality and vengeance, laying-out everything they had on the gridiron over all 4 quarters, while subsequently giving the Wildcat offense that chance to put together a game-deciding drive to score the go-ahead and eventual winning TD against one of the best defenses in the Big 10/12 conference. 

As much as I was impressed with the efficiency, resiliency and dominating play of the ‘Cat O during the prior weekend’s shootout against the Indy Who-Zits, I was more impressed and even awe-struck by the ‘Cat D as I witnessed the fire-breathing, no-holds-barred style in which they attacked the prohibitive 17.5 point favorite BugEaters from Lincoln, NE.  What an effort!  What a commitment to excellence!!!

And quite frankly, was it ever so totally unexpected  Throughout every game played in the first half of the 2011 season, the frustrating field play of the ‘Cat defense had degraded so steadily, that many among the most die-hard, purple Kool-Aid swilling fans populating Wildcat Nation were calling vociferously for the head of DC Doc Hankwitz.  And who could blame them, especially after the Army fiasco game that became a harbinger of more devastating train wrecks to come.  I, for one, held fast and never subscribed to that point-of-view, if only because I recognized the occasional level of defensive play from individual DL, to members of the LB corps and even those within Jerry’s Kids’ ranks (NU’s DBs), although inconsistent and rife with breakdown of all kinds, had moments of good , if not (big gulp here…) high quality.  The most pervasive argument against this purely Polly-Anna perspective was the irrefutable fact that those moments, those glimmers of hope were much too few and too far between one another to make a rat’s behind difference in the overall perception of what was going on the defensive side of the LOS, particularly in the 2nd halves of most games where this unit’s putrid execution, especially from NU’s secondary, was most evident. 

So what was the difference-maker in this particular contest, the ‘Cats’ first ever conference go-around against the BugEaters, who were tied for the lead in the newly formed Legends Division and who, apparently, merely had to swat the pesky, gnat-like ‘Cats from their home field, then redirect their attention to compete against the more reputable opponents left in their inaugural Big 10/12 season - Michigan, State Penn and the hated Iowa HogEyes?

IMHO, it was attitude… the very attitude alluded-to by Mr. Colter’s quote above,  which begged the question, “Was the ‘Cat D finally prepared and willing to play their most complete game of their 2011 campaign?”  The subliminal 2nd half answer to that question could be paraphrased: “If not, then fold your tents, get your butts off the field, and let the real playmakers go to work.”  Essentially, this answer was a challenge to the defense’s mental wherewithal, their competitive nature, their intensity; and, without a doubt, it was NOT good natured or mild mannered when voiced.  And I’d bet my house that this question/answer was crafted and communicated by Doc to his beleaguered troops. 

And owning to this game’s final defensive statistics, the reaction to this communiqué could be summarized: “Message transmitted; Message received… Roger that.” 

A cursive inspection at the final totals underscores the significant effect of that message -
●    122 total yards rushing allowed
●    1 rushing TD allowed
●    287 total yards passing allowed
●    21 total points allowed (after having averaged 32)
●    Explosion passes: 2 of 25 yards apiece
●    Explosion rushes: 2 of 19 yards apiece

Remarkably. the WhoZit O achieved each bullet-point statistic above in H-1 alone the previous Saturday.  Yet against UN-L’s Big Bad Red Machine, these were FINAL totals.  These statistics were born of superior effort and commitment to lay it all on the line by every defensive player who faced the BugEater offense. 

All I can say is: “Welcome Back.  Where have you been all this time?”

From the opening whistle to the final gun, it was obvious that OC Doc’s overriding game plan was to make the BugEater offense one dimensional by diverting UN-L’s primary offensive yardage production away from their prolific, grind-it-out ground game featuring RB, Rex Burkhead, and force it into the hands and arm of Big Red throwing RB/Wildcat-style QB, Taylor Martinez, and his relatively less-than-stellar passing attack.  Mind you, the quality of the BugEaters’ aerial game is not poor by anyone’s assessment, but undoubtedly it holds a distant second place to their rushing attack.

Before this grapple, every DC from the Big Dog teams of the Big 10/12 made attempts to execute this exact defensive strategy with varying degrees of success.  Moo U made a vain stab to employ it and failed miserably, literally getting steamrolled by the blocking dominance of the BugEater’s OL and the ground game tandem of Burkhead & Martinez, giving-up 24 points off 190 yards rushing when the Sparty defense had strangled their previous 7 foes to an average of only 90.  Da BuckNuts tried it as well and were effective through 3 well-played quarters, having garnered a 21-point lead in mid Q3, only to collapse eventually to the inescapable pressure of UN-L’s running game that was bolstered by Martinez’ 109 yards rushing and complimented by his best passing performance of the fall, where he completed 16 of 22 attempts for 191 yards, all of which led to 4 TDs as the BugEaters squeezed-out an improbable come-from-behind “W” in the game’s final 20 minutes.

The only Big 10/12 team to successfully run this “give-the-ball-to-Martinez” paradigm was Wisky during their 48-17 home-cooked shellacking of the BugEaters.  In the process, the Drunkards made UN-L’s ground game appear pedestrian and coerced Martinez’ middling passing attack into 3 game-changing INTs.  I believe that this game, more than any other, convinced Fitz and Doc to emulate Wisky’s defensive game plan as best they could to keep the juggernaut Big Red scoring machine at bay for as long as was possible.  Only issue… Did Fitz & Doc truly ever expect their normally porous D would keep the seemingly unstoppable BugEater O bottled-up for an entire 60 minutes?  The only ones who know the real answer to that question walk the offices of Nicholet Hall and the Randy Walker locker room.

 I’m more than happy to report that this defensive strategy was effective for most of the contest.  First item to mention was that Doc stacked the box with numbers frequently, not allowing the BugEater OL to claim full control of the LOS.via double teams to the ‘Cat DL and position blocks at the point of attack, as had been their modus operandi.  With 7-8 Purple defenders facing the Big Red rushing game, there was always a free defender to fill a hole or attack the ball as it showed before it was run into the LOS.  The ‘Cat defensive front players were instructed to attack their blocking counterparts with reckless abandon, and it proved an effective tactic.  Even the relative newcomers, DTs Hampton and Carter, were pounding their would-be blockers and holding their ground, allowing their second level support teammates to attack the open seams or lanes. 

A second detail of this strategy was to emphasize attacking the BugEater O on their side of the LOS.  This attack mode was most evident in defensive corner contain techniques where NU’s OLBs and/or DEs were tasked to react to their reads of Martinez and Burkhead running to their side of the LOS and penetrate into the BugEater backfield 3 yards off contain edge, especially to the wide side of the field.  This edge penetration compelled the ball carrier either to shorten his run to the defensive corner and cut to the inside of the edge-penetration defender or to drop his route back another 2-3 yards deeper in an attempt to sprint around the edge defender.  The ultimate objective was to disrupt offensive flow to the defensive edge and force the ball carrier to hesitate in his decision of where to make his cut downfield, even for a fraction of a second, allowing either the inside-out pursuit of the LBs and DL to sprint down the LOS then turn into the lane inside of the edge penetration or the CB to make his rush read then drive hard to support the lane outside of the edge defender.  In either case, the 2nd level rush support defenders MUST turn upfield into the face of the ball carrier and meet him with heavy lumber and bad intent. 

Now mind you, this edge attack and other attack-oriented stunts by NU’s defensive front 7 did not necessarily stone the UN-L ground game in place, but collectively contributed to containing the usual damage done by the yardage gobbling Nebraska rush.  By employing an overall game plan that forced the ball into the hands of Big Red QB Martinez, Fitz and his coaching staff had constructed a blueprint for success that mimicked what HC Bielema conceived for Wisky; and the BugEater offense accommodated that blueprint as it both dominated and sputtered at various points during their first 3 possessions of the game while making several crucial gaffes of their own 

While the BugEater O scrambled to solidify its playmaking rhythm against Doc’s D, Persa and Co. went to work executing OC Mick McCall’s balanced offensive game plan, controlling virtually whole portions of the game throughout H-1, as the ‘Cats captured a 7-3 lead in front of 85,000 astonished and eerily quiet Big Red fans and held on to it heading into the halftime.  Think of it… top 10-ranked Nebraska held to 3 points for the first half by the one of the conference’s weakest defenses!!!  Then the ‘Cats shocked the home crowd even further by returning the opening kickoff of H-2 to the NU 41, then methodically drove the bean the remaining 59 yards for a 2nd TD to extended the ‘Cat lead to 14-3 in less than 3 minutes.  

NU’s defensive game plan to dictate a one-dimensional O to their opponent worked relatively well.  Simply outstanding!!!

Decisive Defense
Here is where this implausible success story takes a decidedly surreal turn in the Wildcat’s favor when the ‘Cat defensive front 7 completed several of the most monumentally decisive defensive plays of the 2011 season.

The first occurred on the BugEater’s possession spanning Q1 into Q2, as they trailed the ‘Cats 7-0.  During this drive the ‘Cat D was trying to execute their attack-the-LOS game plan, but UN-L’s Burkhead-Martinez rushing tandem was carving them up like a Thanksgiving turkey.  The NU defense would stop a rush for little to no gain on one down then on the following play get slashed for a substantive gainer for a 1st down as the drive pushed relentlessly from the BugEater’s 21 to the NU 5 in 12 grueling downs.  On 1st & goal, Burkhead gets a handoff on a simple dive into a crease at the LOS, bulldozing toward NU’s goal line amid the ensuing scrum, when LB Dave Nwabuisi reaches in and strips the bean from Burkhead.  The ball pops out a full 5 yards behind this mass of humanity and the mad scramble is on.  When the dust finally settles, ‘Cat DE Tyler Scott emerges with the fumbled ball in hand.  Doc’s D dodges a huge kill shot bullet in the BugEater’s bid to score a game-tying TD.  This French pastry turnover was a colossal game-changer, shifting momentum from the Big, Bad BugEaters to the Wildcats in the blink of an eye, who retained it for the remainder of the game.  On the heels of this first forced fumble recovery, the ‘Cat D regained their focus and determination, turning the tables on the Big Red O and neutralizing them throughout the rest of H-1 and into H-2.

The 2nd crucial defensive play occurred on the very next BugEater possession.  UN-L QB Martinez completed a 17-yard pitch-n-catch toss to WR Quincy Enuwa who made the grab, took 2 steps downfield to the NU 27, then got blasted by ‘Cat CB Jeravin Matthews, forcing the ball from the WR’s hands for a fumble that bounced to the NU 19 yard line, where Safety Ibraheim Campbell pounced on it to end the drive.  This second consecutive fumble recovery by the ‘Cats on successive Nebraska possessions changed the entire complexion of the game.  From this point forward, the Big Red brain trust shifted their offensive approach from its standard, methodical run-based attack to a pass-oriented one - as designed by the ‘Cats’ defensive game plan.  Fitz had herded HC Bo Pelini’s offensive mindset where he wanted it to be. 

The 3rd was a critical defensive stand occurred after a Persa pass was deflected 10 feet in the air by a Nebraska DL and grabbed by Big Red LB David Lavonte at the NU 37.  This INT could have been a backbreaking, game-changing turnover, but instead the ‘Cat D responded to the challenge and remained steadfast.  After yielding a 13-yard pass completion, the ‘Cat defense regained their composure to stop the Big Red offense on consecutive downs and force them into a 36-yard FG attempt that was converted to set the score at 7-3 before the end of H-1.  This 4-point swing was huge difference-maker and a major motivational factor to the Wildcats.  It proved once and for all that they could withstand the Bugeater’s haymaker shots and keep their will to win intact heading into H-2. 

The 4th monumental performance by NU’s D was made on the Nebraska’s first offensive series following NU’s 2nd TD score of the game off Colter’s 23-yard quick strike pass to Dunsmore on the ‘Cats’ opening possession of H-2 mentioned above that shoved Big Red down an 11 point hole.  After returning the subsequent kickoff to their 39, the BugEater offense pops an explosion rush for 19 yards hauling the ball to the NU 42, poised for a push to paydirt.  The ‘Cat D responds once again to stone the Big Red O on 3 sequential downs, forcing a 4th & 2 down at their own 34, and Bo Pelini goes for the proverbial jugular in a bid to convert the 1st down and snatch momentum back to the BugEaters.  On 4th down, Burkhead received the handoff and immediately gets pummeled to the turf as DE Quentin Williams and LB Damien Proby shoot the “A” gaps on either side of the Nebraska OC and drop the Big Red RB in his tracks for a 3-yard TFL to end another BugEater possession for zero points. This failure to convert on 4th down & short sent a message to the Nebraska coaching staff:  This game was gonna be a fight to the finish, similar to the BugEater vs. BuckNut game.     

A Rising Star
Sophomore Kain Colter, the Wildcat’s versatile QB-slash-RB-slash-WR, has already had his coming-out party in NU’s first 2011 game against Boston College.  Since then, his stock has been upwardly mobile, as has his versatility within OC Mick McCall’s offensive game plans.  But never was his playmaking ability and offensive contribution as needed or critical to the ‘Cats’ chances at capturing the “W” flag as it was throughout last Saturday’s tussle against the BugEaters.

Now before I start singing his praises, allow me to temper the euphoria over Colter’s outstanding playmaking against the Big, Bad BugEaters with a cold reality check.  Simply stated, he can be as much a liability as he can be a hero.  In NU’s 2nd offensive series of this last contest, Colter, as RB, rushed off-tackle, promptly got waylaid by the BugEater defensive front 7 for a -6 TFL and laid the pigskin on the turf at the Big Red 34, killing what shoulda, woulda, coulda been the ‘Cats’ first points of the game.  I won’t go further, you get the picture.

In H-1, Colter made ink for himself on the stat sheet with a 22 yard catch-n-run from Persa during NU’s first possession of the game in Q1, which unfortunately was negated by the fumble mentioned above 7 downs later.  However, it was in H-2 that the full weight of the Colter-effect was felt most strongly by the BigEaters.  

With Persa having been planted harshly to the turf of Dyche’s Ditch on a very hard sack late in H-1, sustaining a game-ending shoulder injury in the process, the onus fell on Mr. Colter to pick-up the offensive leadership torch and run McCall’s balanced offense on his own throughout H-2.  A daunting challenge to say the least.  Well, KC didn’t merely run the ‘Cat offense when given the QB duties for the Wildcats, he literally took NU’s offense fate in hand to become the game’s most dominant offensive playmaker on either side of the LOS.  

As stated above, once NU took the opening kickoff of H-2, returning it to the NU 41, Colter, out of his Wildcat QB shotgun set, connected with TE Jack Konopka on his first pass for a 21-yard TD - or so it seemed.  Mr. Konopka, lined-up on the LOS in his standard TE set, was covered to his outside by the wide-set WR who also lined-up on the LOS, making him an ineligible receiver.  The zebras caught the infraction proffered the usual 5 yard mark-off.  However, the ‘Cat offensive brain trust decided to test the deep middle zone coverage of the BugEater secondary once more.  On the next play from scrimmage, Colter threaded the needle to SB Drake Dunsmore (or do you say, “Does-More”) running a skinny post surrounded by triple coverage (see, I told you Colter had his drawbacks) with a pin-point, right-back-at-ya 23-yard strike to the Big Red 3.  Talk about a gun slinger…  With his mojo red-lining and operating once again from the shotgun on 1st & goal, Colter receives the snap, fakes a handoff to his left, then sprints, afterburners glowing, to the right defensive edge of the Nebraska LOS, where he gains the corner, turns downfield and dives with the ball outstretched in his left paw to the goal line pylon, tapping just it before he gets rolled out of bounds for a TD to extend the ‘Cat lead to 14-3.  Wildcat Nation goes bonkers. 

This critical TD score, coupled with NU’s stuff against the BugEater’s 4th down conversion attempt on their follow-up possession, sent the Big Red offensive coaches into a panic.  Overwhelmed by the unsightly specter of a home loss to the unranked Wildcats looming before him, desperation mode besets HC Bo Pelini, forcing him into the decision to put the ball and game’s outcome into the hands of his QB, Taylor Martinez, for the remainder of the afternoon, just as Doc had designed.

Now the shootout at the UN-L Corral commenced.

Following an exchange of possessions, Big Red finally mounts a drive, scoring on a 15-yard Martinez TD toss.  Unfazed and still brimming with confidence, Colter & Co. answer right back with the most dazzling play of the day.  After another exchange of possessions, the ‘Cats get their mitts on the bean once more. On NU’s 2nd play in this possession, Colter sets-up behind his pocket protection and delivers a frozen rope dart to WR Jeremy Ebert, on target and in stride, as Mr. Ebert streaks clear through the BugEater’s deep middle zone, makes the grab in open space then activates his 4.4 jets pointed toward the Big Red goal line with nothing 81 yards of big green in front of him.  I truly believe that this single, dagger-to-the-heart TD strike was the final undoing of the BugEaters.  The Red-clad team knew, as did their fans, that this game seemed destined to belong to the Purple team, and their body language on the field and in the stands confirmed this conviction.

However, not to go gently into that sweet night, the BugEaters gear themselves for another aerial circus possession after NU’s long distance TD pass drive.  After Big Red scores again off this possession to reduce their deficit to 21-18, NU does a role reversal with Nebraska, and shows them that smash-mouth run-first football is not just the exclusive offensive paradigm of the BugEaters, but the ‘Cats can execute their own version as well.  Starting this next offensive series from their 34, Colter & Co. began their game-clinching cross field march behind impressive OL blocking against a battered & bruised Big Red defense, using 13 consecutive rushes split equally between Colter, Treyven Green and Jacob “Hodag” Schmidt, that ended on a Colter 1-yard QB sneak across the UN-L goal line, after burning 7:20 valuable minutes off the clock, increasing their lead to 10 points while leaving a mere buck-28 left to play. 

This drive was pure attrition, demonstrating to everyone in attendance that, not only was the ‘Cat O multi-dimensional, but they, as a team, had finally arrived and would be a force to be reckoned with over their last 3 games.


Equal parts satisfaction, vindication and pride in a job well done.  Way to go fellas.  You deserved this one!!! 

However, regarding this game against this opponent, I harbor a deep personal scar on that organ occupying the space between my breastbone and backbone.  You see, I played on the Wildcat team who last darkened the doorstep of the BugEaters back in that Ice Age season of ’74, where my teammates and myself got thoroughly shredded and left as roadkill, after a 49-7 beat down administered by that then top ten-ranked team.  And although this game aided in salving the wound somewhat, I still can feel the damn thing throbbing on occasion.  It ached throughout the Dark Ages and its pain returned during this season’s that damn 5-game losing streak.

I don’t expect to feel that pain for the rest of the 2011 season. 

Time to flush this “W” and gear for the Rice bOwls.

The Waterboy
“Win with Grace and Lose with Dignity”      

Nov. 3, 2011

Who-Zits Shootout

Reviewing the relative team strengths and weaknesses for both the Indy WhoZits and the NU Wildcats, I, like many others, foresaw a trap game shootout in their upcoming grapple against one another last Saturday in front of a homecoming crowd who saw NU as easy pickings for capturing that elusive Big 10/12 conference “W”.  And when the predicted shootout unfolded, nothing that occurred on the playing field surprised me except one.

I truly thought that NU’s defense-challenged team would get plowed under by the WhoZit O, a good, capable Big 10/12 conference offense in its own right, while the Wildcat O, an enigmatic if not inconsistent yardage generating unit, would score enough points to keep the ‘Cats competitive, and perhaps even hold the lead  through H-1, but eventually would falter and collapse in H-2, as was their modus operandi over the last 5 games (all losses), and be left, quite literally, “ridden hard & hung-up wet”, resulting in the ‘Cats’ 6th  consecutive loss of 2011.

Although I was correct in my prognostication of the mutual scoring orgy from both offenses, thankfully I was wrong in one crucial point - NU did enough to win the game.  And they won it in spite of yet another woeful demonstration of a putridly porous defense that was rife with very poor tackling, an almost non-existent pass rush and the now-expected poor pass coverage by the NU secondary.     

In the final analysis of the game’s proceedings, there isn’t much to be said.  As expected, NU’s offense clicked once more with Persa and his WR corps executing OC Mick McCall’s standard dink-n-dunk passing game complimented with timely vertical pass attempts, gobbling up yards and first downs in bunches while burning time off the game clock in extended drives.  And although some post-game pundits have described NU’s performance as an offensive “explosion”, truth be told, it was more about the ‘Cats’ ability to sustain offensive pressure against the injury-riddled Indy D and its 2-deep roster comprised of newbie, inexperienced subs over a full 4 quarters of play.  Conversely, the WhoZit O, running a Michigan-styled Pistol offense that featured dual-threat “passing RB as QB” Tre Roberson teamed with a quality RB tandem of D’Angelo Roberts and S. Hunter, was relatively equal to their task of running over, around and through the ‘Cats’ malleable defensive front 7 for an eye-popping 319 total yards and 4 TDs, while subjecting NU’s pass coverage-challenged DBs to constant aerial bombardment, gaining just under 170 additional yards for another TD.

So in a nutshell, as well as each team’s offenses executed their game plans, their counter-point defenses performed relatively as badly, and in the case of the WhoZits D, worse as the game wore on.

How the ‘Cats Zapped the Who-Zits

For once, the explosion play shoe was on the opposition’s foot.  And quite simply, that foot summarily got mangled in the face of the unrelenting, withering attack of the Persa-led ‘Cat O both on the ground and through the air. 

In Q1 alone, NU collected 14 of 17 points off 3 explosion passes.  The 1st saw Kain Colter, running the McCall version of the Pistol, connect with WR Jeremy Ebert on a sweet 29 yard toss for a go-ahead TD score.  The 2nd was a medium-range Persa-to-Dunsmore pass along the right sideline that was caught and carried downfield for 45 total yards moving the ball from deep in NU territory into the Indy half of the field.  The 3rd came 2 plays later, when Persa connected with RB Jacob Schmidt on a well-setup screen in the right flat who followed his blocking and broke-off a 20-yard gainer, to the Indy 7, setting-up another TD that stretched the ‘Cat lead to 10 points, while stunning Indy’s homecoming crowd into silence in the process.

In Q2, the song remained the same for the ‘Cat O.  On the ‘Cats’ 1st possession of the quarter, Persa hit Dunsmore running a wheel route from his right slot position into the deep right zone within the Indy secondary behind a befuddled CB for a 22-yard quick-strike TD that ballooned the NU lead to 17 points.  The route was on… or so I thought.

Following a response TD by the Indy O in which poor tackling and defensive breakdowns of all types by Doc’s D gave-up explosion rushes of 31 yards & 26 yards respectively to the Indy RB tandem of Houston & Roberts, Persa & Co. went back to work after an illegal block in the back on the ensuing kickoff return forced the ‘Cat O to start this possession at their own 4 yard line.  On the 3rd play from scrimmage, Persa targets and delivers the bean to a wide-open Colter running his own wheel route from the right slot, free & clear into the right medium-level zone of the Indy secondary (an Indy pass coverage theme that was as much available as it was replicated throughout the game), for a 23 yard connection that pushed the ‘Cats out from under the shadow of their own goal line.  2 plays later, Persa, scrambling to his left, finds Colter all alone once more, separated from his cover CB who decided to break-off his short zone pass coverage to run upfield and front Persa in a desperate bid to prevent a tuck-n-run QB keeper.  Persa coolly recognizes the cover DB’s decision giving Colter such huge separation in open space, then stops & pops an accurate 9-yard drop pass into Colter’s waiting mitts, who promptly completes the grab, turns to see an open lane extending to the Indy goal line and sprints downfield untouched until DB pursuit bumped him out of bounds at the Indy 10, for a huge 57-yard pitch-n-catch that set-up the 2nd-Persa-to-Dunsmore TD pass, neutralizing the points just gained by Indy on their previous TD possession. 

Following yet another kicking game gaffe, where Venric Mark fumbled a punt, turning the pigskin over to the WhoZits at the NU 26 who converted the TO into another easy, short field TD, the ‘Cat O weaved their magic in their last drive of H-1.  Starting at his 20, Persa deftly piloted the ‘Cat O in an 80-yard drive, highlighted by explosion rushes of 22-yards, off a pass play scramble by Persa, and another 20-yarder, a scramble by Colter off a fumbled shotgun snap running the McCall Pistol, culminating in a response TD just before the guns sounds to end the first half of play.
H-2 saw more of the same offensive field play patterns, with various explosion plays contributing heavily to TD scoring drives for the ‘Cats.  In all, the ‘Cat O scored on 7 of 9 offensive possessions for 38 points in H-1, while the scoring orgy continued in H-2 on 3 of 5 possessions for another 21. 

Some kinda defensive showing by the Indy WhoZits, no?

One overriding item regarding these explosion plays must be understood.  Virtually every one of these successfully executed explosion plays was EXACTLY what has happened to many players comprising the ‘Cat D in each game within the 2011 season.  These 20-plus yard gains are due specifically to some mental or physical mistake made by the opposing defensive personnel.  For DBs, the common cause occurs when the individual DB gets caught looking into the Wildcat offensive backfield – at play action or a false read or an incorrect read.  For the defensive front 7 player, it’s usually an incorrect read or more likely, a hesitation to react to the read before him.  In either case, the WR or the ball carrier gets by that individual defender. 

In this game, finally, the explosion play was executed successfully - as designed - by Persa and the Wildcat offense.

Just Say Does-More
The primary offensive playmaking duo of the NU versus Indy game was the Persa-to-Dunmore connection.  Or do you say Does-More?  If you do, then you’ve hit the game-changing, descriptive nail flush on the head.

Superback Drake Dunsmore has substantive talent; of this there is little doubt.  But when it comes right down to it, the Mick McCall offense does not feature Mr. Does-More as its primary playmaking receiver.  Up to this game, that role seemed split-reserved between WR Jeremy Ebert and do-everything QB-slash-WR-slash-RB Kain Colter.

However, the offensive game plan for this bug-tussle proved to be something completely different.  Perhaps it was a game-time decision by OC Mick McCall, where the ‘Cat OC recognized that, in the Who-Zits’ game plan to closely defend either the Persa-to-Ebert or the Persa-to-Colter tandem offensive threat, the Indy defensive brain trust was willing to “give-up” something in return.  That something was allowing Drake Does-More a free break off the LOS over the entire course of the game.  And McCall and Persa took full advantage of this strategic decision, and used Dunsmore are their go-to attack weapon.

AND in response, Mr. Does-More did his part.  Firstly, he ran disciplined pass routes, identifying the open zone and driving to that open space, expecting the ball to be delivered to him on every pass play.  Next, he consistently maintained his focus to use correct pass receiving technique - to catch the bean with his hands, not his body.  Lastly, although he was often in close coverage, he fought through that coverage defender and maintained his focus to get himself and his hands in position to complete the catch - then did so.

In converting 7 passes for 112 total yards and 4 TDs, this game was Dunsmore’s career afternoon.  He was a difference maker, NU’s primary offensive playmaker.

That’s talent.  If Mr. Does-More doesn’t make it to the NFL ranks after his collegiate football career is finished at NU, then there just is no justice in the world. 


So that’s the simple, unembellished tale of this game.  The WhoZits D just couldn’t make enough stops to contain the Wildcat offensive juggernaut, while NU’s D did just enough to keep the WhoZits O from cutting into that 17-point lead.

I really am not a fan of football shootouts, but it sure is nice being on the higher end for once.     

The Waterboy
“Win with Grace and Lose with Dignity”      

Oct. 20, 2011

SOS – Same Ol’ Stuff

Number 9… Number 9… Number 9… 

…or “The Song Remains the Same.”  The last 3 games played by the Wildcats have taken on the undeniable characteristic of a broken record.  The things that are right and the things that are wrong regarding overall field play for the ‘Cats have remained essentially unchanged over the course of the last 3 Saturdays.  The yardage production from NU’s O continues to be the most consistent and reliable aspect of the team that Fitz trots out on the gridiron.  After that, the level of field play in all remaining aspects of the game of football for the 2011 ‘Cats are highly suspect, while a select few go downhill quickly.  Most glaring of all is the failures of Doc Hankwitz’s defense to stop any offense they have faced within the last month, especially from their Big 10/12 conference foes - whether it is pass-oriented Ill-Annoy, option-oriented Michigan or the relatively generic Big 10/12 O fielded by last Saturday’s opponent, the Iowa HogEyes.  And unfortunately for NU, this means that the ‘Cats have suffered their 3rd straight conference “L” and 4th consecutive loss for the season, the longest losing streak since the dreadful 2006 season that followed the sudden death of former HC Randy Walker.

Similar to that appalling 2006 season, the 2011 ‘Cats appear to be operating in relative disarray, where their constituent contributing parts - the offense, the defense and kicking game - are not playing near their substantive potential and are playing the game seemingly as independent entities rather than a cohesive team.  This team-wide disconnect is a total aberration from what we, the Purple Populace fan base, have witnessed from a Pat Fitzgerald-led squad.  A lesser-led team would have had their collective hearts ripped from their chests and handed back to them, but this group of athletes is not such a team.  In spite of their field play foibles, our ‘Cats continue to fight, play hard and are physical (as has been voiced by every opponent thus far this season).  And it showed once more against the HogEyes as they clawed their way out from a 17 point H-1 hole to knot the game at 17 apiece in late Q3 and were poised to do something quite special for the first time in this 2011 campaign - win a road game, against a rival conference foe, in a hostile environment, with a rabid and very vocal home crowd in attendance.  However, the ‘Cats could not sustain this level of quality effort over the last 20 minutes, and it proved to be their undoing.

How the HogEyes Hog-Tied the ‘Cats

Reversal of Fortune
I can’t blame Dan Persa for his competitive mindset to keep a flagging play alive and turn it into something positive, but then again, I should.  He is too experienced a QB, too savvy a playmaker and too aware of potential dangers to have ever attempted to throw a desperation pass when caught in the clutches of a HogEye pass rusher deep in the NU backfield – all within the shadow of the Iowa goal line. 

At the time, the ‘Cat O, responding to a successful HogEye offensive drive on their opening possession of the game that culminated in a 3-point lead off a successful FG, mounted a methodical drive of their own that began at their own 31 and was perched on the Iowa 7 yard line, prepared to convert a score of their own.  On a 1st & goal down, Persa receives the ball in his shotgun set, fakes a handoff to his Pistol RB then scans the Iowa secondary for an open target receiver.  3, 4, 5 seconds elapse, and no open WR can be found.  Feeling pressure from the HogEye  pass rush to his right, Persa gets happy feet, scrambles to his left 4 quick steps, continuing his scan.  When no open WR is identified, Dan takes 2 brief steps to his right straight into the path of Iowa’s left DE, having shed OT Pat Ward’s initial block at the LOS.  Persa deaks his pursuer momentarily, forcing the DE to throw himself at Persa’s feet where he finally grabs the QB’s ankles in a bid to take him down for a sack.  But Dan successfully fights to keep himself upright, still looking for that elusive open WR.  As a 2nd pass rusher sheds another NU blocker and careens flush into his grill, Dan heaves the bean blindly in the direction of his favorite WR, Jeremy Ebert, camped-out at the HogEye goal line.  The ball flutters like the proverbial wounded duck, giving Iowa DB Tanner Miller more than enough time to gather himself, hone-in and sprint to the high-arching errant pass, complete the INT in full stride at the Iowa 2 yard line and rumble 98 yards to the NU goal line, converting what was a potential scoring opportunity for the ‘Cats into a game-changing interception return for TD that increased the HogEye lead to 10.

This Pick-6 was the most important play of the entire game, if not in Iowa’s entire season to date.  First, it thwarted what, at that juncture, was NU’s own game-changing possession where the ‘Cats were on the brink of shrugging off the HogEyes initial FG to secure their own go-ahead TD off a well-executed offensive series.  Second, the INT return for TD whipped the ravenous home crowd into a veritable frenzy, which just moments before, had sat dumbfounded in slack-jawed trepidation witnessing Persa and the ‘Cat O pick-apart their D via Mick McCall’s well-known dink-n-dunk offensive strategy that had given the HogEyes D fits over the previous several seasons, and in particular, at the hands of Mr. Persa last season in Evanston.  Most definitely, the Iowa faithful were scared, and this reversal of fortune defensive play was the most consequential for the HogEye D.  Not only had their beloved Hogs had just dodged a TD bullet, the Slop-wallowers copped a Pick-6 score to boot off a rare brain-fart from their here-to-for nemesis, NU’s normally level-headed QB, Dan Persa. And the home crowd was juiced like never before and injected this energy into the HogEyes whose own level of field play, in response, was shifted into overdrive. 

If only Dan had accepted the inevitable sack, laid down on that play and given himself and his WR corps a couple more downs to score that go-ahead TD.  It would have made all the difference in the game for the ‘Cats.  

2 Sticks & a Match...
I’ve seen this movie before… Doc’s D goes Ka-BOOM!!!

Like that broken record mentioned above, the ‘Cat DBs remained mired in their inexplicable tendency to give-up the explosion pass play.  It was no great secret that the HogEye’s featured RB, Marcus Coker, was primed to get the Porker’s share of carries in Iowa HC Cap’n Kirk’s offensive ground game; and he did.  As the game wore on, it became obvious that Doc had constructed a game plan to contain the rugged RB, rather than stone him cold in his tracks.  And when it comes right down to it, the strategy was effective, as Coker gained 127 hard fought-for yards over the course of the contest with only a single explosion rush (25 yards at the start of a 5-play-&-punt series) to his credit, but was not a dominating force.  So Iowa’s characteristic ground-n-pound rushing game was accounted for and defended reasonably well. 

Now as for the HogEye passing attack… 

In Iowa’s previous 5 games, starting HogEye QB, James Vandenburg, was his steady, unspectacular, vanilla passing self.  However, when planning to face the porous secondary of the 2011 Wildcats who have shown themselves much more than a slightly susceptible to the explosion pass, Cap’n Kirk had constructed a much more dynamic vertical aerial attack for his QB to execute.  To be sure, the Iowa HC was going to give his QB the green light to go bombs away against Doc’s seemingly paraplegic DB corps.  And much to the chagrin of Wildcat Nation, this strategy to employ the long ball against the ‘Cat secondary was more than just moderately effective; it was a game-clincher.

Why or how does Doc’s current coverage-challenged secondary make the average Joe QB look like the second coming of Joe “They call me Gunn” Montana, I’ll never know.  But they do it - early and often; and against the HogEyes, 2 explosion passes, one of 47 yards and the second for 35 yards, resulted in an a couple of easy pitch-n-catch TDs, which made all the difference both on the field and on the scoreboard.   

Reviewing the game video over and over, my mind boggles at the simplicity of those 2 deep play-action pass plays.  For some uncanny reason, on both passes, the ‘Cat coverage safety was caught looking into the HogEye backfield at the play action while a single WR, running a deep fly or “go” route, sprints by free & clear into the great wide open behind these clueless, gawking DBs.  With NU’s milquetoast pass rush effectively neutralized by a decent, if not necessarily overpowering HogEye OL, Vanderberg was given enough time to wait for this lone WR to chug-by the deep cover DB in NU’s secondary, before he pitched a deep ball to that wide open target.  If the results weren’t so damn tragic, it would be comical. 

These 2 long ball completions alone were the reason the ‘Cats lost their 4th consecutive game.  It’s so frustrating because you can imagine that Fitz and Doc, throughout this week of practice, had given their Safeties the prime directive that no opposing WR runs a pass route past them – no way, no how.  Yet the fatal mistake in failing to cover the deep-route pass receiver was made again - and on two separate occasions.  OK, OK…failing to adhere to this prime directive once is “forgivable,” but twice - by the same cover position - is totally unacceptable.

Since this season has seen 5 of 6 teams execute the successful long ball pass on the ‘Cat secondary, many among the Purple Populace have been calling for the head of DC Doc Hankwitz and/or DB coach Jerry Brown.

I hate to play the “blame game” because it’s a loser’s exercise.  However, to be sure, the ultimate responsibility for these pass defense debacles does NOT lie with Doc.  Hankwitz is not the DB caught with his pants around his ankles, gawking into the opposing backfield, or making the incorrect read, or is that full second slow when reacting to his pass coverage responsibility target.  It is the players who are failing, and they are accountable.   The buck stops there, period.  Over the last 5 years, Doc has mentored the players populating NU’s relatively benign, if not poor to average D and forged them into a much more cohesive, competitive squad than they had ever been before his arrival in Evanston.  However, starting from the last 3 games in 2010 and continuing through this entire season, the roster personnel populating NU’s defensive secondary simply have not met their assigned pass coverage responsibilities.  It’s easy for the casual fan to fault the coordinator of the defensive game plan, but when the rubber hits the road, the load still rests on the individual players to execute that game plan and its adjustments.  And simply stated, THOSE PLAYERS HAVE NOT EXECUTED to expectations.  In fact, when I review the video, most every defensive play has its multiple breakdowns.  And within the an ultra-competitive crucible as is the Big 10/12 conference, opposing DCs and their teams will recognize those defensive deficiencies and exploit them until there is a demonstrative change.  Make no mistake, Doc is a defensive mastermind.  However, he must run the race with the thoroughbreds in his stable; and sad to say, many of those thoroughbreds have been found lacking in their pass coverage capabilities over these last 9 games.  Still, Doc remains in the mix, trying to reverse this deficiency and place his players in position to succeed – especially substituting when or where he deems appropriate.  I’m sure he has made adjustments, many of which I’ve recognized over the course of an individual game.  But when all is said and done, the onus still rests with the players.

And when it comes to defending an opposing receiver’s simple “go” route, where the coverage directive is not to allow a WR to run behind them in the 3 deep zones of their secondary, the DBs must place that yoke around their collective necks and haul that cart up the hill.

And they haven’t… yet.                  


Another very winnable game, another “L” hung on the ‘Cats attributable to just 3 damn field play breakdowns.  That’s how tenuous any game’s final outcome can be.  Make the appropriate field play on any of those crucial downs, and the game’s outcome is reversed, at least until the next crucial down comes to the fore.

However, to date, the 2011 ‘Cats have not cobbled together a full 4 quarters of error-free ball.  This team deserves better, if only because it is comprised of the most talent-laden roster in recent memory.  But they must make those plays across a full 60 minutes.  If not, another “L” is the consequence.

Everyone involved with the program - coaches, players and fans alike - are frustrated with these numerous gaffes.  In 2010, the ‘Cats rose to meet similar play-making challenges posed during several games which hung in the balance and successfully made a play on those critical downs to seal the deal.  In 2011 the ‘Cats have not.  Simple statements; even simpler results. 

A homecoming visit by a vulnerable, very beatable State Penn team looms this Saturday for the ‘Cats.  Joe Paterno’s 2011 O does not field a go-to QB; and subsequently, the Inmate passing game is firmly ensconced among the lower tier passing attacks within the Big 10/12 conference.  In contrast, the Inmate D, although tough, has been taken to the wall by the offenses of the both the Indy Who-Zits and the Iowa HogEyes.  This team can be beaten, especially in a prime-time road game at the Friendly Confines of Dyche’s Ditch, where the supportive Purple Populace and student body will be in vocal attendance.

If the ‘Cat D can reverse their trend of brain fart failures exhibited over the last 4 games, bring their “A” game and play error-free for 4 quarters, NU will capture the brass ring “W” for themselves and their anxious fan base. 

Time to tighten the chinstraps, Fellas, and get to it. 

The Waterboy
“Win with Grace and Lose with Dignity”      

Oct. 12, 2011

Déjà Vu All Over Again

What was once a vice is now habit, or so it would seem for the Wildcat D. 

For the second consecutive game, the ‘Cats parlayed a strong defensive performance with a relatively error-free offensive game throughout H-1 to garner a well-earned 24-14 lead against a highly ranked Big 10/12 conference opponent and carry it into their halftime locker room.  To this fan, I thought that this first half performance had confirmed that Fitz and Doc finally had exorcised their past demons of poor defensive strategy to get their D personnel over the hump of their pass coverage foibles as was demonstrated in the H-2 defensive collapse against the Ill-Annoy Pumpkinheads.  3 INTs, and in one half of play… who woulda thunk it?  Those 3 well-executed picks against poorly thrown heaves from Michigan’s media darling QB, Denard Robinson underscored a three important points: 

First, Robinson is not a QB… He is a throwing RB.  Many would describe him with the simple phrase: a mobile QB.  I beg to differ from that widely held notion if only because his most prolific, consistent yardage generation is when running the ball, not throwing it, so that makes him the quintessential offensive “athlete.”  And in this age of college football that features offensive scheme variants of the spread, the pistol, the no-huddle or the option or the pass option off play action, such an athlete can dominate a game.  And Mr. Robinson does that and then some as one of college football’s fiercest competitors. However, getting back to the subject of Robinson as passing QB, IMHO, he is lacking.  When he throws the bean, more often than not, he just hauls back and heaves it to one of his athletic WRs, knowing full well that they will fight tooth & nail to make the grab.  It’s no great secret that Mr. Robinson has a well-deserved reputation for inexplicable gross overthrows and head-scratching short downfield heaves; and both were on full display last Saturday against the ‘Cats, especially in H-1.  Exhibit #1: on Michigan’s 5th play of the game, a 3rd  & 7 down, Robinson rears back and chucks a high arching bomb downfield to wideout Junior Hemingway running a post pattern with ‘Cat safety, Ibrahim Campbell on his hip running stride-for-stride. As usual, the heave is slightly short of its target.  Then bang… the more athletic Hemingway, playing jump-ball to perfection, leaps above the outstretched hands of Campbell, snatches the bean out from his grasp, then rolls away with ball in hand as both WR and DB crumple to the turf in a heap entwined around one another at the NU 10.  On the stat sheet, the play was recorded as a 48-yard Robinson-to-Hemingway completion. However, there is so much more to this individual play.  If not for Hemingway’s superior athleticism, this pass attempt shoulda, woulda, coulda been nothing more than a benign PBU.  Instead, it was the first of many game changing athletic plays made by the Michigan WR corps against NU’s coverage challenged secondary.  And in microcosm, the play represents Robinson’s true talent level as a passing QB, which, quite frankly, is not as effective as most pundits give this young man credit for. 

Second, NU’s DB corps has the talent and play-making capability to compete against a pass-happy O, like the one fielded by the Dazed & Blue Horde.  The big issue with NU’s personnel is… Individual DBs have too many breakdowns at critical junctures of the game.  Last Saturday was rife with examples of these breakdowns.    

Third, the momentum built by the timely, good quality pass defense in H-1 served as irrefutable impetus to the opportunistic yardage production field play exhibited by NU’s offense.  Without a doubt, the ‘Cat O feeds off the positive performance of its D.  Normally, 24 first half points would be enough to put the fear of Fitz into most any other opponent.  However, I swear, the Michigan coaching staff seemed to view the results of H-1 with an air of nonchalance, as if to say: ”OK, we’ve taken the best shot that this pesky Northwestern team could deliver,” and that upon entering H-2, the overwhelming mindset of those coaches and their team was: “We’ve got NU just where we wanted ‘em…”

How the Blue Horde Blew-Away the ‘Cats

For the 2nd contest in as many weekends, explosion plays of approximately 20 yards or more were the game-changing factors that served the Dazed & Blue Horde the “W” on a virtual platter.  The main difference between the decisive explosion plays laid on the ‘Cats the previous weekend by Ill-Annoy and those made by Michigan this last Saturday was that, on many of them, a ‘Cat defender was within striking distance of the explosion play target.  But the proximity of the ‘Cat defender to the critical action did little to avert the subsequent result of the individual play.  

The first was that 48-yard haul-back-n-heave pass mentioned above that was well-covered by ‘Cat  S Ibraheim Campbell.  Robinson lets loose with the bomb… then Ka-Blewie - that damn completion off a jump ball grab.  2 plays later, the Dazed & Blue Horde get their first TD of the evening off a well-executed 9-yard pitch-n-catch - just past the reach of Campbell closing in on the receiving target once more. 

In Michigan’s 2nd last possession of H-1, Robinson executes a nifty explosion play of his own, rushing 18 yards on a designed QB keeper up the gut of the LOS, through ‘Cat defensive front 7 who were engaged in hand fights with their Michigan blockers – driving the ball to NU’s 30.  Then bang, 2 plays later, Robinson completes an explosive 25-yard quick strike bullet to tie the game with the ‘Cats at 14 apiece.  This tandem play pattern of an explosion rush followed by an explosion pass was repeated by Robinson and Co. throughout the remainder of the contest.  And it was the foundation of how the Dazed & Blue Horde wrested control of the game from the ‘Cats.

In the opening possession of H-2, Robinson pulls another stick of dynamite out of his bag of tricks, lights it then tosses it 57 yards downfield to a sprinting Roy Roundtree who out-wrestles a ‘Cat DB for possession at the NU 3.  On the subsequent 3rd play from scrimmage, Robinson sprints to NU’s left defensive corner where the Michigan TE & OT to that side double-team ‘Cat DE Tyler Scott, rolling him up hard on an inside seal block and creating an unobstructed lane to the NU endzone for Michigan’s 3rd TD of the game.

On the Dazed & Blue’s next possession, Robinson opens the series with another nitro-glycerin QB keeper, rambling 25 yards to midfield.  From there, Robinson methodically drives his O down the throats of the ‘Cat D highlighted by 19-yard aerial strike and another 12 yard QB scamper on 3rd down to the NU 1. 3 plays later, Michigan scores the expected TD, and the comeback is complete, while the route of the ‘Cats is just starting.

Following an INT on a pass from Persa to Dunmore that shot through the superback’s hands and bounced high in the air off his shoulder pads only to land gently in the waiting hands of a Michigan LB, Robinson goes to work once more - with another 25-yard scoot through a wide hole in the middle of the NU defensive front 7, followed by another 19 yard pass to drive the ball into scoring position at the NU 2.  3 plays later - another easy TD.  The route is on and Michigan never looked back.

Ugh!!!  Michigan’s offensive pattern was set.  Doc’s D appeared powerless to halt this juggernaut tandem of Robinson on the explosive QB keeper rushing up the gut of the ‘Cat defenders followed by an explosion pass to set-up the short field 1st down within the shadow of NU’s goal line.  It was nothing less than total dominance.  

3rd Down Blues
Interspersed within the Michigan possessions throughout H-2, where the Dazed & Blue O assumed complete game dominance by controlling the ball with methodical, time-consuming offensive drives, was the fact that not only did Michigan stop turning the ball over to the ‘Cats, but they converted an astronomically high percentage of 3rd downs into 1st downs.  For the game, Michigan converted 14 of 17 3rd down opportunities; while in H-2 alone, they were 9 for 10 and converted a 4th & 1 as well.  Many of these conversions were on 3rd & long situations, in which NU just couldn’t make that critical defensive maneuver to prevent Michigan’s O from making the necessary 1st down yardage, extending the possession at hand while keeping the ball moving inexorably towards to the NU goal line. 

What this all contributed to was… the ‘Cat D got thoroughly gassed.  The time of possession differential was telling.  Michigan virtually owned the 2nd half - and the ball - to the tune of 21 minutes to a paltry 9 minutes for the ‘Cats.  By virtue of this amazing statistic alone, it became obvious that the 2-deep of the ‘Cat D were physically spent by the start of Q4.  Many Purple observers might refute this claim, but I saw what I saw through my field glasses; and I won’t pull punches or mince words in its description.  What I witnessed was something I’ve not seen in a Randy Walker or Pat Fitzgerald-mentored team in quite a few years – the team looked bushed. 

Still, in spite of this, there was commendable effort and the heavy hitting continued as the game wore on.  However, NU’s D, especially the LBs and DBs, were that fraction of a moment sluggish when reacting to their reads or were a half-step too slow to converge on the ball - whether it was Robinson running that QB keeper between the tackles through NU’s defensive front 7 or the Michigan receiver running a disciplined pass route into a open seam in a zone in the NU secondary.  Many pass completions that converted these 3rd & long opportunities were situations where the cover defender was right there on the receiving target’s hip or shoulder, but they could not make that decisive, timely turn to the ball or get their hand around the receiver into the flight path of the bean as it was delivered on target.

This slight quickness differential seemed to spur the Robinson and his bevy of skill position teammates to keep the pressure on the ‘Cat defenders.  By game’s end, the confidence level of the Michigan O was shy high and collectively it seemed that they couldn’t do anything wrong.  Robinson is a streaky passer, and when he saw that his receivers were that getting to their spots that moment quicker than the coverage DB in H-2, he became a monster and, frankly, was unstoppable.  In Q3 alone, he completed 6 of 7 pass attempts, accumulating 127 yards with 4 explosion plays.

And the ‘Cat defensive personnel had hands on hips with their tongues hanging out. 

Hot & Flaky
With NU’s D being taxed to the max, it became increasingly important for the ‘Cat O to respond to the Dazed & Blue Horde’s bid to increase their lead in H-2 – if only to keep the ball out of the hands of Robinson & Co since they were firing on all offensive cylinders, scoring TDs on each of their first 2 offensive series in H-2.  But Persa and his offense were hard pressed to keep pace.  By mid Q3, after having been stymied on a meek 3-&-out in their 1st possession, ‘Cat OC Mick McCall chose to go exclusively with a sandlot-style pass first, last and always paradigm.  At that juncture, the decision to run a pass-only O wasn’t so bad, but when exercising such an adjustment, another absolute crucial necessity comes to the fore: no self-inflicted wounds from the deadly turnover.

On NU’s possession following the offensive series where Michigan recaptured a 4-point lead off that 2nd TD drive, Persa and the ‘Cat O went straight to work, exercising their dink-n-dunk magic once more.  Having completed 3 consecutive dink passes which drove the ball from NU’s 10 to their own 41, Persa faced a very manageable 2nd & 4-yard down.  McCall called for a delayed drag route by SB Drake Dunsmore into the short middle zone of the Michigan secondary.  The play developed as expected, with Dunsmore gaining 2 full yards of separation from his cover LB and Persa, identifying the open target, delivered a sharp, but very catchable dink pass to his SB once more.  Except, on this play, Dunsmore failed to maintain his concentration to complete the catch and as the pigskin arrived, allowed it to slip through his fingers and bang hard against his pads, launching the bean 3 yards high behind its intended receiver and fluttering down right into the waiting hands of Michigan OLB Hawthorne.  It was NU’s first turnover in 2 games, and proved to be a major turning point play.  On the ensuing series, Robinson reprises his explosion rush play - explosion pass play tandem and drives the Michigan O to its 3rd straight TD in as many possessions, extending their lead to 11.   Failure to make that easy grab was not an option, but a necessity for the ‘Cats to get back into the game.

On NU’s next possession following this surprising gaffe, came the coup de grace turnover.  NU’s O, under the field generalship of QB Persa, was driving once more into Michigan territory after a pass interference penalty on the Dazed & Blue secondary gave the ‘Cats a 1st down at the Michigan 42.  On the next play from scrimmage, Persa threw a 3-yard dink pass to his favorite WR, Jeremy Ebert, who made the catch and struggled mightily to push the ball downfield.  In the process, he was stripped of the pigskin and Michigan recovered it at its own 42 yard line for the 2nd hot & flaky French pastry turnover on consecutive possessions. 

Time was running out on the ‘Cats for any type of comeback.

By the 9-minute mark of Q4, desperation was setting in on the ‘Cats, especially after their O shot themselves in the foot with 2 devastating turnovers in its last 2 series.  A positive response to these miscues was way overdue; and on their next possession, Persa and the ‘Cat O trotted out onto the turf of Dyche’s Ditch ready, willing & able to launch a furious comeback via an aerial circus.  And they started to click.  Danno completed 4 of 6 passes in a controlled possession that pushed the line of scrimmage to the Michigan 37.  Then it happened…

On a 4th & 5 yard down, with the game hanging in the balance, Persa receives the ball in his standard shotgun set, then gets converged upon and nearly devoured by Dazed & Blue DE, Jordan Kovacs crashing into the ‘Cat backfield from the left defensive edge.  Persa ducks away from the grasp of the DE, only to get his head and helmet squeezed in the vice-like grip of the DE’s right arm.  The DE’s momentum carries him over Persa’s back with the QB’s helmet still locked under his arm, rolling onto the turf, with the headgear-less Persa still standing.  Dan regains his composure, sprints to the right side of the NU backfield looking for a receiver.  A refs whistle sounds, just as Persa lets loose with the pass to a downfield WR.  When a ball handler’s helmet is removed from his noggin, by rule, the play is dead and ball is placed at the spot where bonnet and ball carrier were separated.  Consequently, that 4th down was whistled over and done with, the ‘Cats didn’t make even a yard on the play and the ball was turned over to the Dazed & Blue Horde in a change of possession on downs. 

But that’s not the end of it.  Fitz goes absolutely ballistic, rushing from the NU sideline a full 15 yards onto the field straight towards the head referee, waving his arms and obviously vocally upset that his QB’s war bonnet was removed, yet a flag for a facemask was not forthcoming.  And the HC had a viable point.  When reviewing the play at regular speed, the helmet appears to come off in the crook of the DE’s arm without intent.  However, upon closer inspection, viewed at a slower speed, it becomes readily apparent that the DE’s fingers are wrapped under the right ear flap as the helmet is removed from Persa’s head.  That’s right, it’s a legitimate facemask - one where the defender’s grip penetrated into the headgear at the moment it was removed from the QB. 

(Note:  I always thought that a slo-mo review on controversial possession plays is the de-facto objective/job of those review officials sitting in the coaches box.  Perhaps my expectations of these officials are all wrong…)

But no, the head ref does not agree with Fitz, who is still screaming and gesticulating unlike anything that I’ve seen from this HC - ever.  In the face of such an overt protest, the head ref is backed into the proverbial corner and forced to throw his flag at the now inconsolable and unremorseful Fitz for an unsportsmanlike penalty.

The 15-yard mark-off from this penalty effectively sealed the game’s outcome.  The subsequent TD scored by the Dazed & Blue O was almost as much poor form as was Fitz’s demonstrative crazy man-like protest.  Even now, in retrospect, the whole series of events took on the appearance of some scene from a theatre of the absurd performance.  The action just didn’t fit the character.

But there it was… and it was lights out in the pool hall for the ‘Cats. 


As I hobbled out of Dyche’s Ditch, my overwhelming impression was that this game was NU’s for the taking.  I was distraught and mumbled to myself on how just a few plays at crucial junctures made all the difference; and that NU simply needed to maintain their momentum from H-1 into and through H-2. 

However, after a couple of days to clear my emotional mental state and review the videos more minutely, I’m forced to admit that this game was Michigan’s to win or lose.  The Dazed & Blue personnel, across the board, weren’t that much more physically superior when compared with their NU counterparts, it was that they were more athletic - especially at the skill positions.  And they performed with more consistency.

In the final analysis, that factor was the true difference-maker - the Dazed & Blue Horde simply made more plays, more often than the ‘Cats did or could make throughout the course of the game.  Those limitations, regarding number of plays made, were forced upon the ‘Cats by their opponents due to their better athleticism.  Still the ‘Cats had their moments, but, unfortunately, they weren’t up to par in H-2 and consequently paid the ultimate price with a third consecutive “L” for their 2011 campaign.   

IMHO, this was the toughest loss thus far this season.  The Dazed & Blue Horde, in their first road contest of the season, was ripe for a fleecing and Fitz’ troops looked primed to deliver such an undressing in front of the most vocally exuberant and supportive crowds this writer has witnessed at Dyche’s Ditch in recent memory.  (Note: The game-time atmosphere, led by the Northwestern student body and Purple Populace in attendance for this prime time contest, set the excitement meter to absolutely ROCKIN’ and showed that NU is turning the corner regarding improving the overall fan’s entertainment experience.)  However, as was voiced in various media interviews with Michigan coaching staff and players after the game, critical adjustments were made by the Dazed & Blue’s defensive brain trust that neutralized what game plan tactics OC McCall and the ‘Cat O were executing, resulting in a second half bagel on the scoreboard for the Purple & Black clad hosts. 

Let it be known, contrary to the lopsided 42-24 final score, the ‘Cats were competitive throughout the hard fought game.  They can and should hold their heads high, not in a moral victory, but because they put their best collective effort out on the field of play this season; and but for a couple of baffling turnovers and defensive coverage breakdowns, were in it to win it and just came up short of their goal.    

Now a road game against the archrival Io_a HogEyes looms for the ‘Cats next weekend.  Fitz and the boys need to flush this game and gird themselves for another nasty dog fight in Kinnick Stadium in front of the usual hostile home crowd of rubes and drunken sots.  This will be a tough nut to crack.

The Waterboy
“Win with Grace and Lose with Dignity”      

Sept. 28, 2011

A Riddle wrapped in an Enigma enveloped in a Mystery

It’s been a full week now, and I’ve attempted to compose my thoughts regarding last week’s Northwestern versus Army game in my mind and render them in written form at least 5 separate times.  It’s been a daunting task, if only because, upon every attempt, my mind begins to race and irrational thoughts swirl at the memory of events as they unfolded in Michie Stadium on that mild, slightly overcast afternoon, and I must say that I’ve rejected all previous attempts because the resulting commentary plunges into the rabbit hole of negative, venom-laced emotions and fair perspectives are abandoned.

The astounding field play that was witnessed on the green turf of Blaike Field was, at once, totally unexpected, overwhelmingly confusing and just plain incomprehensible.  After all, this game was against the Army Bleak Nights - one of the most raw, talent-challenged teams of all NCAA member institutions, ignominiously ranked among the bottom ten of the 119 teams that comprise Division 1A this season and, quite frankly, a rank that the Bleak Nights had become accustomed to over the previous decade.  This pigskin exercise was projected to be little more than a mild-mannered milk run, a perfunctory walk-over, a bench-emptying tune-up to the first true test of the 2011 season for the ‘Cats in their showdown against the Big, Bad Dazed & Blue Horde from Annie’s Tree House to be contested two weeks hence.  Then, unforeseen among any of the Purple Populace in attendance or by those NU fans glued to the internet streaming video broadcast, the shoe dropped, the ax fell and the hammer went down right between the eyes of the unsuspecting and full-of-themselves Wildcats.   

What transpired might be summed up best in the words of the late Randy Walker: “That definitely was not the Northwestern Wildcats out there today.”   

But then again, perhaps it was…

How the Army Bleak Nights Cut Down the ‘Cats 

Death by a Thousand Cuts
The predominant blocking technique employed by the Army O in their single-wing Triple Option offense was novel and problematic enough for the Wildcat defensive brain trust to practice defending against it as far back as last May’s Spring season.  I’m talking about the infamous cut block, where a blocker targets the defender’s legs, usually from the knee down, to quite literally take his legs out from under him - to cut him down, lay him out on the turf and eliminate him from the play.  Traditionally, the cut block technique is employed by an offensive blocker who is at a decided physical disadvantage from his more talented target defender, usually in size or quickness. The gist of this technique is to drive hard up to the target defender, then just before delivering the expected blow into the waist or stomach of the defender, the blocker, instead, will dive or shoot out into and through the legs of his target.  With the appropriate amount of practice, the blocker can get his target defender to prepare himself for the blow to his midsection, forcing the defender to position his weight, from his hips to his feet, into a forward lean in a balanced stance on the balls of his feet, to meet the expected contact and shed the blocker, much like a sumo wrestler would do to an over-extended opponent.  The intent of the cut block is to shoot under the deflecting forearms and hands of the defender and get into his knees to take advantage of that defender’s over-commit in forward-set weigh distribution to cut him down like ten pins facing a bowling ball.

Unfortunately, a very common residual effect when executing this blocking technique is to deliver a debilitating leg, ankle or knee injury to the target defender.  The threat of knee and ankle injuries is enormous enough in its own right during normal field play blocking and shedding activity between offensive and defensive personnel; however, this cut block technique is one that will deliver a lower extremity injury, virtually by design.  (Many may dispute this opinion, but I, as a former player, can attest to the technique’s devastating proclivity to injure.) 

If the target defender you face is that much bigger, stronger and/or faster than you, then take his legs out from under him… then that defender is removed from the play.  If, in its execution, the defender sustains an injury to his ankles or knees and is hauled off the field…then, more than likely, he is out for the game.  Either way, the defender is eliminated.  Given the increased speed, quickness and athleticism of today’s football athlete, there has been great debate on whether or not to outlaw this technique.  However, at the present, the cut block is completely legal and, subsequently, is very dangerous.

The Army OL put on a virtual clinic on the effective execution of the cut block against the ‘Cat defensive front 7.  And never was its effect more profoundly unveiled as during the Bleak Nights Triple Option attack against the ‘Cats’ defensive edge.  Time and again, the Army’s OT, TE and wing RB to side front side of the triple option’s flow cut down their target defenders dressed in Purple at the defensive corner and laid them out onto the turf - like a scythe would stalks of wheat during harvest time.  And despite the well-chronicled, numerous practice hours spent on teaching the appropriate counter techniques, the ‘Cat defensive personnel‘s ability to neutralize and defeat the cut block fell woefully short, quite literally, of expectations - from the game’s opening whistle to the final gun.  Simply stated, Army’s prolific triple option ground game went medieval on the ‘Cat D to the tune of an astronomical 381 total yards - of which 108 were accrued by QB Trent Steeleman and another 95 delivered by wing RB Raymond Maples. 

The effectiveness of the Bleak Nights’ triple option offense was never more evident than during their first possession of the game, when they drove 81 yards in 20 disciplined plays, while Doc’s D looked conspicuously pedestrian (read: inept) when chasing the Gold & Black-clad option ball carriers to or after the point of attack.  It was a harbinger of what was to be repeated throughout the contest: long methodical Army drives that ran roughshod against what appeared to be an out-quicked and confounded NU’s defense front 7, which, by design,   consumed whole segments of game clock, all the while keeping the ‘Cat O riding pine while the ‘Cat D were getting manhandled, or more appropriately, knee-handled into mediocrity.  Final game stats substantiated the clock consumption paradigm of the Bleak Night offensive game plan: Army held a 2-to-1 advantage (40 minutes to NU’s 20) in time of possession compared to that of the ‘Cats. 

The inability of the ‘Cat D to neutralize the Army cut block was a blueprint to failure.

A-B-C… Easy as 1-2-3
The early Jackson 5 tune kept ringing in my ears as I watched Doc’s primary defensive formation – the 3-4 flex (note: this is an old school name for the formation, so bear with me on this designator). 

This formation employs a 3-DL front, highlighted by a nose guard heads-up on the offensive center, with 2 flanking DEs aligned head-on or shading the outside shoulder of the opposing OTs (depending on wide-side/short side of the field).  There are two OLBs aligned at the outside shoulder of the widest offensive lineman in the box (usually a TE), whose main responsibility is defensive corner contain against the rush.  In Doc’s formation, these OLBs often were flexed 1-2 yards off the LOS, but in order to maintain their corner contain responsibilities, would drive hard up-field off the defensive edge into the opposing offensive backfield when offensive flow showed to their side.  It’s a tough assignment, but if the front-side OLB (facing/defending the offensive flow moving towards his defensive corner) has quick recognition of this option into his side, he becomes the linchpin defender in countering the QB-pitch RB tandem of the triple option attack. 

The 2nd-level MLBs, the Mike and Sam, is aligned on the head of the OG to his side. Together as a unit, the Nose Guard and both MLBs have what is described as “over-inside-outside gap” responsibility, meaning each player has a read against the head-to-head blocker facing/fronting him at the LOS - either to stuff the blocker in his face (a.k.a: to “stud the blocker”) or to drive to the inside or outside gap of the blocker - depending on the direction of offensive flow.   

OK… what the sam-hay does all this mean?  Well, it means that, at minimum, the offensive A-gap (between the OC and OG on either side of the center) and B-gap (between the OG & OT, again on both sides of the OC) are “by design” wide open at the start of the play.  The only time this gap might get closed or covered is if a defender (read: a DL) is moved to inside – like in the traditional 4 DL set.  In fact these gaps are so open, that if an opposing OC really wants to give his defensive counterpart a Maalox moment, he will set the splits between center-guard and/or guard-tackle tandems even wider to expand this open space further, making the potential space between the offensive center and the inside shoulder of the OT as wide as 6-9 feet.  That is a huge space to be “covered” by the “over-inside-outside” gap fill responsibility technique of the nose guard and MLBs.  In fact, IMHO, it’s simply too much open space for any player at the college level to reasonably defend – especially in defending the option #1 of the triple option: the FB dive. 

So against Doc’s 3-4 flex set, the A & B-gaps are open, and if, on any one play, any one defender among this 3-man NG-2 MLB group fails to either make the correct read against his blocker or gets ”caught or sealed” in the gap away from offensive flow, then there’s a big, natural hole(s) at the LOS.  In fact, on most such “poor read” or “seal” situations, there are enormous holes at the A-gaps & B-gaps.  And in these cases, the Triple Option FB dive exploits this fault exponentially.  Last Saturday, the Army offensive brain trust turned to this A/B-Gap deficiency to abuse the ‘Cat D while keeping the ‘Cat O off the field.   

The major deficiency with Fitz and Doc’s idea to employ the 3-4 flex defensive set against the Army Triple Option offense was, despite its inherent tactical shortcomings, they steadfastly kept to this original defensive game plan.  My gut reaction to this unflinching mindset reflects the honored maxim regarding the true definition of insanity: “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”  As the game progressed, I truly didn’t know how to describe it.  Was it utter stupidity, blind stubbornness or overwhelming arrogance?  Regardless of the cause the effect was undeniable: Fitz and Doc’s defensive 3-4 flex strategy played right into the strengths of the Bleak Nights’ O, and it was the game decider.

On play after play, the Army FB, Jared Hassin assumed a 4-point crouched stance, like what is often employed by DL in a goal line situation.  Hassin assumed this low profile stance in order to maximize his quick jump-start at the snap of the ball and emphatically utilize his low-forward lean trajectory into and through the A-gap in either side of the Army center.  Talk about “playing behind your pads.”  Mr. Hassin was the embodiment of this type of field play - and it was superbly effective.  Once receiving the handoff from Army QB Trent Steelman, he drove into the NG or MLB with the efficiency of a 200 LB bowling ball, careening into the 2nd level of the NU D before receiving the first hit some 3-4 yards downfield.  And if the ball wasn’t handed off to Hassin, QB Steelman kept it himself and rumbled off Hassin’s backside into the ‘Cat 2nd level himself for positive yards.  In fact, both Steelman scoring rushes were off this fake-n-take run right up the gut of the NU defensive front 7 following his FB, resulting in an easy 1 yard plunge to paydirt and sealing the “W” for the Bleak Nights.          

How Ordinary
With NU’s defensive game plan failing to prevent long offensive drives by their opponent, NU’s O just couldn’t sustain one of their own.  The ‘Cats’ primary ball handler, QB Kain Colter went from last week’s phenomenon to this week’s nobody and could not muster anything approaching the yardage production magic he had weaved in his first 2 games of this 2011 season.  Simply stated, he became quite ordinary and OC McCall’s vanilla and predictable play calling did little to help his cause or that of the ‘Cats.  In a desperation move to jump-start his flagging O, McCall decided to throw an unexpected curve ball at the Army D in NU’s 1st possession of Q4, benching Colter and replacing him with 3rd string QB Ttrevor Sieman.  The surprising result: NU’s somnolent offense finally awoke from their afternoon-long slumber and began to move the ball against the Bleak Nights like they were expected to have done all along.  Responding to his surprise insertion as ‘Cat QB, Mr. Sieman completed 3 consecutive passes - the third to NU’s No. 1 WR, Jeremy Ebert for a 62 catch & sprint for a game-tying TD. 

However, this drastic QB substitution proved to be too little, much too late, when Army took possession of the pigskin after the ensuing kickoff and executed their triple option offense to perfection, driving 75 yards into, around and through the now soft-as-baby-doo-doo ‘Cat D in a little more than 3 minutes for the winning TD.  At that juncture, the Bleak Nights had cut the competitive heart out of the Wildcats as a team.  Sieman and the ‘Cat O couldn’t conjure-up any further offensive fireworks for the day; and that’s how the game ended - with the ‘Cats on the short end of a well-deserved, totally mystifying 21-14 “L”   


This was nothing less than a total failure of the Northwestern coaching staff.  Period.  End of discussion.

In every year of Fitz’ tenure as HC, the Wildcats have laid an egg against much weaker competition, and unfortunately this game was that damn rotten egg.  IMHO, this was Fitz’ worst loss ever, if only because, in this team, he possesses the proven, diverse set of weapons to have transitioned this game into an easy walk-over; and when his opponent showed themselves totally prepared to shove their own brand of football to the ‘Cats’ face, he refused to bring all those weapons to bear on that motivated foe in force.  Meanwhile, Army cooked up some proverbial humble pie of their own and served Fitz and his coaching staff a big heaping helping of it and rubbed their collective noses in the mess of their own making,

And a week afterwards, I still haven’t a clue regarding what were the cause(s) of this debacle.

Certainly Doc’s 3-4 defensive formation was lacking.  However, if he had chosen to employ his standard 4-3 when his original game plan prove ineffective, I’m sure that the Army O would have been left alone on a street corner, hat in hand and wanting.  But no… that never happened.  And I truly believe that the lack of defensive adjustment was a overt choice made of the NU coaching staff.  Same with the ‘Cat O… They have the quality weapons to attack the undersized defensive personnel of Army, and when the ‘Cat O  struggled with the original game plan, McCall just didn’t turn to the chapters of the offensive play book that would have taken the Army D to task – like a heavy dose of a vertical passing game.

So the ‘Cats’ coaching staff reaped what garbage they sowed.  And they better not blame the players; but instead should practice what they preach regarding pointing thumbs instead of fingers.  This loss was totally due to poor original game plans and/or failure to implement the critical tactical adjustments needed to overcome the challenges that their opponent presented to them.  It’s time for the coaching staff to take a long hard look at the Man in the Mirror.   

To be sure, the Train Wreck at Wrigley last season has nothing on this defeat.  The Zook-Meister and his Ill-Annoy Pumpkinheads have got to be licking their collective chops after having viewed the video of this self-induced demolition derby.  The return of Dan Persa as ‘Cat QB for the first time in 2011 is not going to overcome what arrogance or short-sightedness that the Wildcat coaching staff exhibited this Saturday.  

Hot & Flaky Humble Pie coming right up, indeed!!!

The Waterboy
“Win with Grace and Lose with Dignity”      

Sept. 14, 2011

Mission Accomplished

And on his farm he had a duck; E-I… E-I-U.  With a quack, quack here and a quack, quack there,,,

Well, you get the picture. Northwestern’s home field opener of 2011 against a truly overmatched Eastern Ill-Annoy Pansies squad had all the intrigue of singing a child’s nursery song - or at least watching paint dry.  Not that scheduling such a pre-season patsy is actually all that bad, after all, NU simply kept up their end of what, unfortunately, has become a Big 10/12 tendency among its conference membership to schedule cream-filled yellow sponge cake opponents (a.k.a: Twinkies) - nutrition-less appetizers to be gobbled up eagerly as early campaign tune-ups in preparation to their main course of conference foes.  However, this tendency is like having your sweet, succulent dessert course before getting served the meal’s meat-n-potatoes entrée.  Somehow it’s just not very satisfying. 

Still, in spite of the fact that the EIU Pansies were NU’s petit four for the day, the ‘Cats did what was expected of them with yeoman-like precision.  To be sure, it’s definitely an outcome I’d prefer the ‘Cats secure with as little negative impact as possible rather than pull a Perdue or Io_a and allow an inferior opponent to remain competitive into the waning minutes of Q4 (or worse, into overtime), only to get their expected “W” lunch stolen, eaten in front of them and the crumpled bag thrown back into their dumbfounded mugs by their lesser competition.

Yet despite a relatively easy, injury-free victory, NU’s rare mid-afternoon contest was not the pristine, polished gemstone effort that was expected by the Purple Populace, and instead, the game featured as many head scratching moments and field play guffaws as it had triumphant performances for my discerning taste buds.

There’s still a lots of room for improvement before the ‘Cats face the Ill-Annoy Pumpkinheads in 3 weeks time.      

How the ‘Cats Crushed the EIU Pansies

What was prelude regarding a by-design dominant rushing attack in last weekend’s offensive game plan against the BC Beagles, was a true coming-out party against Eastern Ill-Annoy.  The ‘Cat offense had 4 - count ‘em, 4 - ball carriers who gained 50 or more yards rushing for the afternoon and, as a unit, the Purple ground game accrued an eye-popping 320 total yards on 67 rushes by game’s end.  And it was all accomplished by the ground-n-pound blocking capabilities of the Wildcat OL, especially the left-side bull-dozing trio of OC, Brandon Vitabile, LG Brian Mulroe and LT Al Netter.  All QB Kain Colter had to do for most of his playing day was call the running play, bark-out the signal to receive the hiked ball, fake a handoff to his RB, identify & pick an open lane at the LOS, then run through it and into the 2nd level of the Pansy defensive front 7.  And that was just the QB… NU’s RB corps was just as productive across the board.  

Can we say sieve at this point?

However, that sieve was not a given, but was constructed via the hands, feet and shoulders of the players opening those rushing lanes – NU’s offensive linemen. It was one of the best blocking performances I’ve seen by a Purple OL in several seasons.  And owning to the day’s theme of remembrance of the 9/11 tragedy, the predominant phrase to use when describing the collective performance of this up-front offensive unit on this afternoon was: shock & awe.

However, not everything was hearts & flowers for the NU running game.  One noticeable shortfall for the ‘Cat ground game on this sun-kissed afternoon was the occasional backfield dancing by the RB after handoff - most conspicuously, by Adonis Smith.  Not to pick nits, but Mr. Smith too often received the bean from the Colter-geist then seemingly tried to improvise rather than hit the hole or seam with his expected power and authority.  Whenever he pranced, the seam at the LOS collapsed and he got stoned for little or no gain.  When he was replaced by Treyvon Green, the frosh RB acquitted himself quite well by mimicking Mr. Smith’s usual running style of hitting the seam and driving the subsequent scrum downfield for additional yards.  When Smith re-entered the game, he would get a good gainer, then, on the following play, revert to his indecisive footwork in the NU backfield and get himself and the play stoned in place. 

Mr. Smith, you’ve shown yourself a much better, more consistent ball carrier against Boston College.  When you hit the seam with purpose & conviction, you gain yardage in bunches; when you prance, you get nada. 

‘Nuf said.

Stoned Cold
The front 7 of Doc Hankwitz’ D was nearly as impressive as was Mick McCall’s OL.  For most of the game, they dominated the LOS and kept the Pansy running game bottled-up and summarily ineffective - except once. 

In Eastern Ill-Annoy’s last possession of the game, with NU holding a commanding 42-14 lead, an acute lack of gap responsibility discipline from a ‘Cat defensive front 7 populated with substitute personnel allowed EIU to rip-off a well executed 76 yard dash, taking the ball from EIU’s 19 to NU’s 5, that set-up the Pansies’ final TD scored with 7 seconds remaining on the game clock. A big mistake made by subs that lead to a completely avoidable score in garbage time.

So, if one would subtract the yards gained from that late-game gaffe, then NU’s rushing defense gave-up a commendable 56 total yards for the remainder of the contest.  Not a bad display of defensive dominance, to be sure.   

However, in contrast to its sputtering ground attack, the EIU passing game was effective in spurts, if only on attempting and delivering explosion pass plays.  Pass completions of 17, 18, 20, 31 and 72 yards, accounting for 158 of 209 EIU total passing yards, were the foundation to most of the Pansies’ yardage production over the entire game. Eliminate/defend even half of those 5 passes, and Eastern’s O is shut down and left moot.

In particular, the 72 yarder was a go-for-broke aerial bomb attempted on the 1st play of the Eastern possession that followed NU’s failed 45 yard FG attempt. Why not go for it, especially on the heels of a rare down moment from the ‘Cat O where it failed to pad its lead by another 3 points.  So the EIU offensive brain trust calls for a vertical pass from their best QB-WR tandem and… bang… a breakdown in pass coverage by NU’s secondary allows an open receiver running solo in the ‘Cat deep middle third zone, resulting in an easy pitch–n-catch TD that cut the EIU deficit in half, 14-7.   

If it weren’t for the fact that NU’s opponent was so profoundly overmatched, this could have been a harbinger of more bad things to come.  However, Eastern was, well, Eastern and their O only had so many tricks in their offensive kit bag.  So the potential heartburn born of this frustrating tendency for giving-up the home run play by the NU secondary, even against lesser competition, was lessened.  Still, the big bad ‘Cat secondary and their pass defense have undeniable deep pass coverage issues that need to be addressed and cleaned-up before the start of their Big 10/12 conference slate. 

Quick Hands – Quicker Feet
In what, to this writer, has become a devastating liability waiting to happen, the primary yardage production weapon for the NU offense remains harnessed on the shoulders and legs of QB Kain Colter.  It was so last weekend against the tough BC Beagles, and remained so against the much less imposing EIU defense.  I cringe at the massive hits that Colter has been absorbing, and truly want him to lessen his load as primary ball carrier for the ‘Cat O when facing Army next Saturday.  But that is a decision that is in the hands of other more appropriate individuals, like his HC and OC.   

Against the EIU Pansies, the Colter-geist reprised the primary ball handler fake-rush wizardry that was once the staple of that yardage generating backfield tandem of Zak Kustok and Damien Anderson witnessed during NU’s Big 10/12 championship season of 2000.  It’s obvious that the Colter-geist has been honing his fake handoff skills in practices since last Spring Ball.  The ‘Cat QB is becoming a master of the “ride the ball in the midsection of the RB, then pull it out” fake handoff and it was in full evidence against EIU last Saturday.
Although 3 other ‘Cat RBs gained 50 or more yards rushing, it was Colter who was OC Mick McCall’s running back of choice through much of the game, especially at the opponent’s goal line. Many of those designed QB keepers were set-up by the fake handoff to the RB, where the opposing defensive front 7 get lured to pursue and close on the RB, leaving the Colter-geist free, with ball in hand, to spy the LOS for the open lane or seam which appeared often on the backside of the line away from the original offensive flow.  And those rushing lanes were frequently there for the taking due to the hard-nosed blocking success from NU’s offensive line.  2 of Colter’s 3 rushing TDs were off the fake handoff. 

This is getting interesting to watch.  I truly envision that if/when Danno Persa returns to his standard role as OC McCall’s QB of choice, Kain Colter will be lined-up side-by side with Persa, as an RB-QB tandem similar to the Kustok-Anderdson tandem of 2000.  Think of the offensive possibilities – the true RB-QB tandem Spread, the Wildcat, the Pistol, with either RB or QB capable of adeptly faking an intended rush, only to pull-up short of the LOS, scan the opposing secondary for the open receiver, then deliver the bean on target and in stride.  The mind boggles at the thought.  And so will that of opposing defensive coordinators.

Secret Weapon
It’s been years since NU fielded an experienced kick returner who possesses the quality turn-of-foot and eye to recognize the open lane on a kickoff like KR Venric Mark.  If speed kills, then this player is NU’s version of the baby-faced assassin.  A year older and more experienced this 2011 season, Mr. Mark is coming into his own as NU’s kick returning specialist. And did he deliver last Saturday. 

Mark returned the opening kickoff in H-2 and rambled 49 yards on a nifty run where he initially drove up-field into the middle third zone, then bounced out to the outer right third into a free & clear lane where he sprinted untouched until he was forced out of bounds at the EIU 48, setting-up the subsequent TD drive on the ‘Cats’ ensuing possession. 

After EIU closed the deficit to 35-14 on their last possession of Q3, Venric went to work once more, grabbing the kickoff at the NU 10 and returning the pigskin 63 yards to the Pansies 27 in eye-blink fashion.  10 plays later, the Colter & Co. extended the ‘Cat lead to 42-14.  After that score, it was essentially game-over.


As stated above, the Wildcats faced and devoured a Twinkie, thank you very much.  One of the many positives to be recognized: no debilitating injuries to key personnel on either side of the LOS.  And on that very subject, it’s my fervent hope that QB Danno Persa and DT Brian Arnfelt return from their injuries to get much needed PT next weekend against another relative Twinkie in the Army Bleak Nights.

In the meantime, there are still some important shortfalls in the overall field play of the ‘Cats to recognize, analyze and correct - especially when it comes to preventing the home run play.  The workman-like victory that the Wildcats garnered against EIU did little to enhance NU’s competitive reputation, and that’s actually a good thing.  This last Saturday, many of NU’s Big 10/12 conference brethren took it on the chin while the ‘Cats brought home pedestrian “W” #2 for the 2011 season.  I’ll take it for whatever it’s worth. 

Now to face the triple option ground game threat of Army.  Without a doubt, Fitz and DC Doc Hankwitz know all about the necessity to teach the appropriate deflection techniques to protect his defensive personnel from the infamous, injury-inducing chop block that is a necessary tool for this offensive scheme to work well.  

The Waterboy
“Win with Grace and Lose with Dignity”      

Sept. 7, 2011

Another Season Opener - Another Nail-biter

The 2011 Northwestern team that took the field in its long anticipated season opener against the Boston College Beagles was rife with question marks regarding every unit within its ranks.  Had the ‘Cats’ DL improved enough to exorcise the demons from its horrid rush defense showing displayed through last season’s final 4 games, to something remotely resembling Big 10/12- caliber quality?  Had the ‘Cats’ OL, reputedly the deepest and most experienced unit that Northwestern had fielded in decades, improved its across the LOS run blocking techniques to transform the Purple offense from a one-dimensional, pass-dominant game to the balanced attack to which HC Fitz and OC Mick McCall had aspired over the last 9 months?  Could the ‘Cats find a go-to RB who would be durable and reliable enough to shoulder the load as NU’s primary ball carrier and maintain a high enough yardage productivity threat to keep an opposing D honest and force them to defend both the ‘Cat  ground game and its aerial attack with equal due diligence?  Can an inexperienced LB corps raise its collective level of field play to meet the challenge of facing an offensive team that unabashedly advertises itself as “O-Line U?”

And most importantly, could relative newbie sophomore QB Kain Colter show himself a mentally ready, physically able and effective substitute to NU’s missing-in-action 2010 first team All Big 10/12 quarterback, Dan Persa, to lead the Wildcat O to victory in the first game of 2011 against a quality opponent?

Lots of questions.  However, by 3:30 PM last Saturday, most of those open issues had been answered.    

How the ‘Cats Hounded the BC Beagles

Superior DL Play
As was stated above, the ‘Cats’ most glaring field play failure exhibited in the 2010 season was the Wildcat D’s overall inability to contain or even begin to neutralize an opponent’s ground game. From the H-2 collapse of the Penn State game (where NU went into halftime locker room leading by 21 points, only to get steamrolled by the devastatingly efficient Inmate ground game) through the Ticket City Bowl (where the predominantly pass-happy Texas Tech O gained 183 rushing yards by game’s end), this conspicuous defensive deficiency was recognized, exposed and exploited by virtually every opposing offense it faced in the second half of last season. Most of the onus for this breakdown in fundamental defense rested squarely on the heads of the 2-deep roster of the ‘Cat defensive front 7.

And Fitz, Doc and every defensive player knew it.  Thus, throughout the off-season, and into Spring Ball, and on through the 2011 preseason, this coaching staff and these defensive personnel dedicated themselves, to a man, to one singular goal: fix this failure.

This season opener game against BC was the coming-out party, so to speak, of this collective effort to take on and reverse the end-of-season trend from 2010 – and no one unit showed itself up to the challenge more than the ‘Cat DL.

Witnessing the field play of the ‘Cat interior DT’s, especially the fired-up tandem of Niko Mafuli and Jack Dinardo, followed gamely by Chance Carter and Will Hampton in their rotational roles, was a thing of sheer beauty. From the opening whistle through the final gun, this rotation of interior defensive stalwarts attacked their opposing blockers - often fighting off double team blocks - and unrelentingly battled across the faces of these tandem blocks through to the point of attack.  Simply stated, they would not be denied and just dominated the opposing BC OL.  To an individual, each player refused to be pushed back off the LOS - holding their ground, taking up valuable space, closing rushing seams, disrupting whatever flow the BC ground game attempted to muster, while keeping these potential blockers off the ‘Cat LBs and DBs providing them freedom to roam and attack the point of attack in their rush support roles.  That’s the major reason why the game’s final statistics showed 7 out of the top 8 tackling leaders among all NU defensive personnel were LBs or DBs - a statistical circumstance borne by the design of Doc’s defensive game plan.  And it all started with the quality execution of the Purple DTs.     

Not to outdone, was the outstanding collective field play of the ‘Cat DEs - and in particular, the unveiling of the Wildcats’ newest defensive phenomenon: true sophomore DE, Tyler Scott.  Through much of last season, standout DE Vince “The Beast” Browne labored as NU’s primary pass rusher, without the advantage of having a 2nd “bookend” DE to occupy an opposing OL’s pocket protection blocking schemes as an alternative force to be reckoned with during routine pass plays.  Basically, Browne flew solo in this capacity and the situation underscored the problems that the Cat defensive front 7, especially the DL, had when attempting to apply pressure to the opposing QB. 

Now, all that seems to have changed with the welcomed arrival of Mr. Scott as pass rush threat 1-B and the rotational tandem of DEs Kevin Watt and Q. Williams.  In fact, on many occasions, when the down-distance  showed long yardage situations, the entire DL was populated exclusively by DEs Browne, Tyler, Watt and Williams - if only to crank-up and maintain the pass rush pressure on BC’s QB, Rettig. 

The entire DL package, composed of a 4-man rotation of DTs coupled with a 4-man rotation of DEs, were very effective against the BC rushing game.  They limited what was projected to be a quality Beagle ground game to 134 total yards - of which 69 were netted on the game’s first play from scrimmage.  That means if one discounts the 69 yard scamper (which was a high quality play, in itself), the Beagle ground attack netted only 65 yards for the remaining 59 minutes of play. 

First and foremost within this overall defensive lockdown of the Beagle rushing game was the most significant defensive series of the entire game…

Red Zone Stoned
In what was a most inauspicious start for the newly revamped and widely advertised NU defense, the game’s first offensive series proved to be profoundly prophetic.

BC’s first play from scrimmage took full advantage of a poorly executed defensive stunt at the NU defensive edge to the short side of the field- in which the designed inside crash move off the LOS by DE V. Browne eliminated him from his standard corner contain, and an adept seal block by the BC TE against NU’s Will LB locked him to the inside and away from his assigned corner contain replacement at that vacated defensive edge - all of which provided a wide-open lane along the narrow side sideline that extended from the LOS to NU’s goal line.  And BC’s RB, Williams hit that vacated defensive corner in an eye blink, driving the ball around the open edge and down that sideline, free & clear, for what appeared to be an easy first play from scrimmage TD.

However, then came THE defensive play of the game. 

CB Jordan Mabin, taking a well-determined angle of pursuit, sprinted with total abandon to Mr. Williams in his bid for an opening rush to paydirt, caught up with the BC RB on a dead run and dropped him at the NU 4.  Yes, the play was an eventful 69 yard scamper that could have shoved ‘Cats down a 7-to-zip hole, but through Mabin’s athleticism and heart, it was stopped short, only resulting in a 1st down in the shadow of the NU goal.

This play proved to be a monumental turnaround and changed everything that followed.  It allowed the ‘Cat D to collect themselves and prepare for the BC expected push toward the game’s first TD.

In the subsequent BC offensive series…
Down 1 - stoned for a 1 yard TFL.
Down 2 - a pass, broken-up by a ‘Cat DB. 
Down 3 - a pass completion at the NU 2, in which the WR was swarmed-upon and dropped in his tracks by SS Peters and MLB, Nwabuisi.

This initial offensive series by BC, that was responded-to and so effectively defended by NU’s D, transformed what could have been a gut-wrenching, deflating TD into a benign FG attempt. Not only was it a win for the ‘Cat defense, it was confirmation that the collective parts of the Wildcat D could react to and overcome any adversity thrown at it by the Beagle offense - if they worked together. 

It was a microcosm of virtually every significant NU versus BC series that followed over the remainder of the contest.   

Up Tempo
One major characteristic of the Fitz-dictated and Mick McCall-designed Wildcat offense is a quick tempo approach towards executing plays in offensive series.  From various interviews taken in the past, that up-tempo paradigm comes in 3 levels: fast, faster and tongue-hanging-out-and-dragging-on-the-ground fast.  

When executed well, which includes appropriate execution of correct energy-tapping blocking techniques, these up tempo levels can render unprepared opposing defensive personnel into hulks of wheezing, gasping-for-breathe man-jelly.  After having fallen behind the Beagles in Q2, on their last possession of the half, McCall decides to go all-out and employ his fastest tempo to gas the Beagle D into submission, especially their front 7, and it was devastatingly effective.

With 3:25 left on the clock and having starting position at their own 20, Colter and Co. go to work on the unsuspecting Eagle D with a precision that the ‘Cats’ FG-capturing series from Q1 only had hinted-at...

-  Play #1:  Colter scramble for 7 yards
-  Play #2:  Colter pass to Field for 18 yards
-  Play #3:  Colter pass to Jones for 12 yards
-  Play #4:  Colter pass to Ebert for 6 yards, ball on the BC 37

By this point, the Beagle D are visibly gassed, many players hands on hips with a “I’m ready for halftime” look about them (as I noticed through my field glasses). 

-  Play #5:  Smith slashes thru a gaping hole for 8 yards
-  Play #6:  Colter pass to Brown for 14 yards – out-of-bounds & 1st down at the BC 15 yard line

Now the body language of the Beagle front 7 is undeniable: they are totally spent, with a very telling WTF stare on their collective mugs.  In contrast, NU’s O personnel look fresh as daisies - they are very acclimated to this up-tempo style and are in their element.

-  Play #7:  Trumpy rumbles thru arm weak tackles for another 8 yards
-  Play #8:  Trumpy hits a seam that closes immediately but still gains 3 more yards, putting the ball at the BC 4.

The BC coach, in a bid to provide his D some reprieve from this juggernaut, calls a TO to give his troops a breather. 

-  Play #9:  The Cats collect a stupid procedure penalty, backing the LOS to the BC 9 yard line.
-  Play #10:  Colter on a designed QB keeper, drives the pigskin to the BC 3.  BC defenders are slow-to-react and only when Colter is already past the LOS.
-  Play #11:  Colter executes a tuck-n-run off of what appears to be a called pass play, to and through an open seam up the middle for the game-tying score.

The Beagle D was stunned and their collective body language resembled that of a wholly demoralized unit.

All this action, driving 87 yards in 10 plays burning a paltry 2:47, was nothing short of a revelation.  The winning offensive strategy now became apparent to OC McCall; and he employed his up-tempo O as he best saw it - like NU’s opening possessions of Q3 and Q4.  If Doc could keep his D playing LOS dominating football, then the brass ring “W” was NU’s low-hanging fruit for the taking.

The last, and certainly not least significant item to mention at this point, is the gelling of the ‘Cat OL.  On an individual level, each offensive player dressed in Purple had his good plays and bad.  No one OL player dominated completely over the course of the entire game, but OC Brandon Vitabile came closest and consistently pushed his targeted defender around the field almost at will.  It was thrilling to watch this young player confirm his ascension to 1st team OC, replacing an incumbent OC in the process.  Next on the efficacy list was OT Al Netter who protected Colter’s blind side with reliability and panache, confirming his notable reputation as this unit’s premier blocker.  RG Ben Burkett’s field play level graded-out next, followed by LG Dieters.  The only poor OL play of the lot was OT Pat Ward – if only because he gave-up QB hurries and sacks - even  when his defender was not executing some sort radar technique against Colter as he roamed the NU offensive backfield.  In fact one of these hurries/sacks nearly resulted in safety, when the BC DE just lowered his hips and drove Ward like a rag doll straight back into Colter’s face.  Fortunately Colter was aware of this bull rush on this play and stepped-up into the pocket protection far enough to avoid getting dropped in his own end zone. 

On the negative side of things, the ‘Cat O struggled in several short yardage situations, especially at the end of the game when NU had two 3rd-n-short down/distance situations that, if any had been converted to a 1st down, would have ended the game with little or no angst among the Purple Populace.  But the ‘Cat O failed to convert on either of these two specific downs (among others in less critical instances), and it opened the door for the Beagles to get back into the game - which they nearly did and held the game in the hands of their up-to-that-point explosive passing attack. 

This is the first game of the season, so I will not harp on the offense’s negatives too much.  Suffice it to say that these and other shortfalls were recognized by NU’s offensive brain trust and will be addressed in kind.  I have total confidence that NU’s OL will come together as the season progresses – especially between game #1 and game #2.  Fitz and McCall will see to that progression without a doubt.  

The Colter-geist Appears
“He’s here!!!”

As was alluded to early and often throughout the passion play that has been Dan Persa’a well-chronicled recovery from a head-scratching, yet devastating Achilles injury after having thrown what appeared to be a simple jump-ball pass that resulted in the winning TD against the Io_w Hogeyes in 2010, this game was earmarked by Fitz and OC Mick McCall to be Kain Colter’s chance to prove himself a quality 1-B alternative QB in his own right.  And did he ever do that. 

Despite committing a near QB field play felony off a misread pass route that resulted in a near Pick-6 INT by BC’s highly-touted LB Luke Kuechly, Colter was the embodiment a calm, cool, composed QB who had seen it all before.  Needless to say, in truth, Mr. Colter had never seen it all during his 3 starts from last season, not even close.  Yet, from post-game accounts, this level-headed attitude was due in no small measure to Dan Persa’s direct real-time mentoring to Colter on the sidelines of Alumni Stadium following his near kill-shot passing gaffe. 

Beyond this mental brain fart, Kain Colter looked ever the wily veteran QB from his first offensive series to his last throughout this idyllic, sun-kissed Eastern Seaboard afternoon.  In Q1, Colter went 5-for-8 for 60 yards in the air and added another 53 yards rushing, driving the “Cat O into FG range for a game tying 3-pointer in their last possession of the quarter.  He followed-up that performance in Q2, when McCall directed his on-field general to use the level 3 fast tempo, then promptly directed the ‘Cat O in its last possession drive of H-1 where he went 4-4 passing and ran for another 16 yards, culminating in a 3 yard tuck-n-run TD scamper that knotted the game at 10 before the intermission.  

Then the Colter-geist took-over the game from the start of H-2 onward.  In NU’s first possession of the 2nd half, Mr. Colter executes McCall’s up-tempo once more to perfection, directing the ‘Cat O on a meticulously efficient 80 yard drive for the go-ahead TD, while burning a mere 3 minutes and change off the game clock.  At this point, the game had not transitioned into a route at the hands of the Colter-geist, but it was abundantly clear that Colter was in complete control of the machine that is the 2011 Mick McCall offense.

Colter’s game control was in evidence once more during NU’s 1st possession of Q4, where he reprised McCall’s up-tempo O model, completing passes of 23 and 27 yards to compliment NU’s newly-found ground-n-pound rushing attack to churn-out another TD drive that covered 77 yards in short order to extend the Wildcats’ lead over the Beagles to a well-deserved 14 point advantage.

Still, in counterpoint to all the field play positives that Colter exhibited at BC’s Alumni Stadium , his overall performance was marred by some glaring mental lapses and missed opportunities - like the near Pick-6 INT (a turnover which BC converted into its first TD of the game) and those 2 late-game short yardage situations which would have salted the game away in NU’s favor had he just executed the short yardage plays correctly or more efficiently.

But in his first game of a new season, in holding down the daunting responsibilities as his offense’s primary ball handler, with the onus of leading a Sin-City declared +3 point dog against what was considered a worthy road opponent in the BC Beagles who currently possess a commendable 12-season streak of bowl eligibility in their recent history, Colter did come through with a very laudable game performance at QB and garnered NU’s first “W” of the 2011 campaign.

It’s all very good.        


OK, so this game had many positives, more than a few negatives and, if approached with the appropriate level of even temperment, can became NU’s spring board to possible bigger, better things.  Despite the game transitioning from what coulda, shoulda, woulda been a pedestrian, comfortable win into a frenetic, last minute nail-biter due to lapses in offensive execution, with the ball in the hands of the still dangerous BC passing game and a “4th down and game to go” situation as the contest’s last play, I still feel good about the outcome.  Yet that perspective remains tempered by the knowledge of what deficiencies need to be addressed and resolved, like the ones leading up to this game’s nail-biting last 2 minutes, before NU takes on their more formidable Big 10/12 foes, the first of which lie lurking in the weeds of Shampoo-Banana waiting for arrival of the expected to be fat-n-happy 3-win ‘Cats’ 4 weeks from last Saturday. 

Not that I’m looking beyond the Eastern Ill-Annoy Panthers or the Army Bleak Nights, but NU’s next 2 opponents are obviously less than the BC Eagles.  If NU continues to concentrate on and correct the shortcomings of the BC game, the Wildcats should enter the traditional grapple against arch-rival Ill-Annoy in much better shape and preparedness. 

My only concern is whether or not Dan Persa will be cleared prior to participate in this red-letter contest against the Pumpkinheads and what residual negatives might show regarding inserting a QB in Kain Colter, who has proven that he belongs, or in passing the helm to an incumbent, first team, All Conference QB who still has yet to go all-out in 7-on-7 sand 11-on-11 rills in practice.  A major key to this whole enterprise is the very positive dynamic that seems to exist between NU’s QB #1 and QB #1-B.  If this collaboration continues to grow, then I can’t see anything but very bright things for the ‘Cats in 2011, regardless of whose hands are at the Help of the Good Ship Pokelboot.

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

© 2011 The FEWGroup   "The Purple belongs in Pasadena!"