The Waterboy
2013 Archive

Oct. 25, 2013

The Un and Only

As in Un-focused, Un-motivated, Un-emotional, Un-inspired and Un-derachieving.

NU’s game against the Minnie Golden Rodents was supposed to represent a respite weekend in the Wildcats’ 2013 season.  You know, the game slated against the weakest opponent the ‘Cats would face within the B1G over the course of this fall’s conference campaign and one that would afford Chicago’s Big Ten Team some time to lick the wounds absorbed during their initial 2 games against conference Big Dogs from the Leaders Division: duh Ohio State BuckNuts and the Wisky Drunkards.  In fact, with their HC, Jerry Kill, held in a Minnie hospital for precautionary observation regarding his latest episode of an anxiety-wrought cardio-pulmonary malaise, the Golden Rodents logically could have been excused for taking a powder on this road game against the once highly thought-of contenders for the Legends Division championship.  However, that memo declaring the Cats’ automatic “W” apparently was never delivered to the Mighty Marmot locker room. 
I was just one of many astounded and befuddled viewers among the Purple Populace who personally witnessed the 3rd consecutive dismantling of what had been thought previously as one of the B1G’s most reliably potent offenses by a fragile but fully functional Mighty Marmot team that rose above the absence of their HC to pull out one of the most unexpected, remarkable upsets of the 2013 B1G conference season to date.

Five days after this total dismantling, I’m still trying to get my mental arms around this latest clunker from my beloved ‘Cats.  And I have not made much progress in doing so…

How the Mighty Marmots Mangled the ‘Cats

Lost In Space
For the life on me, I cannot fathom its actual causes, but ‘Cat QB, Trevor Siemian, has taken several enormous steps backwards on his capability to throw the football accurately to his target receiver since the Wisky game.  Currently, he looks like a wide-eyed, awestruck true frosh facing Division 1A competition for the first time.  It’s obvious to anyone with any level of familiarity with playing the game at the collegiate level that Mr. Siemian categorically has lost all confidence in his ability to scan the opponent’s secondary to identify an open receiver and deliver an accurate throw on time and on target successfully.  He constantly fails to recognize the number and relative physical positioning of defender(s) covering his WR targets.  If an opponent’s pass rush gets into his grill, he gets rattled – and if that rush is applied early and often, as was done in the last 2 games, Trevor is lost in space.  Taken as a whole, Siemian’s diminished passing skills have become an extreme liability for the ‘Cat O.

I cannot imagine how his QB coach, OC Mick McCall, avoids tearing his hair out at the roots when viewing the continued downward spiral of the passing acumen of his previously ultra-reliable QB.  One obvious item I have noticed is that McCall has simplified (read: dummied-down) Siemian’s passing techniques heavily over NU’s last 2 opponents.  Like a true star-struck frosh, he now focuses in on his primary WR target at the snap of the ball on any executed pass play, telegraphing his primary receiver to an opponent’s DBs with little to no disguising whatsoever.  Last season, Siemian developed a very effective knack of looking off his prime receiver and focusing in on a secondary receiver to draw opposing pass coverage away from his primary target, and that served him and his O’s passing attack very well.  Over the last 2 games, this look-off technique seemingly has evaporated into thin air. 

So what does the defensively challenged Golden Rodents do when facing a confidence conflicted Siemian?  They set their secondary in vanilla man-to-man coverage then allow the pressure of executing a positive play within whatever down & distance situation is at hand, coupled with whatever pass rush pressure might be applied, get into Siemian’s head and watch him implode.  This is exactly what happened on Trevor’s Pick-6 INT in Q3 when a slow, plodding Sam LB followed the Purple QB’s obvious telegraph of his intended WR and waited for Siemian to look beyond him and toss a soft, gimme throw into his mitts.  It wasn’t even as if this LB jumped the route of the target receiver; he simply let the QB’s diminished coverage recognition skill come to the fore and wait for Siemian to do the rest.  This was a huge mistake that not only exacerbated the growing conflict of conscience for Siemian; it was THE deciding play and points of the game.

More OL Troubles
I’ve never done this in my many years of proffering post-game commentary regarding NU game-time football fortunes; but I must do so in this case…  Two starters on the Cats’ OL must be replaced ASAP – in particular, the starting RG and LT (names withheld out of respect for those individuals).  Simply stated, their field play is not up to starting OL standards for a B1G offense.  They are lost and together pose a major cause why NU’s ground attack has been neutralized and why QB Trevor Siemian is running for his life 60-70% of all pass plays called by OC Mick McCall.  They are NOT getting the job done, period.  Immediate intervention by HC Fitz and OL coach Adam Cushing is of paramount importance to regain control of this devastating lack of effective field play across the starting OL before the 2013 season and its chance at a 6th consecutive bowl game goes down the toilet.  If I sound like Chicken Little, then I am – and I am that serious regarding this dire evaluation.  I will not provide written examples, it’s not necessary.  However, suffice it to say, any brief review of offensive video from NU’s last 2 football games, even by the casual inexperienced fan, will underscore the continued failures by the line to block opposing lineman on any particular down, especially in pass protection blocking schemes.  It has come to that.  I apologize at being so blunt and direct.

More Defensive Front 7 Troubles
Add to the mix, the tackling competency failures of the ‘Cats’ Defensive Front 7 and the recipe for continued diminished score or point prevention by the NU D is solidifying.  Without a doubt, the Golden Rodent’s ground game is pedestrian at best, yet throughout last Saturday’s contest against the ‘Cats, the Mighty Marmot rush attack continually ran over, around and through the constant arm tackles and flat-out throws-n-misses by NU’s defensive Front 7.  It was an embarrassment.  And when the game was in the balance during the last 2 offensive possessions of the Golden Rodents in Q4, NU could not answer their opponent’s rushing attack.  I don’t know what is going on with Doc’s troops, but collectively they could not and did not defend Minnie’s point of rush attack for 8 minutes of the game’s final 11, allowing the Mighty Marmot O to hold serve and make first down after first down as the ‘Cats watched their chances at mounting any kind of a furious comeback just wither on the vine. 

The victory paradigm is now apparent for any and all future B1G opponents scheduled to face the ‘Cats for the remainder of the 2013 campaign:  Stuff the pigskin down the collective throats of NU’s Defensive Front 7 on the ground and watch them gag then roll over and play dead, allowing points on the scoreboard in the process.  Extended offensive possessions via a run-first O will not only burn time off the game clock, it will also keep the ball out of the hands of the ‘Cat O as well.  Not a bad strategy against a bad rush D.

The 2013 ‘Cats are at a crossroads.  They can either extract their collective heads from their collective moons & begin to play competitive B1G conference football by - 
•    Siemian has got to find himself and his confidence when delivering an accurate pass on time and on target.
•    The ‘Cats’ RG & LT have got to get their individual blocking capabilities in hand or get benched.
•    The ‘Cat Defensive Front 7 better learn how to break down fronting the opposing ball carrier then drive into & through his midsection to complete a solid tackle.
...or mail-in the rest of the season, losing the rest of the games of 2013. 

The ‘Cats are playing that poorly.  It is something I haven’t witnessed in over 6 years with Fitz as ‘Cat HC, but it’s there in all its stark and stinking reality.  And it goes beyond flushing the past. 

Each player MUST recognize and resolve his individual field play problems and failures via using correct techniques and work together towards improvement in all phases of the game.  It’s now or never.
The Waterboy
“Win with Grace, Lose with Dignity”

Oct. 18, 2013

Badger Blow Out

It’s taken 5 full days for me to collect my emotional composure after having witnessed last Saturday’s Badger blitzkrieg that left the Wildcats resembling repeatedly flattened road kill.  This unequivocal beat-down was not your run-of-the-mill dismantling of a good football team.  No, it was something much, much more.  It was nothing less than a public evisceration - one that was as complete psychologically as it was physically.  By Q4, the ‘Cats appeared to have donned their Halloween costumes 3 weeks early and reprised their collective roles as doddering, brain-dead zombies from the classic horror film, Night of the Living Dead, while being serenaded to the bucolic strains of Roll Out the Barrels by the Wisky Marching Band.  The whole ghastly scene reminded me of the very poor, time-worn joke usually reserved for the Ohio State – Michigan rivalry…
Q:    How do you make a batch of Wildcat cookies?
A:    Put them in a bowl and beat them for 3 hours

However, in retrospect, this horrifying outcome was not totally unexpected.  Quite the contrary, I for one, had cautioned many euphoric NU fan following the competitive loss to the BuckNuts the weekend before that the ‘Cats did not match-up well on any level with the Wisky Drunkards.  And last Saturday’s shellacking proved that cautionary comment very prophetic.  The Wildcats were thoroughly throttled in all 3 phases of field play: offense, defense and special teams - the greatest wholesale neutering of the ‘Cats that I have seen since, well, since the last time the Wildcats played Wisky on their MadTown home turf.  Nobody, and I mean absolutely nobody, among those football players wearing a Purple jersey distinguished themselves as a competitive difference maker in this forgettable game.

Therefore, in keeping with the theme of forgetting this monumental Wildcat clunker, I will do my part to keep further bashing of the pigskin ‘Cats to a minimum in the game commentary below.  After all, there is little to be gained by beating a dead ‘Cat.  

How Wisky Spayed the ‘Cats

Ankle Bites
When NU’s No. 1A QB, Kain Colter, went down early in Q1 with what was reported to be yet another episode in his continuing saga of a reoccurring ankle sprain, things began to unravel offensively for the ‘Cats.  When highly-prized RB Venric Mark absorbed a similar debilitating ankle ding, yardage production capabilities for the ‘Cats went downhill but fast.  As a fan, I truly have no clue regarding the severity of these persistent injuries to NU’s two most prolific offensive weapons, but it has become painfully (note: obvious pun intended) clear that there is much more to these “lower extremity” situations than what has been made known to the public at large, especially when one considers their mutual impact on NU’s 2013gridiron campaign going forward. 

With both Colter and Mark riding pine from mid-Q1 on, most of the diverse attack options for OC McCall’s O become compromised and limited.  Against the Wisky Drunkards, the elimination of these two crucial weapons for the remainder of the game spelled disaster for NU simply because it amplified the talent gap between the ‘Cat O’s attack options and Wisky’s D. 

With Colter & Mark’s availability now in doubt, NU’s remaining 2013 foes, beginning with the Minnie Mighty Marmots next weekend, will be licking their chops to study game videos and replicate similarly effective lock-down defensive strategies as has been conceived and exercised by the BuckNuts and Badgers towards bottling-up what was once considered one of the more potent offenses in the B1G conference and rendering it impotent and irrelevant.   

A Bad Case of Dropsie
I don’t know what was worse regarding the ‘Cat O once Colter & Mark were sent packing for the day -
•    The complete lack of accuracy and/or timing by NU’s still-standing QB, Trevor Siemian, when throwing a pass of any kind
•    That seemingly irreversible infectious disease contracted at the game’s opening whistle by every member of the Wildcat receiving corps, called dropsie
IMHO, the worse of the two options above was the dropsie disease. 

NU’s final combined passing stats of 17 completions for 39 attempts truly don’t do justice to the debilitating effects of this disease.  Of the ‘Cats’ 22 incompletions, at least a dozen were thrown accurately to their target WR, yet were inexplicably dropped outright.  Of the remaining 10 incompletions, Siemian’s seemingly unshakable passing acumen, even in the face of unrelenting pass rush pressure, took the Evanston Express to the Loop and left him lacking and lost.  The Wisky D just fed off the lack of any viable passing offense from the Wildcats and summarily ate NU’s offensive lunch then threw the wadded-up empty paper bag back into their visitors’ collective face. 

All of which led to…

Of NU’s 15 offensive possessions over the course of the contest, 8 were of the 3-n-out variety.  That computes to an offensive futility coefficient of over 50%, augmented by a 2 for 17 3rd down conversion statistic.  Sauce for NU’s fetid, stinking goose egg that was this game.


More Holes than the Dutch Boy’s Dyke
I’ll reiterate once more what I stated over the week prior to last Saturday’s debacle on the gridiron of Camp Randall – the ‘Cats just don’t match-up well with Wisky’s personnel, on either side of the LOS.  Simply stated, the ‘Cats have too many holes at critical position points to maintain their competitive edge against an elite team like the Drunkards for an entire 60 minutes.  Not many teams populating the NCAA’s Division 1A can or will, for that matter.  Most glaring of these mismatches/holes can be attributed within NU’s OL and DL.  Owning primarily to injuries to key personnel populating their DL, those holes within the ‘Cats’ Defensive Front 7 were expanded and awaited exploitation in last weekend’s game.  And Wisky’s OC wasted little time in taking total advantage of the depleted rush defense profile for the Wildcats.

Those various holes within NU’s OL & DL and their causes are too numerous and complex to expand-upon, so further detailed commentary is moot.  Suffice it to say that the pervasive field play issues of NU’s linemen, exposed during the OOC games with Western Michigan and Maine, currently are compounded in the face of higher quality B1G competition and require immediate address by Fitz and his coaching staff.  Mind you, NU’s last 2 opponents are among the very best of the conference, if not the country; however, when the rubber hits the road, those problems remain regardless of the opponent.  The fixes are not quick ones, but can be implemented. 

Mostly, it’s a matter of the level of motivation resident within that organ located between the breastbone and backbone of each Wildcat player.

‘Nuff said.  


OK, OK… so the ‘Cats threw-in a clunker in an uber-hostile road game facing the Wisky Drunkards.  Hopefully it’s ‘Cats’ last clunker of the 2013 season; so I’ll exercise some pragmatism and give ‘em a mulligan.

This coming weekend it’s more home cookin’ within the friendly confines of Dyche’s Ditch against the Minnie Golden Rodents, a B1G team struggling with their own field play inconsistencies across many positions.  Time for the Wildcats to find their groove once more and get back to their competitive winning ways.

The Waterboy
“Win with Grace, Lose with Dignity”

Oct. 11, 2013

Very Good But Not Great - Yet

Last Saturday’s prime time, marquee matchup between two of the best teams in the B1G delivered what many of these made-for-masses collegiate football games do not: it lived-up to its pregame hype.  What conclusions may be drawn from this expected gigantic grapple between the #16-ranked ‘Cats and #3-ranked BuckNuts, the most obvious one: the 2013 Wildcats are a very good team, but remain less than great.  For 3.5 quarters, the ‘Cats confronted the challenge and stood toe-to-toe, exchanging haymakers and body shots with a foe who, according to many media pundits, were regarded arguably as the best in the conference, but in the end, missed the opportunity to beat them simply because they did not seal the deal in the game’s final 9 minutes and change.  This last sentence contains a subtle, significant point in its message.  Notice that it did not state that the ‘Cats could not seal the deal.  And therein lies the difference.

The titanic effort displayed by the Wildcats through those initial 51 minutes indisputably showed that this team deserves mention among the B1G’s elite in 2013.  The Fitz-led ‘Cats took the Big Bad BuckNuts to the wall.  The Purple & Black-clad warriors not only required but demanded those numerous highly-touted 4 and 5-star guests dressed in Scarlet & Gray to dig down deep and roll-out their entire arsenal to match the fight and resolve of their hosts.  Just one more stop by the Wildcat D, followed by one more offensive outburst by the Purple O that would have burned precious time off the game clock, and the brass ring would have been within reach.  By game’s end, both combatants were battered, bruised and thoroughly exhausted, each having given the full measure of their collective gridiron talent and left it all on the field with their gas tank emptied.  It truly was great theater and I, for one, could not be prouder of my ‘Cats regarding what I witnessed on the green grass of Dyche’s Ditch.  Were NU’s opponent any other top tier team from the B1G that evening, including the Wisky Drunkards, the Nebraska BugEaters or the Dazed & Blue Horde from Annie’s Treehouse, the Wildcats would have captured the flag with “W” emblazoned on it.

And through it all, despite reaching-for and not quite snatching that brass ring, the ‘Cats might have grasped something just as elusive and valued.  R-E-S-P-E-C-T.  

This is no lightweight achievement.  Competitive respect among its Division 1A peers, especially within the ranks of the B1G, has been the No. 1 prize towards which HC Pat Fitzgerald and his coaching staff have driven the NU football program these last 8 years, forging improvement across every position on either side of the LOS in the crucible of integrity, hard work, dedication and flushing both the successes and failures of the past.  Mind you, this lofty goal remains a work in progress.  Fitz has stated categorically that his team is far from a finished product, as the many critical but correctable mistakes made during this nationally broadcast contest underscore.  However, this one game has shown that our ‘Cats are poised to do something remarkable… compete with the Big Dogs of the B1G for the conference championship.  

How the BuckNuts Bested the ‘Cats

Purple French Pastry
When constructing a game plan to compete with the No. 3 team in the country, the single most critical offensive objective is to eliminate turnovers.  In a contest of this magnitude, against a perennial powerhouse opponent like the BuckNuts who possess as many offensive weapons as they do, any turnover is amplified.  It can become a game changing mistake that not only gives your opposition an additional possession, on most occasions it will give him field position that provides a short field scoring opportunity.  Bottom line: eliminating the turnover is paramount for victory.

Unfortunately for the ‘Cats, they had two, both of which, combined, cost them the game.

The first was the BuckNuts’ devastating blocked punt in NU’s end zone in Q1.  Statistically, a blocked punt is not a turnover, since the intent of the play is a change of possession to your opponent anyways.  However, when it comes right down to it, this blocked punt consequently was a turnover that was recovered in the ‘Cat endzone for the BuckNuts’ first TD of the game.  The concept behind the blocked punt was simple and its execution was flawless.  The OSU punt return squad overloaded the left side of the LOS with 5 punt rushers fronting NU’s 3 OL backed by two 2nd-level blockers.  At the snap, the 5 BuckNut rushers crashed hard and engaged the 3 OL, with 4 breaking free and clear beyond this 1st-level group at the LOS.  Those 4 clear rushers swarmed the 2nd-level blockers and smothered NU’s 3-step punter, Brandon Williams, in one motion.  Bang.  Punt blocked, with ball laying on the endzone turf that was summarily scooped-up, essentially converting a turnover TD. 

In retrospect, what was most galling about this play was that the BuckNuts’ intent to go for the punt block was not disguised whatsoever and was readily identifiable as the OSU punt return team lined-up at the LOS.  For the love of Willie, just recognize the defensive formation in front of you and either call a blocking audible or, better still, call a time-out to collect yourself and reset a punt block scheme to counter the obvious frenetic rush off the edge.  Neither was done.  Consequently, the albatross of blame for this monumental gaffe gets hung around the neck of the Special Teams coach - HC Fitz.  This punt block and recovery by the BuckNuts was totally avoidable.  And its TD proved to be the game deciding points at the final gun. 

The second turnover was Siemian’s INT in Q4.  A square-out route from WR target Rashad Lawrence to the wide side of the field was read perfectly by BuckNut CB, Doran Grant, who collected his feet and jumped Siemian’s frozen rope throw for an easy pick at NU’s 23.  With short field in front of them and RB Carlos Hyde running roughshod over the ‘Cat defensive front 6, it took the BuckNut O only 4 plays and a mere 57 seconds to convert this turnover into a 2nd completely avoidable TD.  The ‘Cats could not afford to give the BuckNuts such a gift-wrapped freebie short field scoring opportunity.  Eliminate this turnover and it’s a whole different game. 

McCall’s Substitution Miscue
Q4 was nothing less than an exhibition of offensive fireworks by both the ‘Cats and the BuckNuts. 

After stoning OSU’s O on their 1st possession in Q4, a 39 yard BuckNut punt gave NU possession on their own 13 with Siemian at the helm of the Wildcat O nursing a 23-20 lead.  Three plays later, Siemian telegraphs his throw and gets picked-off by BuckNut CB Grant.  Facing this short field scoring opportunity, OSU QB Braxton Miller showcases his elusive running skills, dodging NU tacklers in the BuckNut backfield or slipping-around NU’s right outside corner contain for substantial yardage on 4 consecutive plays.  RB Carlos Hyde caps-off this possession with his own 7-yard burst around NU’s right corner contain to TD pay dirt recapturing a 27-23 lead. 

Undaunted by the previous INT gaffe from his passing QB, ‘Cat OC Mick McCall decided to keep Siemian behind the wheel of the Purple O on the ensuing offensive series after kickoff.  Siemian rewards his OC’s confidence by flushing his passing blunder and completing this next 3 throws – including a nifty pitch-n-catch to WR Rashad Lawrence running a 10-yard crossing pattern who turns downfield, lights his afterburners  and picks-up 67 yards, followed 3 downs afterwards by a heady 12-yard completion to WR Cameron Dickerson in the OSU endzone for the go-ahead, response TD, giving the ‘Cats a 30-27 lead with 9 minutes & change left on the clock.

On the subsequent BuckNut series after kickoff, OSU QB Miller weaves more of his athletic, elusive magic once again, dodging Purple DEs or OLBs crashing down his throat off the defensive edge or slipping-around NU’s corner contain, to complete 4 straight passes culminating in a 2nd go-ahead TD in as many consecutive possessions, giving the BuckNuts a 34-30 lead with 5:22 to go. 

The game has now turned into an aerial circus shootout.

IMHO, this is the point where Mick McCall made his biggest coaching mistake of this game and greater still, of the 2013 season.  Instead of continuing to employ his passing QB option, Trevor Siemian, in this do-or-die possession, he hands the reins of the ‘Cat O over to his rush-first QB, Kain Colter.  At this critical juncture of the game, with precious time winding down, it was mandatory that NU’s O retain its explosive pass-first attack profile with Siemian as gunslinger QB augmented by Kain Colter as his primary receiving option running pass routes into open space in the BuckNut secondary.  Instead, McCall sets Colter as QB in shotgun formation in the NU backfield on this end-game offensive series, essentially letting the BuckNut secondary off the hook because the Wildcats’ quick-strike passing attack spearhead was left riding pine on the home sideline. 

Mick McCall knows better.

6 In The Box
When developing his defensive game plan, DC Doc Hankwitz had to choose between one of two counter-offensive strategies – either defend the BuckNuts’ mobile QB or stone the bruising BuckNut ground game.  Doc’s decision was set his troops to limit the yardage gain capabilities of Braxton Miller, the prolific BuckNut mobile QB option first.  To do so, he employed a 6-man defensive front – 4 DL at the LOS with 2 LBs set in the 2nd-level – affording NU’s secondary an extra DB, essentially setting their base defensive formation with a nickel pass coverage package.

Review of the game video shows that Doc used this 6-in-the-box defensive front set throughout the game and, in fact, it was effective in limiting both the explosion pass play and the big yardage gain rush.  Over the course of the contest, the BuckNut O had only 1 play that gained 20-plus yards - a pass play in Q4.  This is quite a feat; even Wisky’s strong D could not boast this kind of explosion play limitation against the BuckNuts in their game last weekend.

However, in taking one attack option away, this 6-in-the-box defensive set made the ‘Cat D vulnerable when countering the BuckNut ground-n-pound rushing attack and its primary weapon, the 245lb bowling ball named RB Carlos Hyde. The biggest problem for NU’s Defensive Front 6 was that the DTs simply could not match-up physically with the BuckNuts’ OG-OC-OG road-grating trio and were summarily man-handled and beaten like red-haired stepchildren from the opening whistle to the final gun.  In general, this Scarlet & Gray OL trio double-teamed the DT nearest the point of attack while the opposite OG position blocked the remaining DT.  Once momentum of the point-of-attack DT was neutralized, the free OC or OG peeled-off and rumbled into the ‘Cat 2nd-level looking to careen into the nearest LB, mainly the Sam backer.  The result, Hyde blasted for total 168 yards on 25 rushing attempts for a 6.8 yard average – one of his the best rushing games of his collegiate career.  And there was little Doc or his defensive personnel could do about it. 

As his Front 6 personnel got worn-down in H-2, Doc often opted to crash the strong-side DE or OLB to the inside of the BuckNut OL to force an extra body into the mix and possibly disrupt the bulldozer flow of the BuckNut interior rushing attack.  All this did was open the corner contain of the defensive edge outside that crashing DE or OLB for exploitation – which QB Miller or RB Hyde did early and often.

It was a pick you poison defensive strategy and it nearly worked.  But only nearly.    


So now, the 2013 ‘Cats know what it’s like to lock horns with BCS Championship-caliber football team.  To their credit, the Wildcats did not back down and fought their hearts out, holding their own valiantly against what many would claim was a superior team for the game’s first 50 minutes.  However, with the remorseless pounding laid upon Doc’s Defensive Front 6 coupled with McCall’s QB substitution brain-fart, the ‘Cats needed direct intervention from that fickle persona, Lady Luck.  Unfortunately for Fitz and his ‘Cats, Lady Luck was left waiting in the wings by several glaringly bad calls by the refs, which I will not expand-upon in this commentary.

Suffice it to say, the ‘Cats did make a strong statement to a national prime-time viewing audience that this is a football program is very good and stands on the brink of bigger and better things.  NU just needs to find the way to finish the job against their Big Dog competition.  To do so, the Purple ’Cats need to get more of those elite players on the field via their experience, their strength and conditioning program and their recruiting program.  It will happen; stay tuned.

This coming Saturday, the ‘Cats face the 2nd half of their mid-season Big Dog Tandem Challenge in a road game against the Wisky Drunkards, who perennially field one of the preeminent rushing attacks in all of Division 1A.  There are much better places to salve your wounds than Camp Randall, especially those deep body shots absorbed by NU’s Defensive Front personnel from the BuckNut ground game. 

Time to flush whatever lasting effects may have been delivered to the ‘Cats during the BuckNut clash and meet their next booze-addled foe head on with another exhibition of hard-nosed field play.  The gauntlet has been thrown.  Time for the ‘Cat D to pick it up.

The Waterboy
“Win with Grace, Lose with Dignity”

Sept. 19, 2013

Night of the Living Dead

I truly can’t say which team’s offense was more performance challenged last Saturday evening, the Western Michigan Bronco Billies or the sleepwalking Wildcats.  Through the contest’s opening 20 minutes, the ‘Cats, a prohibitive 31 point favorite, appeared more absorbed with wiping sandman dust from their eyes and cobwebs from their heads than executing Mick McCall’s game plan on their first 4 possessions of the game.  Even after the Bronco Billies scored the game’s initial points via a FG late in Q1, the overall response of the somnolent Purple O was as if they had heard the buzzer go off from their bedside alarm clock only to hit the snooze button, roll-over and fall back into their collective slumber for another 5 minutes reprieve before forced to answer the next wake-up call and face their foe from Kalamazoo.  The Bronco Billies, doing their best to play the part of the overwhelmed underdog, turned the bean over on downs to the ‘Cats in their own territory on their first 3 possessions of the game, giving the host team starting positions at the WMU 45, 27 and 45, respectively.  Those 3 possessions alone provided the ‘Cat O gift-wrapped short field scoring opportunities which, if any 2 had been converted into scoreboard points, would have buried the Bronco Billies deep in a 2 score deficit hole and summarily rung the death knell for the visiting team early in Q1. 

Instead, the ‘Cat offense squandered each of these significant field position breaks:
•    Possession No. 1 - Colter throws a head-scratching INT on 1st down
•    Possession No. 2 - the Purple OL gives-up a TFL, 2 penalties and a sack on 4 consecutive downs
•    Possession No.3 - with Siemian at QB, NU’s offense sputters & stalls after an unremarkable 4 down drive.
Even NU’s very own Mr. Reliable, K Jeff Budzien, was bitten by the poor performance bug in possession No. 3, uncharacteristically hooking a pedestrian 42-yard FG attempt wide left and recording his first missed FG of the 2013 campaign. 

Finally, on WMU’s first possession in Q2, ‘Cat captain and starting SS Ibrahim Campbell generated a much-needed spark that lit the competitive fires of his offensive counterparts by converting an athletic INT that gave the ‘Cats possession at their own 43.  From that point forward, the Wildcat O hunkered down to the task at hand and went to work in earnest against the Western Michigan D.  

Mind you, most every college football team will throw-in a clunker sometime during a single season; and last Saturday, more than half the B1G teams elected to exercise that seasonal mulligan.  Fortunately for the ‘Cats,    their opposition in their field play version of “Night of the Living Dead” was a totally overmatched Western Michigan squad who, on the previous weekend, had been dragged to the shed and thoroughly thrashed by FCS powerhouse (heavy sarcasm here), Nichols State, in their season home opener.  Extrapolating from that effort, the true threat of a meltdown by NU, leading to an incomprehensible loss to the Bronco Billies, was minimal at best.

The most notable positive that NU netted from this titanic taffy pull, aside from capturing the expected “W”, was that no significant injuries were inflicted upon any of the ‘Cats’ primary playmakers over its course.  However, that dubious detail did little to mitigate the more important point that the Wildcat starters blew a golden opportunity to provide their 2nd and 3rd teamers valuable PT to refine their individual football skills against FBS competition in real game situations.  Bottom line: wake-up challenges notwithstanding, Fitz and his 17th ranked Wildcats did the needful against the Bronco Billies and delivered a comfortable 3 TD victory while keeping projections of an unblemished record intact as they work their way through the non-conference portion of their 2013 schedule. 

Hopefully, Fitz and his coaching staff have voiced the imperative to their troops to maintain restraint against any premature rumination regarding their much anticipated showdown with Da BuckNuts in 3 weeks’ time.  Contemplation of this type is difficult to confine, especially when one considers the youth and inexperience of many of the players populating the 2013 2-deep depth chart, each of whom are champing at the bit to make a personal impact in that upcoming contest of undefeated teams.  From this fan’s perspective, such consuming thoughts could have been a substantial contributor in the failure of this team’s thoroughbreds to break cleanly from this game’s starting gate.   

How the ‘Cats Corralled the Broncos

Getting It Right
Of all Wildcat squads who were left snoozing at their post position within the game’s starting gate, the most noticeable was NU’s OL.  Those initial 20 minutes found this crucial component of the ‘Cat offense slightly hesitant when either getting off the LOS at the snap of the ball or engaging/locking-onto to their blocking target(s).  It was merely a moment’s hesitation, but it was enough to make all the difference in the world, limiting the yardage production capacity of NU’s O, especially in attempts to gain that critical first down to sustain an individual scoring drive.  I can only speculate on its causes – perhaps confusion in recognizing the defensive formation facing them; or perhaps confusion regarding an audible that had individual linemen scrolling through their mental playbook and tentative when identifying or calling-out their correct blocking assignments for the particular play being called.  Whatever the cause, breakdowns in blocking execution were evident across the LOS.  Only after Campbell’s INT did the Wildcat OL extract their collective heads from their moons and regain focus on getting all things blocking right. 

Capitalizing on the momentum provided by that INT, the ‘Cats’ Colter/Siemian-led O scored 3 TDs and a FG on 4 consecutive possessions, each having zero negative yardage downs, to give NU a 24-10 lead heading into halftime.  That offensive momentum continued on NU’s 1st possession of H-2, as the Purple O took possession at their 13 yard line and drove 87 yards behind the quality blocking of its OL for their 4th TD of the contest that increased their lead to 21 points.  From that juncture until the final gun, the ‘Cats’ lead never dipped below that 3 TD differential.  All this scoring was due particularly to NU’s OL who efficiently controlled WMU’s defensive front 7 and the LOS from Q2 through the remainder of the game.  A commendable field play turn-around, indeed.

Running Wild(cats)
The ‘Cats continued their effective rushing attack for the 3rd straight game within this fall’s campaign against the Bronco Billes, as Junior RB Treyvon Green, substituting for injured starting RB Venric Mark once again, contributed impressively to NU’s ground game, rushing for 158 total yards on 20 attempts – averaging just under 8 yards per carry – while scoring 2 TDs.  These substantive rushing stats are commonly what is expected from a proto-typical Wisconsin starting RB, not a 3rd-string sub RB trotted-out from NU’s thoroughbred racing stable.  But Mr. Green has made the most of his PT thus far in 2013, showing his personal growth in becoming a reliably productive rushing force to be reckoned-with while underscoring the deepening depth at the RB position that Fitz and OC Mick McCall have recruited and mentored over the last several seasons.  When Mr. Mark finally does return from the PUP (physically unable to play) list in the near future, there could be an interchangeable 2-headed RB monster that lines-up behind NU’s interchangeable two-headed QB monster. 

Not lost in the euphoria surrounding Treyvon’s continued success at the starting RB position was QB Kain Colter’s recovery from a concussion sustained on NU’s 1st offensive series of the 2013 season opener against Cal and his return to near 2012 mid-season rushing form against Western Michigan.  Colter collected 106 yards net off 15 carries and scored a TD of his own.  Add RB Mark Trumpy’s 46 yards and TD rushing into the mix, and NU’s ground game became the predominant, go-to mode of attack against Western Michigan’s D. 


Improving D
The most suspect tendency for NU’s D over the last decade or more has been their penchant for giving-up the explosion or home run play of 20-plus yards.  This tendency is nothing new for the ‘Cat D and, unfortunately, has been and continues to be a frustratingly constant threat through the first 2 games in 2013.  In last Saturday’s 48-27 win against Sorry Excuse, the explosion play reared its ugly head once again over Doc Hankwitz’ D as his squad gave-up 4 explosion passes to the Orange Nerf Ball O, each of which were key positive yardage downs in their 3 TD scoring drives.  With a doubt, improvement in limiting this momentum-changing tendency was a priority for the ‘Cat D throughout WMU game week practices.  Although a modicum of progress towards that 20-yard play limitation goal was achieved, the Bronco yardage production-challenged O still managed to pop 2 explosion passes of 75 and 25 yards respectively on the ‘Cat D, each resulting in a wholly avoidable TD.

Yet despite these glaring single-play defensive gaffes, Doc’s D did have a relatively good game, allowing only 245 total yards, adjusted for the 100 yards from the 2 explosion plays, and only 17 first downs.  Beyond their 3 scoring drives, WMU booked net yardage totals of 6, 4, 19, 3, 23, 26, 27, 50, 9 and 33 yards across their 10 remaining offensive possessions.  All things considered, these non-scoring drive yardage totals underscored the fact that the ‘Cat D kept the Bronco Billie O relatively wrapped-up for whole portions of the game.  Certainly not a lockdown effort, but effective enough to get the job done against a lesser opponent. 


In retrospect, there is not much more that requires additional commentary.  Yes, the ‘Cats were late to answer the opening bell in Q1, but recovered their composure and concentration to take the fight to the WMU Bronco Billies over much of the next 3 quarters with enough regularity that little doubt remained regarding the eventual end-game outcome.  And quite honestly, 31-point favorites be damned.  Fitz is not the type of HC to dog pile an overwhelmed opponent for more than 4 TDs; and he certainly demonstrated that gracious characteristic in this victory.  Claiming and hoisting the “W” flag without serious injury to key personnel was the primary goal of the game and it was delivered.

So now, the ‘Cats close the book on WMU and move on to face their only FCS-level opponent for the 2013 campaign, the University of Maine Black Barts, this coming weekend.  Make no mistake, Maine does possess viable collegiate football talent on either side of the LOS, more than what is possessed by WMU, but still not enough, at least on paper, to mount a substantial challenge to the improving Wildcats. 

Time to get the starting Purple O & D to do their jobs and gain control of the field play early in the contest, then proffer as much real game PT to their back-up personnel as is possible under the circumstances – which should be a great deal.   

The Waterboy
“Win with Grace, Lose with Dignity”

p.s. – I will not be attending the NU vs U of Maine game due to important personal commitments (have been invited by bro to attend the 40 anniversary of the Noted Dames’ ’73 National Championship) so expectation of generating commentary on the Maine game will be slight.  

Sept. 11, 2012

”They were Who We Thought They Were”:
Sorry Excuse

The Cats’ second foe, the Sorry Excuse Orange Nerf Balls, shared a crucial characteristic with NU’s first opponent, The Cal Golden Bores: both football programs were replacing an established coaching regime with a new one for the 2013 season.  Consequently, Sorry Excuse, like Cal, would field a team that generally would be a challenge to prepare for if only due to the great unknown factor that a new HC and his fresh pigskin philosophy could or would bring to the competitive table.  Unfortunately, that’s about where the similarities between Sorry Excuse and Cal end because unlike Cal, whose cupboard was loaded with high quality, ready-for-immediate-use football talent, particularly at the skill positions, incoming Orange Nerf Ball HC, Scott Schafer, inherited a talent larder that essentially was comparatively bare. 

In week #1, the Nerf Balls struggled mightily against a weak State Penn team, particularly in regards to their O.  Out of some morbid curiosity to see if the 5+1 season sanctions imposed against the Inmates really amounted to much in year 2 of their handcuffing by the NCAA, I viewed the game for over 20 minutes, mostly in H-1.  What I witnessed was universal ineptitude on both sides of the LOS from a Sorry-Excuse team that went well beyond first game jitters or their failures to execute what might have been a relatively novel game plan from their newly installed coaching staff.  Most notable, the field play of the Orange Nerf Ball O was downright putrid.  Blocking by their OL was spotty at best and the passing game from new QB, Drew Allen, was woefully inconsistent as he looked totally out of synch with his receiving corps for whole stretches of the game.  Defensively, Sorry-Excuse fared little better.  Although State Penn’s highly touted “2012 top QB recruit in the nation” QB, Chistian Hackenberg, struggled at times in his college debut, throwing 3 INTs, he still showed flashes of poise and quality passing skills when carving-up the suspect Orange Nerf Ball secondary for 278 total yards, which included explosion TD passes of 51 and 54 yards.  And yet, Sorry-Excuse remained competitive with the Inmates, simply because both teams bumbled and stumbled their way through an unspectacular, mistake-laden H-1 on either side of the LOS.  Upon viewing this forgettable bug tussle my final evaluation: Sorry Excuse was a weak sister and primed for a spanking from the ‘Cats.  

In the week leading up to last Saturday’s grapple, the betting line for the NU-Sorry Excuse game from gaming prognosticators out of Sin City ballooned to +17.5, a point spread that, frankly, I felt was low.  And after having observed the product that the new Sorry Excuse coaching staff trotted-out to meet the Inmates of State Penn the previous Saturday, I truly believed that a point spread of 30 points was much more appropriate and confidently relayed this opinion to many fellow tailgaters in the West parking lot with whom I reveled before the 5 PM kickoff.  In the end, this prediction was not far off. 

How the ‘Cats Squeezed the Orange

Early & Often
The two-headed QB Godzilla in Kain Colter and Trevor Siemian, meticulously crafted by OC Mick McCall starting in the 2012 pre-season and continuing into game 2 of the 2013 campaign, was unveiled before an expectant throng of over 38,000 Wildcat fans; and Godzilla put on quite a show.  This dynamic duo lead a prolific Purple offensive juggernaut that scored on 6 of its 7 H-1 possessions, completing a combined 22 of 24 pass attempts for 3 TDs to 3 different receivers, augmented by a nifty 16-yard scamper for a 4th TD by Mr. Colter.  K Jeff Budzien booted 2 FGs into the scoring mix as well, giving the ‘Cats a commanding 34-7 lead at the halftime break.  By far, H-1 was the most dominating display of firepower by a Wildcat O that I personally have witnessed since the arrival of McCall onto the Evanston campus.  His grooming of Colter & Siemian into a powerfully effective, seamlessly interchangeable quarterback tandem has been and remains a monumental achievement.  It both defies and debunks long-standing conventional wisdom among football traditionalists that a collegiate offense ship cannot be piloted by 2 “starting” QBs at the same time without self-imploding and rendering that ship rudderless and adrift at sea.  Truth be told, the porous Sorry Excuse D did its part, as expected, and all its deficiencies which I had observed from their 1st game remained unchanged when facing  the ‘Cat O.  The Nerf Ball defenders appeared wholly disconnected and incapable of challenging the precision onslaught laid on them by the Colter & Siemian-led offense, as this game’s final outcome was all but decided by the end of H-1.  I was amazed that the Sorry Excuse team who took NU to the wall in 2012 requiring last minute aerial heroics from Siemian to salvage the “W” had degraded to this inept state in a year’s time.                    

Coming into Their Own
Many ‘Cat fans who witnessed preseason practices at Kamp Kenosha reported that the Wildcat WRs were a greatly improved squad and melding into a force to be reckoned-with for the 2013 season. Although some of those reporting sources are prone to hyperbole in their evaluations, to this point, they were spot on.  The overall improvement by the entire ‘Cat receiving corps in speed, route discipline, ability to gain separation from their coverage DB, commitment/focus to complete the catch despite knowing full well that they will be on the receiving end of a hard hit and run blocking was evident throughout last Saturday’s contest.   Coupled with the surgical efficiency of McCall’s 2-headed QB monster, the ‘Cat passing attack was beauty in motion, rivaling what is rolled-out with regularity by the Dazed & Blue Horde from Annie’s Treehouse.  The Colter-Siemian QB duo distributed the bean across 10 receivers, behind quality pass protection provided by Purple OL who, in general, proffered their QB enough time to go through his WR target progressions.  Even judiciously-used U$C transfer WR Kyle Prater got into the act with 3 grabs of his own.  It’s difficult not to notice the quality field play potential of this collective squad gelling into a formidable weapon as each promising player seems to be coming into his own.  They will only get better as the season progresses; and I, as well as everyone in Wildcat Nation, am pumped to watch their progression into the next level.  And in all honesty, they will need to do so, especially over the next 4 weeks before the ‘Cats are scheduled to face the big, bad, #2-ranked BuckNuts in their mutual B1G conference home-opener. 

Livin’ Just Enough
Much post-game commentary has been written or voiced regarding frustration with the frequent failure of many NU defense players to gain separation from blocks which led directly to missed tackles and long yardage gains by a previously dominated Sorry Excuse O, especially in H-2.  Although some of this concern is well founded, one must take a step back to get a better perspective and understanding of what was happening regarding Doc Hankwitz’ D. 

First and foremost, the ‘Cat D took the fight straight to the Sorry Excuse O from the opening whistle and controlled field play throughout H-1.  If not for a couple of glaring breakdowns from NU’s defensive secondary on the Nerf Ball’s only scoring drive in Q2, the Cats would have served a bagel to the Orange offense heading into their locker room after the 1st half of play. 

Second, from the start of H-2 to the end of the game, Doc set the ‘Cat D primarily in prevent mode to keep the ball in front of the secondary and limit Orange scoring situations – similar to the strategy of using 7-8 man secondary formations against Cal.  This switch from NU’s initial aggressive attack mode to a much more vanilla bend-&-not-break posture, coupled with more read and react technique breakdowns, especially from the ‘Cats LB corps, allowed Sorry Excuse O to gain more confidence and momentum regarding their offensive game plan. 

Third, in Q4, Doc began to substitute freely with 2nd and 3rd team personnel giving them their first exposure to actual game speed conditions and the requisite presence of mind needed to remain competitive against a focused opposing O.  Subsequently, although there were occasional downs of quality defensive play, they were too few and far between.  To their credit, the Sorry Excuse O’s playmakers showed grit & determination of their own, and capitalized on additional poor tackling techniques at the point of attack, driving to 2 TDs during what was essentially end-game/garbage time.

The bottom line consequences of these H-2 defensive lapses: for the most part, they were contained and inconsequential.  The ‘Cat D did just enough to keep the scoreboard differential within a comfortable 20 point margin with little threat of losing control as was exhibited in H-2 of the 2012 game.  The silver lining in this dark cloud: all 3 Sorry Excuse H-2 TD possessions exposed areas where crucial deficiencies in the ‘Cats’ defensive techniques, especially regarding a position player’s read recognition & reaction and his correct set-up & attack of an opposing ball carrier in open space, could be identified and corrected.  The PT garnered by these 2nd & 3rd teamers in H-2 was an important step in their ongoing football IQ growth, giving those non-starters their first taste of real-time combat.  With that first exposure, the expected field play improvement between game #1 and game #2 for these players will be substantial.  Rest assured, Fitz, Doc and NU’s defensive position coaches will make it happen.

Pick-4 Party
Newbie Sorry Excuse QB, Drew Allen, underscored the work-in-progress status of his passing skillset when he threw 4 INTs over the course of his afternoon playing in Dyche’s Ditch.  Each pick was converted when Allen forced a pass into the ‘Cats’ double and triple coverage blanketing his target receiver.  The most inexplicable INT occurred on what seemed to be 8-yard sideline curl pattern to the short sideline zone by a Nerf Ball WR.  ‘Cat DE Dean Lowry peeled-off from his initial position outside the TE at the LOS in what appeared to be a zone blitz-like stunt then settled into pass coverage within that short sideline zone.  Allen, failing to recognize the Purple-clad DE fronting his intended receiver, simply delivered a soft toss straight into the waiting mitts of Mr. Lowry, upon which he tucked the bean under his arm and rumbled up field before being tackled at the Sorry Excuse 40 yard line. 

Seizing upon these extra possessions provided by their D teammates, the ‘Cat O converted 3 of these 4 tasty French Pastry turnovers into 2 TDs and a FG.  Thank you, Mr. Allen.  May I have another?     


So, game #2 of the 2013 season is in the record books; with the ‘Cats having captured the flag with the “W” emblazoned on it.  It proved to be a many-faceted contest - one where many good parts (some very good) stood in stark contrast with a couple suspect ones.  That’s fine and to be expected at this point.  There is a learning curve for all involved in this Purple pigskin passion play.  Individual players will realize their relative field play strengths and weaknesses and will do the needful working towards continued improvement; while NU’s coaching staff will identify areas of dependable field play while they pinpoint areas that need further refinement and adjustment.  To this point, Fitz was brutally honest to the media during his post-game interview when he stated that the ‘Cats are far from a finished product.

Meanwhile, it’s not bad thing that the national media and pundits have recognized NU’s worth in comparison with other collegiate football programs after Week #2, ranking the ‘Cats among the top 20 Division 1A teams.  The coaching staff and players deserve it.  

The next two games will be played in Dyche’s Ditch - the first against the MAC’s Western Mich Bronco Billies and the second against the U of Maine Black Barts.  Both represent what should be the weakest opposition on NU’s 2013 campaign schedule.  No doubt, Fitz will use both home games as learning tools to prepare players populating the ‘Cats’ 2 deep roster and beyond for the challenges and rigors of B1G conference play.  I’m confidently predicting a 4-0 OOC record for the ‘Cats by the time Da BuckNuts darken the doorstep of Hannibal’s Lair at the corner of Ashland and Central Streets 2 weeks beyond these next 2 beatable opponents.

The Waterboy
“Win with Grace, Lose with Dignity”

Sept. 4, 2012

Facing the Unknown: the Cal “Bear Raid” O

Prior to the Cats’ 2013 season opener last Saturday against the Cal Golden Bores, there had been much speculation among college football fans and analysts alike regarding the overall offensive scheme to be introduced by Cal’s newly-hired coaching regime.  Most fully expected HC Sonny Dykes, regarded in many circles as an offensive innovator, to transfer the same super up-tempo offense that he employed with great success at his former employer, Louisiana Tech, into the Cal O.  Dykes did not disappoint.

The gist of this super up-tempo strategy is, on every offensive down, to relay the offensive formation & play to the QB, then the QB calls that target set & play to his O, then calls for the snap -- all within approximately 15 seconds after the ball had been placed at the LOS by the officiating crew.  Truth be told, many college football teams, including NU, use a similar quick-paced offensive paradigm, especially when facing what might be considered a superior opposing D.  It is known by many monikers – in past seasons, NU has called their version “jet” (although I’ve heard from unsubstantiated sources that it has been renamed “fastball” for the 2013 season).  Dykes, exercising some imaginative word-play, now calls it his Cal “Bear Raid” offense.  Regardless of name, this up-tempo style of offense is designed specifically to drastically limit or neutralize defensive substitutions between downs while totally gassing those defensive personnel who must remain on the field play after play after play.  

Whereas most “standard-paced” college football offenses will run 65-75 plays over the course of a single game, Dykes’ up-tempo Bear Raid O seeks another level, looking to run 100 or more; and that 30% increase in offensive plays can be devastating to an unprepared D.  While Fitz and his DC, Doc Hankwitz, were fully aware of Dykes’ intent to impose his frenetic-paced offensive game plan against the ‘Cats, NU’s defensive brain trust was hard pressed to counter it in real time.  However, Dykes’ attempt to up the up-tempo ante was not without its drawbacks. 

First and foremost, Dykes’ super up-tempo requires an experienced O to execute it, especially on the part of the QB and his OL. In particular, the QB must be on top of his personal field play and the game plan at hand.  If there is hesitation or failure to receive the play from the sidelines correctly, then relay that formation & play to the rest of his OL and skill players within that 15 second timeframe, then the whole thing breaks down quickly.  If the QB is dinged and/or does not have the wherewithal to maintain personal mental focus on what is being relayed to him, the 3-&-out offensive series is commonplace.  Dykes’ super up-tempo requires a highly skilled QB to pilot it, and fortunately for the new Cal HC, he has just such a primary ball handler in true frosh Jared Goff.  And despite being appointed the starting QB in his first-ever collegiate football game, the fresh-faced 18 year old possesses veteran passing skills and demonstrated a laudable ability to go through his receiver progressions against an opposing secondary with the best of them.  

Second, the OL must be prepared to execute their blocks on the current play and once the play is over, get off the ground (or disengage from their current blocking assignment), sprint to the new LOS, be ready and able to hear and process the next play call from the QB, then read/react to the defensive formation before them by their opposing front 7 defenders and make the appropriate blocking calls – again, all in 15 seconds.  This is nothing less than a daunting assignment.  If any O lineman misses the play call, incorrectly identifies his blocking target or just plain blows his blocking assignment due to fatigue or confusion, the play goes nowhere, or worse will result in a TFL or sack.

Last (but not least), the super up-tempo can cramp your own D as much as the opponent’s D.  3-&-out offensive possessions from an up-tempo O means that team’s D has little time to catch its breath on the sidelines or, more importantly, to huddle together with defensive coaches, review what they are facing from an opposing O and strategize on effective counter measures.  That brief sideline timeframe, even if limited to 3-4 minutes, is extremely valuable.  An experienced D can and will have such evaluations and discussions among themselves in a shorter timeframe, but with any 3-& out possession from a super up-tempo O, that timeframe is cut in half or more.  And with a relatively inexperienced OL, such as Cal’s, the 3-&-out possession, unfortunately, is not a rare event, and consequently that team’s D will be just as gassed as their opposition’s defense.  Once again, NU has experienced this exact negative characteristic in past seasons, and subsequently, judiciously modified the use of their “jet” up-tempo offense to targeted tactical possessions or critical points on the game.

So the home field stage was set in Cal’s Memorial Stadium.  New Cal HC Sonny Dykes had instilled his super up-tempo O, led by a true frosh QB, employing a mostly inexperienced OL and heavily dependent on all that “world-class” (Cal fan base opinions, here) speed from the Golden Bore RBs and WRs with enough confidence to face the big, bad, highly-improved Wildcat D and turn them into panting, washed-out whipped puppies.  But then again, was Dykes prepared to confront the game plan of 8-year HC Pat Fitz and his prepared troops?   

Can you say: “Live by the up-tempo and die by the up-tempo.”  

How the ‘Cats Trapped the Cal Golden Bores

NU’s 2-Headed Monster
A time-worn college football proverb states: “If you have 2 starting QBs, you really have none.”  In most circumstances that maxim rings true, but in the case of the QB strategy designed by NU’s OC Mick McCall prior to the 2012 campaign and carried-over into 2013, that offensive rule of thumb disintegrates.  To his great credit, McCall has invested the considerable time, energy and patience to develop and nurture such a 2-headed quarterbacking duo in Senior Kain Colter and Junior Trevor Siemian.  Together, this very dependable, equally effective and seamlessly interchangeable QB tandem has become the Dolomite cornerstone of the formidable castle known as the Wildcat O.  And this dynamic QB duo was the most crucial component in NU’s victory against Cal. 

On NU’s first possession, Colter was absolutely rocked by 2 hard hits, one involving a totally inadvertent knee to the helmet that put the senior on queer street and wobbling on rubber legs as he was ushered to the ‘Cat bench.  No worry… in comes McCall’s 1B QB, Mr. Siemian, and the Wildcat O didn’t miss a beat.  Undaunted by the departure of his QB mate on the previous play, Siemian went to work immediately and delivered an 11 yard frozen-rope completion to WR Christian Jones, that was followed on the next down by a 33 yard scamper by ‘Cat RB Treyvon Green, substituting for injured starting RB Venric Mark, for a game-tying TD.  Truly, Cal HC Dykes did not foresee this freight train plowing headlong into and through his defense, especially after having dispatched his opponent’s starting QB.  Final passing stats - 276 total yards and a TD on 18 completions in 29 attempts - underscore just how in-control and effective Siemian was, even when coming into the fray cold off the bench to take the reins of NU’s O.  The only blemishes on QB 1B’s commendable performance were 2 picks, both of which were of zero consequence to the final score.  

NU 1A QB Kain Colter down & out… No Problem-o.

In Control
A major pre-season concern for Fitz and his OC was what could be expected from their newly formed, to-be-game-tested starting OL that included 3 fresh faces: OGs Geoff Mogus and Ian Park with Paul Jorgensen at RT.  IMHO, as a unit, they acquitted themselves quite admirably.  With a few exceptions (read: 6 combined Sacks-TFLs for the Cal defensive front 7, most of which were off blown blocks), the ‘Cat OL controlled the LOS for whole stretches of the game – especially at what might be considered critical junctures of the game.  

However, commendable effort notwithstanding, huge room for improvement remains among this starting unit.  Consider the 1st & goal situation in Q3 with the ‘Cats poised to take a commanding 14-point lead on Cal’s 2 yard line.  Blown blocks on 2 consecutive rushes for no gain, followed by a QB pressure off a blown pass block that forced Siemian to chuck a poor pass to his covered target receiver, SB Dan Vitale.  Substituting a sure-fire 7 points (as expected by everyone in Wildcat Nation) for the 3 points off Budzien’s subsequent FG did nothing more than to pass Big Mo to a very fired-up Cal O.  On Cal’s next 2 possessions, the Goff aerial circus was in full force as the frosh QB parlayed a well-thrown 52 yard TD bomb on possession #1 (lasting 54 seconds) with a fumble recovery on the ensuing kick-off return, possession #2, which Goff & Co. converted into another quick strike TD (lasting 41 seconds) to recapture the lead.  With the complete blocking breakdown on their 1st & goal series at the Cal 2, NU exchanged a 3 point FG and a10 point lead with 2 consecutive eye-blink TDs that gave Cal a 4 point lead in less than 2 minutes with 10 minutes left in Q3.  I’m certain that McCall and his OL coach, Adam Cushing, assembled their OL personnel and read them the riot act after witnessing these debilitating 1st game brain farts in the shadow of the Cal goal line.  As a whole, these avoidable gaffes could have been a game changer/decider.  However, to their credit, the ‘Cat OL flushed these failures and refocused themselves to do the needful, collectively pulling their heads out from their moons and getting after the Cal D in earnest, who were beginning to show their own signs of hands-on-hips and tongue-hanging-out exhaustion – a consequence to Dykes’ super up-tempo offense game plan as explained above.  

Lay Down Sally
I’m sorry to report to a disgruntled Cal HC Sonny Dykes and the rabid, vocal fan base of Golden Bore Nation, there has been a well-known, established defensive tactic for slowing-down a high-octane up-tempo offense similar to the one that Cal currently fields – and it’s been in use since NU unveiled the novel spread offense to the Big 10 conference and college football world at large in the 2000 season.  Euphemistically it would best be called: “The Lay Down.” 

It’s not a tactic whereby the defensive coaching staff instructs their D personnel to fake an injury to disrupt the momentum of an up-tempo offense – not at all.  However, it is one where, if at any time, any defender (and I mean A-N-Y player) gets cramps or feels the need for substitution due to being dinged or totally gassed and categorically knows that he cannot call for his replacement AND drag his behind off the field within that 15 second inter-down timeframe, then he should simply lay-down on the turf and wait for attention from the team’s training and medical staff.  This tactic is NOTHING NEW, people; and COMPLETELY LEGAL and WITHIN THE CURRENT RULES OF THE GAME.  Teams have used it for years.  Unfortunately for offenses who employ a super up-tempo game plan, when an opposing D uses the lay down to curtail ongoing momentum, they get indignant and call foul every time, blathering on-and-on regarding how this tactic does not adhere to the competitive spirit of the game of football.  And I apologize for playing locker room lawyer on this point, but this tactic is, again, Completely Legal.  Sonny Dykes knows this fact and knows he was forced to swallow its consequences.  In reaction, Dykes didn’t miss an opportunity to show his extreme displeasure and agitation at facing this legal defensive tactic throughout H-2 – whether his audience was the officiating crew to whom he ka-vitched incessantly; broadcast cameras intent on capturing his constant his eye rolling, pouting and other negative body language as he paced up & down the Cal sidelines; Fitz whom he confronted at the post-game handshake or a fawning media where he cried foul for much of the post-game interviews. 

To Dykes’ posturing and the hand-wringing and vociferous outcry of an indignant Cal fan base, all I can say is:

It’s part of the game.  If you don’t like it, then petition for a change in the rules, Sonny.

Pick-6 Party
Now for the happy part of this commentary on NU’s season opener against the Cal Golden Bores.  When it was all said and done, the ‘Cat D did its job as designed by Doc and his defensive brain trust.  The obvious game plan was predicated on controlling the prolific, high quality passing attack reputation that HC Dykes was sure to transfer to the Cal O when he was hired away from LA Tech.  The fact that Dykes anointed true frosh Goff as his starting QB in his team’s 2013 season opener meant one thing: Goff deserved the selection and possesses the necessary tools to deliver the goods in his HC’s Bear Raid offense.  And Goff, the Cal OL, WR and RBs delivered on their potential to the best of their collective abilities.  And in the final analysis, this game evolved into what it was projected to be: a dog fight.

However, two major items which the Cal offense failed to control were:

First, the Wildcat defensive front 7 versus the Cal rushing attack.  Although most of NU’s defensive sets employed throughout the game, especially in H-2, was anchored by a 3-man DL backed by a 7-man nickel with a roverback or an 8-man defensive secondary whose primary objective was to defend Dykes’ quality Bear Raid passing game, the ‘Cat run support D was, in fact, surprisingly effective.   In total, Cal only converted 6 first downs on 35 rushing attempts, averaging 2.7 yards per rush.  Add to the mix that their final run yardage total of 93 yards included a 32 yard explosion scamper from starting Cal RB Bigelow in their first offensive series, then that adjusted average heads south significantly.  The guiding principal behind the ‘Cat D game plan was to limit individual explosion plays (of 20 yards or more); to keep the ball in front of the 7 or 8-man secondary and await Cal’s passing attack, reading and reacting to the routes of their speedy WRs as much as possible.  Whenever the Cal rush attack showed, those same 7 or 8 DB personnel would sell-out en masse towards the LOS in support of open rush lanes or seams made by Cal’s OL.  The fact that the top Wildcat 7 tacklers for the game were DBs and LBs underscores Doc’s strategic game plan regarding rush support against Cal.  In addition, this defense strategy depended a great deal on self-inflicted wounds that one would expect from a true frosh QB protected by an OL comprised of many first-time starters of their own (like NU has).  And to that end, Cal was accommodating.     

Second, Flaky French Pasty (a.k.a. turnovers ) freshly baked by Goff and his aerial circus in their passing game.  Officially NU collected 3 INTs and should have converted on a 4th, if only the NU secondary had just composed themselves, slowed down and made the controlled snatch of an errant pass that caromed off 3 ‘Cat DBs before hitting the turf just out of the grasp of the intended Cal WR.  And of those 3 INTs, the kill-shot defensive plays were the 2 pick-6 INT returns converted by Sam OLB, Collin Ellis – both off passes which were tipped by their WR targets – which were the winning point spread for the game.  The fact that, on those 2 plays, Ellis kept his composure, made the controlled pick off the tip, gathered himself then sprinted to the Cal goal line as fast as his legs could carry him, were decisive game changers.  Thank you for the dessert, Sonny.  Can you spare an extra napkin to remove the powdered sugar from my lips, or are you using it to dab the tears from your eyes?

‘Nuff said.


Most certainly, it wasn’t a thing of beauty, but Fitz, his coaching staff, the ‘Cat players and Wildcat Nation will wrap this one up and take it back to Evanston, gladly.  This game’s “W” could have just as easily been captured by the Cal Golden Bores.  The fact that the ‘Cats faced what was the great unknown regarding a newly introduced pass dominated Bear Raid offense with its heretofore unknown QB talent throwing to a bevy of speedy, high quality WRs, in the enemy’s camp, in a late-night game under the lights, in front of a “loaded for Bear” rabid fan base, then overcame a plethora of their own field play gaffes and outright brain farts and came out on top, is testament to a team possessing universal selfless resolve.  If ‘Cat HC Fitz is anything, he is the consummate motivator who instills a will to execute W.I.N, a “trust in the guy next to you” confidence and an “I am accountable for results” attitude into each and every student-athlete he and his coaching staff mentors. 

I’m basking in the afterglow of this one; especially since, traditionally, the greatest improvement made by a college football team in any season usually occurs between game #1 and game #2.

Now, on to face the Sorry-Excuse Orange Nerf-balls, and make quick work of them.     

The Waterboy
“Win with Grace, Lose with Dignity”

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

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