The Waterboy
2012 Archive

Sept. 13, 2012

A Tale of Two Halves

Talk about your 180 degree turn-around.  The Northwestern Wildcats, playing in their 2012 home opener last Saturday evening and hosting the Vanderbilt Commodes, were nothing less than ripe for the picking.  Truly, I was totally baffled and had absolutely no clue what was going on in Q1 or why.  However, from the ‘Cats’ initial kick-off  to the Commodes onwards, it appeared as if someone had slipped the Wildcats a mickey in their pre-game meal. The ‘Cats weren’t simply lackluster, they were either sleepwalking or just plain DOA, or a good combination of both. 

The Commodes took that opening possession and crafted a methodical 13 play, 77-yard TD scoring drive which included converting on a 3rd-& 10 and once again on a 4th-&-9 scenario for drive-extending first downs.  In the meantime, NU’s pass rush was non-existent and the secondary’s field play was a replay of the pass coverage SNAFUs witnessed throughout most of last Saturday’s season opener against the Sorry-Excuse Orange Nerf Balls.  Lord knows that Fitz and his coaching staff focused on providing the appropriate due diligence to mentor their defensive personnel regarding crucial corrections in proper reads, reactions and techniques to reverse the all-too-frequent and embarrassing shortfalls & pratfalls which were the foundation for the inexplicable transition of the game from what had been a 22-point hand-ride to the finish line in mid Q3 into a veritable shootout that required a last possession drive for the “W”-sealing TD in the game’s final minute.  Watching this contest unfold from my seat in the East stands, I stood-up at the start of Q2 and did my best Vince Lombardi imitation by blurting-out his infamous quote: “What the hell is going on out there?”

Although not considered an offensive juggernaut by anyone’s perspective, frankly stated, the Commode O was manhandling NU’s D in Q1 both at the LOS and in coverage zones via a balanced attack of ground-n-pound and pitch-n-catch with equal simplicity.  The ‘Cats’ defensive woes continued through the Vandy possession spanning Q1 and Q2, whereupon the Commodes, starting from their own 5 yard line and exercising that balanced attack model, moved the ball 80 yards before the ‘Cat D finally stiffened and halted the series at the NU 15, forcing a FG attempt.      

No one among the Purple Populace had expected this type of putrid performance from the ‘Cat D, especially considering all the ink and interview breath invested by fans and media alike when describing how NU’s defensive brain trust was singularly focused on its improvement during this last week of film review and practice.

Then there was the somnolent ‘Cat offense that netted only 59 total yards and a single successful 40-yard FG over the course of Q1.  Admittedly, there was some pre-game expectation regarding this less-than-stellar output from the ‘Cat O due to the fact that , the Commode D, in their season opener against 9th-ranked South Carolina, had stoned the potent Game-Chicken offense in a similar manner.  However, this complete neutralization to NU’s yardage production capabilities from their best, most experienced squad, the  offense, was another thing altogether.  Q2 saw more of the same from the ‘Cat O, even after ‘Cat OC Mick McCall subbed relief QB Trevor Siemian in for the ineffective Kain Colter at the 6:22 mark.  Nothing but nothing was working for the ‘Cats on the offensive side of the LOS, so much so that by halftime, NU had accumulated a paltry 85 total yards and 3 points off that lone FG. 

So over the first 30 minutes of play, the Commodes had flexed their offensive and defensive muscles and the ‘Cats reacted with a collective yawn.  The ‘Cats were in dire need of some overwhelming attitude adjustment, and had the entirety of H-2 to prove that they had what it takes to dig themselves out of a self-induced 7-point hole and get their butts in gear to take finally control of a game that was well within their reach to capture and seal for themselves and their rabid fan base.
And to their credit, every player on Northwestern’s offense, defense and special teams pealed themselves off the canvas, dusted themselves off, returned to the middle of the ring to face their foe with a firm resolve and completed an astounding about-face.

How the ‘Cats Flushed the Commodes

The Dark Knights Rise
Obviously, Doc huddled-up with his defense on the bench between the first 2 quarters and read them the equivalent of some riot act, essentially igniting a bonfire under their collective fannies.  Fitz often pontificates on a football coaching maxim:“It’s all about how you respond”; and although the ‘Cat D gave-up a FG in the Commodes’ Q1-to-Q2 possession that padded their lead to 7 points, the NU defense responded to this Vandy score in resounding fashion.

From that FG-scoring series in Q2 to the final gun, the ‘Cat D applied a stranglehold to the Commode O that had dominated them in all categories right up to this turning-point, limiting them to a very commendable 31 yards rushing and 117 yards through the air - for a total of 148 yards and a single FG over the final 42 & a half minutes of the game.  In that timeframe, Doc’s troops stoned the Commode O for 3-&-outs on 5 of their last 7 possessions, gave-up only 6 first downs, forced 3 fumbles with 2 recoveries, had 3 sacks and harassed the Vandy QB on nearly every down he dropped back for the pass.  Talk about your lockdown, the ‘Cat defense looked motivated and acted the part.

What a reversal. 

In the mid-60’s, the Nebraska BugEaters’ football program adopted what is now a time-honored tradition to acknowledge the depth chart status for their starting defensive personnel – they wear black shirts for practices.  Only defensive starters wear these black jerseys and, as a group, the players who earned the privilege to don them are called “The BlackShirts.”  Today, the black shirt is a symbol of personal achievement in the BugEater locker room, confirmation to the individual player for his long hours of blood, sweat & tears, personal sacrifice, commitment to excellence and unheralded toil in the trenches necessary to be identified by the coaching staff as one of the best position defenders on the team. 

Although NU does not have this tradition (yet), last Saturday, every defensive player deserved and earned his black shirt.  Period, end of story.

Flush It
Apparently inspired by the total field play reversal from their defensive team mates, ‘Cat OC Mick McCall and his O flushed their underwhelming performance from H-1 and initiated a turn-around of their own in H-2 - most of which I attributed to vastly improved play-calling bolstered greatly by superior field play by the OL. On their first possession, McCall & his offense came-out of the locker room and employed NU’s well-known dink-n-dunk passing attack, as dual threat QB Kain Colter completed 5 of 6 passes, mostly for single digit yardage gains, balanced against 8 rushes, none of which netted more than 7 total yards.  In the process, Colter & Co drove 54 yards before a 3rd down holding penalty halting their progress at the Vandy 21, where the offense settled for a FG that cut the Commode lead to 4. 

Over the course of this offensive series, the OL completed their own about-face, dominating the LOS while affirming that the Commode D was susceptible to a giving-up yardage with regularity via a controlled, balanced attack.

However, the next Wildcat 3 possessions, played in a warm summer evening rain, went 3-and-out, while the NU D stoned the Commode O for 2 of their own before the whistle sounded at the end of Q3.  Clearly, the Commode defensive brain trust had figured-out how to defend the dink-n-dunk much more effectively since that first NU drive of the 2nd half.  Mick McCall needed to infuse something new and unexpected into his offensive game plan to kick-start the forward momentum of the ‘Cat O once more.  So taking a cue from the strategy he employed in last Saturday’s contest against Sorry-Excuse…

What a Relief
… He made a call to his bull pen for his new ace reliever, sophomore QB Trevor Siemian.  And what a relief it was.

In addition to this critical switch in primary ball handlers, McCall was astute enough to realize that Vandy had made the appropriate adjustments to counter his standard short passing game, so he abandoned it and opened his playbook to the chapter on his medium vertical pass plays.  And who better to execute this new passing attack wrinkle than his pure drop-back QB Siemian.  And once given the reins to execute this more conventional downfield-oriented pass strategy, the sophomore playmaker put on a remarkable show, similar to what he had done during NU’s game-winning last possession against the Orange Nerf balls. . 

What a fantastic change-up by McCall and what a fantastic performance by Siemian.

With ball in hand and behind quality pocket protection from the ‘Cat OL, Siemian went right to work on the Commode secondary, completing 4 of 5 pitch-n-catch throws to 4 different receivers.  Coupled with complimentary rushes from NU’s RB tandem of Venric Mark & Mike Trumpy to keep the Vandy D honest, Siemian marched the ‘Cat O 86 yards in 11 plays for the go-ahead TD, burning 4:30 off the game clock.  With the sophomore QB at the helm of the Good Ship Pokelboot, NU captured Big Mo and a slim 13-10 lead.

After Vandy’s O answered with a game-tying FG off their next possession, Siemian eagerly jumped back into the driver’s seat of the ‘Cat O with 5 minutes and change in the contest. And did he and his O ever take complete charge.  Ignoring the ball handling challenges of executing a vertical passing game under what now was a full-blown downpour, Siemian led the ‘Cat O on a time-consuming drive from the NU 25 to the Vandy 22, highlighted by a slick sprint off a pitch-n-catch crossing pattern completion to speedy WR Rachad Lawrence for a nifty 32-yard gain.  From there, McCall reverted back to his revitalized ground game operating behind his now emotionally charged OL.  After 3 successive rushes by Venric Mark that moved the ball to the Commode 2, the drive stalled.  On 4th-&-1, ‘Cat PK Jeff Budzien converted his 3rd consecutive FG of the contest, a chip-shot 18 yarder, to recapture a 3 point lead for the ‘Cats leaving 2:01 remaining on the clock.

That’s 10 points scored under the field generalship of ace reliever, Trevor Siemian in Q4.  Suh-Weet.

Sealing the Deal
After dropping Vandy kick returner Brian Kimbrow at the Commode 28 on the ensuing kickoff following NU’s last go ahead FG, the ‘Cat D delivered the kill-shot to the Commode’s chances at mounting a frantic come-from-behind drive to steal the “W” from the ‘Cats.  In defending this offensive series, NU’s DC, Doc Hankwitz, employed a new twist to his standard 4-man DL composition and used 4 DEs in his defensive line formation.  On Vandy’s first play from scrimmage, this 4-DE set cocked their ears back and sold-out on a full-bore, red-line pass rush.  ‘Cat DE Tyler Scott shed his pass blocker almost immediately at the snap, got into the grill of Commode QB, Jordan Rogers as he began to scan the NU secondary and stripped the QB of the ball on his hit.  NU’s true frosh DE Dean Lowry saw the bean lying on the turf pounced on the French Pastry (aka: a turnover), giving NU possession at the Vandy 20 and consequently sealing the game for the Wildcats. 

With time winding down on the game clock, OC McCall pulled another personnel switch on the Vandy D, as he called-upon dual threat QB Kain Colter once more to QB the ‘Cat O.  The Commode D immediately went into a total sell-out mode to attack the ‘Cat O in a bid to force a turnover or quick 3-&-out possession.  On 3rd down, Kain Colter received the pigskin in his shotgun set, took 3 steps to his left looking for a seam in NU’s left side OL, then spied a huge hole on the right side of the LOS.  Reacting to the play’s initial flow to their right (NU’s left), Vandy’s backside OLB and the FS opposite flow flew away from their standard cutback defense positions to give inside-out run support to NU’s intended point of attack – the OT-TE gap to the (right) side opposite their original set (on the Vandy left).  NU’s backside OT, Konopka, sealed his DE to the outside, and coupled with the sell-out fly of the Vandy OLB and FS, a huge gap opened in this vacated area inside this backside seal block.  Recognizing this seam, Colter made a neat cutback into this open space and had an clear, undefended route to the Vandy goal line.  Sprinting the 29 yards, Colter crossed the Commode goal line with ease for a gimme TD that closed the book on this contest for good. 

‘Cats Win!!!  ‘Cats Win!!!


Most college football analysts and media pundits made the Cats a home dog prior to this contest, especially since Vandy nearly turned the upset trick on their last opponent, the 9th-ranked South Carolina Game-Chickens.   And in H-1, it appeared that those pre-game prognostications were going to come true.  But then again, I guess that’s why the teams play the game on the field rather than on paper.

The casual observer could say that the Vanderbilt Commode team blew their lead and the game to the ‘Cats, but I beg to differ with a counter-perspective.  Simply stated, the ‘Cats weren’t given a thing; they responded to their challenging predicament then took control of the game both on the field and the scoreboard. 

The final result of this game was no fluke.  It was collaboration between the game plan conceived by Fitz & his coaching staff and buy-in by the players to trust themselves and their coaches enough to execute that game plan. And what was even more important was the seamless strategy adjustments and personnel changes made on either side of the LOS.  McCall’s replacement of Colter with Siemian at the exact point needed to gain control & momentum of the game in Q3; then returning his starter to seal the deal at game’s end was pure genius.  Doc’s deft replacement moves among his defensive Front 7 throughout the contest proved just as appropriate and effective. 

The Wildcats are beginning to gel into that elusive entity called a t-e-a-m.  Every college football program aspires to get to this point… and I believe NU is well on its way to solidifying themselves into a unified team of their own making.  The game underscored that the ‘Cats are on that path

Next on the Wildcat’s 2012 dance card… The Bean-Town College Beagles.  It will a ‘Cats versus Dogs furball.     

The Waterboy
“Win with Grace and Lose with Dignity”      

Sept. 5, 2012

Déjà vu:  Another Season Opener--
Another Nail-biter

The 2012 season had an eerie sense of déjà vu, with the ‘Cats taking their season opener on the road to the Northeast once more as they had in 2011 – this time to upstate NY to challenge the Orange Nerf Balls of Sorry-Excuse in their home field sauna known as “The Carrier Dome” (so named for the nationally-renown local air conditioning company that somehow failed to include any kind of cooling capacity into the blueprints of their own sports venue).  That’s some oversight, no?  Then again, perhaps not.  With indoor temperatures hovering in the vicinity of the mid-90s, as was expected for a sultry late-summer afternoon, Fitz trotted-out his eclectic mix of young and old gridiron talent into that hostile environment and played their rendition of “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.”  And as game unfolded, the ‘Cats’ overall field play resembled what I’ve described in past commentary as  a full Spaghetti Western, read: “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly” with the Purple Gang fighting tooth & nail to eke-out an improbable, come-from-behind-in-the-final-minute one point “W” in a game that transitioned from a hand-ride on the final turn for home to a veritable shoot-out as both contestants drove to the finish line.  As a card-carrying member of the Wildcat Nation, the best antidote to restrain oneself from diving head-first, mouth open to the bottom of a bottle of tequila when reviewing this passion play would be simply to chalk this one up as yet another episode in the continuing saga of “The Cardiac ‘Cats”

So saving the best for last, I’ll start with…

The Ugly
Much was expected from the revamped Wildcat D, especially regarding improvements in both the woeful pass coverage foibles and pass rush failures which were an all too common sight throughout the 2011 campaign.  Unfortunately, this contest proved no different than in the previous season.  There were way too many field play breakdowns, shortfalls and pratfalls, especially when defending the home run pass from Sorry-Excuse’s very capable and competitive senior QB, Ryan Nassib.

Exhibit A: NU’s pass rush;
…Or to be more on point, the lack thereof.  Heading into this opener, the ‘Cats’ collective pass rush personnel, were a great unknown.  Here is a squad peppered with faces both familiar and new, most with vivid memories and increased experience garnered over the 2011 battles upon which there was great expectation to build and hone their pass rush skills.  Much had been written and speculated regarding how the ‘Cat defensive brain trust had been singularly focused on driving this squad hard to exorcise past demons of failure and ineptitude and forge a unified Front 7 that would get into the grill of an opposing QB with abandon and bad intent on a regular basis.  Well after game 1, while it must be admitted that the jury is still deliberating this one and its final verdict has yet to be handed to the bailiff; early indicators underscore the point that this defensive goal remains an enormous work in progress.  1 QB sack over the 60 minute tussle.  That’s right, a measly single sack… and against a patchwork quilt OL unit populated with newbies & retreads who had just lost the services of  their All-Big East conference tackle for this game to an inexcusable late-preseason injury.  As stated above, the efforts to reverse this pass pressure-less D remains a work in progress, and could become dire in short order.  If NU’s somnolent pass rush doesn’t improve markedly, and soon, the quality Vanderbilt pass attack will take them to the shed for a wholesale drubbing this coming Saturday evening.

Exhibit B: NU’s deep pass coverage.
Midway through Q3, the ‘Cats appeared to have a firm stranglehold on the game via a formidable 22 point lead.  Although the Orange Nerf Ball O had exhibited some ground-game punch mixed-in with timely pitch & catch pass play capabilities, especially off completions to receivers who found open creases in the ‘Cats’ short middle zone for at least 6 double-digit yardage gains which contributed greatly to 13 SU points, the ‘Cats were equal to the scoring challenge by converting on their own playmaking abilities.  Taking full advantage of a pair of devastating miscues by the Sorry-Excuse O which ended in turnovers deep in their own territory and one huge special teams gaffe, the sum of which resulted in 3 relatively easy TDs for the opportunistic ‘Cats, NU had weathered their opposition’s bid for game control.  NU’s scoring chances were augmented further by OC Mick McCall’s balanced play selection and adept use of Kain Colter’s broad playmaking skills, which were parlayed into another 2 critical TDs that inflated the Wildcat’s lead to 35-13 with 22 minutes & change left on the game clock.  

That’s when the wheels came off NU’s pass coverage schemes as SU’s 5th-year QB, Ryan Nassib, weaved some offensive magic of his own.

Instead of settling for those short to medium pass routes, the Sorry-Excuse OC decided to challenge NU’s DBs with deep hitch & go routes down the sidelines.  And were they ever effective against the ‘Cat secondary.  The Sorry-Excuse passing game served-up heaping helpings of inside slant hitches or stop and go action, and to a man, NU’s coverage personnel bit hard on every single initial fake made by his coverage WR.  With the cover techniques of their defending DB compromised, the Nerf Ball wideouts collected themselves after their initial move, left the out-of-position defender in his wake and sprinted free & clear into the open beyond.  To their credit, the faked-out ‘Cat DBs often were able to regain their composure and use their athleticism & speed to recover somewhat, sometimes catching-up with their cover targets, however, the damage was done.  A simple over the shoulder toss from Nassib dropped the ball into the WR’s waiting mitts.  On at least a half dozen other occasions, the ‘Cat cover DB didn’t necessarily bite on the initial fake, but just hesitated momentarily in his route recognition; then, when he figured-out that his coverage target was set to sprint beyond him, the DB turned his tail to his cover and sprinted downfield in an effort to “keep contact” with WR flying downfield.  And frequently, the WR just rolled-up onto the back or heels of the desperate cover DB and when the ball was delivered in the vicinity of the dueling DB-WR pair, there was little the DB could do but “cut-off” the WR’s path to the ball.  In other words, the DB interfered with the WR’s pass route.  Bang, out comes the yellow laundry – which in the final analysis, is as effective as a completion.

With the NU secondary’s profound lack of coverage discipline exposed, the ugly turned very ugly in short order.  From the 7:30 mark of Q3 to the final gun, Nassib & his receiver corps unleashed a merciless aerial barrage on the befuddled ‘Cat DBs, leaving them shell-shocked and searching for any shelter from the bombardment.  On 2 critical downs, the ‘Cat coverage DB got his feet tangled beneath him in his bid to recover from his bite on his target WR’s fake only to belly-flop to the turf, leaving the WR free & clear to complete the reception and saunter into the end zone unchallenged for 2 quick-strike TDs – the 2nd one a 50-yard explosion pass play.  When the smoke finally cleared, the Nerf Ball O collected 300-plus total yards & 28 unanswered points, most of which came via SU’s resurgent pass attack, exonerating their earlier gaffes and re-capturing Big Mo and a 6 point lead with 2:40 left in the game.  Things couldn’t have looked worse for Fitz and his troops.      

The Bad
Inconsistent field play by both the OL and DL was the by-line to describe the Bad for the ‘Cats.  And it wasn’t as if the defensive and offensive lines were getting their lunch stolen from them and the bag thrown back into their mugs either.  On consecutive downs, ‘Cat linemen would execute their individual assignments brilliantly, only to follow that success with a brain fart on the next.  And virtually every lineman on either side of the LOS got into the act.  Needless to say, the afore-mentioned lack of pass rush against Nassib was a telling failure, but to their credit, NU’s defensive Front 7 would stone the Sorry-Excuse ground game in their tracks often across multiple series in succession. However, in spite of some fine field play execution at times, in the end, there simply wasn’t enough consistency from quarter to quarter and it provided the Nerf Balls, as a team, an opening to keep their competitive composure intact and get themselves back into the game.

The right side of NU’s OL had a particularly up and down game. They’d block their defenders off the LOS or pick-up & stone the crash of the DE-LB or CB tandem off the defensive edge, looking like they’ve been doing it with ease for years. Then on the very next play, they’d look like they were operating in knee-deep muck & mire allowing the same crash defenders to shed the token Ole’ block and gain an unopposed route to the ball in the NU backfield.  The final game stats prove the veracity of this pressure point: 5 sacks allowed augmented by another dozen TFLs.  I’m certain that goat horns were passed around liberally to many deserving OL during Sunday’s game film review. 

And now to the more uplifting segment of this commentary… The Good

How the ‘Cats Put the Squeeze on the Nerf Balls

Mark of Excellence
The most honest phrase to use when describing the crucial contribution that NU’s starting RB, Venric Mark, had on the final game results could be summed-up by the following pseudo-score : 

NorthVenric Wildcats 21 – Sorry Excuse 13.

From the first moment Mr. Mark stepped onto a NU football field as a true frosh, his lightning speed & eye-blink quickness was obvious to Fitz and his OC Mick McCall. With such a versatile weapon at their disposal, a plethora of offensive options had became available to attack and overwhelm an opponent’s defense, especially when aligned as counterpoint to the ‘Cats’ other multi-talented offensive alternative, QB Kain Colter.  However, early on, NU’s offensive brain trust recognized that Venric’s immediate playmaking potential was greatest when used as NU’s primary kick returner, specifically off punts.  And last Saturday, Mark’s punt returns were game-breaking.

Venric’s 1st punt return was a game-changer. Down 6-zip, the ‘Cats stymied the Nerf Ball O for a 3-&-out drive and prepared to convert on the change of possession off the ensuing punt.  Little did either team expect that this Wildcat possession would last a mere 12 seconds.  Mark received the punted bean at the NU 18, shot a gap between punt coverage defenders, turned on his afterburners up the right sideline, then, as his downfield blocking shielded the last few cover players, cut to his left into open space and a clear path to pay dirt.  Bang, an 82-yard punt return for TD.  Big Mo found a welcome home on the NU sidelines.  At first glance, the burst into space appeared effortless, even natural; but upon a closer inspection one can’t help but notice this young man’s quick, efficient turn over throughout his stride.  He is working it Big Time.  Coupling this rapid turn of foot with his peripheral vision while on the run, makes this player one exciting open field runner.

Venric’s 2nd punt return mirrored his 1st, where he collected the punt at the NU 20 and busted again through the SU coverage for a 52 gallop to the Sorry-Excuse 28.  Facing a short field, Colter & Co. went right to work.  On the 4th play from scrimmage, the Kain Train delivered a quick strike pass on target & in stride to some WR named Jones running a crisp 14-yard crossing route for a TD, increasing NU’s lead to 8 (21-13) - all set-up by Mr. Mark’s latest return.

Sandwiched between these 2 breathtaking punt returns, the ‘Cat secondary converted a nifty INT off a bobbled reception that gave NU possession at SU’s 21.  On the following down, Mr. Mark ran his own disciplined pass pattern into open space in the Nerf Balls’ deep middle 3rd zone, where Colter spied his open RB target and made an easy pitch & catch connection for another precision TD. 

Nobody in the Carrier Dome stands could doubt Venric’s value to the ‘Cat O.  The Orange Nerf Ball D couldn’t either.

French Pastry
Although the ‘Cat D had their frequent self-inflicted wounds and bone-headed miscues, they did manage to win the turnover (aka: French Pastry) battle with the Orange Nerf Balls 3 take-aways to 1 - of which one fumble and the only pick of the contest held game-altering significance in favor of the Wildcats. 

The INT was made via the quick reflexes of ‘Cat sophomore LB, Chi Chi Ariguzo, when he cleanly snatched the above-mentioned bobbled sideline pass in midair as the bean hovered above the target WR sprawled-out on the turf.  With ball in hand, Chi Chi leaped over the receiver and rumbled 49 yards towards the Nerf Ball goal line only to be stopped short at the Sorry-Excuse 21 setting-up the Colter-to-Mark TD completion.  Suh-weet!!!

The fumble, involving Chi Chi once more, was off a backwards pass that was ruled a lateral by the line judge. When the pass was miss-thrown in front of the target Sorry-Excuse WR, the wide-out simply misjudged its path, reached-out and batted the thrown ball to the turf, thinking that the pass was incomplete and the play over.  However, the line judge saw it differently and never did blow the whistle to signal a stoppage of play.  Ariguzo walked-up to the ball just lying there and picked it up to hand back to the ref watching the action.  Once he realized that the ref made no move whatsoever to take the ball from him, Chi Chi and his teammates knew that something other than an incomplete pass was happening. Other NU defenders quickly and correctly concluded that the play was still alive and practically pushed Chi Chi in the direction of the Sorry-Excuse goal line.  The light bulb in Ariguzo’s head turned on and the sophomore LB turned and galloped to the Nerf Ball goal line, ball still in hand. 

Some LBs wait a lifetime for an opportunity to score a TD in a real collegiate game, and Ariguzo was given a giftie TD for little more than executing some courteous post-play house-keeping.  You can bet big $$$ that Chi Chi got some well-deserved ribbing in the film room the next day.  All good stuff.        

Well Received
A most pleasant surprise to be taken from this season opener was the truth to the rumor that NU’s wide receiver corps could be among the elite of the Big 10/12 conference; and through their collective field play against the Nerf Ball secondary last Saturday, this squad lived up to such lofty speculation.  A casual observer exercising a modicum of awareness easily would have noticed that, in general, Wildcat receivers will catch the bean with regularity if delivered on target.  Quite frankly, I could only recall a few outright drops over the course of the contest.  The conclusion to this observation: if Kain Colter or his understudy, Trevor Siemian, was given to time to go through his receiver progressions and the pass was delivered on target, it was caught, regardless of the defensive coverage.  Final game passing stats bear-out this assessment – Colter was 14 0f 21 while Siemian went 8 for 11, producing a overall completion percentage of 68%. 

For a season opener, this statistic is commendable.  In this particular game, where NU’s scrappy opponent overcame a 22 point deficit to take an outright 6-point lead with under minutes to go, the ‘Cats’ offensive production depended heavily on this squad maintaining their poise and focus to make the grab when it was within their reach and, most certainly, when it mattered most – as was the case in NU’s final make or break possession of the game.  And they came-through in spades.  Way to man-up, boys!!!

New Kid on the Block
OK, here’s the scenario –
2:40 left on the clock…NU down 6… The ‘Cats with the bean at their own 25 in what, most likely, was their final offensive possession of the game… 75 yards of long green looming before them… Game hanging in the balance… Pressure & intensity among both combatants red-lined and at a fever pitch…  Everyone in attendance standing and screaming for all they are worth… And…

The ‘Cats’ all-everything QB and primary ball handler throughout the entire contest, Kain Colter, is forced to watch from the sidelines, nursing a heavily bruised shoulder following a haymaker shot to his non-throwing arm 2 possessions prior. 

No problem.  Just make the call to the bullpen for Colter’s No. 1 reliever, sophomore Trevor Siemian, and place the ball and the game in his hands - to win or lose.  What, me worry?

I must admit, I was sweating bullets at the prospect.  And I had much company among the Purple Populace.

Siemian, on the other hand, acts as if this move was little more than some SOP (standard operation procedure) exercise.  His shining star composure burns brightly through the dark mayhem swirling all around him. 

He receives the plays selected by his OC; then coolly, calmly executes them with precision that belies his youth and experience level, leading the ‘Cat O on a methodical 9-play drive into the shadows lurking beneath the Nerf Ball goal posts.  First & goal at the Sorry-Excuse 9; a minute & change left - for all the hard-fought marbles.

Then, on the next snap, Trevor collects the ball from his center, confidently stands behind his pocket protection and scans the zones in the Nerf Ball secondary for an open WR, going through his receiver progression.  He identifies senior WR Demetrius Fields gaining separation from his cover DB, sprinting to open space in the far corner of the end zone, and deftly tosses an arching pass over the cover DB.  Fields reaches-out and snares the perfectly-thrown bean in stride, feet in bounds. 

Ka-BOOM!!!  The Siemian-led ‘Cat O has just marched 75 yards in less than 2 minutes for the go-ahead TD.  Pandemonium erupts throughout Wildcat Nation. 


Despite all the negatives exhibited over the course of this game, I’m still left with a Cheshire Cat-like grin on my face days after its conclusion. 

For all the travails of the nearly non-existent pass rush from the ‘Cat DL; for all the ineptitude displayed by the ‘Cat secondary and their enigmatic inability to trust themselves and execute correct pass coverage techniques; or all the poor tackling, the missed blocks and the bungled assignments, this “W” still feels quite satisfying.

It remains a “W”, even when all seemed to go south against the ‘Cats, who held what appeared to be a commanding lead, similar to games of recent past seasons, only to unravel like a cheap suit in H-2 - like the epic collapse to MSU in 2006 and the loss to State Penn in 2010. 

I tip my hat and give credit to the Sorry-Excuse team, who kept their focus and continued with the good fight against the ‘Cats, in spite of being thrown into a 22-point hole for the first 38 minutes of this game.  They will win more games than they lose this season.

IMHO, next Saturday’s foe, the Vandy Commodes, is a much better team that the Nerf Balls - with more weapons and better coaching.  Tradition and history holds fast to the idea that the biggest improvement made by a college football team in any single season is made over the week between game 1 and game 2.  Fitz and his coaching staff have much to address and repair throughout this week.     

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

© 2012 The FEWGroup   "The Purple belongs in Pasadena!"