The Waterboy
2017 Archive

Dec. 1, 2017

Cats In the Hat – or – Lovie’s All You Need

If there is any one B1G team virtually constructed to serve as the ultimate solution to any other Division 1A team’s victory-shortage problems, it’s the Ill-Annoy Fighting Lovies.  The moribund Ill-Whine-I are, far and away, THE worst team I’ve seen NU play this fall – even surpassing the inept BuGS-U Gnats in their overall lack of competitive spirit and drive.  It’s almost sad to witness what has become of Shampoo-Banana’s B1G Ten Team; but then again, I cannot hold much sympathy for a coaching staff, a team and fanbase which are so truly leaderless, so self-destructive and so self-delusional, respectively.  I had harbored thoughts of travelling the 3 hours to central Illinois last Saturday to see the expected evisceration of the Ill-Whine-I at the hands of Chicago’s B1G Ten Team, but then I declined to do so simply because I felt the whole enterprise might end-up being one gigantic waste of valuable time, especially since so many other more compelling college games that warranted viewing were available from my cable broadcast provider.  To put it mildly, I wasn’t wrong on either that relative assessment of worth or the more constructive use of my personal free time.  My Gawd, Ill-Annoy is horrible beyond comprehension.   How did this once proud, former B1G Championship football program ever get to this ignominious point of gridiron futility, dropping 10 straight games and posting an Oh-fer win-loss record in the B1G, while under the supposed care & guidance of a former Super Bowl HC, I’ll never know.  Well I guess that’s the difference between 1) a coach on temporary hiatus from the professional ranks and 2) a coach who ends-up becoming the chief custodial engineer of a collegiate football program having the literal olfactory stimulus & course heading of a bilge-filled, rudderless ghost ship that’s an embarrassment to itself & its Power 5 brethren.  In the first case, that HC gets paid to manage existing talent; and in the second, the HC’s primary directive is to develop viable football talent from the ranks of those 18-22 year old young men who have been recruited to become able seamen on your ship of fools.  And from my vantage point sitting on my comfy couch in front of a plasma HDTV, I came to the inescapable conclusion that, first, the 2017 version of the Fighting Lovies have very little viable talent; and, second, what talent may roam the locker rooms of Memorial Stadium, there certainly doesn’t seem to be much development of that talent base into anything that eventually might become moderately competitive within the next half-dozen years or so.  Unfortunately, that’s what you get under the mentorship of an NFL-level HC like Lovie Smith, who appears too business-like and detached from his team personnel.  However, when it comes to pigskin coaching acumen, Lovie’s talent development skillset is far superior when compared with the indescribable incompetency that had been characteristically commonplace during the HC tenures of his two predecessors, Tim Beckman & Bill Cubit.

With the Ill-Annoy HC situation being what it is, one undeniable fact remains unchanged: the Ill-Whine-I are the laughingstock of the B1G.  The underlying reasons why the Orange & Midnight Blue-clad ass-clowns have continued their trend of providing comic relief to each of their gridiron opponents over the last six seasons are equally unchanged over that same period of time.    
How the ‘Cats Spanked the Ill-Whine-I (Again)

Youth Movement Consequences
One item that is irrefutably obvious regarding the 2-deep roster of Ill-Annoy football team, HC Lovie Smith has made the executive decision to forego any semblance of assigning PT (playing time) based on either returning veteran status or player seniority by class and to assign starting & 1st substitute positions primarily to his Frosh & Soph players.  IMHO, Lovie’s choice to populate his depth chart via an infamous youth movement cannot be predicated on the circumstance that this high number of younger players had actually “beat-out” their older, more experienced teammates, but it’s simply a matter of a profoundly imposed “out with the old & in with the new” PT policy.  A “house cleaning” policy such as this can be very counterproductive because it countermands conventional PT assignment based on superior field play meritocracy and, without a doubt, will negate whatever positive chemistry might have existed among Ill-Annoy player personnel in past seasons – or even in past months.  Essentially, the youth movement that Lovie apparently has implemented comes at the very high price of wholesale disillusionment among veteran players who, quite frankly, end-up checking-out emotionally from this “grand plan” that the coaching staff is attempting to pull-off on the players.  And the Ill-Whine-I veteran players are acutely aware of what the hell is happening. 

Ill-annoy, at the behest of HC Lovie Smith, has penciled-in more true Frosh starters on his depth chart than any team in Division 1A – 16  in all – with 79 total Frosh starts across the Ill-Whine-I’s 11 games played in 2017.  In addition, Mr. Smith has used 30 different first-time starters of any class and has proffered PT to 22 different Frosh players at some point within those same 11 games.  These starting Frosh & first-time starter statistics are double, and sometimes triple, similar stats recorded by any other 2017 B1G or NCAA Division 1A team.  And the most salient point of all this drivel is that Lovie’s golden child starters don’t appear to possess any greater talent than the returning veterans for the Ill-Whine-I – they merely have potential (read: not fully developed) talent that may or may not get realized.  Talk about cutting the competitive heart out from your veteran players with a dull butter knife.  And what’s worse still, I’m extremely certain that Lovie Smith’s youth movement decision has the blessing of the powers-brokers currently residing in the offices of both the university athletic department and university administration at large. Frankly stated, this situation is a sanctioned public crucifixion of most of the veteran football athletes wearing Orange & Midnight Blue uniforms.  From my perspective, Lovie has turned his back on all those older experienced players, basically saying that whatever successes they had accumulated in past seasons add-up to a big fat zero – that potential talent trumps “proven” talent.  Oh… And don’t let the door smack you in your unappreciated azz as you exit the Ill-Annoy locker room for the very last time as a schollie athlete at the conclusion of your Senior Day game against your in-state rival.  Reports from reliable sources close to the Ill-Whine-I football program and from various players themselves, in the wake of last Saturday’s NU vs Ill-Annoy trainwreck, have confirmed an ongoing exodus of “returning” veteran players who apparently have read the writing on the walls of Memorial Stadium in the penmanship of HC Lovie Smith outlining their escalating reduction in PT and are making their own gut-wrenching decision to jump ship while they still have viable collegiate eligibility left.  Could anyone blame them for this radical reaction?   

NU’s 42-7 beat-down of an already demoralized Ill-Annoy team was more a mercy killing than a victory.  I must admit, those out-classed true Frosh and first-time starters gave it their best shot; but in the game’s final analysis, they came to a gunfight with their “hated in-state rival” toting a slingshot in hand.  It was no contest from the opening whistle to the final gun. 

Hey Lovie…  Hat – Hat – Hat – Hat – Hat – Hat – Hat – Hat – Hat – Hat – Hat – Hat – Hat – Hat – Hat – Hat.  That’s one replica Land-of-Lincoln Trophy for each of your 16 true Frosh starters (akin to those gold football pants bracelet charms Da BuckNuts distribute to each of their players after they’ve beaten their long-standing rival, Meat-Chicken). 

What’s even more poignant is that Mr. Smith probably won’t survive what years remain on his HC contract with the Ill-Whine-I before those approving U-of-I powers-that-be realize their hiring gaffe and scramble to do the needful regarding cleaning-up the football program’s Exxon Valdez-level oil spill disaster that is currently occurring on their watch.

LOS Dominance
In his opening comments from his post-game presser/interview with broadcast media & journalists, ‘Cat HC Pat Fitz mentioned that Ill-Annoy’s OC, Gerrick McGee (NU’s former OC from the ’06 & ’07 seasons), employed a wrinkle to his standard game plan that the Ill-Whine-I offense executed flawlessly on their first possession of the game, allowing them to drive the ball 69 yards in 12 plays and culminating in the home team’s only score of the contest that gave the Fighting Lovies a short-lived 7-0 lead.  For the rest of this grapple, the U-of-I O gained a paltry 170 yards net off the 52 downs across their remaining 14 offensive possessions, only one of which was not a 3-n-out (7) or 4-n-out (6) series.  These final game stats boil down to the simple fact that, after giving-up that opening possession TD, Doc Hankwitz’ defensive front 7 beat the ever-lovin’ crappola out of the Frosh-centric Fighting Lovie offense, especially at the LOS, where Doc’s D collected 4 sacks & 5 TFLs while limiting the Ill-Whine-I O to 11 first downs total for the match.  Bottom line: over Ill-Annoy’s last 52 plays, 9 went for minus yardage, complimented by 2 INTs and a sack-induced forced fumble that was recovered by NU Frosh DT Sam Miller at the Il-Annoy 3 who promptly bulldozed his way across the goal line with bean in hand for the Wildcats’ first defensive TD of the season.  You can do the efficiency math.  That’s the stuff of vintage Wisky or State Penn defensive domination, folks. 

Not to be outplayed, the Wildcat OL had its own hay day in the sun.  Despite getting dinged for 2 sacks (of which only the 2nd was a legit sack given-up by NU’s OL off a well-executed Ill-Whine-I blitz), the ‘Cat OL limited the Ill-Annoy defense to a single TFL, while recording just one penalty (holding) over the entire contest.  That was about the extent of the OL’s bad news.  In contrast, the OL’s good news was evident everywhere as OL coach Adam Cushing’s unit consistently opened rushing lanes in the LOS for Purple RBs to exploit.  And did those Purple running backs, 8 different non-QB ball carriers in total, ever exploit these holes to the tune of 306 yards gained off 41 rushing attempts, averaging 7.5 yards per carry.  Even ‘Cat NT Tyler Lancaster got into the ball carrier act, doing his best William “The Refrigerator” Perry imitation, when he rumbled 5 net yards off 2 consecutive rushes during NU’s final possession of the game to close-out this contest’s hostilities for the afternoon. 

Many among Ill-Annoy’s faithful fanbase might have taken umbrage with the use of Mr. Lancaster as a NT-turned-RB novelty; but then again, that’s what a rivalry game is all about…  You stick the business end of a red-hot hearth iron up the moon of your rival and give it a twist for good measure.  Besides, if you truly were insulted at this bread-n-circuses theatre, your beloved Ill-Annoy D should have stoned the 300-lbs running back dead in his tracks when he received those 2 handoffs; but they didn’t.  So be it.

I hope the sting of this shame endures for seasons to come.  Mr. Smith, your Fighting Lovies deserve every field play humiliation that Fitz might conceive.  But then again, what does it really matter, when ultimately, you’re destined to become yet another forgettable Ill-Annoy head coaching footnote, like Tim Beckman and Bill Cubit, in another season or two?

Skill Position Gulag
If the Cleveland Browns (or do you call then “The Clowns”) are the professional team where quarterbacks go to die, then Shampoo-Banana is collegiate football program where high-potential high school quarterback recruits go to get their unproven behinds thrown into a den of ravenously hungry lions.  Ill-Annoy HC Lovie Smith did just that by keeping his true Frosh hybrid RB-QB, Cam Thomas, lined-up in shotgun set behind his OC for every play of every Ill-Whine-I offensive series.  Considering that Mr. Thomas faced one of the B1G’s best defenses, he performed relatively well as Ill-Annoy’s primary offensive playmaker, personally accounting for 185 net yards (46 rushing & 139 passing) of the Ill-Whine-I’s 239 total net yards gained over the entirety of last weekend’s match.  However, IMHO, the only lasting consequence that Lovie’s excessive utility of his newbie QB wrought was to turn his Frosh running QB into the Wildcat D’s personal heavy punching bag for the full 60 minutes of this bug tussle.  The casual college football fan might dismiss this decision by Mr. Smith simply as a HC giving his starting QB a golden opportunity to “gain more competitive experience” in dealing with the speed and intricacies of Division 1A-level football.  Although this perspective might hold a modicum of merit; to me, as a former player, it merely exposed this talented newbie QB to potential devastating injury that could have ended the young athlete’s season or his career in short order.  IMHO, that’s not simply short-sighted coaching, it’s irresponsible coaching; it’s professional-ranks coaching; and most certainly, it’s not collegiate talent development coaching.  The difference is very telling.


OK, OK…  So the Northwestern Wildcats devoured the Twinkie Ill-Annoy Fighting Lovies on the home team’s turf, Zuppke Field, on Senior Day, in front of hundreds of rivalry- enraged Orange & Midnight Blue-clad fans, to capture the contest’s “W” flag and snatch the “B1G Brass Hat” Land O’ Lincoln Trophy token for the third straight season.  Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah-Day!!! 

On a more sobering note, there is little solace to be had by the veteran Ill-Annoy football players following this blowout defeat at the hands of their in-state arch-rival, because their “house-cleaning” HC euphemistically has crammed them, one & all, into a dark, dank closet for the remainder of their eligibility years as a NCAA U-of-I schollie athlete.  Forget about your aspirations of honing your field play talent to become the most competitive Division 1A level athlete you’ve envisioned for yourself since you were in Pee Wee ball, playing the endearing sport you sincerely love.  You’re now yesterday’s red-haired step-child, discarded unceremoniously atop the trash-heap of broken dreams that your HC has built specifically for you.  That you harbor thoughts of reviving your athletic aspirations at another football program that might appreciate and welcome your accumulated talent and experience is much more than a little understandable.  Despite it all the cacophony associated with your HC’s youth movement decision, regardless of whether or not you remain an active student-athlete within the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, the sheepskin you eventually earn will carry you much further in your life’s pursuits more than your sport ever would or could.  However, that pseudo-comforting rumination doesn’t make the pain of abject rejection smart any less.  Only time will salve & repair that wound.

Next-up…  The post-season bowl beauty pageant selection process that will determine the date & location of the 2017 Wildcats’ final prime-time game of this season.  With that fickle, unpredictable and enigmatic decision-making operation still to come, the primary objective of every Purple player over in these next few weeks is to heal oneself from the rigors and injuries absorbed by you during your team’s B1G battle campaign.  Once that selection process has finished, Fitz and his football coaching staff will carry the initial cerebral workload to construct an appropriately conceived game plan that emphasizes what the “collective you,” as a team of dedicated athletes, do best to ensure your greatest opportunity for victory.  Then it’s up to you to execute that game plan to the best of your abilities.  We very proud members of Wildcat Nation support you and will cheer you on lustily, both in person and at whatever venue will broadcast your final 2017 match. 

I look forward toward witnessing your next gridiron battle holding the greatest confidence for your individual & the team’s success.    

The Waterboy
“Win with Grace, Lose with Dignity”

Nov 22, 2017

Rah-Rah, Ski-U-Naaaah

I’m gonna admit it up front before I delve into my post-game analysis of the ‘Cats’ dominating laugher over the Minnie Golden Rodents…  I’m not a fan of Rodent HC, P.J. Fleck’s over-the-top, boisterously animated shtick.  IMHO, it simply looks too contrived, too self-serving and ingenuine to be very believable.  Whenever I see him belly-bumping his OL as they trot off the field after a successful scoring possession or virtually summersaulting after his D halts an opponent’s offensive drive, my skin just crawls.  Many observers of this jack-hole’s sideline antics, from broadcast media to honest collegiate football fans, write it off to unbridled passion and an attempt to light the competitive fires of his pigskin athletes as he heralds their incremental field play triumphs over the course of a game.  As for myself, I simply view it a false bravado – similar to the head-scratching romps a Pee Wee level football coach might act-out to demonstratively project to his tiny tot athletes how they should feel & react to their individual gridiron successes.  To quote the verbal reaction of Da Coach, Mike Ditka, the NFL Hall-of-Famer & HC of the legendary 1985 Chicago Bears, when witnessing the choreographed post-TD frolics by NFL athletes: “Cut the crap and act like you’ve been there before.”  

So rather than focus excessively on Mr. Fleck’s hype watercraft, the Walmart plastic dinghy, S.S. Pretentious,  I’ll simply expand on what I believe are the salient points to the ‘Cats’ whitewash win over the hapless Golden Rodents last Saturday…

How the ‘Cats Steamrolled the Rodents Into Roadkill

Best of Class
What can anyone say to comprehensively explain or describe the pigskin phenomenon that is Justin Jackson the Ball Carrier?  Superlatives drip like honey from talking head college football pundits and knowledgeable opposing coaches alike.  Accolades regarding his stamina at playing Big Boy Football in a 5’10” 185 lbs body frame that seemingly, on any another mortal young man, shoulda, coulda, woulda been broken in two long ago, especially facing Division 1A defenses which consistently conceived game plans geared specifically to stop his rushing capabilities as its No. 1 priority.   JJtBC is not some smarmy, smart-alecky, self-promoting, it’s-all-about-me, crotch grab taunting, Heisman-blinded athlete (like that jerk-weed RB who prowls the sidelines of the Oklahoma Bloomers, scoffing at opposing players, giving them the middle finger salute, then in post-game media interviews goes into full damage control mode, explaining in a contrite, saccharine-laced voice that he apologizes for his “inappropriate behavior” then states “that’s not who I am.” I’ll not apologize for this overtly harsh reaction; but when something looks like it & smells like it, I call “Bull S#it.”  Especially after this same ballyhooed athlete crapped his “bed of integrity” for the 3rd occasion with a very public brainfart that normally might be expected from a 20-something social malcontent.  If I ever was given the opportunity to do so, I would whisper this one name into the ear of this man-child/ass-clown dressed in the OU athletic wear upon which I hope he would ruminate: Johnny “Football” Manziel).

JJtBC is a class act – a true scholar-athlete who pursues a declared French minor at a world-renown university simply because he’s attracted to the subject matter; a featured Power 5 Conference Football Phenom RB who steadfastly deflects media attention to his teammates when it’s dumped upon him by fawning journalist types; a blue collar athlete who understands that the true reward for all his hard work and due diligence in perfecting his field play abilities lies in the joy he brings to and & admiration he receives from his Purple football family which  doesn’t get advertised outside the NU locker room; an intelligent, honest, soft-spoken, introspective young man who truly can & does shave the man the mirror without looking away with shame or regret.   

Last Saturday, JJtBC reached two historically significant athletic milestones for his Northwestern Football career.  The first, off his 41-yard scamper in Q1, whereupon JJtBC reached the 5000 total collegiate rushing-yards landmark – the 6th RB in B1G history to do so and the 23rd in NCAA Division 1A annuls.  The second occurred in Q3 via a 17-yard rush that pushed his 2017 net rushing total to over 1000 yards for the 4th consecutive season in the Senior RB’s career at NU – the 6th RB in Division 1A history to reach that stratospherically rare mark and only the 2nd to accomplish the feat in the B1G.  The first B1G RB to reach the same impossibly difficult 4-season milestone was the Wisky Drunkards’ 1999 Heisman Trophy recipient and B1G & NCAA Hall of Fame inductee, Ron “The Great” Dayne.  That’s one hellova exclusive consortium of which to have become a card-carrying member.  Nobody has done it better – at least at Northwestern.

The Steamroller Rolls On
Of course, JJtBC wasn’t going anywhere without an indispensable assist by his OL.  Since the ‘Cats’ last loss to the Inmates of State Penn – when the Purple OL not only looked inept and rudderless, but, IMHO, visibly lost their will to compete and checked-out of the game emotionally, essentially waving a white flag of surrender – this unit has completed the most dramatic field play “turn-around” of any on Fitz’ 2017 Wildcat team.  And last weekend’s Minnie mauling was their sixth straight example of high quality, value-added blocking since that State Penn debacle.  On a cold, blustery & extremely wet/rainy afternoon, passing through this repressive wind & rain was going to become an “exercise in futility” and an “adventure waiting to turn into a trainwreck.”  Consequently, there was no question whether or not NU’s ground game would become the Wildcats’ primary yardage production vehicle, essentially turning this game into a toe-to-toe knock-down/drag-out donnybrook of one’s OL against the other’s DL.  In post-game interviews with ‘Cat OL personnel, the Purple Big Uglies stated that they relished the chance to go Medieval on their opposing lineman and took enormous pride in embracing the suck of playing in the very nasty elements and pressing the fight to their counterparts on the other side of the LOS.  Sentiments like this are not baseless braggadocio, but underscore a certain swagger that’s a dominant gene in their collective DNA whenever they speak of the unit’s responsibility to open holes for Superman JJtBC & his Robin-like able substitute, RS Frosh Jeremy Larkin, (who, from this point forward, will be referenced via the label: ”JLtBC”) and to keep the uniform of their Junior QB Clayton Thorson relatively clean throughout the game.  And this squad’s continuing commitment to excellence showed B1G Time in their final offensive stats:
●    Limiting the Rodent defensive front 7 to 2 sacks in a grapple where the footing of the Dyche’s Ditch turf was more like a skating rink than a grassy gridiron. 
●    Dominating the LOS against the Minnie D, allowing the ‘Cat ground game to collect 277 net yards off 55 rushing attempts, garnering 5.0 yards per rush average while converting 14 of 22 first downs via NU’s rush.  
●    Keeping the self-inflicted wounds of drive-halting penalties to 2 – one a 15-yard tripping (a legitimate flag) and a very dubious illegal formation on NU’s first PAT attempt of the game (prompted by a borderline offensive line “bend” infraction – pure b.s.).  In actuality, neither of these offensive line penalties killed an NU possession… The 15-yard tripping infraction was overcome with a TD play 3 downs later (with an make-up assist from a 15-yard personal foul flag on the Minnie D).    

Red Hot
Several Wildcat-oriented internet fan websites have picked-up upon and reported this “quiet” statistical circumstance, yet when it comes to “official” widespread sports media vehicles, like B1G Ten Network, or relatively unbiased mega-sized college football news internet outlets, like College Football News-dot-com, there has been literally crickets chirping regarding any hint of reportable news content on this super-significant trend in Northwestern Wildcat Football.  I’m talking about the Wildcats’ red-zone success – on either side of the LOS.  With utter serendipitous silence, Thorson & Co. have climbed the ladder of notoriety into the upper echelon of the most successful red zone scoring offenses in all of Division 1A.  Following the ‘Cats’ virtual 39-to-zilch dismantling of the Minnie Golden Rodents last Saturday, the ‘Cat O, to date, has generated scoreboard points on an unreal 44 of its 47 red zone possessions, for a scoring efficacy percentage of 93.6%   Even more incredible, 34 of those 44 scores have been touchdowns, for a red zone TD scoring percentage of 72.7%.  Essentially, this means that if or when the Wildcat offense matriculates the bean beyond their opposition’s 20 yard line, they will come-away with points at a 90%-plus clip.  That red zone scoring efficiency is No. 1 in the B1G and No. 13 nationally.  Yet this unbelievable factoid has generated zippo interest, not even a “shrug-of-the-shoulders” passing interest, from national-level collegiate football media outlets.  Outrageous… Simply outrageous.  If this stat was owned by Da BuckNuts or State Penn Inmates, nationally-syndicated pigskin pundits & journalists of every stripe would be covering this newsworthy point-of-interest like white on rice.  And these accumulated red zone stats have been compiled well before Chicago’s B1G Ten Team meets the obscenely porous defense of the Ill-Annoy Fighting Lovies, who are listed as the next and final Salsa partner on the Wildcats’ 2017 B1G dance card. 

But the Wildcat O’s scoring aptitude is merely chapter one of this red zone storyline.  Chapter two details the mind blowing red zone capabilities of the Wildcats’ D.  Doc Hankwitz’ 2017 defense has prevented their  opposition from scoring points of any type on 11 of 38 red zone opportunities, for a score denial percentage of 28.9%.  NU is ranked No.2 in the B1G and No. 11 nationally in this defensive category. 

Subsequently, the Wildcats have become one of the best Division 1A teams in both red zone scoring efficiency and red zone score prevention efficiency in 2017.  When combating the Golden Rodents last weekend, NU’s O was 5-for-5 (5 TDs) in red zone scoring efficacy and their defensive teammates stoned Minnie from scoring on the visiting team’s only foray into the red zone.  Collectively, those two red zone statistics formed a solid foundation for NU’s 39-0 wipeout of the Rodents.  In their annual rivalry bug-tussle with the milquetoast, defense-challenged Pumpkinheads next weekend, if Thorson & Co. don’t reprise their red zone point production proficiency similar to what they manufactured versus the Minnie Golden Goofies, then a crime scene investigation is warranted.  

It’s In The Bag
Doc’s defensive front 7 extended their B1G rushing attack neutralization streak to 6 straight with the thorough evisceration of the Golden Rodent ground game.  To say that Doc’s troops beat the ever lovin’ Be-Jesus out of the Rodents’ O is no exaggeration.  Firstly, the Purple D held the visiting team from Minnie-Ha-Ha to 186 net yards across a scant 49 offensive plays FOR THE GAME.  This offensive yardage production futility figure is better than any taken from the three “L” games laid on the ‘Cats – way better than the cold stoning from the individual defenses of Wisky (244 net yards) and State Penn (265 net yards); while just about equal to NU’s most egregious loss of their 2017 season, the 41-17 “Debacle in Durham” against the Dookies (191 net yards).  Bottom line: NU’s D completely manhandled the Rodents rushing attack better than those 3 victors who got the better of the ‘Cats early in this fall’s campaign.  

Now for the ‘Cats’ crowd-pleasing defensive stats…
●    Holding the Rodent O to 1 of 11 third down conversions.  It might as well have been a total stoning, if not for a missed tackle at the LOS that allowed Rodent RB, Rodney Smith, to collect himself after the would-be Wildcat DE tackler overshot him and Mr. Smith bounced to the outside around NU’s left defensive edge and rumbled untouched 30 yards until he was finally brought down at the ‘Cat 11, completing Minnie’s longest single rush of the contest.  Three plays later, ‘Cat Sam LB, Nate Hall, snagged a pass deflection at the NU goal line to squelch the Rodents’ only red zone scoring threat of the game.    
●    6 total sacks accrued by Doc’s defensive front 7 for the game and another 5 TFLs that, together, reduced the Rodents’ net rushing yardage by a minus 53 yards.  That’s 11 of Minnie’s 49 offensive play total (22.4%) in which the Purple D dropped the visiting team’s ball carrier on the Goofies’ side of the LOS. 

I understand… “Stats are for losers.”  However, these statistics don’t lie and tell a tall tale of total domination.  Northwestern’s defense: “Sine qua non!!!” (Translation: “Without which, there is none.”)

French Pastry Chefs
5 turnovers…

●    2 forced fumbles; 2 fumble recoveries   
●    3 INTs
●    5 additional NU offensive possessions   
●    26 points off of French Pastry baked goods (a.k.a.: turnovers)    

OK, OK…  I get it for cryin’ out loud… “Yes, Stats are for losers.”  ‘Nuf said.


This blowout victory against the Golden Rodents and their disingenuous “row-row-row your boat” HC, P.J. Fleck, wasn’t as much a statement of superiority as it was a vindication of worth in the general scheme of things within the 2017 community of Division 1A collegiate football.  By virtue of their “W” last Saturday against the Perdue Broiler-Chickens, the Wildcats advanced 2 spots in the College Football Playoff Rankings, from 25 to 23.  I’ll confidently predict that this week, the 4th of the 2017 CFP Poll, after having booted the Golden Rodents quite convincingly in their collective paddle tails for the ‘Cats’ 6th consecutive B1G “W,” Northwestern should be promoted at least another spot, if not two, in collegiate football’s most prestigious poll, giving the ‘Cats a well-earned 22nd (or greater) ranking among all Division 1A teams with a couple weeks left in the regular season.

Next up for NU… The Ill-Annoy Fighting Lovies – a winless B1G team in such disarray, that the Wildcats could very easily garner a 20-point favorite status by those pigskin prognosticators from Sin City, NV.  However, I would approach this game with guarded optimism.  After all, the last time that the ‘Cats played a roadie against a winless B1G  team was in 2000 when the Randy Walker-coached To-be B1G Champion Wildcats faced-off with the Iowa HogEyes in Kinnick Stadium.  The ‘Cats played that game quite full of themselves and  limped back to Evanston with their shorn tails between their legs having endured a humiliating a 27-17 shellacking that was worse than the final 10-point scoreboard shortfall could ever indicate.

Caution, Will Robinson… Caution!!!    

The Waterboy
“Win with Grace, Lose with Dignity”

Nov 22, 2017

“Stats Are For Losers”

Virtually every B1G foe on NU’s 2017 conference schedule has exercised several pointedly common strategies that have been the fundamental basis of their game plans when facing the Wildcats:
●    Every B1G team O emphasizes running the ball as a priority attack staple; after all, this conference remains the B1G Ten, conceptual home of the “3 yards & a cloud of dust” offensive tradition.  Period… End of story.  Some teams employ a predominant ground-n-pound style designed to control the game clock and maximize one’s time of possession while minimizing your opposition’s chances to get their greedy little hands on the bean, essentially strangling their capacity to score points (e.g.: Da BuckNuts, Wisky, State Penn); while others use a finesse/speed style via some form of speed-oriented option/misdirection/counter action (e.g.: the Who-Zits, Rutgers Scarlet Blights, Maryland Twerps).    
●    All B1G Ds have implemented a defensive game plan geared to stop JJtBC as their No. 1 priority, mainly by loading the defensive box with 7 to 9 players to stone NU’s rushing attack.  Many defensive coordinators have employed a radar or spy defender whose assigned primary responsibility is to move wherever JJtBC’s motion takes him for a particular play, so that Justin is always “covered” by that one individual player.  (Note: that “spy responsibility” can & will shift to another player as a particular defensive formation or stunt dictates, but the point remains that some defender is always covering JJtBC.)
●    Since every B1G opponent D’s primary intent is to shut down JJtBC, the heavy lifting for the Wildcats’ offensive yardage production transfers to ‘Cat QB Clayton Thorson (Big “duh” regarding that insightful conclusion, No?).  Herein lies is the game plan “X” factor, because, at times, Mr. Thorson has proven himself a very knowledgeable & skilled surgeon, demonstrating a competent capability to carve-up a foe’s defensive secondary like a Thanksgiving turkey; or, on the other hand, this same Purple playmaker can lose his focus and become one of his O’s biggest liabilities, particularly if he should don his chef’s toque blanche and commence to bake hot & flaky French pastry turnovers & serve them on a platter to his opposing D.  

Bullet point one above is an offensive aspiration in which a B1G opponent’s offensive brain trust desires to control the LOS and subsequently dictate both the pace and momentum of the game. 

Bullet points two & three are a “pick your poison” decision in which a B1G opponent’s defensive coaching staff attempts to steer NU’s offense away from exercising a balanced attack, which is much more difficult to counter, and force the Purple O’s attack to become one-dimensional, either rush-oriented or pass-oriented.  That decision is based on what the opposing coaching staff feels is the Wildcats’ greatest yardage generation weakness, which in the case of the 2017 ‘Cats has been overwhelmingly redirected to Clayton Thorson.  Again, this acknowledged strategic choice is no great revelation in and of itself, but it does speak volumes regarding why JJtBC’s career aspiration to join the pantheon of collegiate RB greats is getting stymied repeatedly, week-in and week-out, by NU’s B1G opponents.  This executive decision point to stone Northwestern’s GOAT RB, even at the risk of getting routinely eviscerated by the Wildcat passing attack, has never been more evident than against last Saturday’s foe, the Perdue Broiler-Chickens. 

When viewing the proceedings occurring on the turf of Dyche’s Ditch last Saturday evening, I was astonished at how frequently the Perdue defensive brain trust would not only stack the box with 7 defenders, but they would position their single Cover-1 safety, and often, both Cover-2 safeties 4-5 yards off the LOS, just daring OC Mick McCall to call JJtBC’s number because the Perdue coaches are acutely aware of just how badly Fitz and his Purple coaching staff want their GOAT RB to continue his climb up the ladder of historical NCAA Division 1A rushing yardage leaders.  There’s just no getting around this theme; and it comes at a poignant price for both combatants.  

First off, the “Stop JJtBC Strategy” is taking a massive toll on the body of the diminutive-statured Purple RB, simply because he’s getting his fanny spanked on every possible down that he receives a handoff from Thorson; and no more so than against the Broiler-Chickens’ D.  I’ve been exceedingly impressed at how well this 5’10”, 185 lbs Junior RB has held-up both physically and mentally in the wake of this consistent pounding.  (Aside: NU’s “official” roster lists JJtBC’s vital stats as 5’11” & 200 lbs, which is nothing short of total bull crappola.)  That he has and continues to do so without having missed a single game over the course of this fall’s pigskin campaign is testament, first, to his game preparation and, more importantly, to the post-game training room regimen he exercises to ensure his timely recovery in the days following this weekly brutal targeting from NU’s opposition.  If there was ever one notable improvement in athletic facilities that the University and its athletic department have introduced since my relative Paleolithic playing days, is the upgrades in both essential training room support and equipment, which are very expensive, to say the least.  JJtBC and his teammates, to a man, have immense need for these indispensable training facilities & personnel, particularly as they pertain to the physical recovery of the individual player after combat, and they continuously have taken full advantage of their availability.  

Secondly, the price an opponent, like Perdue, pays for their decision to transfer the bulk of the ‘Cats’ offensive yardage generation on the arm & feet of Purple QB Clayton Thorson can be enormous; and it’s often a game-changer, usually tripping the competitive success scales in favor of the Wildcats.  This was the case in last Saturday’s contest between the ‘Cats and the Broiler-Chickens.  Despite Perdue QB, Elijah Sindelar going ballistic on the Purple secondary to the tune of completing an outrageous 37 off 60 pass attempts (as incredible as it reads, this count is spot on) for an eye-popping 376 yards & 2 TDs, these final passing statistics accounted for all of the Broiler-Chickens’ scoring for the afternoon.  That’s right, the bottom line on what would normally be considered a career-defining day of extraordinary pass attack numbers, came down to a paltry 13 total points tallied on the final scoreboard from these astounding aerial acrobatics.  However, when all was said & done, it was Clayton Thorson’s relatively modest passing contributions (26 completions off 36 pass attempts for 296 yards & a TD) that held the field of battle at the end of the day, as the ‘Cats out-pointed their B1G foe from West Laughable, IN, 23-13 .

I, for one, am not a fan of Fitz’ coach speak diatribes, but his mantra of “Statistics are for losers,” is more than appropriate in this case.  I’ll take a 23-13 victory and cheer lustily as my beloved Purple gladiators snatch the “W” flag and wave it high. 

How the ‘Cats Carved-up the Broiler-Chickens

Best of Class
Like the Wildcat D, over NU’s current 5 B1G game winning streak, I truly feel that OL coach Adam Cushing’s troops, at long last, have come into their own as a unit to be reckoned-with.  Writing this recognized profile of field play improvement is one hellova personal admission to this writer because I was one of the more vocal proponents within the ranks of Wildcat Nation calling for the head of Coach Cushing to be guillotined, stuck on the business end of a pike and paraded down Sheridan Road.  Giving-up 1 sack and committing only a single penalty for an entire contest, like the ‘Cat OL did when facing the Broiler-Chickens last weekend, will go a long way towards reversing similar negativity towards the coaching job that Coach Cushing has accomplished since the ‘Cats’ wholesale blocking disaster witnessed in their season opener against the Nevada Woof Pucks.  Of particular note has been the inclusion of many underclassmen to the 2-deep Wildcat OL depth chart in recent weeks, including starting true Frosh RT, Rashawn Slater and RS Frosh 2nd teamers LT Jesse Meyler, LG Cam Kolwich & RG Nik Urban, all of whom have shown marked progress in their individual & collective blocking competency levels that had been lacking in the first half of NU’s 2017 schedule.  Even individual OL starters who were once considered a substantial liability earlier in the season (names withheld for anonymity reasons), have gotten their heads right and presently can be counted upon to keep their QB, Clayton Thorson’s jersey relatively grass-stained free for an entire quarter.  This youth movement among NU’s Big Uglies bodes well for the ‘Cats’ current campaign as well as for future seasons to come. 

Congrats one & all fellas.  You’ve earned your stripes.

Stuffed Bird
For the fifth consecutive game, DC Doc Hankwitz’ defensive front 7 went into its full lockdown mode once more facing a B1G rushing attack – this time against the truly anemic Perdue Broiler-Chicken ground game.  It might be true that “Statistics Are For Losers;” however, the rushing defense numbers by Doc’s D don’t lie, not one little bit: 61 measly yards on 22 carries… for the entire Perdue O on the afternoon.  Adjust those figures with the minus 21 yards from the Wildcats’ 5 TFLs delivered by the swarming Purple front 7, and that final net rushing tally is reduced to 40 yards – for a 1.8 yards per rush average.  Talk about dominating the LOS.  What makes these final ground game figures more remarkable is that this stoning was applied to the Chickens without stacking the box with 7-9 defenders on a regular basis, as opposed to what the Broiler-Chicken defense did to stop JJtBC.  Add the minus 18 yards via 3 sacks laid on Perdue QB, Elijah Sindelar, and the yardage production mix for Broiler’s locomotive heads southbound even further.  

But that’s not the end of this Purple stone storyline.  The Perdue offensive brain trust tested Doc’s defensive front 7 repeatedly on 4th down situations – 4 times as a matter of fact – with only 1 successful conversion on a completely unexpected trickeration play.  But there’s more to this tale.  Facing a 7-0 deficit with possession on the ‘Cat 4 yard line with a few clicks under 2 minutes left in H-1 and a down situation, Perdue HC Jeff Brohm makes the ballsy decision to forego conventional pigskin wisdom of taking the 3 available points via a chip-shot FG and take the chance on that alluring TD score.  After all, his Locomotive offense had taken possession of the bean at his own 29 late in Q2 and his QB was showing a hot passing hand having driven his offense 67 yards in 8 plays – which included a highly improbable fake-punt-n-pass on a 4th-n-7 down that collected 22 yards with an additional 14 yards off a very dubious targeting penalty assessed to ‘Cat CD, Montre Hartage, which proffered him an early respite to the NU locker room for the rest of the game. So this decision was born of Mr. Brohme’s desire to capitalize on his O’s good fortune in having gained 36 controversial yards and keeping the Perdue train rolling down the line to potential paydirt .  It also was a statement of Brohme’s supreme confidence in his offense; and if successful, his team heads into the halftime locker room with fickle Miss Momentum standing on his sidelines for the start of H-2. 

So the Broiler-Chickens are gonna snap the pill in the shadow of NU’s end zone on an all-or-nothing 4th-n-1 down at the Purple 4 yard line.  Doc stacks the box with 9 Purple defenders in a Gap-8 goal line formation.  A quick snap and an even quicker handoff from Sindelar to Perdue RB Markell Jones and…  Stoned for a minimal gain – about a football’s length short of the to-gain line.

This one defensive stop by Doc’s D set the tone for the rest of the contest.       

A Perfect Two Minutes
Following this stoning of the Perdue Locomotive at the NU 4, Thorson & Co. took possession of the bean with a buck-49 left in H-1 and facing a daunting 96 yards of long green.  Most of those intrepid folks shivering in the stands were thinking more about getting their derrieres off those damned frigid aluminum benches and heading to the concession stands for a hot coffee, a hot chocolate or a hot anything.  Very few harbored any inclination that OC Mick McCall’s offense could mount anything resembling a significant offensive drive with 11 clicks shy of 2 minutes on the game clock and an end zone line that one would need a pair of binoculars to see clearly through the evening’s chill.  But that’s where Fitz’ reputed conservative mindset of running out the first half clock, prompted by the heady good fortune of having preserved his team’s thin 7-point lead heading into the halftime intermission, ends and where Fitz “The Riverboat Gambler” takes center stage. 
McCall opens his playbook to the chapters on his vertical passing attack, and Thorson & the Wildcat receiving corps respond with what was to become their finest example of 2-minute offense playmaking and their most impressive offensive series of the 2017 season to date.  Consecutive dart-like pitch-n-catch pass receptions of 7, 27 & 24 yards resets the LOS from NU’s 4 to the Perdue 38 while burning a scant 43 seconds off the clock in the process.  At this juncture, the Broiler-Chicken D is clearly overwhelmed & knocked back on their collective heels.  Perdue HC Jeff Brohme calls a timeout to collect his flagging defense’s wits and refocus them to the task of halting or even merely slowing down this relentless Purple juggernaut.  With 66 seconds left following the TO before the end of the 1st half, Thorson & Co. return to the gridiron and continue their surgical precision passing with another 20-yard strike resetting the LOS at the Perdue 18, as the shell-shocked Broiler-Chicken D cannot decide whether to crap or go blind.  On the next down, Thorson can’t find an open receiver in the Perdue secondary and correctly heaves the bean over the end zone’s end line for an intended incompletion to stop the clock. 

With 42 clicks left, on the very next down, a 2nd-n-10 from the PU 18, NU’s SB shifts from his left slot position to the right wing just to the outside shoulder of the ‘Cat LOT; then Thorson, standing in his standard shotgun position, receives the snap from center & hands the pill off to JJtBC as a change-up rush to the frenetic aerial circus that the Purple QB was conducting.  The Junior RB hits a sweet seam in the right B-Gap on counter trey action by NU’s OL as the ‘Cat ROT blocks down on the Broiler LDT to his inside shoving the LDT across the A-Gap, while the SB locks horns with the Perdue LDE & seals him to the outside, creating that seam in the B-Gap.  The ‘Cat OC & ROG pull around the DOT-LDT tandem who have locked horns & are out of the play’s action; then the pulling OG-ROG tandem turns downfield into the seam and the ROT locks onto the Perdue MLB and blasts him out of the way to the right, widening seam to a 3-yard wide hole, while the OC heads downfield targeting the Perdue SS, who has taken a couple of steps forward towards the LOS in run support only to realize that he’s now in the pulling OC’s sniper-rifle crosshairs & set-up to get de-cleated into next week & out of the play as well.  JJtBC hits this hole, sprinting into & through this wide seam into an undefended lane extending from the LOS to the Broiler goal line.  This scenario is a near sure-fire TD rush with excellent blocking by the Purple OL, one of the best executed by Cushing’s crew throughout the evening against an 8-in- the-box formation.  In a desperation defensive move, the position-blocked Perdue LDE dives at the shoe-tops of JJtBC sprinting past him & snags one, tripping the Junior RB down to the turf at the Broiler-Chicken 11 – as good a defensive stab that prevents a sure-thing TD as I’ve seen all game long on a well-blocked play.

With the clock ticking down, Thorson swiftly calls his offensive personnel to line-up for the next play, receives the snap from center with 23 seconds to go and, standing confidently behind his pocket protection wall scanning the Perdue secondary, tosses a perfect touch pass towards the deep right corner of the end zone to 6’4” WR Big Ben Skowronek, who leaps high over his cover DB, snags the pill at his highest jump point and comes down, ball in hand, with both feet just inside the end zone sideline for a TD.  The Wildcats go absolutely ballistic at having sprinted 96 yards in 93 clicks to up NU’s lead over the Chickens to 14-0, while the Purple fans in the stands cheer lustily at the sight of this dramatic scoring drive.

How’s that for defying conventional football wisdom.  If turnabout is fair play, then Fitz pulled-off one of the fairest-play reversals of fortune on Perdue HC Brohme that this college football fan has seen in years.  Perdue goes for the equalizer TD by dismissing a sure 3 point FG only to get stoned within the shadow of NU’s goal posts, then Thorson & Co. execute their 2-minue offense to near perfection, turning the tables on their foe from West Laughable, IN, and getting the last laugh before the halftime break. 

Collegiate football doesn’t get any more entertaining than this, to be sure.       


This victory against the competitive but overmatched Perdue Broiler-Chickens was about as pro forma as one might expect from a 6-point home favorite like the Wildcats.  Simply stated, the ‘Cats took care of business and apparently didn’t endure any major injury to key personnel beyond the usual bumps & bruises associated with a hard-fought grapple facing their 5th B1G opponent in a row.  And despite having been gouged for 398 yards net by a pass-happy Broiler-Chicken O, Doc’s D limited the scoreboard damage to 13 points while providing their Purple O teammates enough angst-free operating space to do the needful and deliver the “W” goods as the final gun sounded to end the evening’s hostilities.

Bottom line: I’ll accept the 1-0 record for this weekend’s workload by the Wildcats and respectfully stash the “W” medal in my vest pocket for safe keeping, while eyeing NU’s next foe, the Minnie Golden Rodents.  The Golden Rodents and their Pied Piper HC, the irrepressible P.J. Fleck, invade Dyche’s Ditch for NU’s Senior Day match and are more than a little full of themselves at having summarily eviscerated the injury-plagued, disenfranchised Nebby BugEaters 54-21 in TCF Stadium, that kept their bowl aspirations alive, while dashing any hopes of the same for the team from Lincoln, NE.  The Rodents’ route of the once proud BugEaters was one of the worst train wreck games for Nebby in recent memory, and essentially marked the final death-knell for the BugEaters’ highly criticized HC, Mike Riley, who fully expects to receive a well-deserved pink slip from the Nebby athletic powers-that-be at season’s end.  To say the Golden Rodents abandoned their anemic passing attack and, instead, ran roughshod over, around & through the Nebby defense is the very soul of understatement.  409 net yards off 42 rushing attempts, generating an eye-popping 9.1 yards per carry average, will cement the foundation of a blowout of this magnitude.  Those ground-n-pound stats became the obsidian blade used cut the still beating heart out from the collective chests of the BugEater defense in short order. This contest never really was one to begin-with simply because the Golden Gophers laid 30 points on the hapless BugEater D in H-1 alone and never bothered to look back at their opponent sprawled-out on the TCF Stadium field turf and looking like roadkill.  Hell, why focus on your foe bleeding-out behind you when everyone dressed in gold & maroon regalia is fawning over the home team’s comprehensive route of the once & former Big Bad Nebraska Hucksters.   

So this coming weekend, the Golden Rodents plan to row their Walmart plastic dinghy laden with P.J. Fleck’s boisterous “Rah-Rah, Ski-U-Nah” bowl-eligibility hopes & dreams into a very cold & rain-soaked Dyche’s Ditch and, perchance, reprise the success story from the previous Saturday.  Only problem with that pipe dream is that Doc’s D will have much more to say than the Nebby BugEaters ever thought to vocalize in their debacle against these Rodents. 

I’m gonna predict that Fitz & the Dyche’s Ditch ground crew will spread D-Con Rat-Be-Gone all around the Minnie sidelines and let the Rodent extermination commence around 11:00 AM this Saturday  ‘Nuf said. 

The Waterboy
“Win with Grace, Lose with Dignity”

Nov 10, 2017

3rd Time’s A Charm

In regards to the 2017 ‘Cats, the phrase above is a very apt descriptor of the remarkable feat that Fitz and his team have accomplished over their last 3 consecutive football games: each requiring overtime via the NCAA-mandated Princeton tiebreaker protocol to determine its final victor and all won by the Northwestern Wildcats, the first team ever in Division 1A to have turned such a three-peat trick in FBS history.  Truly, this isn’t your grandfather’s Northwestern football team.

One thought-provoking tangent from this first-of-its-kind achievement was the point that, IMHO, NU never received what I justifiably felt was a higher degree of interest that normally would have been proffered to a team that secured a modern-era record as distinctively unique as this one happens to be.  In fact, although it was mentioned during various TV, cable and internet sports outlets handling college gridiron storylines, local & national media and collegiate football fans at large relegated it either as a casual curiosity that deserved little more than token reference or it wasn’t worth mentioning at all.  And yet, had this never-before-done three-peat OT victory streak been delivered by some traditional powerhouse football program, like the Noted Dames, Da BuckNuts or a State Penn, you could rest assured that media gnomes of all shapes & sizes would have been gushing effusively all over their notepads & microphones at such a newsworthy deed.  However, since this feat was realized by “Just Northwestern,” it appeared that most folks chose to look beyond its significance within the general landscape of collegiate football.  So subsequently, I suppose the Wildcats received the appropriate amount of notoriety befitting a team sporting a relatively pedestrian 6-3 record, understated as it was. 

But then again, could anyone within the vast community of college football journalists truly be held accountable for overlooking NU’s fantastic triumph since, coincidentally, it was overshadowed in the same afternoon by a pair of wholly unexpected, mind-blowing, red-letter upsets that befell two of the perennially-ranked, powers-that-be football programs within the B1G?  In addition, these two shocking upsets were even more momentous to the 2017 post-season bowl bid fortunes of Fitz’ Wildcats in the fact that they were carried-out at the hands of the very B1G teams which took the high hard haymaker to the chin in the first two OT games won by the ‘Cats two & three weekends ago, respectively: the first – Io_a’s brutally thorough 55 (yes, that number is correct)-to-24 dismantling of Da No. 3 BuckNuts; and the second – Moo U.’s game-clinching, fairytale FG booted in the game’s final 4 seconds of regulation time against their protected B1G rival, the No. 7 Inmates of State Penn, that captured the “W” flag for the Green Meanies.  In both contests, the equally improbable victory by the home team underdogs virtually eliminated any & all aspirations held by either Da BuckNuts or State Penn for their inclusion onto the 2017 Division 1A College Football Playoff’s racing card. 

Because Moo U.’s cable coverage was delayed 3.5 hours due to lightning strikes in the vicinity of the stadium, a crazy coincidence arose in which the TV & cable broadcasts for each of these 3 games were aired during the same 2:30 PM CDT timeslot.  Subsequently, since I was extremely interested in all 3 games, I went into full OCD man-cave mode constantly flipping between cable channels via my remote control in an insane attempt to watch all three broadcasts simultaneously as best as I could.  And frankly, I cannot imagine that I was alone in this completely nutso task to witness current details from the three games in real time.  As each game’s ongoing upset scenario unfolded in all its individual glory, I couldn’t help but think that if both Io_a & Moo U. turned the trick of beating their prohibitive favorite opponent, then that dynamic duo of unlikely defeats might set-up NU for a potential windfall of residual post season favors… If only the Wildcats could do the needful in their current game.  But of course, this is NU; and it could never be that simple.  In head-scratching fashion, although  he faced an injury-riddled, relatively porous BugEater D, Wildcat QB, Clayton Thorson, reverted to his “Bad CT” field play habits from NU’s Wisky & State Penn losses – missing open receivers and making plain poor decisions overall, especially in his passing game where Mick McCall’s Junior primary playmaker accrued a modestly unspectacular 54% completion rate.  IMHO, Thorson is currently underperforming badly and, most alarming, when competing against the Wildcats’ reputedly easiest foes from their 2017 B1G conference slate, a series of 4 weaker teams whom Thorson & Co. should be dissecting & dispatching in short order.  Then Holy Crap on a Cracker, my pot of frustration boiled-over when Clayton hand delivered a pair of brainfart-induced TDs to Nebby via completely avoidable INTs that:

1.    Reversed a potential Purple scoring opportunity on the possession following Kyle Queiro’s sweet INT midway through Q1.  On the ensuing offensive series, after having pushed the LOS to the UNL 22, CT forced an ill-advised pass to a double-covered target receiver that was easily picked off at the Nebby 7 then returned to the BugEater 39.  This passing gaffe not only killed-off sure points which would have extended NU’s 7-0 lead, but shifted Miss Momentum back to the home team who promptly rode its newfound wave of emotion to mount a 10-play, 61-yard drive ending in a BugEater game-tying TD near the end of Q1.  Dumb & dumber.

2.    Hand-delivered Nebby a Pick-6 TD on the 3rd play of NU’s 1st possession of Q3, when Thorson’s horrible pass missed its intended target by 5 full yards and was picked off by BugEater LB, Marcus Newby, in the short left-side boundary zone.  The grateful Mr. Newby accepted the giftie INT by deftly making an easy snatch on the errant toss then, upon seeing nothing but long green before him, sprinted free & clear down the sideline into the home team’s end zone, giving UNL its first lead of the match at 21-17, with virtually most of H-2 still to play.  Mr. Thorson… What, if anything, were you thinking?

So now, at this juncture within a tightly contested grapple, I’m crossing both my fingers & toes hoping that, someway, somehow, CT will extract his cranium from his rectal orifice and get his passing QB act together enough to resuscitate himself from potential self-strangulation by playing his position with a modicum of the proficiency that he had demonstrated against Moo U.  However, all this Thorson “return to form” crappola meant absolutely nada without an indispensable assist from the Wildcat D that must rise to meet the challenge of controlling the now fired-up BugEater O with appropriate efficacy to proffer CT the required time to get his mind right and redeem himself.  And thankfully, that’s exactly what occurred, despite the necessity of having to send the game into overtime to do exactly that.  You know the rest…  NU takes possession of the bean first in the OT-1 period then efficiently drives the bean the obligatory 25 yards in 7 plays to TD paydirt, garnering NU a 31-24 lead for its effort.  On UNL’s follow-up possession, its only offensive series in OT-1, Doc’s relentlessly aggressive D handcuffs BugEater QB, Tanner Lee, into the following inconsequential 4-n-out sequence of downs:
●    An incomplete pass from Mr. Lee, who exhibited “happy feet” in the face of a strong pass rush push by Doc’s hard-charging DL;
●    A timely 10-yard sack on Lee by standout Frosh DT Samdup Miller that stretched the BugEater’s to-go yardage to 20 clicks;
●    A near-inconsequential, 8-yard check-down pass completion in the short middle zone of the ‘Cat secondary;
●    Finally on 4th-n-12, a 2nd incomplete pass via a well-played PBU by ‘Cat CB, Kyle Queiro. 

Lights out in the pool hall, baby.  In the end, as they had done in their previous two Saturdays, the Cardiac ‘Cats come through in the clutch for their 3rd OT win in as many consecutive games – a historical-hysterical FBS first.

To quote Charles Dicken’s novella, A Christmas Carol, “And abundance rejoices.”

How the ‘Cats Zapped the BugEaters

It’s What’s Up Front That Counts
I’m delighted to declare that one of the most satisfying positive developments in overall field play among the entire Wildcat team has come from the personnel populating NU’s 2-deep roster of offensive linemen.  This current unit doesn’t remotely resemble the porous, inept blocking franchise that was an all too familiar sight throughout NU’s 3 losses in the opening half of the 2017 season and, as of late, has become a reliably crucial contributor in the ‘Cat’s historic skein of 3 OT victories.  Although a far cry from the well-oiled OL machines fielded by the Wisky Drunkards or the State Penn Inmates, OL coach Adam Cushing’s Big Ugly playmakers have acquitted themselves very well in the 4 consecutive B1G conference contests following their comprehensive dismantling in the State Penn match.  Consequently, I must give sincere, well deserved credit to this unit for all their hard work and due diligence towards correcting their once many deficiencies.  Their ongoing commitment to excellence, at long last, is reaping highly valued dividends for the Northwestern O in the form of less self-inflicted wounds such as missed blocking assignments & brainfart penalties as well as a marked reduction in the number of sacks given-up over the course of a single game, any one of which can stymie an offensive drive at a critical moment in a closely contested contest (e.g.: in OT).  When building any lasting structure, the most significant item is a solid, immovable foundation.  Thankfully, NU’s OL are well on their way to becoming that reliable foundation for the Wildcat offense skyscraper.  

The ‘Cats’ grapple against the BugEater defense last Saturday was a prime example of the ‘Cat OL’s improved performance profile.  Not only did the Purple OL eliminate any sack from the final stat sheet, they allowed just 2 TFLs for a paltry minus 3 yards net over the entire game.  In addition, the ‘Cat OL reduced their penalty count to 3 over the 60 minutes of regulation time – one highly dubious chop-block (which truly it wasn’t) & 2 false starts – and, even more critical, zero flags in OT, where the effects of minus yardage plays are magnified.  Now that’s what I’m talking about! 

Kudos all around, fellas.   

The Right Stuff – Defensive Four-Pete
For the fourth consecutive game, DC Doc Hankwitz’ defensive front 7 went into full lockdown mode once again against a B1G offense in the Nebby BugEaters who showed admirable resiliency against the Perdue Broiler-Chickens by scoring the game-clinching TD in the final 14 seconds of regulation to garner a 24-23 “W” the previous weekend.  In fact, UNL QB, Tanner Lee, went Medieval on the Broiler-Chickens, as he literally peppered Perdue’s defensive secondary for a career best 32 completions off 54 attempts for another career best 431 total yards & 2 TDs.  Only issue with that laudable passing stat sheet is that Nebby’s injury-plagued D was equally porous facing the Perdue O, turning this game into a knock-down, drag-out slugfest dominated by both combatants’ offenses. 

However, this game was one where NU’s defensive brain trust made the pre-game executive decision to stone the Nebby rushing attack first then transfer the heavy lifting responsibility for UNL’s the offensive yardage production to the arm of the BugEaters’ QB, despite Mr. Lee’s collegiate career defining passing day facing the Broiler-Chicken’s D.  Subsequently, as a viable defensive strategy, Doc’s decision proved to be very effective as the UNL ground game was limited to a mere 112 net yards gained off 31 attempts, while the Wildcat defensive front 7 collected 7 TFLs netting the BugEater O a minus 26 yards lost for the effort.  As for the BugEaters’ passing game, Mr. Lee did an adequate job of lifting the yardage generation load by completing 21 of 38 throws for a deuce & a quarter yards gained with 2 TDs scored.  However those middling passing stats were, point in fact, a false positive for the UNL QB if only because his QBR was a dog lay 21.0 for the afternoon – nothing to write home to mother about, indeed.

This lockdown thing by Doc’s D against a B1G opponent’s rushing attack is beginning to become a welcome, familiar habit rather than the occasional exception to the norm.   

No Fly Zone
Although Nebby QB Tanner Lee compiled some decent numbers in yards gained through the air, his bottom line effort was neutralized by 3 INTs that not only thwarted those 3 BugEater offensive possessions; they turned the ball over to NU’s offense as well.  Despite Thorson & Co.’s failure to do much in terms of mounting any kind of scoring drive on the heels of the first two picks, the third pick, at the 10:36 mark of Q4 by ‘Cat Safety, Godwin Igwebuike, at the Wildcat 16 yard line was a super significant game-changing play simply because it killed a potential UNL scoring drive threat that could have inflated NU’s current deficit from 7 to 14 points with 10 minutes left to go in the game, an daunting scoreboard hole from which the ‘Cat offense, with near 100% certainty, never would have been able to climb-out of.  With that pick, not only did the home team Wildcats dodge a kill-shot bullet, it shifted game momentum back in the Purple team’s favor once and for all – something the ‘Cats desperately needed at that point-in-time.  And it’s at this critical juncture that Clayton Thorson flushed his underwhelming quarterbacking field play of the previous 15 minutes and raised his playmaking back to its expected high quality level.     

Thank Gawd for small favors.

The Reel Thing – Once More
With the bean hand delivered to the Wildcat O by Igwebuike’s INT, Thorson & Co. took full advantage of this giftie extra possession by mounting their own meticulously efficient drive towards the BugEater goal line some 84 yards downfield from their starting field position at the ‘Cat 16 yard line. This crucial offensive series saw: 
●    A brainfart defensive ‘hands to the face’ penalty on BugEater CB, Lamar Jackson, who not only shoved his right hand into the chicklets of ‘Cat WR Ramaud Chiaokhiao-Bowman to avoid the RS Frosh’s downfield block, but followed that illegal stiff-arm with a retaliatory haymaker left cross to the chin of the Purple wideout, directly in front of a field judge, earning the numb-nuts DB a personal foul flag & a seat on the UNL bench for his troubles, while giving the Wildcat O an additional 15-yard walk-off after the play was over.  IMHO, Jackson should have been tossed forthwith from the game for that egregious flagrant foul – but he wasn’t; 
●    Thorson delivering NU’s first 3rd-n-long conversion for a first down in the entire game, a 20-yard aerial dart completion to ‘Cat WR Flynn Nagel, after having failed in the previous 9 attempts to collect a first down off a 3rd down play;
●    Five plays later, on a do-or-die 4th-n-1 down, JJtBC takes the handoff from Thorson, lowers his pads and blasts into the teeth of the BugEater defensive line for a critical 2-yard gain via a powerful, all-or-nothing rush that reset the LOS at the Nebby 7 and conveyed a greatly anticipated 1st-n-goal scenario to Thorson & Co., extending the current offensive series with an additional 4 downs to hit paydirt.
On the very next down, the 13th play of the drive, Thorson sets-up for a pass behind his pocket protection wall, takes 2 steps forward to avoid the Nebby DEs crashing around the NU backfield from the defensive edge, then sees a 5-yard wide seam open-up in the right B-gap of the hand-fighting OL-DL tandems.  CT tucks the ball under arm then sprints free & clear towards & across the BugEater goal line to convert the game-tying TD with 5:24 remaining on the game clock, knotting the score at 24 all.  It is THE highlight reel, gut-check defining offensive moment of the match for the ‘Cat O. Without it, the ‘Cats trudge back to Evanston with their collective tails between their legs and bruised egos left on the floor of the Nebby visiting team’s locker room. 

Then comes overtime.  NU loses the pre-OT coin toss and the BugEater captains choose to defend.  Thorson & Co. gladly accept their fate to receive possession of the bean in the top half of OT-1 and do their best to score points in the first offensive series of this extra period.  On the first play from scrimmage, the Nebby D appeared to expect to defend the Purple aerial circus with a pass-happy Thorson as NU’s Big Top circus ring master of ceremonies.  Instead, NU’s OC Mick McCall calls on Northwestern’s ground-n-pound offensive game and it pays immediate dividends.  Consecutive rushes of 12, 6 & 5 yards against a soft BugEater defensive front 7 resets the LOS for a 1st-n-goal down at the UNL 2.  Three straight plays (an A-Gap dive, a toss sweep to the left defensive edge and a QB sneak) attacking the Nebby defensive LOS specifically set in a gap-8 goal line formation nets 1 measly yard, setting-up a 4th-n-goal at the UNL 1.  On this win-or-go-home-a-loser down, Purple WR Ben Skowronek goes into motion from his initial left wing position then crosses behind Thorson and resets himself directly behind the right outside shoulder of the Purple QB.  CT receives the snap from under center, takes a single side-step to his right then digs his cleats into the turf and drives hard into the right A-Gap of the LOS.  With a hard push/assist from behind by Skowronek, Thorson bulldozes the bean over the Nebby goal line to score the go-ahead TD, the 5th TD for NU in as many OT periods across the Wildcats’ last 3 games, each of which had been sent deliberately into overtime. 

This time around, Clayton Thorson used his feet to do the needful in OT-1; and NU was comfortably sitting in the victor’s driver’s seat to capture the “W” flag with his highlight reel-worthy 1-yard plunge.  Redemption is sweet, No?


Once again, NU could have lost this toe-to-toe bar room brawl with the Nebby BugEaters at any one of a half dozen critical points in the game.  In particular, I’m recalling that damned pair of INTs from Clayton Thorson which led directly to 2 very valuable TDs for Big Red.  Without those pick-conveyed TDs, NU was literally “Rollin’ down the road in some cold blue steel; I had a bluesman in the back and a beautician at the wheel” towards a well-earned, relatively pain free victory.  Instead, the ‘Cat O was in a virtual nosedive, losing altitude fast and headed for a life-altering meeting with Mother Earth.  That the Wildcats responded to this dilemma when they pulled the joystick back in the nick of time to end their deadly passing attack tailspin and restore a level trim to their offensive aircraft was a credit to the ‘Cat D for not allowing the game to get too far gone in the rearview mirror for the Purple team to recover and to QB CT who showed resilient grit & determination to flush his earlier passing gaffes and reposition the driving wheels of the Purple “W” train back on its rails and chugging to its final destination of  Grand Victory Station.  True, NU’s three consecutive OT wins set a historical NCAA Division 1A precedent, but even more impressive is the fact that all 5 offensive possessions across all three of these overtime situations ended with Thorson & Co. coming through in the clutch to score, not a kiss-your-sister FG, but a highly prized TD.  That’s a TD (5) scored on every single possession (5) in every single OT period (5) across all 3 overtimes.  IMHO, that’s the most noteworthy accomplishment of all. 

And incredible as it may seem, with this latest on-the-road win against the BugEaters, the ‘Cats actually received a modicum of national recognition for their outstanding “Return On Investment” during their 2nd-half-of-the-2017-season gridiron madness successes.  This past week, Fitz’ Wildcats have collected enough public opinion vouchers to garner an “also receiving votes” status in College Football’s Week 11 beauty pageant listing pair: the Amway Coaches Poll and the AP Poll.  Even more remarkable, the ‘Cats were given the No. 25 spot in the prestigious College Football Playoffs list.  That means that the Wildcats’ “wins against” and “losses to” games carry weight for determining relative value for which college football programs are to be given that Willy Wonka-themed Golden Ticket invitation to College Football’s Big Dance Playoff Series.  Now that’s some heady stuff, to be sure.          

With the Wildcats’ “W” streak at 4 & counting, into Dyche’s Ditch limps a battered & bruised Perdue Broiler-Chicken team, fresh off their own satisfying “W” against the Ill-Annoy Fighting Lovies to snap their B1G game losing streak at 3.  Sporting a overall record of 4-5 at this point in their 2017 pigskin campaign, the Chickens of West Laughable, IN are seeking vindication from their prior deep-fried gridiron shortcomings.  At having taken the measure of the Nebby BugEaters and shoved the backs of Big Red against the wall before succumbing to UNL in their 1-point loss in the final few seconds of that match and then having easily dispatched Rantoul’s B1G Ten Team to extend their season-long “Lovie Smith Death March” misery index to its 7th “L” in a row, Perdue is ready, willing and loaded to take on the Big, Bad Wildcats in their own preemptive drive towards 6-win post-season bowl eligibility.  It’s that very scenario that transmutes this weekend’s bug tussle grapple against a recently resuscitated Broiler Chicken team as the Cats’ ultimate Trap Game of 2017.  This gruesome sentiment is not born out of run-away paranoia or out-of-control conspiracy theory, but this game has all the ear markings of a major letdown in the aftermath of NU’s thrilling roller coaster ride triple play into OT Victory Lane.  If perchance, Doc’s D goes into some crazy catatonic zombie state or JJtBC sustains a devastating game/season-ending injury from a tackle on some non-descript 5-yard rush or Clayton Thorson experiences an incapacitating QB mental meltdown, then the Wildcats are wholly beatable.  Yes, I said it… The “Cats are beatable simply because, for the first time since the BuGS-U game back in September, the Purple team has been given favorite odds of plus 3-points (actually it’s 6 points at the time of this commentary’s composition) by those all-knowing taking heads from Sin City, NV. 

Rather than diving head-first into a bottle of Skull Popper Deluxe Rye, I’ll take the more sensible route and simply hand-tap my own mental “Trust Yourself” board and deposit these debilitating ruminations of Wildcat gridiron sudden failure onto the trash heap of discarded needless worry. 

The Waterboy
“Win with Grace, Lose with Dignity”

Nov 3, 2017

Steal Away

“Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity” – Roman philosopher, Seneca the Younger.

Upon a further review of NU’s unlikely but whole-heartedly satisfying triple overtime besting of the then 6-1 (4-0 in the B1G) Moo U. Green Meanies, I can only say that the Wildcats were “Lucky,” in the truest sense of Seneca’s concept of fulfilling one’s destiny through hard work & circumstance, to have claimed victory at the conclusion of this bare-knuckle fistfight in the manner in which they did – by choosing to send the game into overtime for the 2nd consecutive game then capturing the “W” flag in OT-3.  In fact, it would be much more apropos to declare that the ‘Cats were plain “Damn Lucky.”  In the week leading to last Saturday’s back alley brawl with the recently resuscitated Wildcats, Moo U. and their all-class HC, Mark Dantonio, were exceedingly full of themselves as they reveled in the focus-altering euphoria of an undefeated B1G campaign, and become completely intoxicated by the alluring aroma & piquant flavor of the elixir of adulation overflowing the brim of their cup of competitive confidence.  After all, local & national sports media pundits everywhere were gushing effusively about the Green Meanies’ improbable Lazarus-like emergence from their final 2016 resting place: their self-built “3-win crypt of infamy,” to achieve relevance once again within the landscape of Division 1A football via their wholly unexpected bid to contend for the 2017 B1G Eastern Division Crown.  Beating every team thus far that you were supposed to beat (a.k.a.: your underdog opponents) coupled with a commendable W-L split against the two nationally ranked teams on your fall campaign’s 1st half slate of games, especially that humbling red-letter “W” suppository that you thrust up the mellow moon of your 7th-ranked, in-state rival, “Big Brother” Meat-Chicken, will net your team that heady stratospheric amount of universal respect & recognition among adoring fans and mesmerized media-types alike.  A 4-game win streak against B1G foes over the same number of previous weekends doesn’t hurt either.

Now here comes the enigmatic Northwestern Wildcats – a team possessing an allegorical teacup O, that to date, can’t seem to connect the dots between their occasionally efficient ground game and their erratic but sometimes effective passing attack, that doesn’t quite match-up with its saucer D that has progressively improved week-in and week-out by fielding an aggressive, attacking brand of football designed to dominate  & control the LOS and subsequently neutralize the yardage production capabilities of the superior offenses they’ve had to face over the 1st half of their 2017 schedule, especially their foes’ rushing attack.  With the strength of both combatants oriented towards their respective suffocating defenses and each team’s predominant weakness being their scoring-challenged offenses, this match-up was predisposed to degrade into a low-scoring, 1960’s & 70’s-styled trench warfare slugfest that would amplify any offensive field play miscue (i.e.: a turnover or failure to convert a red-zone possession into valuable scoreboard points) from a mere blip on the radar screen to a potential game-changer.  The only problem with this prognostication was that it didn’t take into account the glaring deficiencies of either team to defend their opponent’s passing game.    

How the ‘Cats Corralled Moo U.

“Fortis Fortuna Adiuvat”
This is a famous quotation from the comedic play, Phormio, by Roman playwright, Publius Terentius Afer, written in 161 BC.  I selected this comedy as the special project for my senior (4th year) high school Latin class (rather than take the final exam) and translated “the good scenes” into 1970’s American vernacular.  The plot involves a “crafty” con artist matchmaker, Phormio, who aids in securing the marriage proposals for two poor young men, who are cousins, to their relative love interests who happen to be half-sisters.  Phormio cajoles and bribes the father of the two young women not only to agree to both proposals from these “men of little means” but to provide a substantial dowry for each bride-to-be, while exacting a pricey “merger/acquisition fee” from both grooms-to-be, to be paid from both dowry coffers.  (Aside… The play is excellent, with several humorous plot twists and insights regarding ancient Roman familial & societal morality.) 

Frequently, this quote is translated as: “Fortune (read: ‘luck’) favors the bold.”  This interpretation, in fact, is incorrect.  The more appropriate translation is: “The Goddess Fortuna gives aid to the daring,” – an aphorism with the positive connotation that “The Roman Goddess of Fate will intervene (i.e.: guarantee success) on behalf of those who dare to ‘act bravely’ or ‘courageously take the chance to succeed’.”  Fortuna was one of the most popular figures among the pantheon of Roman gods – the one to whom men & women prayed or gave offerings (money,  possessions or food) to secure a valuable, sought-for item or a positive outcome in some life-event.  Temples to her were built in virtually every city & village across the Roman Empire.  If you were experiencing or about to experience a life-changing event whose outcome was in doubt or highly questionable, like a soldier going into battle or an infertile woman trying to become pregnant, you invoked this Goddess’ intervention and gave her some personal valued offering to ensure delivery of that desired result.   

I have no idea who offered what to the Goddess Fortuna, but a Purple somebody laid a valued Purple something at her feet prior to the kickoff of last Saturday’s NU vs. Moo U. grapple.  What other reason can be proffered to explain how MSU’s journeyman QB, Brian Lewerke, badly overthrew 3 receiving targets who had blown past  their ‘Cat coverage DB‘s & left them far in their rear view mirrors by 10 yards minimum, when previously on Moo U.’s 4th play from scrimmage after the Green Meanies received the opening kickoff to start the game, the same Mr. Lewerke spied his fav WR, Cody White, sprinting free & clear behind his Purple cover DB and deftly dropped a dime in-stride & on-target for a 60-yard completion that set-up Moo U.’s first TD of the contest.  In truth, I can’t say whether or not it was blind luck, fate, favorable tarot cards or funky residual tea leaves left in the bottom of Mark Dantonio’s pregame cup of tea that was the cause for the hitch in Lewerke’s passing giddy-up that made him grossly overthrow these 3 open WRs, especially since he had demonstrated during the Green Meanies’ 1st possession of the game, that he possessed the goods to make such a pitch-n-catch explosion pass play completion with relative confidence & ease.  Talk about dodging 3 kill-shot bullets.  DC Doc Hankwitz’ defensive secondary was living a charmed existence wrapped in the nurturing embrace of the Goddess Fortuna not to have been turned into black-ash toast on any of those 3 overthrows.  If Lewerke had converted just one of those three golden explosion play opportunities, Moo U. would have had a much easier time dispatching the Wildcats.  However, he didn’t; so it wasn’t; as these 3 fortuitous incompletions were conveyed to the grateful ‘Cat DBs who lived to fight-on over the contest’s full 60 minutes and then some.  Anyone who might peruse the game’s sanitized final box score details wouldn’t have a clue how close the Wildcats had come to absorbing the full game-changing effect had any one of these 3 aerial haymaker swings connected with their chin.  

Thank You, Miss Fortune. 

The Right Stuff – Dyche’s Ditch Goal Posts
Two of the most unusual and decidedly impactful Wildcat defenders of the entire game did not trot out from the Purple locker room onto the green grass of Dyche’s Ditch.  In fact they’ve been standing on the ‘Cats’ home field of play for a decade or more – silent, resilient and ready to answer any challenge put before them when called upon to do so.

These defenders aren’t living, breathing human beings; rather, each is the right upright of the two goal posts hovering over the end lines of either end zone on Ryan Field.  And both uprights’ bearing on the final score was super significant.  On its first possession of H-2, Moo U.’s offensive drive stalled at NU’s south-side 33.  In comes MSU’s relatively reliable PK, Matt Coghlin to attempt a challenging 51-yard FG to break the 10-10 tie.  He boots the bean cleanly.  The kick has the distance, but the pigskin starts to drift to the right more & more until… Bonk… It hits the right upright and caroms back into the end zone.  No Good!  Then, in Q4 with MSU trailing NU 17-10, on Moo U.’s 2nd last possession of regulation time, the Green Meanie O stalls at NU’s north-side 15.  In trots Mr. Coghlin once again for a 33-yard FG attempt.  He boots the pill hard and it flies high, but directly on target with… the right upright.  Bonk… it hits the right upright flush for the 2nd consecutive time and falls harmlessly to the Dyche’s Ditch turf.   No Good – Redux!!!

Two of the most critical Purple defenders prowling the Dyche’s Ditch gridiron were… the right uprights of either south & north goal post.  And they came through for the ‘Cats when they needed it the most, blocking those 2 FGs and preventing 6 potential points from being registered on the stadium scoreboard by Moo U.’s special team FG unit.  Talk about the right stuff…  

Twice more, the Goddess Fortuna smiled on the Wildcats.  I’ve gotta imagine that some intrepid Purple-clad football fan(s) traveled to her Evanston Temple and dropped several John Wick-styled gold sovereigns into the alms crater at her feet.  “Tibi gratias ago dominae meae quondam iterum.”

The Right Stuff – Defensive Three-Pete
For the third consecutive game, DC Doc Hankwitz’ defensive front 7 went into full lockdown mode against an MSU team who, in each of their 4 previous B1G contests, had shown an offensive preference to rush the bean first then pass second, as needed.  Moo U.’s standard offensive game plan is based loosely on the Wisky model (which is mimicked virtually to the letter by Fitz and his coaching staff) emphasizing ball control and clock management via a ground-n-pound oriented attack complimented by a defense that sets a premium on taking control of their opponent’s OL by attacking & penetrating across the LOS specifically to compress the operating space of their opposition’s backfield then finding the ball as it shows and swarming to it with extreme prejudice.  And this model has been validated as the Green Meanies field the B1G’s No. 2 run-stopping D coming into last Saturday’s boxing match with the ‘Cats, giving-up a paltry 94 yards rushing per game on average.  That average rushing yards allowed statistic was as telling as any for assessing the quality quotient for Moo U.’s current defense, especially after having faced the rush-centric attacks of both the Io_a & Meat-Chicken offenses in their first 2 B1G games of 2017 and beat them to the punch.  

With those impressive defensive stats fresh in mind as NU prepared for last Saturday’s donnybrook with MSU, Fitz and Doc knew that the heavy lifting for the Wildcats would begin with their defense.  The coaching staffs of both teams knew full well that this game was going to be a repeat of the previous weekend’s grudge match between the Wildcats and the Io_a HogEyes in which each combatant’s D would prevail over the rushing attacks of their opponent’s O.  This expectation proved to be spot on, as the respective ground games for MSU and NU were stymied from the opening whistle to the final gun.  The salient point of this similarity is that the Wildcat defense held its own with respect to Moo U.’s No. 2 rush defense in the B1G.  In other words, the run stuffing capabilities of Doc’s defensive front 7 are on par with any other highly reputed Big Dog D in the B1G – Da BuckNuts, State Penn, Wisky, Meat Chicken… and Moo U., notwithstanding.  

Folks, that’s elite company; and the final outcome of this grapple had its foundation established in forcing the MSU offense to become one dimensional and dependent on its passing attack.  The only problem with Doc’s priority decision to summarily stuff the MSU rushing attack was that this game plan nearly backfired right back into the face of the ‘Cats when the Green Meanies’ middling passing game drilled a 2nd orifice into the behinds of the Wildcats’ secondary.  

Pas De Desseret Por Vous
One of the more frustrating characteristics of OC Mick McCall’s “Not Ready for Prime Time” Junior QB, Clayton Thorson, is his annoying habit of tossing that drive-killing INT at the most inopportune time (which conversely might lead one to assume incorrectly that there could ever be a “good time” to throw a pick in a football game).  However, what, in past games, might have been considered an aberration from the norm, over the last two contests, Thorson hasn’t tossed one single INT.  That’s right; you read it correctly: CT hasn’t baked one hot-n-flakey French Pastry passing turnover (INT or fumble) and served it into the waiting defensive mitts of either Io_a or Moo U.  That’s cause for celebration, if only because NU last 2 opponents had game-planned expressly to stone the Wildcats’ rushing attack and their feature RB, JJtBC; and, by design, to convey the ‘Cats’ scoring burden directly into the hands (and arm) of Mr. Thorson.  And to his credit, CT responded with two of his more commendable passing outings of the Wildcats’ 2017 fall campaign.  Against the HogEyes, despite completing a pedestrian 21 tosses off 36 attempts, for 192 yard & no TDs – CT did so with NO INTs.  Then last Saturday against Moo U., he went one better by completing 33 of 48 passing attempts for an eye popping 356 yards and 2 TDS – and equally as significant, NO INTs.  That’s a remarkable achievement from this writer’s perspective.  I can only hope that this “NO INT” final box score statistic becomes an ongoing trend in Clayton’s continued upwardly mobile passing profile as McCall’s preferred primary ball handler rather than a limited-time-only anomaly.   

Meet JJtPB
One of the most unexpected offensive plays of the 2017 season, let alone the most improbable play from last Saturday’s NU vs Moo U. match, was the featured Wildcat RB’s wholly unprecedented metamorphosis from Justin Jackson the Ball Carrier (JJtBC) to Justin Jackson the Passing Back (JJtPB).  

On the ‘Cats’ first possession of Q4, Thorson & Co. push the LOS into the MSU red zone at the visiting team’s 12 yard line.  On the following 1st-n-10 down, Clayton receives the snap from center in his shotgun position then hands the pill off to JJtBC.  JJ grabs the bean, takes two steps to his right, then, when a 3 yard-wide seam opens-up directly in front of him, he takes 3 steps downfield towards the inviting hole that NU’s OL had opened for him.  Just before he enters the seam, JJtBC pulls up and spies teammate WR Ben Skowronek behind the Moo U. DBs, standing near the end line of the south end zone.  The Moo U. DBs see this open hole at the LOS and JJtBC poised to drive into & through it towards their goal line, so they abandon their cover targets, standing in this middle zone, including Skowronek, and turn upfield to meet the Purple RB in the hole.  The now-stopped Justin lofts a painfully slow, high-arching, shot put-styled toss over the heads of these DB’s who are now 2 full yards in front of the open Mr. Skowronek.  The trajectory of the tossed bean resembles a slow motion floater that appears to be overthrown.  The Purple target WR jumps high, snatches the pill at his highest vertical jump-point and pulls it down, cradling it in his hands while toe-tapping the end zone.  In that moment, the Moo U. DBs recognize JJ’s rush-to-the-LOS bluff, turn back in an attempt to defend the open Skowronek and arrive too late to bat the pigskin away from Big Ben.  The successful TD toss gives the Wildcats a crucial 17-10 lead with just-under 11 minutes left on regulation time, while JJtBC transmutes into JJtPB by throwing his first potential game-clinching dying-quail TD completion of his storied collegiate career.

Lucky… Lucky… Lucky.

The Reel Deal
It’s no great insight to describe the 60 minutes of regulation time of last Saturday’s NU vs MSU donnybrook as a defense-centric haymaker-filled mutual beat-down in which the rushing attack of either team was neutralized by their opposition’s defensive front 7 units.  Consequently, that scenario left the yardage and point production capabilities of the combatant’s offense to the playmaking profiles of their relative passing attacks.  And neither team’s passing offense failed.  I’ve described Moo U.’s starting QB, Brian Lewerke, as a “Journeyman QB,” simply because he had demonstrated the capacity to generate the necessary situational yards & points via his passing acumen in limited situations in previous games; whereas his NU counterpart QB, Clayton Thorson, on the other hand, had shown his aerial playmaking ability on many more occasions throughout his collegiate QB career.  Therefore, I had complete confidence that the Wildcat O possessed a distinct advantage in this relative one-dimensional passing profile comparison.  However, nothing could have been further from the truth.  Mr. Lewerke, not only equaled Mr. Thorson’s passing output throughout this contest, he surpassed it substantially and did so at the most crucial junctures of the game – especially during Moo U.’s final possession in regulation. 

In that offensive series, Lewerke & Co. inherited a starting field position at the MSU 12 yard line with 3:14 left on the game clock.  Advantage Wildcats, No?  Well unfortunately, Fitz & Doc went into a prevent defense set that opened whole areas for the Lewerke-led passing attack to abuse – and did he ever.  With ‘Cat CB’s giving MSU wideouts a humongous 12-yard cushion along the boundary zones to ensure that Moo U. WR pass routes would remain in front of them, Lewerke took full advantage of this huge buffer, throwing 40 yard darts into the open spaces in these short boundary zones and hitting his target receivers with regularity.  In addition, the ‘Cats’ short zone coverage of their prevent D, comprised primarily of their Purple LB corps, likewise were positioned an extreme 12 yards off the LOS, opening the short middle zone for easy exploitation, essentially giving Lewerke & his WRs a free & clear sideline-to-sideline horizontal swath for uncontested pitch-n-catch passes which allowed the Green Meanie O to march downfield like a hot knife through soft butter.  And…  Doc never added a 5th pass blitzer or red-dog defender into the mix of his standard 4-DL pass rush, making this prevent formation a blueprint for defensive failure.  The box score statistics for this single possession tell the sorted tale of defensive coaching stupidity and hubris by NU.  Lewerke completed 6 of his first 7 passes, resulting in yardage gains of 10, 8, 3, 14, 8 & 9 on consecutive throws; followed by his first & only incompletion of the series; followed by 3 more sequential receptions of 4, 12 and finally 13-yards – the last one resulting in the game tying TD with 22 seconds left on the clock, via a highlight reel-worthy circus catch by Moo U. WR Felton Davis as he made a nifty jump-ball grab then tumbled out of bounds with both knees hitting the end zone turf beforehand to ensure the completion.  One could claim that this was Lewerke’s finest moment as a college QB.  On the other hand, I would describe it, more justifiably, as a series of play-calling gaffes & brainfarts by the Wildcat defensive brain trust (read: Fitz) that handcuffed the Purple D into a desperate “play not to lose” mode of inappropriate & ineffectual prevent defense field play that set-up Doc’s troops for unavoidable catastrophic failure.  IMHO, NU’s defense deserved better – so much better.  

However, that last ditch TD score by Moo U. in the final seconds of regulation merely tied the game.  Overtime still loomed like an executioner’s sword dangling on the end of a hair string above the heads of the ‘Cats.  Current circumstances did not look promising for the home team. 

But then, OT reduced the standard 100-yard gridiron to a 25-yard, backyard sized field of play, eliminating the necessity for those damned “prevent defense” sets.  The ‘Cats need only: 1) take care of their offensive business to deliver scoreboard points; then 2) pass the playmaking baton to their counterparts on the D side of the LOS, who, in turn, must perform the needful to constrict the Moo U. offense from duplicating the point production of the Wildcat O.  Simple in theory; but Thorson & Co. had to deliver the goods expected of Part 1.  And Thorson & Co. did not disappoint.    

In OT-1, Thorson goes right to work and completes consecutive passes of 11 & 14 yards, the 2nd resulting in an easy-peazy pitch-n-catch from CT to SB Cam Green, with zero pressure from the MSU pass rush.  Moo U.’s Lewerke answers with a 5-play offensive series that ends with a 6-yard TD toss to WR Cody White that evens the score at 24 apiece. 

In OT-2, it was more of the same, as Lewerke connects with Mr. White once again for the WR’s 2nd TD catch, an 11-yarder, in as many OT periods.  Thorson & Co. answers the bell in NU’s bottom half of the inning, with a 4-play scoring drive that converts the crucial equalizer TD and ties the score at 31-all.  

In NU’s offensive possession in the top half of OT-3, Thorson waits on speedy WR Flynn Nagel to run a short crossing route into open space in MSU’s short middle zone.  When Nagel gets directly in front of his QB, CT throws a precise dart that delivers the bean in-stride & on-target right into the mitts of the wide-open Mr. Nagel, who sprints to the east boundary with ball in hand, gaining separation from his cover DB now trailing the WR by 2 yards, turns downfield along the boundary line and scampers untouched across the Moo U. goal line scoring the 3rd consecutive TD in as many OTs for ‘Cats.  Thorson & Co. add to MSU’s misery when they convert on the OT rules-dictated 2-point PAT attempt via a Thorson to Cam Green pass completion giving the ‘Cats a daunting 9 point lead.  It’s at this is point in OT-3 when & where the Wildcat D delivers the coup de grâce via an unrelenting pass rush from Doc’s defensive front 7.  Lewerke & Co.’s 3rd OT series begins ominously with an incomplete pass when Doc finally shelves his conservative pass rush tendencies and adds that critical 5th pass rusher to the mix, ordering his talented MLB, Paddy Fisher, to shoot the left B-gap of the Green Meanie OL, who obliges his DC’s directive and gets right in to the grill of Mr. Lewerke, forcing the errant throw.  On the next down, NU’s very own Italian Stallion, DE Joe Gaziano, bull rushes the Moo U. LOT and pushes himself & his overwhelmed OL blocker straight back into Lewerke, whereupon Mean Joe swipes the bean out from the grasp Lewerke’s throwing hand, making it roll along the Dyche’s Ditch turf 12 yards upfield away from the MSU QB.  Lewerke recovers his senses, sees the pill lying behind him on the turf, rushes over to it, picks-up the bean and tosses a high-arcing, desperation heave towards the endzone in the withering hope of somehow, someway delivering it to anyone wearing a Green helmet.  ‘Cat LB Nate Hall sees Lewerke’s wounded duck toss, leaps over a would-be Moo U. receiver, snags the bean in flight and falls to the turf with ball in hand, converting a game-clinching INT for the Wildcats.  The Dyche’s Ditch ‘Cat fans go absolutely bonkers while the 1000 or so NU students in attendance rush the field to surround their fellow Purple warrior student-athletes in a delirious celebration at the insanely crazy ending to this bloody battle. 

To be sure, this is highlight reel-worthy stuff, folks.

This Wildcat victory was not a thing of beauty- no far from it.  It was a fitting end to a bloody fisticuff battle royal that took the last measure of focus and resolve from both combatants fighting tooth & nail to capture the “W” flag before one prevailed over the other.  NU happened to receive that magical oversight from the Goddess Fortuna in the form of multiple overthrown passes to wide open Moo U. receivers, goal post upright rejections of 2 MSU FG attempts and Clayton Thorson’s invaluable sequence of pass completions in 3 consecutive OT periods, 2 of which notched highly prized TDs to seal the deal.  Call it blind luck, call it “when preparation meets opportunity” or simply identify it as a very welcome blessing from the appeased ancient Roman Goddess of Fate.  At the end of all the euphoria and such, what matters most is that NU survived a knock-down, drag-out war of attrition to go 1-and-Oh for that weekend and added a crucial 5th “W” on their 2017 gridiron resume that cleared enough of the opaque fog for the Wildcats to begin to see their goal of garnering post-season bowl eligibility on the far horizon.  In fact, many media pundits from all over have poo-poo’d this hard-fought victory as more a Moo U. mistake than an NU achievement.  And when one delves into the fine details of this grapple, that perspective cannot be refuted with much conviction.  Still, this “W” is a “W,” and I will take it, cherish it and place it gently in my vest pocket for safe keeping.     

For now, the intrepid Wildcats must flush this win and prepare to meet the challenge of their next bare-knuckle boxing match, this time against the Nebraska BugEaters in Lincoln, NE.  The BugEaters went toe-to-toe with the Perdue Broiler-Chickens in their own fight to the finish and captured the bar room brawl’s “W” flag when The Big Red’s QB, Tanner Lee, threw a frenetic 13-yard TD pass completion with 14 seconds left on the game clock to secure a slim 25-24 victory.  This 1-point win just might have resurrected the BugEaters’ fading post-season bowl aspirations as Nebby now sports a 4-4 record for 2017.  I expect more of the same from this B1G West Division rival this coming Saturday. 

The Waterboy
“Win with Grace, Lose with Dignity”

Oct. 31, 2017

“Winning Ugly” Isn’t the Point

In the wake of the ‘Cats’ improbable, super-thrilling 7-point victory in OT against NU’s most loathsome and truest No. 1 rival in the B1G, the Io_a HogEyes, I spoke to numerous Wildcat fans who expressed animated dissatisfaction with HC Pat Fitzgerald’s tactical decision that consigned his team to compete for final victory via the NCAA’s tied score resolution protocol: The Princeton Overtime.  Under normal circumstances, football teams end-up turning to the finality of the Princeton Overtime due to one of the two related scenarios below:
1.     One team scores the crucial game-tying points following a frenetic comeback bid in the closing minutes of regulation time (a scramble scenario).
2.    Both teams share a tie score as regulation time remaining on the scoreboard clock expires when neither’s offense can gain the appropriate field position for a last ditch scoring opportunity (a ‘meh’ scenario).  
However, in last Saturday’s contest, despite having possession of the bean with 90 precious seconds remaining in regulation and starting field position at NU’s 25 (classic scramble scenario), Fitz made the conscious choice to opt-out of mounting that one final furious fan-pleasing drive to move the pill downfield into position for the game-clinching FG attempt, and, instead, sent the game into overtime.  IMHO, it was a bold decision that would have been more characteristically expected from a reputedly unconventional college football HC like Wazzo’s Mike “The Riverboat Gambler” Leach than the usually conservative Pat Fitzgerald.  Nevertheless, here was Fitz forcing the proverbial final round of the B1G West Division’s annual ‘Cats vs HogEyes Texas Hold ‘Em Tourney, after all the cards were dealt and the betting completed, confidently calling-out “All In” while pushing his entire stack of chips forward towards the center of the felt-covered table to challenge his all-too-familiar nemesis, the stoic, steely-eyed HogEye HC, Kirk Ferentz, to determine once and for all the 2017 tourney’s victor.  Once each opposing player’s hands were turned-over, Fitz’ plucky winner-takes-all gambling gambit paid off handsomely with a black chip-laden pot as his Wildcats answered their HC’s call and delivered a heroic TD that was unanswered in the HogEyes’ subsequent OT possession – sealing the deal and vindicating Fitz’ gutsy wager to wrestle the “W” flag away from the grasp of the stone-faced Mr. Ferentz. 

But peace & harmony at NU’s endgame good fortune against their hated rival did not abide among all card-carrying members of Wildcat Nation.  Rather than reveling in the euphoria of the moment, many loyal Purple patrons questioned the wisdom behind Fitz’ all-or-nothing OT gamble, especially when considering its potential to squelch any hope of achieving NU’s perennial goal of garnering 6 wins to become bowl eligible by season’s end, had it failed. 

In addition, a large number of these same fans expressed disappointment regarding several observed game-time situations that could have had profound negative impact on this game’s eventual outcome.  The first: many groused about NU’s continued reliance on a “winning ugly” defense-oriented game plan that featured very boring, overly predictable offensive play calling apparently conceived to limit the number of times in which NU’s enigmatic, yardage & scoring production-challenged O would be forced to deal with the constricting pressure to convert that critical first down on 3rd-n-long or deliver that crucial score to keep the game within competitive reach when facing another high quality B1G defense, like the HogEyes possess.  The second: many complained that Fitz showed an overt lack of confidence in his supposed “NFL-ready” 3rd year QB, Clayton Thorson, to perform in the clutch since he chose to shut down his O when the Wildcats had the last “bean in hand” possession for either team just prior to the ends of both 1st & 2nd halves with approximately a minute or more remaining on the game clock.  The third: many voiced criticism that Fitz positioned the ‘Cat O into what could be characterized as a “play not to lose” mode by restricting the use of the “long ball” vertical pass that, tactically, might have added the threat of a quick-strike capability to Thorson & Co., and the possibly to loosen the HogEyes’ apparently prioritized defensive strategy meant to stone NU’s JJTBC-based ground game and force the ‘Cats’ offensive yardage production into becoming increasingly dependent on Mr. Thorson’s erratic passing capabilities.  Considering these perspectives objectively, especially in light of the disturbing bagel that OC Mick McCall’s O tossed onto the Dyche’s Ditch scoreboard at the end of H-1, it would come as no surprise if/when the average ‘Cat fan might easily conclude that each of these derogatory sentiments had merit with no solution in sight.

My immediate response to such grumblings was both swift and direct… 

●    On the game’s “winning ugly” aspect:
Most certainly, this contest wasn’t basketball on grass featuring point-a-minute offenses blowing past NBA-like defenses (read: players doing their best imitation of weeds (growing roots firmly planted in the ground) or traffic cones (standing upright & anchored in one place) allowing their opponents to dribble over, around or through them to the basket & score at will); but instead, transitioned to a 60s & 70s-era bare-knuckle trench warfare fistfight with strategies emphasizing the complained-about domineering defenses and ball control/field position offenses that would exploit lapses in defense (e.g.: 20+ yard explosion plays) or turnovers (which proffered a short field to the end zone) as they presented themselves.  Neither team backed down from the other as each haymaker-swinging D took the fight straight into the chicklets of their foe’s O with extreme prejudice.  Long yardage gains were few & far between.  However when delivered, their significance was reflected on the scoreboard – with the HogEyes notching their lone TD on the heels of a 61-yard explosion pass completion in their final possession of H-1; while NU scored its game-tying TD in mid-Q3 following Thorson’s nifty 21-yard scramble into & through a seam in his pocket pass protection wall on a 3rd-n-15 down that precluded RB Jeremy Larkin’s dash to the left corner paydirt pylon that evened the score at 7-apiece.  A true football fan relishes an old school, no-holds-barred grapple like this in much the same way a real baseball aficionado appreciates the subtle nuances of a 9-inning pitchers’ duel in which any defensive gaffe has the potential to become the final score difference maker.  Watching the proceedings unfolding on the green grass of Dyche’s Ditch while seated among cherished friends in the West stands, I was in my euphoric throwback gridiron element.  “DIE HOGEYES, DIE.” 

●    On Fitz’ decision to “Take a Knee” in the final minute before the end of either half: 
Most of the ‘Cat O’s quick strike scoring capability was summarily neutralized by the suffocating HogEye D throughout the 60 minutes of regulation play.  3 or 4-down-n-out possessions from Thorson & Co. were commonplace, because the Hogs’ defensive dominance was aided greatly by the frustratingly frequent drive-compromising gaffes and brainfarts that plagued the Wildcat O.  If it wasn’t Thorson holding onto the bean too long scanning for a WR to immerge somewhere in the HogEye secondary before the Io_a pass rush got into his grill; it was the impactful consequence surrounding the ‘Cat receiver corps’ propensity to run slow developing, undisciplined pass routes that regularly stymied their effort to gain any substantive separation from their HogEye coverage DBs, eventually leading to a busted pass play.  Or perhaps it was CT’s desperation tosses to double covered targets for an incompletion or a WR dropping one of Thorson’s well thrown on-target & in-stride darts resulting in a zero yardage down.  Or maybe it was an OL committing that costly holding infraction rather than allowing his QB to get blasted into next week by his bull-rushing HogEye pass blocking target.  Regardless of the causes, a bald-faced fact remained: On any obvious passing down, the HogEye defensive front 7 pinned their ears back and attacked the LOS, hoping to make some game-changing defensive play by taking full advantage of the ’Cat OL’s less-than-reliable blocking capabilities that were categorically noticeable on prior game videos.  And each of NU’s two “last possession of the half” offensive series in this game were rife with obvious passing downs.  Since the “big secret” regarding the Wildcat Big Uglies’ glaring pass blocking deficiencies was a well-known point-in-fact to the HogEye D, Fitz decided to eliminate potential disaster by taking a knee rather than attempting the high-risk/high-reward Hail Mary pass.  IMHO, he took the smarter alternative path.

●    On Fitz’ decision to judiciously shun calling the “Let It Fly/Long Ball” vertical pass on a regular basis:
Of all the complaints made by the Purple fanbase concerning last Saturday’s ‘Cat vs HogEye grudge match, this one might hold the most credence.  As a matter of fact, OC Mick McCall did turn his starting Junior QB loose to attempt a vertical pass varietal on occasion over the course of the game; however, he tactically avoided the home run ball in deference to the more-controllable, medium length downfield pass of 10-15 yards for a couple reasons.  First, in every 2017 game thus far, Thorson had shown a disturbing tendency to give-up the momentum killing INT on passes of 30+ yards.  Subsequently, in a match where NU’s offensive brain trust felt that the defense of each mutual combatant would rule the LOS and a single score would be an infrequent deliverable that held an even greater value within the context of a low-scoring affair, the shorter, controllable medium pass was the safer, more preferable alternative to the long ball downfield pass.  Secondly, a fickle south wind that was gusting from 10-15 mph and, once inside Dyche’s Ditch Stadium, would swirl in a long sweeping arc between the east & west stands and around the perimeter of the gridiron, creating havoc in the length & accuracy profiles of longer passes and off-the-turf kicks, like FG attempts. Passing with such a wind to one’s back required touch on most throws over 10-yards, especially when the toss was lofted in an arcing trajectory to the receiving target, whereupon the wind will provide a varying degree of carry, depending on the swirl pattern and strength of gust at the point of release from the hand.  It’s quite the opposite throwing into a headwind gust simply because the speed, direction & variability of an individual breeze will affect the accuracy of any thrown ball in the most unpredictable way, defying all ability to predict the varying conditions from one moment to the next.  When dealing with an intermittently gusty, swirling wind like what was happening above the turf of Dyche’s Ditch, accurate downfield passing turned into an art form, especially when chucking the bean southward, into the teeth of those fickle wind gusts. 

●    On Fitz’ decision to send game into overtime:
This unorthodox decision was based upon Fitz’ familiarity with the offensive mindset of his HogEye HC counterpart, Kirk Ferentz, when heading into an overtime period (read: it wasn’t Fitz’ 1st OT rodeo facing the HogEyes).  First: it reduces the physical game to a microcosm of the standard – the 100-yard open space gridiron is shortened to a 25-yard backyard; while offensive possessions are reset to a vulnerable one-off in which the impact of any mistake (i.e.: a sack, a TFL or a penalty) is magnified, restricting the available set of plays dramatically to a subset of what’s in the playbook.  Second: with Doc’s D having done a masterful job of stoning the HogEye ground game to insignificance and pressuring Io_a’s QB, Nate Stanley, with an unrelenting, in-your-grill pass rush on passing downs that greatly reduced Kirk Ferentz’ primary ball-handler’s time to scan the NU secondary for an open WR throughout most of H-2, the success rate of the HogEye O was restricted significantly.  Third: that damnable swirling, gusty, variable breeze blowing out of the south end zone and straight into the chicklets of the southbound ‘Cat offense.  That single item alone – to deliver any significant explosion play or sustain the requisite high quality field play for an entire 6-8 down offensive series within the allotted timeframe – ballooned its degree of difficulty by an order of magnitude 10.  Given those conditions, I personally set odds for the Wildcat O to successfully execute something of game-changing impact at approximately 10% (1 play out of 10 executed).  Regardless of whatever one is trying to accomplish, let along driving into a headwind wreaking havoc on anything thrown into it, be it a pigskin or a hot dog wrapper, losing odds like that must be avoided at all costs.  Therefore, the choice to avoid potential reversals of fortune via a devastating turnover or some injury to an indispensable playmaker, like CT or JJTBC in regulation time, and instead, to send this hard-fought donnybrook into OT was Fitz’ most logical one to take because it optimized his team’s chances to secure the “W.”  As described above, the decision to play an OT endgame was a gamble but a definite higher-percentage one for the surging Wildcats. 

How the ‘Cats Spit-Roasted the HogEyes

The Right Stuff - Redux
Without a doubt, the unit on the Wildcat football team that has shown the most consistent, steady improvement throughout the entirety of the 2017 campaign has been DC Doc Hankwitz’ defensive front 7.  The complete compliment of defensive playmakers who rotate in and out of the 2 & 3-deep roster of Doc’s DL and LB corps are a reflection of the commitment to excellence tutelage that has been the perennial trademark of their DC and his defensive staff, who’s ranks include many of the longest tenured collegiate gridiron mentors assembled by Pat Fitzgerald in his 12 seasons as NU’s HC. 

Mind you, when I first witnessed this squad getting their collective butts handed to them in their season opener against a much less talented FCS Nevada team, I trundled from Dyche’s Ditch harboring deep doubts whether or not these raw, undisciplined players would ever gel into anything approaching the cohesive cooperative required to compete against NU’s B1G foes.  But that 1st game, inauspicious as it was, became the starting point of this unit’s journey towards redemption.  The ‘Cats’ 2nd contest, the 41-17 “Drubbing In Durham” against a resurgent Dookie team, was an absolute defensive whitewash that revealed the daunting Sisyphus-like uphill trek that lie ahead for these front 7 defenders just to become competitive against FBS-level competition.  And it’s here, at this juncture, I truly believe that Doc’s troops had a “Come to Jesus” moment of clarity – one in which they had to choose between one of two paths before them: either respond to this butt-kicking by refocusing their resolve to improve or merely fold their tents & return home to Evanston to play-out the string of their remaining slate of 2017 games.  To their credit, they selected the first route.  NU’s 3nd game against BuGS-U was a zero progress bug tussle simply because the team from Find-Lay, OH was, by far, the worst opponent of their fall campaign.  The Wildcats’ week 4 foe was their anticipated annual grudge match against  incumbent B1G West Division champion, Wisky Drunkards and their prolific ground-n-pound O featuring their All B1G RB candidate, Jonathan Taylor.  This was THE game in which Doc’s defensive front 7 finally started to get their act together as they shed their under-whelming ways and held their own by countering the high quality blocking capabilities of the Drunkards’ NFL-sized OL while stoning Mr. Taylor’s rush yardage production to a season low 80 net yards.  This was more like it.  Game 5 was NU’s homecoming grapple against legitimate leading B1G championship contender, State Penn, and their formidable rushing attack that featured the Inmates’ own All B1G RB nominee, Shaquan Barkley, whose current season rushing stats were among the top 5 in all of Division 1A.  Once again, Doc’s front 7 showed their improving mettle by stuffing Mr. Barkley early & often, limiting the Junior RB to his lowest single game rushing output of 2017 – a paltry 75 yards.  Now Doc’s troops were making REAL defensive hay, while rising to meet the additional challenge of hauling the competitive water for the scoring drought plagued Wildcat O.  Doc’s front 7 had their first glimpse of their aspired-to summit of defensive dominance in their Game 6 roadie against the Maryland Twerps. Despite giving-up several explosion plays which led to 3 TDs by the Twerp O, the Purple defensive front 7 finally rounded into form, delivering their best performance of 2017 thus far in limiting the Twerp rushing attack to an anemic 85 net yards, complimented by 9 TFLs & 2 sacks.  Even the newbie Purple DL and LBs were contributing to this virtual stoning.  Rock On, fellas.      

Finally, last Saturday’s annual steel-cage death-match against the despised HogEyes comes to Dyche’s Ditch.  In his post-game presser, Fitz acknowledged that he and his coaching staff correctly predicted that this contest would be a low-scoring, all-out back alley brawl between combatants who shared nothing approaching mutual affection whatsoever.  Respect… maybe; but a warm & fuzzy fondness… Fuggetaboutit!!!   Staring down one’s privately sworn enemy prior to their long-awaited no-holds-barred donnybrook without spitting in the other’s eye was about as good as it was ever gonna get between these two bitter rivals.  And Doc’s D didn’t disappoint, as the Purple defensive front 7 went Medieval on the HogEyes’ LOS from the opening whistle.  That the ‘Cat defense limited the HogEye O to 89 net yards rushing & 14 1st downs for over the entirety of the game was no fluke; rather, relentlessly spit-roasting the Hog O for 60 minutes and into OT was a fitting culmination of the committed effort towards progressive season-long field play improvement shown by Doc’s collection of defensive playmakers over the previous 6 games.  Nothing more need be said. 

A Best
At long last the Wildcat OL pulled-back the joystick of their offensive stunt plane in time to recover from its season long spiraling nose dive and restore the Thorson & Co. Super ‘Cat back to level trim and made an honest contribution in a winning cause against an FBS team not named BuGS-U or the Twerps.  ‘Cat OL coach Adam Cushing’s much maligned troops rose to meet the well-rested, well prepared defense of the HogEyes who spent their assigned bye week to lick their wounds and refocus on the upcoming  sharpened fang-n-claw “Battle of Feral Hogs & ‘Cats;” and did so with their lights-out best performance of the 2017 campaign.  The usually porous Purple OL kept the uniform of their QB Clayton Thorson relatively clean with commendable 3 sack effort and limited TFLs to another season best 4 against a potent, hard-nosed Io_a D that had shoved the backs of the powerful offenses of State Penn & Moo U up against the impending wall of defeat in consecutive gut wrenching “Ls” of 19-21 and 10-17 in B1G weeks 4 & 5, respectively.  In addition, this motivated unit controlled the LOS and the HogEye defensive front 7 well enough to allow their rushing attack cartel, comprised of JJTBC, 2nd team RB Jeremy Larkin & QB Thorson, to accrue a praiseworthy endgame total of 147 hard-fought-for net yards off 46 attempts (accounting for minus 18 yards due to those sacks on CT).  In retrospect for the extended amount of time and the 7 games it took to get to this welcomed performance point, I could say, “It’s About Time;” however, I’ll hit the mute button on that backhanded compliment and give credit where due by saying, “Job Well Done.”

The Reel Thing
Every member of Wildcat Nation is well aware of the field play performance woes of OC Mick McCall’s Clayton Thorson-led offense.  If those woes didn’t involve continuous breakdowns in blocking techniques of the OL, it was Thorson tossing the pill  into double & triple coverages, or overthrowing/underthrowing receiving targets when open, or it was the WR corps’ insanely poor ability to get separation from their coverage DB, forcing CT to eat the bean after taking a full 4-5 seconds waiting for them finally to sprint into an open space within a zone in the opponent’s secondary only to have a HogEye Big Ugly getting into his grill to disrupt the whole damned process .  These foibles have been popular fodder for informed and uninformed discussions in verbal conversations and written commentaries like this one for months now.  But last Saturday against the HogEyes, many of these glaring deficiencies were mitigated, not entirely, to be sure, but often enough that when they did happen, they didn’t necessarily handcuff  the ‘Cats’ offensive field play as much as they had so  demonstratively in past contests.  Wildcat WRs got open, but since Thorson was chucking the pigskin into that fickle swirling wind, it either got knocked down in flight or took a flier halfway to its intended target.  Or the OL got their heads out from their moons, made the correct blocking assignment calls then actually blocked their target defenders well enough to spring JJTBC or Jeremy Larkin for the yards needed to convert that crucial first down.  It was a remarkable confluence of circumstances in which many individual things that were blown-up or just missed in prior games were now executed as outlined in the preconceived game plan of NU’s offensive brain trust.

Through it all, a handful of red-letter downs featuring highlight reel worthy athletic playmaking that essentially set the table for the ‘Cats to capture the “W” flag with the HogEyes doing their best to prevent those players from delivering the goods.  Talk about the high drama of competitive sports…

Reel Play No. 1: Clayton Thorson
NU’s 1st possession of Q3 following a punt by the HogEyes from their 17 gives Thorson & Co. starting field position at their own 34, heading northbound, wind at their back, and the ‘Cat O goes to work driving towards  the HogEyes’ north end zone.  CT’s post-halftime passing acumen is dead red full throttle, with pass completions of 9-yards to Dickerson, an 18-yarder to Fessler that gets negated by a damned holding call then a 5-yard dink to Skowronek that resets the LOS at the Io_a 49.  Next down, Thorson drops behind his pocket protection, which is holding steady, and scans the HogEyes’ secondary.  After a short 3 seconds, a seam appears in the blocking wall in front of him 2 paces to his right.  CT sees the seam, stops his scan, tucks the pill under arm and sprints free & clear into the open space in the short middle zone just past the LOS.  There’s a 7-yard wide open lane extending from the LOS into the deep middle zone of the Io_a secondary and Thorson sprints into this deeper zone untouched for 12 yards.  The visiting team’s DBs realize that Thorson is gobbling yards downfield and break-off their individual coverages to turn-to & zero-in on the charging ‘Cat QB.  CT makes a side-step to his left, juking 2 would be HogEye tacklers, making them grab nothing but air.  He take a step back to his right as he passes those 2 potential tacklers now sprawled-out on the Dyche’s Ditch turf and continues his run.  After 5 more yards gained, a 3rd defender collapses on Thorson directly in front of him and attempts a roll-tackle at the QB’s knees.  CT jumps in an awkward hurdle motion, legs & arms flailing,  making this roll tackler miss badly; then loses his balance when his feet hit the turf after the hurdle and he just dives to the grass to avoid any potential slobber-knocker shot from unseen HogEye parties.  This 21-yard QB scramble repositions the LOS at the HogEye 19 and sets-up Reel Play No. 2 below.  It certainly wasn’t pretty and CT’s jumping style will never be mistaken for Baryshnikov changement, but Thorson’s highlight reel dash & hurdle was his best broken field rush of the match. 

Reel Play No. 2:
With the LOS at the 19 following CT’s hilarious-looking, DoDo bird-like flight of fancy reel-worthy play, the ‘Cat O continues its march to the HogEye north goal line.  A 2-yard rush by JJTBC and NU’s feature RB gets dinged on the hard take down.  In comes Jeremy Larkin and the Wildcat ground game doesn’t miss a beat as the RB sub dashes for 7 & 4 yards on sequential runs that sets the LOS on the HogEye 6 for a 1st-n-goal scenario.  On the very next down, Clayton receives the snap from center; every OL successfully locks horns with his target Io_a front 7 defender (the ‘Cat LOT & SB executing a textbook pair of down blocks on the Io_a defender to their inside shoulder, while the OG pulls hard around the outside of the down-blocking LOT-SB tandem to attack the defender on HogEye right defensive edge & delivers his own textbook inside seal block on that edge’s DE); CT immediately tosses a lateral to Larkin sprinting swiftly to his left towards the “Sprint-8” play’s point-of-attack: the right edge of the HogEyes’ defensive LOS.  Jeremy confidently grabs the lateral in stride, dashes untouched around the corner of the HogEye right edge and drives to the left corner pylon on the HogEye goal line.  2 yards from paydirt, he dives to the goal line in full body stretch with arms extended & bean in hand then crosses the goal line just inside the pylon still untouched for a crucial TD score – and the ‘Cats have tied the match at 7 apiece.  To be sure, one of Mr. Larkin’s highlight reel plays of his NU RB career.  Wildcat Nation goes bonkers at the sight.   

Reel Play No. 3:
It’s the Big One, Martha!!!  NU’s goes on offense in the 1st OT period, heading northward once again with wind to the backs of Thorson & Co.  On the possession’s 2nd play from scrimmage, a 2nd-n-9 down, Thorson receives the snap in his standard shotgun position and sets-up behind his pass protection wall that neutralizes the balls-out HogEye pass rush once again.  As the Io_a LBs & DBs drop back to cover their assigned defensive zones in their secondary, the ‘Cat WRs sprint into their designed downfield zone areas in the secondary for that particular pass play.  No HogEye defender notices JJTBC’s slipping thru NU’s pass protection wall to the wide open space just beyond the LOS in short middle zone route – an exact replica of open space that CT identified just prior to his own highlight reel scramble in Reel Play No. 1 above (IMHO, Mick McCall’s astute read of the HogEyes’ standard short zone pass coverage from his vantage point in the coaches box above Dyche’s Ditch).  JJ runs a short crossing pattern from this short middle zone to the wide right-side short zone uncovered by any Io_a DB.  CT waits 2 seconds then tosses a gently-arcing touch pass to the wide-open JJTBC just as he enters the open space in that right-side short zone.  The bean takes a flier pushed by the tail wind out of the south end zone that carries it slightly higher than expected off the hand of Thorson.   JJ jumps, snatches the pass in stride, turns down field and sees 10 yards of undefended green grass before him.  JJ sprints downfield, sees one DB closing to him from the short middle zone, allows the DB to close, then plants his right foot and makes a quick cut to his left causing the DB to overshoot JJ’s path and roll to the turf emptyhanded.  JJTBC continues his free & clear run another 5 yards as two DB close on his him from either side.  JJ jukes the right-side DB with a 2nd nifty cut to his left, leaving that 2nd DB sprawled on the turf as emptyhanded as DB No. 1.  JJ takes more 2 steps towards the Io_a goal line and just as the left-side DB closes on him, he executes a hop cut to his left causing this 3rd DB to overshoot him, emptyhanded as DB No 1 &* DB no. 2, and roll to the turf, blocking the path of a 4th DB closing-in on him from behind.  JJ, still running free & clear, is at the Io_a 5 yard line when the unseen DB closing from his backside avoids the rolling 3rd DB, reaches JJ and wraps the Purple RB’s waistline with his left hand and takes a swipe at the ball in a bid to force a fumble with his right hand, just as Justin lowers his pads to absorb the expected hit from a 5th DB closing-in from his right before he crosses the HogEye goal line.  The forward momentum of the 4th DB-JJ pair cannot be stopped, and the two stumble forward & hit the turf  together at the HogEye 1. 

This is as fine a single RAC (Run After Catch) scamper as any that I’ve witnessed in over 40 years of viewing NU gridiron madness.  Better than any other single rushing play from Darnell Autry, Damian Anderson, Tyrell Sutton or Venric Mark.  That’s one hellova statement and this is one hellova highlight reel moment for the GOAT RB in Northwestern University football history. 

My hat’s off to you, JJ!!! 


WOW this was a long-winded commentary, indeed.  However, despite its length, it communicated the specific points that I felt were salient to the ‘Cats’ OT victory that was very well deserved.  I’m one proud Wildcat Football Fan.  So permit me to review. 

●    Doc’s D have rounded into the form of a dominant force to be reckoned-with, even when facing ranked opposition.

●    The Wildcats’ heretofore defective OL had the best game of their 2017 season, despite coming in Game 7.  Hey now… “Better late than never,” I’d say.

●    OC Mick McCall’s “Not quite ready for prime time” QB, Clayton Thorson, did not throw a single INT or bake a single hot-n-flaky French pastry turnover.  That fact alone should make his HC & OC very happy campers.

●    Wildcat P, Hunter Niswander, had a career punting day, with 3 of his 5 boots downed within the HogEyes’ 20 yard line – and one was the 3rd longest in NU football history, his 80-yarder in Q3 that flipped the field from the NU 17 to the Io_a 3-yard line, giving the HogEye O long green to stare slack-jawed at, and with that damnable the fickle wind blowing right into their collective chicklets to dampen their enthusiasm to mount a drive towards the ‘Cat goal line.   

●    Clayton Thorson’s, 21-tard explosion play scramble out from behind his pocket protection wall culminating with a his drunken sailor-like “Leap of Faith” hurdle to avoid a would be HogEye tackler, setting the stage for NU’s 1st TD.

●    2nd team RB Jeremy Larkin who is beginning to establish himself as a very reliable sub for a wounded or winded JJTBC.  Then his Q3 highlight reel dive to the HogEye pylon TD flowing Thorson’s Leap of Faith QB scramble above for the TD that tied the game at 7-all. 

●    JJTBC’s 23-yard career-defining highlight reel RAC scamper in OT.  IMHO, the GOAT RAC in NU gridiron history, in which he left 4 HogEye DBs in his wake, rolling on the Dyche’s Ditch turf clutching at thin air after their missed tackling attempts, that set-up the eventual game-clinching TD QB sneak by CT two plays afterwards. 

The Waterboy
“Win with Grace, Lose with Dignity”

Oct. 20, 2017

A B1G “W”

It was quite a surprise when I realized it; but there it stood, staring me right at my astonished mug.  The “it” of which I write is a B1G team offense whose OL woes are more pervasive than what the Wildcat’s offensive brain trust has had to contend over the first half of their 2017 B1G pigskin campaign.  Allow me to present for your examination – the Maryland Twerps’ offensive line.  As I came to this inevitable conclusion in mid-Q2 of the ‘Cats’ pillow fight with the Twerps in College Park, MD, I was more bemused than shocked.  Make no mistake about it, U of MD’s HC, D.J. Durkin, has numerous, massive holes to patch throughout his collegiate football ship; and, by far, the No. 1 priority of the Twerps HC is the gaping sieve that is his OL.  In the week leading to last Saturday’s match, I replayed the BuckNuts’ 60-plus point demolition derby that was their offensive juggernaut against the Twerps, if only to resuscitate my weakening enthusiasm for NU OC Mick McCall’s failing grade 2017 offense.  The single, most uplifting item that I carried-away from the time spent on this review was: the Twerp OL was turned into virtual roadkill early in Q1.  One couldn’t have asked for a more effective, irresistible force to soften-up U of MD’s offensive LOS for the Wildcats than Urban Myer’s BuckNut D.  Subsequently, I thanked the Gridiron Gods, whoever they may be, for NU’s bit of good scheduling fortune that had been proffered upon the Wildcats before their 3rd bare-knuckle fistfight of the 2017 B1G season.  The Twerps’ BuckNut beat-down couldn’t have come at a more opportune time for Fitz & his troops considering the physical fatigue and mental meltdown delivered upon the collective ‘Cats in the immediate aftermath of their twin gridiron blood-letting route games, first by the Wisky Drunkards and then by the State Penn Inmates.

How the ‘Cats Stampeded the Twerps

The Right Stuff
The one silver lining shimmering along the fringes of the ominously dark thunderhead that has been NU’s last 2 games has been the outstanding field play of DC Doc Hankwitz’ defensive front 7.  Once again, replay of the available game video via BTN provided positive proof that the Purple defensive coaching staff had made the executive decision to neutralize the punishing ground games of the Wisky and State Penn offenses as best as their players could.  And to that end, the Wildcat D was relatively successful at keeping the prolific yardage production capabilities of both foes’ rushing attack at bay for whole portions of their relative grudge matches.  However, this decision came with its own price – it put more pressure on a highly depleted Wildcat secondary to meet the challenge of dealing with the effective passing attacks of both these same offenses.  I must admit, Doc’s defensive pass coverage was decent throughout H-1 of either game, facing the tandem passing acumen of Wisky QB Alex Hornibrook and PSU QB Trace McSorley on consecutive Saturdays.  However, such advanced pass coverage field play by the ‘Cat DBs was unsustainable over the entire 60 minutes of either contest.  Hence, an NU secondary that demonstrated definitive susceptibility to the home run pass within each prior 2017 game, reared ugly long-ball prevention deficiency head once more against the Drunkard and Inmate offenses.  So the fact that the Purple secondary’s vulnerability to the explosion pass play remained available for exploitation against a middling Twerp pass attack that featured a 3rd string QB throwing downfield darts to his WR wiz, D.J. Moore was no great revelation as well. 

However, the fact that the Twerp O was coerced towards early dependency on its passing game as a primary offensive attack option was the major objective of Doc’s original defensive game plan.  Consequently, the ‘Cats’ defensive front 7 stood tall when executing their DC’s tactic to restrict the Twerp offense to the projected limitations of their aerial attack, as the Purple front 7 defenders effectively stuffed the Testudo ground game in its tracks early & often, holding College Park’s B1G Team to a scant 85 net yards off 31 rushing attempts over the course of the game.  Doc’s DL & LB corps controlled the LOS with an attacking style of field play that mimicked what both the Wisky and State Penn defensive front 7s have been noted-for – systematically placing a high premium on shedding the blocks of their opposing OL then penetrating into & through gaps at the LOS with the express purpose of reducing the operating space of their opponent’s backfield. Once these LOS-attacking defenders have rid themselves of blockers, they are free & clear to become heat-seeking missiles to search-for and attack the ball, regardless of the opposing ball handler who is toting the bean at the time.  In their previous 2 games, the Purple defensive front 7 (which includes all rotating player personnel that comprise this unit – approximately 8 DL & 5-6 LBs) had done a relatively commendable job in executing and improving -upon this aggressive attacking style of penetrating defensive parts in their matches with the bigger, quicker & more talented OLs of Wisky & PSU.  So against the hapless, much less-talented Twerp OL, Doc’s front 7 had a field day collecting 2 sacks and 9 TFLs while consistently harassing the QB or RB with reckless abandon.  The Right Stuff, indeed.     
The Cure
A long-awaited, welcome remedy to the myriad blocking miseries faced by NU’s beaten & bruised OL finally came to the fore in the guise of the Twerps’ malleable defensive front 7.   It’s no secret that the essential components of the Wildcat offensive brain trust’s game plan is constructed towards emulating the standard offensive strategy employed by Wisky’s coaching staff – one that emphasizes ball control & clock management via a dominant ground game, coupled with an efficient vertical passing attack whenever, wherever needed.  The main sticking point regarding NU’s previous attempts to imitate Wisky’s offensive paradigm, when it comes right down to it, is that OC Mick McCall’s current stable of OL personnel just doesn’t possess the necessary skillset to execute this game plan’s nuanced blocking techniques with enough efficiency and frequency to pull it off.  In other words, the individual members of the current Wildcat OL just haven’t (or cannot) deliver the blocking goods like Wisky’s OL can.  In NU’s season opener “push me-pull you” bug tussle against the FCS Nevada Woof Pucks, the OL’s bid to replicate this game plan was a wash.  Then against the nationally ranked MadTown Drunkards and the Inmates of Happy Valley, the OL’s effort at imitation was an unmitigated trainwreck in both cases.  However, against a piss-poor BuGS-U defense, the ‘Cats showed that they could execute it with enough efficiency to get the job done.  And against a very talent-depleted Maryland Twerp D, who had been sufficiently softened-up during their previous weekend’s wholesale whitewash when facing the B1G, Bad BuckNut O, the ‘Cat OL demonstrated that they could execute the Wisky offensive model well enough once again.  The ‘Cat rushing attack returned to “relative form” with an appropriate blocking efficiency profile that permitted the hard-charging JJTBC to gain a 2nd season-best single game total of 171 yards (tying his yardage production from the BuGS-U match) off 28 rushes.  As for their blocking capability when executing McCall’s passing attack, the ‘Cat OL allowed a single sack, the best pass protection effort in the 2017 campaign thus far, while allowing 6 TFLs, most of which were more a result of inappropriate play calling rather than blocking breakdowns at the point of attack.  Still, one must take the many deficiencies of the Twerp defense into consideration before any Purple OL receives a gold medal for superior blocking around his thick neck.  So bottom line is that the ‘Cat OL was given the most effective cure to their 2017 blocking woes: the Testudo defensive front 7.  Thank Gawd for small favors (and less talented defenders).

Just Enough
OC Mick McCall’s “Not-Ready-For-Prime-Time” QB, Clayton Thorson, had a decent, but not great, day as NU’s primary ball handler.  His final passing stats showed he was a couple of clicks north of 50% passing (a middling effort to be sure) that collected 293 total yards and 2 TDs.  Adding his 18-yard TD scamper in late Q2, when the Purple QB took advantage of a gaping seam in the Twerp pass rush and simply tucked the pill under his arm and sprinted untouched across the Maryland goal line into his final game stats, the casual, uninformed observer could conclude that Mr. Thorson had a very productive outing.  However, there were too many chinks in his playmaking armor that tempered his capacity to earn a player performance grade higher than a C – which included two very avoidable INTs passes, a bevy badly missed throws to open WRs (approximately 4-5) and CT’s frustratingly too frequent Jay Cutler-like decisions to throw the pill to double & triple covered receiving targets, all of which, when taken into collective consideration, would squelch further enthusiasm towards a higher grade on any honest evaluator’s report card.  So Clayton Thorson, as evidenced by his final QB stat sheet and unbiased video evaluations against a quality-challenged Twerp D last Saturday, demonstrated that he still remains a collegiate-level pigskin playmaker, even when facing one of the more porous defenses in the B1G (incidentally, the Ill-Annoy Fighting Lovies have a death grip on that dubious distinction among all conference teams), and has many more miles to traverse in his quest to become an NFL-ready draft day prospect.  But for now, with all things being equal, I’ll take this Junior QB’s “Just Enough” journeyman effort that effectively aided the Wildcats’ capture of this contest’s “W” flag.


It wasn’t pretty by anyone’s standards; yet I welcome NU’s first 2017 victory against a B1G conference foe – albeit a Twinkie-level opponent that cannot and/or will not receive any measure of gratuitous relief during the current B1G football season.  And regarding the morbidity of this prognostication of continued gridiron grief directed at the Twerp football team, I can only express my schadenfreude delight with the phrase: “Better Thee Than Me.”  At the halfway point of the Wildcat’s 2017 pigskin campaign, Fitz’ OL, his starting QB and his receiving corps remain works-in-progress.  Nevertheless, I’ll take solace knowing that the most challenging section of this fall’s slate of B1G foes is behind the Purple HC and the football ‘Cats.  But along with that comforting thought, comes acknowledgement of the daunting challenges from competing against the ‘Cats’ upcoming slate of quality, yet beatable B1G teams, each of whom possess their own pigskin playmakers who are well above the usual suspect Twinkie coaching staffs and limited talent player personnel teams within the B1G (i.e.: Ill-Annoy & the Rutgers Scarlet Blights).  

The next target standing squarely in the crosshairs of the Wildcats’ sniper rifle scope is the much loathed, highly despicable Io_a HogEyes, who find themselves virtually at the same good-season/bad-season crossroads as does Chicago’s B1G Team.  Similarities abound between both the HogEyes and the ‘Cats, with each team fielding what I estimate to be evenly matched offenses and defenses, mentored by well-respected coaching staffs (ignoring NU’s lone exception: OL coach, Adam Cushing).  The results of this grudge match will go far in determining each team’s post-season profile regarding potential bowl eligibility and selection qualifications.  One single persistent, undeniable characteristic of this upcoming grapple remains as true today as it has in past seasons: both teams and fan bases alike do not like or respect one another.  Period… End of Story.  It’s been that way since my playing days way back when in the early 70’s (when we road to Dyche’s Ditch practices and Saturday games on the backs of dinosaurs rather than plush team busses and wore the same classic uniform game-in and game-out rather than donning NU’s current super-stylish uni-of-the-week sartorial ensembles) and those deep-seeded hostile attitudes continue as this Saturday’s proverbial death match approaches.  Personally, I hate – and I mean I literally HATE – the HogEyes.  Former HogEye HC Hayden Fry instilled this pervasive animosity for HogEye football teams in my gridiron-loving being when I was an impressionable collegiate football athlete of 18 – and that persistent loathing for everything HogEye continues to this very day as vividly personal and poignant as it ever has been in my past – from their abhorrent rip-off Pittsburg Steeler uniforms to their bucolic, kazoo humming, hayseeds-in-their-XXXL-sized-Duluth-tightie-whitie wearing alcohol-addled fans.  And I’m at peace with that.  I truly feel that it’s far better and much more authentically real to recognize one’s sworn enemy and treat him as such than never to have known what it means to experience the antithesis of love & respect for someone or some team within your lifetime.  One feeling defines the other.     

Even now, I can smell the increasingly pungent aroma of hog-farm pig poop wafts across the Illinois prairie from the footwear soles of the HogEye faithful as they invade Evanston in their 5th-wheel pickup trucks and vintage Winnebagoes. 

Bring It On, Baby!

The Waterboy
“Win with Grace, Lose with Dignity”

Oct. 10, 2017

Surprise, Surprise!!!

I truly don’t know what’s the appropriate font to use when a blogger like myself attempts sarcasm within a written piece, so I’ll assume the target words be set in underscored italics with a several exclamation points following.  So be it, at least in this commentary. 

Of all the pre-game analytics, the most poignant was Wisky’s reputed superiority in personnel, per position, as compared with those same positions on Fitz’ 2017 Wildcat team.  Of particular note was the Drunkard’s much better regarded OL, DL and RB positions, all of whom proved their individual worth over the course of the hard fought contest.  However, it must be noted that in H-1, NU more than held their own with these positional players, maintaining competitive opposition that led directly to the ‘Cats capturing a very well earned 10-7 lead going into the halftime locker rooms.  That small 3-point lead hinted of a possible, if not improbable upset of the No. 10 ranked Drunkards in the making, if NU could just keep that competitive profile alive & kicking in the second half.   

●    Surprise No. 1:  H-1 Turn Overs
Three atypical home team turnovers in the first half will do wonders for bolstering the fragile psyche of a prohibitive underdog like the visiting ‘Cats when facing the Big Bad Wisky Drunkards and their rabid, out-for-blood fanbase of 81K seated in the stands of Camp Randall.  In essence, the recovered fumble on the game’s first play, augmented by 2 INTs in H-1 leveled the playing field, if only by punishing the Drunkard O to endure 3 virtual quiet time-out sessions – forcing them to ride pine on their sidelines while providing the ‘Cat O an additional 3 possessions.  Those TOs had the potential, in fact, to become monumental game-changers.  Unfortunately, Clayton Thorson & the Purple O never capitalized completely on these surprising French pastry turnovers, served-up hot & flaky by their motivated Purple D counterparts, by converting them into crucially valuable points on the scoreboard.  In fact, one could easily conclude that the paltry 3 points delivered by the Wildcat O from those 3extra offensive series proffered Wisky’s O a sense of self-confidence at having dodged a trio of kill-shot bullets whizzing by their cheese-heads from the sniper rifles of the fired-up Wildcat D Badger-hunters.  All Wisky QB Alex Hornibrook and his resilient O needed to do was to put those 3 gaffes in the rearview mirror, respond with appropriate resolve to convert upon their scoreboard tallied good fortune provided by the Drunkard D then focus on performing to their usual yardage production standards.  And they did so in H-2 with a vengeance. 

●    Surprise No. 2:  ‘Cat Stuffed Badger
Wisky’s standard paradigm for victory on the gridiron has been virtually the same over its last 3 consecutive coaching regimes – first conceived & employed under the HC scrutiny of Barry Alvarez, who now holds UofW’s AD reins; then used next under Bret Bielema, who in 2012 inexplicably switched residence from MadTown to Fayetteville, Arkansas assuming the HC of UofArk after a stellar HC stint for the Drunkards leading them to 3 Rose Bowl bids; and finally executed under current mad scientist HC Paul Chryst, who is building the perfect pigskin beast of his own.  That model for consistent excellence is simple: control the time of possession via a superior, clock-consuming ground game, thereby shortening the match to an approximate 30-45 minute arm wrestle; strangle the opponent’s offense by controlling the LOS; then score on at least 33% of your total offensive series.  And over the last dozen or more campaigns, that game plan has worked like a charm, allowing Wisky to win multiple B1G titles in the process.  To his credit, Pat Fitzgerald (and his coaching staff) has recognized the intrinsic value of this effective paradigm and has tried to emulate it as best he can throughout his tenure as Wildcat HC, albeit with relatively “lesser talent” across his 2-deep roster.  However, in one of the most welcome surprises of all last Saturday, the ‘Cats’ defensive front 7, under the mentorship of former Wisky DC, now current Northwestern DC, Doc Hankwitz, stood toe-to-toe with the Drunkard’s formidable ground-n-pound O, and, for the most part, were winning many of the individual 1-on-1 grapples with their Wisky combatants across the LOS throughout H-1.  The consequence of these “singular 1-on1 match-play victories,” when summed together into one massive effort, was that Doc’s heat-seeking missile defensive front 7 run-stoppers stuffed the Wisky O’s rushing attack at the LOS, strangling the red-clad team’s capacity to keep the bean in hand and control the game clock.  In other words, NU was executing the Wisky victory paradigm better than the Drunkards did.  The ‘Cats won the TOP (time of possession) battle, 17 minutes to 13 minutes; restricted Wisky’s prolific ground-n-pound rushing attack to 66 net yards, with 2 TFLs and a forced fumble & recovery; sacked Drunkard QB Hornibrook twice while consistently harassing him, all of which limited his characteristically unstoppable yardage production to 48 total yards off 5-for-11 pass completions with an additional sweet 2 INTs to boot.  SURPRISE!!!, Doc’s D played lights-out and gagged the usually raucous Drunkard fans in attendance into an eerie silence at the conclusion of H-1.  If only the game had ended after those opening 30 minutes… But it didn’t. 

●    Surprise No. 3:  Burnin’ Desire
A quote from the 1999 comedic science fiction film Galaxy Quest: “Don’t Give Up; Never Give Up.”

True to form, Wisky stormed out of their halftime locker room and played like their hair was on fire, scoring an astonishing 24 consecutive points off their first 4 offensive possessions in H-2.  Needless to say, the ‘Cats were shell shocked and reeling in its aftermath.  After having been summarily thrown face-first down this deep 31-10 hole with a little less than 10 minutes left in the contest, the daunting deficit faced by the somnolent Clayton Thorson & Co. offense appeared more than dire, it seemed downright insurmountable.  Upon returning to the gridiron after their halftime respite in H-2, the ‘Cat O was stoned on 5 sequential series, gaining an embarrassingly ignominious 10 total yards; and there was little, if any indication that this scenario would change much in the final 10 clicks.  Exposed to such overwhelming odds, most any other Purple O in prior seasons would have folded their tents, cinched them to the backs of their camels and limped back to the soothing waters of their Evanston oasis to lick their wounds and reflect upon the steamrolling by the Drunkard D that had rendered them into roadkill sail-cats (read: what a run-over kitty looks like after being squished into something resembling a pancake on I-94 then baked to a hardened Frisbee-like state under a whole day of scorching 98 degree sunshine). 

Then, SURPRISE!!!, something remarkable happened as the downtrodden ‘Cats gathered their wits enough to pull their collective heads out from their moons in time to mount an utterly unbelievable comeback.  On NU’s 6th possession of H-2, Wildcat OC Mick McCall shelved his Wisky-styled ball-hawking offensive game plan and dialed-up his vertical passing attack that had laid dormant for most of the previous 50 minutes.  Finally permitted to flex his aerial acumen, QB Clayton Thorson responded to this long overdue change in game plan and piloted the Purple O to TD paydirt via a 13-play, 75 yard drive that burned over half of the remaining 10 minutes off the scoreboard clock and cut the ‘Cat deficit to 14 points.  Inspired by this swift turn of events from the ‘Cats’ offense, Doc’s D stoned the Wisky O into a rare but equally critical 3-n-out series, forcing a change-in-possession punt within the shadow of the Drunkard’s goal line at their own 3 yard line – a boot that afforded NU’s O its first true short field starting position of H-2, at the ‘Cat 45.  In the ensuing possession, Mr. Thorson went into aerial overdrive to efficiently push the bean those 55 yards in 7 plays via the vertical pass to score a 2nd amazing TD – accomplished in a miniscule 88 seconds.  NU’s 2 TDs in 7 minutes made it a 7-point game with approximately 3 minutes left on the game clock – just enough time for McCall’s QB to wave his aerial magic wand to concoct a highlight reel, game-clinching scoring drive… if Doc’s D could come through in the clutch once more following a recovery of the expected on-side kick attempt.  When Wisky’s “good hands” kick return unit grabbed the pill off the on-side kick at the ‘Cat 43, the game’s outcome seemed relegated to its logical fait accompli.  But as fate would have it… SURPRISE!!!.  The Purple D delivered a 2nd consecutive 3-n-out stoning of the Wisky O, once again forcing the Drunkards to punt the bean over to the ‘Cat O and its white hot QB, Clayton Thorson, with 1:09 remaining.  Suddenly, the match’s intensity meter, flat-lined a mere 9 minutes before, now was pegged dead red.  My heart raced with in anticipation of relishing what just might be a fantastic finishing kick by the thoroughbred Cardiac ‘Cats offense as it rounded the far turn and sprinted into its final furlong stretch run to the “W” wire.  Just then, a crazy thought popped into my head… “What shoulda, woulda, coulda been had OC-turned-jockey Mick McCall loosened his tight-fisted game plan reins to allow this Thorson-led aerial circus racehorse to run wild at the start of Q4?”  The reply to this rhetorical question came to me just as quickly: “Better late than never, Mick!”

How Wisky Turned NU Into Sail-Cats

Lips Knocked Off
In his post-game media session, HC Pat Fitz used this damning phrase to aptly describe just how poorly his OL played for the 1st 50 minutes of the game. Simply stated, NU’s offensive line was horrible beyond imagination, even during the desperation TD drives of NU’s monumental comeback bid in mid Q4.  To be perfectly clear, allow me to emphatically state that message once more… The Wildcat OL was absolutely horrible.  The most effective strategy to blow-up the blocking schemes of the 2017 Wildcat OL was demonstrated during the ’Cats’ season opener bug tussle against the Nevada Woof Pucks – unleash your defensive front 7 war hounds to attack the LOS with reckless abandon from the opening whistle to the final gun.  And never, ever let up.  By either driving straight into the chicklets of the individual NU OL’s grill or shooting the A-gap (between OC & OG) or the B-Gap (between the OG & OT), the players populating OL coach Adam Cushing’s unit cannot or will not pick-up and block these opposing players on a consistent basis as they execute pile-drive, bull rush attack techniques across the LOS and into the NU offensive backfield.  In doing so, the collective blocking capabilities of NU’s OL can and will be neutralized.  This red letter deficiency was exposed and exploited by the Nevada defensive brain trust and obviously was identified and mimicked first by the Dookies in their blowout “W” against the ‘Cats, and again last Saturday by Wisky’s defensive coaching staff. 

Examples of the Purple OL’s exceedingly craptastic field play blocking can be viewed everywhere on the BTN game video. 
●    On the ‘Cats’ first possession following the forced fumble recovery on the Drunkards very 1st play from scrimmage, Thorson & Co. faced a 3rd-n-1 at the Wisky 15.  Of course, McCall’s mindset was to stick to his original offensive game plan of ball control & clock management, so he called for a quick snap dive into the LOS with JJTBC toting the bean and the OL utilizing stretch blocking to the short side of the field (the right side of the LOS).  The Wisky D set 9 in the box: 5 DL, 2 LBs & both safeties pulled-in at the LB level.  This defensive set screamed for Thorson to audible to a short controlled pass of any kind, but instead, he ran the called play.  I swear that UW’s defensive brain trust knew full well the play-calling tendency of Fitz and McCall in this down-distance scenario.  The LOT got stuffed by the Wisky DT & pushed 2 yards into the NU backfield, straight in the grill of JJTBC, stopping him before he took a 2nd step towards the LOS with ball in hand.  Meanwhile, the right DE crashed to the inside of the LOS, and with NU’s LOT getting his butt blasted backwards, he had a free, unblocked line to JJTBC and hit Jackson flush & hard, driving him to the turf for a 2 yard TFL. Talk about getting your lips knocked off…  First, the called play was totally wrong for the defensive formation it faced; second, the blocking scheme (stretch blocking to the right side of LOS) was absolutely inappropriate for a dive play when attacking 9 defenders in the box; thirdly, the LOT got his azz handed to him halting JJTBC in his tracks; and lastly, the crashing DE was left unblocked by the NU SB across from him (which actually appeared to be an influence block intended to let the DE overshoot the ball carrier, which he didn’t do).  The wrong play coupled with categorically piss poor blocking by the OL killed any momentum the ‘Cats had garnered via the remarkable forced fumble recovery deep in Wisky’s territory.  This one play set an ominous “Red D vs Purple O” precedent for the majority of the game.

●    On the ‘Cats’ second possession following a booming 48 yard punt that was fair-caught by PR Flynn Nagel at the ‘Cat 7, Thorson & Co. faced a 3rd-n-9 down.  When Thorson grabbed the snap from center standing in shotgun positon behind his “wall” of OL blockers, the same LOT mentioned in the bullet point above got his azz handed to him for the 2nd time in consecutive offensive series when his blocking target, a stunting-blitzing LB, bull rushed him flush into his grill, lifted the overwhelmed LOT clear off his feet then pancaked him flat on his derrière a yard in front of the feet of Thorson.  (I always assumed that a pancake was when an offensive player, usually an OL, rudely deposited his defensive blocking target on his behind.  My bad, I guess).  Meanwhile, the Wisky DE, a true frosh starting in his first career B1G game, in a designed stunt, slanted to his right across the LOS & flush into the chicklets of NU’s Senior SB, blasted him straight backwards and into Thorson chest in approximately 2 seconds time then planted the QB for what was to be the first sack by the Drunkard D for the day.  Can you say: “Lips Knocked off?”

●    10 sacks given up by the Purple OL – an NU and B1G record.  Craptastic “Lips Knocked off” blocking confirmed.

●    NU rushing statistics for the game: 67 total yards rushing off 20 attempts (this total does not include Thorson’s plus 15 yards rushing and his minus 51 yards from the 10 sacks added into the mix).  Craptastic blocking re-confirmed… Most definitely.   ‘Nuff said.

My stomach is turning over with the recollection of this whole sorted mess; so I’ll stop here for an overdue Maalox moment. 

Lack of Discipline
To beat the No. 10 ranked team in Division 1A, a team must play a near perfect game over the full 60 minutes.  Unfortunately, NU’s defensive secondary didn’t – and that unit’s collective multiple brainfarts cost the ‘Cats dearly.  True, this unit played very well in H-1, limiting Wisky’s media darling QB Alex Hornibrook to 48 total yards on 5-for-11 pass attempts with a forced fumble and 2 INTs to boot, all of which contributed mightily towards NU holding a tentative 10-7 scoring edge going into halftime.  However, I truly cannot say with any certainty what exactly occurred in H-2, but there were coverage breakdowns across many of these same players to fuel the imagination of interested onlookers such as myself.  Perhaps the members comprising this unit just ran out of gas or their individual coverage deficiencies basically got exposed (e.g.: getting suckered into run support mode reacting to a Wisky play-action pass play, instead of preserving discipline for their original pass coverage responsibilities), but the personnel from this unit didn’t play to the lofty playmaking reputation that earmarked them as a definite strength of the Wildcat D in several preseason evaluations. 

On the 3rd play from scrimmage in H-2, Hornibrook connected with favorite WR, Quintez Cephus for a 61-yard explosion pitch-n-catch with the veteran but oft injured Wildcat DB, Kyle Quero, in coverage, setting the table for an 11 yard TD scamper by Wisky’s feature RB, Frosh Phenom Jonathan Taylor on the very next play that erased NU’s short-lived lead and handed the home team a 14-10 scoreboard advantage.  On Wisky’s 2nd offensive series of the 2nd half, Hornibrook connected with fav WR #2, Danny Davis, for a 32-yard explosion pitch-n-catch with Montre Hartage covering, giving the Drunkards a 1st down at the NU 6.  2 plays later, the Wisky QB found Davis again for TD No.2 in as many H-2 possessions, expanding the Drunkard’s lead to 21-10, having burned a measly 3:50 off the scoreboard clock between scores.  Clearly, Wisky’s offensive brain trust uncovered an exploitable chink in the coverage armor of the Purple team’s secondary.  And the route was apparently on.  A 3rd explosion pitch-n-catch completion, that gained 33-yards and relocated the LOS at the ‘Cat 11, set-up a Wisky FG that added another 3 points, pushing the Drunkard lead to 24-10.  At this juncture, I felt that the Wildcat defensive secondary was breaking down and gassed simply because Mick McCall’s offense was mired in the muck of their 4 sequential 3-n-out series that spanned all of Q3 and into Q4.  The fatigued ‘Cat DBs failed to maintain their collective pass coverage disciplines and were falling victim to Wisky’s typical ball control formula for victory.  Ugh!!!

Shaken, Rattled & Rolled
To beat the No. 10 ranked team in Division 1A, a team must play a near perfect game over the full 60 minutes.    Unfortunately, NU’s ballyhooed, “NFL-Ready!!!” QB didn’t – and he hurt his team when it mattered most.  Upon multiple review sessions of BTN replay video, I’ve come the conclusion that Clayton Thorson did not (or wasn’t permitted to) audible when NU’s O faced a Wisky defensive set that was designed to stone that specific play cold – a restriction that was over and above the defense recognition factor.  I could be wrong, but IMHO, Mr.  Thorson was apparently handcuffed by some irrevocable dictum that mandated him to execute the exact play called by NU’s offensive brain trust (read: OC Mick McCall), because, when it was an absolute necessity to steer the Wildcat attack away from the Wisky D’s pre-set area of strength, he never did so.  Then again, perhaps he couldn’t switch to a more potentially successful play choice owning to the cumulative effects sustained from the incessant physical beat down that 10 sacks, multiple hurries and frequent post-release hits are bound to deliver on the Senior QB’s body, to say nothing regarding the associated mental beating he endured over the first 50 minutes of the contest.  As the beat down continued into Q4, it became painfully obvious that Thorson was pressing hard to make a significant play, or any positive play for that matter, that could reverse NU’s somnolent offense back to its proactive, competitive self.  I believe that his competitive mental state to make such a play was the major contributing factor that led Thorson to lose his sense of QB composure and throw a desperation pass on a 3rd-n-8 down from the NU 27 during the ‘Cats’ first possession of Q4 with the Wisky pass rush flush in his face.  That ill-advised pass attempt resulted in a Pick-6 INT by the Wisky secondary and handed the Drunkards a gift-wrapped defensive TD that increased the Wildcat deficit to 21 point (setting the score at 31-10).   I also believe that this impactful gaffe shook Thorson from his painful funk to reboot his mental computer to call & complete the play(s) that he is/was capable of making.  However, the lasting damage had been done because those critical 7 points off that Pick-6 represented Wisky’s margin for victory as the final gun sounded to end NU’s comeback bid. 

Still, despite all the negatives regarding the ‘Cats’ prior offensive field play breakdowns, Clayton & Co. had ball in hand with 69 clicks left on the game clock to deliver some miracle ESPN Top Ten highlight drive to tie the score at 31 all.  That pipe dream proved itself to be as short-lived as it was a fanciful fabrication when the ‘Cats stared at the formidable  playmaking challenges of pushing the bean 97 yards to score that crazy equalizer TD in the game’s final minute.  The fact that Thorson held onto the pill much too long while scrambling around his own end zone scanning the Wisky secondary for an open WR target only to get sacked one final time for a game-ending safety, was no great surprise.  It was simply the last reality check in a series of previous reality checks shoved down the throats of the Wildcat O at the hands of the well-coached Drunkard D.  It’s what the 10th ranked team within the pantheon of 2017 Division 1A football programs is supposed to do when battling a pesky, weaker conference foe that will not surrender meekly.      

Vanilla Is Still… Well, Vanilla
Silly me… I must admit that I played the ultimate fool after last weekend’s blowout “W” against the ‘Cats’ previous opponent, BuGS-U.  That was the game in which NU’s offensive brain trust rolled-out a game plan that included a heavy dose of their vertical passing attack.  So naturally, I assumed that the yardage production success that Thorson & his WR corps had garnered against the Gnats the previous Saturday would be reprised against the No. 10 ranked Wisky Drunkards, if only to set-up the Purple’s rushing attack and loosen-up an opposing D whose first priority was to keep a lid on the ‘Cats’ elusive feature back, JJTBC.  Boy, was I ever wrong on that supposition. 

I’ve repeatedly harped on the dubious play calling of Fitz and his OC Mick McCall in comments above, so I won’t belabor the point(s) by restating them here.  Suffice it to say that if a team’s offensive play callers insist on rolling-out and executing plays from the same section of the offensive playbook week in and week out, like holding fast to a game plan with a hefty emphasis on the rushing attack, if that plan doesn’t produce expected results, then it’s incumbent upon those same play callers to switch to other playbook chapters in which their O has demonstrated success in prior game time situations.  It took Fitz & McCall 50 minutes to reach that change point, and when they did, their QB, their WR corps and their much maligned OL responded with some of their best offensive field play of the contest via the vertical passing game.  Again… If only that change point had arrived 10 minutes earlier and allowed the Purple D enough time to catch their collective breaths and, perhaps, had given Thorson pause to reconsider the consequences of his frenetic attempt to pull a scoring rabbit out of his Purple helmet.  Yes, this ka-vitching is all shoulda, woulda, coulda; but it’s a substantial item of note.  The deep scar from that damn avoidable Pick-6 is gonna smart for quite a long time.   


So after losing their B1G conference opener against the reigning West Division champion Wisky Drunkards, the Wildcats’ preseason goal of competing for that elusive B1G Division championship is nothing more than a painful distant memory.  If that train ever reappears, it will be the direct result of another West Division team having their way with the Big, Bad Badgers if/when they deliver the goods off their own successful upset bid.  Frankly, those trump cards ain’t in the hand that the ‘Cats have dealt themselves.  The only thing left to do from this point forward is flush the past and exercise the appropriate due diligence to control the challenges that are currently visible in your sniper scope – and the immediate target in the Wildcats’ crosshairs is the 4th ranked Division 1A State Penn Inmates, NU’s homecoming foe this coming Saturday.  If the ‘Cats play the entire 60 minutes of that grudge match with the same ultra-competitive passion, heart and intelligence demonstrated over those final 10 minutes from last Saturday’s come-from-behind effort against the Drunkards, they can and will acquit themselves with the pride of knowing that they played their very best ball of the 2017 season thus far, regardless of the final scoreboard tally. 

I fully expect the ‘Cats to do just that.   

The Waterboy
“Win with Grace, Lose with Dignity”

Sept. 21, 2017


It’s true – I didn’t submit my expected commentary analyzing the ‘Cats’ comprehensive dismantling in last Saturday’s game against the Dookie Blue Imps.  In doing so, I had evoked the to-be-judiciously-employed submission escape clause in my journalistic contract with Hail To Purple’s editor in chief (name withheld to protect both innocent and guilty parties alike, but most of you know who he is anyways), the gist of which reads: “Ask For Forgiveness rather than Ask For Permission.”  I must admit to have commenced writing said commentary on at least a half dozen occasions in the workweek days following the Dookie disaster, all of which ended-up becoming a deep dive into what many among my readership would have appropriately defined as a rant piece.  Mind you, I’m not immune to the rant, especially when spending an inordinate amount of time in video replay review of specific downs/plays meant to confirm and/or verify a targeted field play point-of-observation at hand that is intended to receive my “insightful evaluation” content.  In doing so, I consistently fell into the dark abyss of depression and wrath-filled prose – not a very good place to reside when attempting to maintain one’s focus and decorum on providing the “why” of a particular play rather than the regretful and anger-inducing “what” of the same play.  After having thrown away my current attempt at civil discourse to restart the next one on multiple occasions, I came to the inevitable conclusion that the task of composition had become an exercise of vicious vitriol rather than an act of affection towards the 2017 Wildcats.  Subsequently, I made the executive decision to exercise the “Ask For” escape clause, which allowed me to bail on submitting a rant-filled garbage piece instead of proffering my readership a meaningful commentary worthy of their time to peruse.  I thank you for your indulgence in this matter.  

Expectations Fulfilled

What a profound difference a week makes, especially when comparing last Saturday’s virtual walk-over against the BuGS-U Gnats to the previous weekend’s wholly humiliating public pantsing laid on the ‘Cats by the fired-up Dookie Blue Imps.  While I ruminated on those two grapples, my mind boggled on how completely different each of NU’s 3 2017 out-of-conference games have been from one another.  If pressed to provide an suitable single word descriptor for these OOC contests, an intrepid blogger like myself would hardly elicit any criticism  whatsoever after having submitted the following keyword associations:
●    NU vs Nevada -    a Challenge
●    NU vs Dookies -    a Trainwreck
●    NU vs BuGS-U -    a Laugher
When critically evaluating these one-word narratives, it wouldn’t be much of a stretch to predict that most casual collegiate football fans would incorrectly conclude that all 3 matches involved 3 distinctly divergent teams.  However, the simple truth is that the collective contests above were played by the enigmatic Wildcats, who, per usual, have stumbled & bumbled their way to a baffling 2-1 record that, unfortunately, has become the non-con schedule result norm for a Fitz-coached team.  Even more disconcerting is the undeniable fact that a myriad of field play deficiencies across the ‘Cats’ O, D and special team squads remain unresolved, hanging like an executioner’s axe over the collective necks of this season’s version of the pigskin Purple and coercing us card-carrying members of Wildcat Nation to ponder and fret about future potential disaster(s) before the dinner bell rings heralding the disproportionate meat-laden entrée of NU’s 9-course B1G campaign banquet in two weeks’ time.  But that’s all future games stuff.  So without further ado, the following are my initial perspective points regarding NU’s bug tussle against the BuGS-U Gnats.   

First off, the BuGS-U Gnats football team is a Twinkie and a bad one at that.  More precisely, the Gnats are a 5-years past edible due-date Twinkie – rancid & molding in its unopened original cellophane packaging.  This pointedly frank characterization is not news to anyone who still retains even a modicum of the standard measure of common sense that Gawd in his infinite pragmatic wisdom had seen fit to proffer upon most human beings at birth, especially to preseason college pigskin pundits & prognosticators who confidently predicted that last weekend’s worm-wrassle with BuGS-U would be the easiest of NU’s 2017 gridiron campaign.  And these usual suspect “experts” were spot on regarding this astute assessment. 

Secondly, the personal embarrassment that emanated from last Saturday’s Debacle in Durham when facing a loaded-for-bear Dookie Blue Imp squad and that had been implanted indelibly into the psyche of every individual athlete donning a Purple helmet served as immense incentive to –
1.    Flush the distasteful memory of that Dookie trainwreck;
2.    Embrace the suck of the daily grind needed to improve the level of field play in each phase of the game; and
3.    Get down to the task of rededicating themselves towards not repeating this gut-wrenching piss-poor performance, particularly against such a universally recognized Twinkie like the Gnats. 
And the ‘Cats delivered on that motivation by playing the kind of a high quality football game that is typical of a legitimate B1G conference team for 60 full minutes...  Finally.

Last but not least, as this contest progressed, it transitioned from a glorified, unofficial scrimmage against a totally overmatched foe into a pseudo baptism of fire (or at least a baptism of tepidity) for many ‘Cat players who were designated 2nd & 3rd teamers on Fitz’ pregame depth chart.  Throughout NU’s slate of OOC games, an alarming theme has become markedly manifest: injuries, many serious, across what was once considered a loaded depth chart, especially on the defensive side of the LOS.  NU coaches and fans alike have witnessed an unnerving rash of game & season-ending injuries to key personnel, the most severe of which have befallen the ‘Cats’ veteran defensive secondary, a squad that was considered a major team strength in the weeks preceding this season’s opening game against Nevada.  Consequently, those remedial sub-situations were as much sorely needed (excuse the gallows-humor pun) as they were welcome, if merely as a vehicle of opportunistic necessity that presented these next-man-up players with viable chances to accrue valuable PT while they showcased their positional field play prowess, thankfully, against a less-talented foe.  I can only cringe at the potential nightmare that would have been all too real had Fitz & his coordinator coaches been forced by situational circumstance to toss these relatively unproven sub players into an overwhelming, pressure-packed gridiron maelstrom of going mano-a-mana against a much more powerful opponent – like a Wisky or a State Penn – which would have demanded that they perform way above and beyond what many realistically were prepared-for in order to execute & complete their game plan assignments at the required level of competency to be considered a success – a virtual mission impossible, in most cases.  And to their credit, many of those subs rose to their individual position challenges as best as might be expected.  However, when the final field play evaluations have been tallied via post-game video review sessions, I suspect that more than a few will be given a grade of TBD (To Be Determined) instead of a Job Well Done.  Embrace the suck, indeed. 

How the ‘Cats Zapped the BuGS-U Gnats

Trench Warfare
Drastic improvement in the overall field play from every position on both the ‘Cat OL & DL was a paramount priority owning to the complete collapse of technique discipline demonstrated throughout the Debacle in Durham, especially in H-2 whereupon my personal assessment of individual and collective field play of ALL positions via extended video reviews led me to the unavoidable conclusion that both units summarily threw in the bloody towel of competitiveness and, instead, waved a white flag of surrender.  I’m quite certain that if or when any of those OL & DL personnel might chance to read this damning evaluation, their personal pride and integrity would take great umbrage to its message.  However, despite having lived with the lingering memory of the Cats’ public undressing 10 days removed from that original deduction, I am steadfast and will not apologize one iota for that candid assessment simply because, speaking as plainly as I can, that’s exactly what I saw.  Period… End of story.  I’m confident that Fitz and his coaching staff (OL coach Adam Cushing and DC Doc Hankwitz, in particular) concurred with this humiliating assessment on their own, because reports chronicling BuGS-U game week practices stated categorically that those drills emphasizing correct OL blocking and DL shedding techniques were ratcheted-up with considerably increased passion and intensity.  So admittedly, the OL and DL personnel got their general acts together in the days leading up to the BuGS-U bug tussle; and the desired mutual improvements in overall field play across all line positions was fully evident BIG TIME against the Gnats.  However, one must temper his/her elation at such a dramatic upward trend in performance efficiency and effectiveness, because, after all, it still came against, well… the milquetoast Gnats.   But that progress was notable all the same. 

Trench Warfare
I must admit, Senior Superback Garrett Dickerson has been and remains one my personal favorite players on the 2017 Wildcat roster.  Throughout his Purple collegiate career, he’s has fought through many a debilitating injury with admirable dogged determination and, currently, he appears to be 100% healthy at last and is ready, willing & able to compete with the best TEs in the B1G… or the nation for that matter.  And did he ever compete against BuGS-U.  One of the more delightful items of interest that I personally took-away from the steamrolling of the Gnats was the joy of witnessing Mr. Dickerson’s veritable coming-out party as NU’s SB extraordinaire.  Mr. Dickerson day wasn’t merely effective, it was literally off the chain – with a career best 9 receptions off 10 targeted throws from his QB, Clayton Thorson, while accruing a very valuable 150 yards in the effort.  What’s more, of those 9 grabs, an eye-popping 8 of those snatches were of the 1st down-producing variety.  That last statistic, quite honestly, was the most remarkable of all for the SB.  In fact, his noteworthy performance was recognized by the football e-zine (internet magazine), Pro Football Focus.  Check-out this article highlighting Dickerson’s career day. One further stat to be mentioned (and taken from the linked article above), is Dickerson’s assessed grade-point for his outstanding piece of gridiron theatre: a 99.9 point total out of 100 possible points – near perfection, mind you – garnering THE HIGHEST-RATED game-time performance of any offensive position within the collegiate football world for the week… by an astounding 5 full points!!!  Can you say, “Remarkable?”  I knew that you could…

Going Vertical
Unfortunate as the Debacle in Durham was, the single, most impactful silver lining item to be pocketed from the shocking carnage incurred at the hands of the Blue Imp’s Category 5 hurricane defensive lockdown of NU’s offense capabilities was that it forced Wildcat OC, Mick McCall to rethink and abandon his per usual OOC offensive game plan and unleash his entire repertoire of offensive weaponry on the hapless Gnats on the following Saturday.  And it couldn’t have come any sooner.  The scoreboard might have shown a 49-7 score as the final gun sounded, but that lopsided tally shed but a dim light on the evening’s Purple offensive juggernaut, piloted by Junior QB Clayton Thorson, that hand delivered the first true blowout in several seasons in front of an anxious partisan Purple fanbase seated in the stands of Dyche’s Ditch.  In total, 678 yards of offense were recorded for the contest – 375 via McCall’s directed aerial attack complimented by an additional 303 yards off his ground game.  And again, the casual observer to these factoids must bear in mind that these gaudy yardage statistics were generated against an extremely porous BuGS-U D that served little more resistance than a low-lying speed bump to the supercharged Indy racer that was the Thorson & Co. Special last weekend. 

The most effective aspect of the refined Thorson & Co. aerial yardage production option against BuGS-U was the liberal use of the vertical pass, which, during the prior weekend’s game against the Blue Imps, had been repressed in deference towards employing NU’s assumed high quality ground-n-pound running game as McCall’s preferred offensive attack option behind feature-back, Justin Jackson The Ball Carrier (who will be referenced from this point forward as “JJTBC”).  That fateful decision by NU’s offensive brain trust proved to be nothing less than an unmitigated failure when facing the Dookie defensive counter-strategy of stacking the box with player numbers and peppering the LOS with constant blitzes, reddogs and DL stunts, all of which was intended to stone JJTBC from generating yardage gains via the rush.  So rather than beat the dead horse by continuing the mindset to set-up his passing attack through successful execution of his running game, as was attempted unsuccessfully against the Blue Imps, McCall reversed this previous offensive paradigm and utilized a pass-first attack option designed to exploit the weak defensive secondary of BuGS-U by air mailing the bean downfield from Thorson’s arm into the hands of his receiver corps as they sprinted into whatever open space was available within the Gnat deep pass zones.  It worked like a charm as explosion play pass completions occurred early and often throughout the contest.  The Thorson-to-Garrett Dickerson pass option delivered explosion plays of 28, 27, 18 & a second 28 yards.  The Thorson-to-Bennett Skowronek pass option netted explosion plays of 58 & 18 yards, each of which resulted in a TD score.  The Thorson-to-Flynn Nagel pass option produced explosion plays of 18 & 20 yards.  The Thorson-to-Jeremy Larkin pass option generated a highlight reel explosion play of 39 yards, a potential TD reception whose excitement was short-lived when Jeremy was tackled & stripped of the pill before crossing the BuGS-U goal line (the fumbled pigskin rolled into the enemy end zone and was recovered by a Gnat DB for a touchback that killed Mr. Larkin’s bid to score a passing TD of his own).  That makes a total of 9 explosion play pass receptions out of Thorson’s 23 total completions over the entire game – representing a very commendable 39% ratio. 

You see Mr. McCall, exercising the vertical pass attack option can and will generate positive yardage results, particularly if your game plan includes tactics which afford your premier QB an advantageous in-game passing environment (i.e.: keeping Thorson upright & untouched behind well-executed pocket protection).  Doing so would give Clayton the appropriate conditions to maintain the necessary composure and focus to allow him the crucial time to scan the defensive secondary before him and deliver the bean on target & in stride to that open WR visible in his crosshairs.  A strong recommendation going forward in NU’s upcoming B1G campaign:  Don’t fall into the punji pit of foregoing your vertical passing attack just to assuage the potential temporary PR shortfall of not fully utilizing your highly advertised rushing attack option featuring JJTBC.  Your conference opposition most definitely will compose defensive game plans to stop the ‘Cat ground game as its No. 1 priority.

The Maestro Finds His Baton
NU’s Offensive Maestro Clayton Thorson’s reputed passing acumen returned with a vengeance against the BuGS-U Gnats.  Pondering on the message proffered by that poignant previous sentence is music to my ears, indeed. The conductor’s baton that Mr. Thorson wielded so adeptly when he orchestrated the Wildcat offense in NU’s praiseworthy come-from-behind “W” against the Nevada Woof Pucks in game #1, and which he seemingly misplaced during the Debacle in Durham whitewash against the Blue Imps in Game #2, apparently was relocated in the nick of time to reprise his high quality pitch-n-catch passing touch once more throughout last weekend’s game facing the “not-ready-for-prime-time” passing defense of the Gnats.  Despite his HC’s philosophic football assertion that “statistics are for losers,” the total sum of Thorson’s QB stats from Saturday evening’s contest frankly don’t lie.  Instead, they underscore the Junior QB’s substantive skillset to matriculate the ball down the field of play and into the opponent’s end zone via his downfield vision & arm as well as with his feet with admirable precision and regularity.  Completing 23 passes off 30 attempts, while garnering another career high of 370 total yards (Clayton’s 2nd single game passing yardage record set within the first 3 weeks of the 2017 season) and collecting 2 TDs in the process, will write a very telling post-game story line all by itself.  It’s all a very good thing. 


Given several days to pause and reflect on the flood of exciting emotions and details of last Saturday’s blowout victory against BuGS-U, allows the intensive post-battle fervor of having just crushed a rancid and molding Twinkie opponent to subside gracefully and be replaced by a sense of soothing serenity and confidence of having done the needful against one of the worst football programs in the 2017 MAC. 

OK, now I’m over it.

This coming weekend is NU’s 2017 bye week and it couldn’t have arrived at a more opportune time.  This game-free weekend offers the Wildcats a valuable window of opportunity to lick their many significant wounds and gird themselves for what should their greatest set of mental, physical and emotional challenges of their 2017 B1G conference campaign – first against the Wisky Drunkards in 2 weeks’ time then against the Inmates of State Penn the following Saturday.  

As for NU’s next opponent, the Drunkards of Wisky, they are one of the finest, most complete football teams in the nation; and nothing they’ve done in their season thus far contradicts that assessment.  They currently have posted a 3-0 record in their 2017 schedule, while earning a well-deserved 9th place rank on this week’s AP beauty pageant poll.  The current version of the Drunkard football team fits their reputed norm of fielding another very high quality, competitive squad similar to what the program has assembled over the last dozen years or more.  They are well coached, have Big Ugly NFL-ready talent across most every position in their OL and DL roster, have lockdown DBs & aggressive heat-seeking missile-like LBs in their secondary, have an RB stable stocked with diminutive yet fast, tough thoroughbreds who service Wisky’s ground-n-pound rushing attack standard with enthusiasm & power and a prototypical NFL QB in 6’4” Super-Soph Alex Hornibrook .  The Drunkards are coming off a 40-6 road “W” thumping applied last Saturday to a weak-sister BYU Codger team that has compiled a lackluster 1-3 record in 2017.  In that game, Hornibrook demonstrated definitive signs of rounding into All B1G QB form after having logged an incredible aerial circus stat sheet that includes 18 completions off 19 attempts, across 8 receiving targets, while collecting 256 yards & 4 TDs via the pass along the way.  Simply stated, this team is loaded. 

The ‘Cats better tighten-up their collective chinstraps for this one.  It’s gonna be a bumpy ride. 

The Waterboy
“Win with Grace, Lose with Dignity”

He’s a Lumberjack
Similar to what was done in my post Nevada game commentary, awarding this week’s Lumberjack Trophy to a deserving player has been postponed because, once again, there truly wasn’t a notable slobber-knocker kiss laid on any BuGS-U player by a Wildcat on any down last Saturday.  Sometimes historical precedent (or is that hysterical precedent) does repeat itself.

Most certainly more than one trophy candidate will arise during NU’s coming contest against the Wisky Drunkards.  So stay tuned for that award presentation…

Sept. 8, 2017


In a masterful matinee performance last Saturday afternoon, Northwestern Wildcat Junior QB Clayton Thorson, playing the part of resident conductor emeritus fronting the Purple Pride Orchestra that is the Wildcat Offense, exhibited fearless leadership and exacting precision in what was the first of a three movement score constituting NU’s out-of-conference slate of 2017 opponents.  Thorson’s brilliant quarterbacking of the ‘Cats’ passing attack wasn’t only instrumental, but was an absolutely necessity to resuscitate a ‘Cat O that was choking early & often throughout H-1 in its attempt to execute OC Mick McCall’s original rush-centric game plan.  And thankfully, it didn’t take long before HC Past Fitzgerald and his OC arrived at the undeniable realization that the ’Cats’ opening game opponent, the Nevada Woof Pucks, had implemented an effective counter game plan of their own geared specifically to shut-down NU’s overhyped rushing attack by loading the box with defensive numbers that very easily could have replicated the disastrous OOC failures of 2016.  The ‘Cats were getting beat to the punch incessantly in H-1, and with 2016 season’s Illinois State debacle still rattling around in their memory banks, a “Come To Jesus” moment was warranted.  When the ‘Cats trotted-out onto Dyche’s Ditch for H-2, it was abundantly clear that Fitz and OL coach Adam Cushing had issued their offensive linemen a clear and unambiguous message: “You Better Get Hot or Go Home.”  The Wildcat Big Uglies showed that a roaring fire was lit directly under their collective nether regions.  

But before I expand on Thorson’s career day as the Wildcats’ primary aerial delivery vehicle, allow me to explain how in the hell the Wildcats found themselves squarely behind an eight ball of their own making for much of H-1 and headed into their halftime locker room after having been unceremoniously thrown down a 17-7 hole by the thoroughly prepared and fired-up Nevada D.  In the weeks leading up to this contest, it was no great secret that NU’s offensive brain had established a well-advertised 2017 priority to showcase their prolific rushing attack behind their marquee asset, Junior RB Justin Jackson The Ball Carrier (from this point forward to be referenced via the acronym: “JJTBC”), toting the bean into, around and through holes created by NU’s newly revamped OL against whatever formation(s) their opponent’s D might muster.  However, it’s one thing to dream about rushing the ball at will against one’s opposition and quite another to actually do so.  And against the supposed rush defense-challenged Pucks from Reno, who in 2016, garnered the ignominious distinction of having been ranked 117th among 128 FBS teams at season’s end, it appeared to most casual observers, including NU’s coaching staff, that the rush D that Nevada HC Jay Norvell and his defensive coaching staff trotted onto the manicured lawn of Dyche’s Ditch couldn’t or wouldn’t offer much more than similar token resistance when facing the impending juggernaut of the Purple ground game in 2017.  But as reality would have it, the Pucks’ D was more than ready, willing and able to meet that on-paper challenge and they did so with dogged determination, executing a craftily conceived 3-3-5 base defensive formation – aided greatly by very poor blocking techniques by the ‘Cat OL specifically throughout H-1.

First, a brief Xs & Os explanation of Nevada’s base 3-3-5 defensive set is necessary.  Its fundamental objective is to create blocking mismatches and/or confusion primarily by presenting a “plus-1” defensive formation to an opposing offense.  The intent of a “plus-1” defense positions an extra defender “in the box” against the current blocking formation (read: the offensive wall) it faces.  In its base form, a 3-3 defensive set, when fronting a standard 5-man OL, provides that extra defender (6 on 5) just prior to the snap of the ball.  If a TE (read: NU’s  superback), is positioned originally at the end of the OL or if he motions from his initial slot receiver location to a new position off the outside shoulder of an OT, becoming a 6th potential blocker in the OL formation’s wall, then one of the Puck’s 5 DBs originally positioned in the 3-3-5 defensive secondary, would step-up into the defensive box as an extra LB before the snap of the ball - maintaining the “plus-1” numerical advantage of defenders-to-blockers (7 on 6).   Bottom line: the “plus-1” front is essentially a strategic over-commitment – a sell-out, if you will – to counter an opponent’s superior rushing attack, in which the relative physical/skill-level advantage(s) of the individual 1-on-1 defender-to-blocker matchups along the LOS have been predetermined to rest with the O-lineman.  Mind you, this “negative” assessment is not necessarily an overt criticism of the competitive competency of one’s defensive personnel; it’s merely an honest valuation by a coaching staff that the individual defender has a physical or skill-level disadvantage against the lineman he faces across the LOS.  If such a disadvantage is identified, then it becomes a defensive priority to game-plan for that shortfall as a measure to neutralize the recognized advantage.  The “plus-1” 3-3-5 defensive formation is one such neutralizing strategy.  Nevada’s defensive brain trust employed this “plus-1” D to near perfection against OC Mick McCall’s O, confusing and/or neutralizing the bigger, stronger ‘Cat linemen with numbers in the box.  Throughout much of H-1 and continuing into H-2, this strategy bottled-up JJTBC in the NU offensive backfield, forcing him to search for the running play’s intended hole or seam for a critical fraction of a second instead of driving into & through that point-of-attack straightaway.  In that moment’s hesitation, when JJTBC danced or made a hop-cut behind his blocking wall instead of blasting through a created seam, the pigskin was never advanced with much authority more than a token yard or two beyond the LOS.  Consequently, Nevada’s “plus-1” defense routinely dictated limited yardage production gains and compromised the ‘Cats’ expected offensive field play control via their rush attack.  In other words, the “plus-1" worked like a charm.

Next, it must be stated that Nevada’s 3-3-5 D didn’t assume a passive read-&-react profile at the snap of the ball, but attacked the LOS with reckless abandon – underscoring the “all-or-nothing” sell-out profile of this stuff-the-run defensive strategy.  Even a cursive viewing of BTN game replays verified that it was the Woof Puck defensive brain trust’s intention to shoot a defender into either the A-gap (between OC & OG) or the B-gap (between the OG-OT) – and frequently into both – on virtually every down from game’s opening whistle to its final gun.  Regardless of whether it was a LB blitz, DB red-dog or a DT slant-shooting into an assigned target gap in the OL wall, the defensive objective remained the same: get penetration into the NU backfield and disrupt offensive flow, especially on expected rushing downs.  When coupled with their “plus-1” in-the-box defensive numbers tactic, Nevada’s aggressive “shoot-the-gap first; ask-for-forgiveness later” profile consistently stymied the Purple OL’s charge off the LOS and subsequently kept any RB who attempted to lug the bean into the face of this sell-out D second-guessing where to advance the pigskin when it was deposited in-hand by QB Clayton Thorson.  The frustrating thing was… Fitz and OC McCall kept trying to utilize their ground-n-pound rushing attack throughout H-1 despite witnessing the much less-than-expected yardage gains allowed by the Woof Puck’s sell-out D, especially on 1st & 2nd downs – which positioned the Purple O right into the crosshairs of Nevada HC Norvell’s defensive game plan.  If only Norvell & his feisty D could capitalize on the reputed arrogance/obstinacy of NU’s offensive brain trust to entice their home team foe to continue exercising this rush attack-first offensive mindset, the path would be paved for the Woof Pucks to deliver a similar final game result that was laid on the Wildcats in their first 2 games from 2016.

Last but not least, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention a 3rd major factor that contributed heavily in how the Nevada Woof Pucks, a 24-point “on the road”’ dog, nearly pulled-off a monumental upset against a “full of themselves” NU Wildcats squad.  And that factor was: the totally craptastic Wildcat OL’s initial charge technique off the snap of the ball.  To say that the technique was merely “lacking” would be, at the very least, pointedly ignoring the obvious; and at the worst, blatantly delusional.  Speaking bluntly, they S-U-C-K-E-D.  As a matter of fact, the unit sucked eggs BIG TIME; and provided an enormous assist in the efficacy of the combined “plus-1” and “shoot-the-gap” strategy utilized by Nevada’s D.

Basically, the initial movement of every ‘Cat OL, to a man, at the snap, was to come-out of his initial 2 or 3-point stance and lift his head straight up – essentially to stand upright – which exposed his chest & neck to the defender across from him on the LOS.  Conversely, every Nevada DL, to a man, was coached to shoot forward “low-&-hard” across the LOS either into his designated gap-responsibility area or straight into his target OL to neutralize his opponent’s charge.  A fundamental football mantra of “correct” 1-on-1, defender-on-blocker engagement that is drummed-into every football player at any level by his coaches, from pee wee ball to the pros: “The low man wins the one-on-one.”  Period...  End of story.  When NU’s OL initial stand up motion met the Nevada DL’s shoot low-&-hard motion… guess who won the battle of the trenches?  Simply stated, the Wildcat OL got stuffed with head-scratching regularity, and, with it, NU’s ground game was stuffed summarily in the process.  Observing this mystifying piss-poor technique through my binoculars while seated in the West stands, all I could do was ask myself: “Does any NU line coach teach correct “off the ball” drive technique at Northwestern anymore?”   From watching NU football program videos like “The Foundation” I know for a fact that Fitz and his coaching staff, indeed, do.  Then a second, related Q drifted into my head: “But was any of the Big Uglies listening?”  Given the OL’s overall field play that I witnessed firsthand from the stands in H-1 and what was confirmed via viewing multiple BTN game replays, the gut-wrenching answer was: “Not often enough.”  

And this dog-lay “off the ball” drive technique wasn’t limited to the OL, but plagued every Wildcat DL as well. Emulating what their OL teammates had done on their side of the LOS, Doc’s DL constantly stood upright right out from their initial stance and likewise, got stuffed by their lower-positioned Nevada blockers.  Once again, when viewing game replays, it wasn’t difficult to notice what was happening (or not happening) with the DL’s so-called off-the-ball “drive.”  By standing straight up, ‘Cat DL failed to shed their blocker or to merely take the fight to the Nevada side of the LOS with any regularity.  Consequently, they never were able to initiate much of a push into the Nevada offensive backfield to either pursue the visiting team’s ball carrier or pressure their QB.  Virtually every one of Doc’s “Big Dog” DL personnel (I refuse to mention individual player names, but you can view replays and identify the guilty parties on your own with ease) resembled a whooped puppy rather than a starting B1G defensive linemen.  Throughout most of H-1, Nevada’s OL pushed ‘Cat DL off the LOS on rushing plays or locked horns with the Purple linemen on passing downs and never allowed them to get viable separation until the play was near over.  It was painful to observe.  In particular on Nevada pass plays, after having stood straight up on their own, Wildcat DL could be seen hand fighting and belly-bumping their OL blockers instead of shedding them, giving Woof Pack QB Ty Gangi all the time necessary to scan NU’s secondary for an open WR target.  Thankfully, Gangi’s passing acumen was relatively piss-poor in its own right and, therefore, he never made ‘Cats’ D pay the full price for their collective failure to get into his grill whenever he dropped back to pass behind his pocket protection.  However, it must be noted that both of Gangi’s TD passes in H-1 were completed with little to no pressure because the ‘Cat DL couldn’t get their pass rush going specifically due to this horrible “off the ball” initial drive.  Video replay of the game does not belie this fact.    

Thank Gawd for halftime locker room “discussions” and adjustments…

How the ‘Cats Collared the Woof Pucks

“Jesus Is Just Alright”
As stated above, IMHO, a “Come To Jesus” moment was needed to rattle the cage of the collective Wildcat O in order get their heads right (read: out of their moons) and their competitive juices free flowing again after a disturbingly mundane (or “less than average”) H-1 performance.  Of course, I don’t know what was said during NU’s halftime locker room respite, but it sure made one hellova impact, so I’ll just describe it with the phrase: the ultimate spiritual revival encounter.  Whatever may or may not have happened or was said, one thing was abundantly clear…  the ‘Wildcat team, as a whole, returned to the green grass of Dyche’s Ditch for the start of H-2 and began to truly play “En Fuego” or as Fitz has been quoted in prior post-game pressers, “Like Your Hair is On Fire.”

The result: On NU’s first two consecutive offensive possessions of Q3, Clayton Thorson and Co. scored 10 points to even the score at 17 apiece.  In addition, a similar competitive resolve was reestablished on the ‘Cats’ defensive side of the LOS, with Doc Hankwitz’ troops keeping the Woof Puck O at bay and forcing them to turn the ball over on downs to the ‘Cat O on Nevada’s first 4 possessions in H-2,  The only true scoring threat mounted by Nevada in this 2nd stanza was the direct result of a hand-delivered brainfart INT at the 11:31 mark of Q4 during which a badly miss-thrown Thorson pass from deep in his own territory was picked-off, giving the Puck offense starting field position at the Purple 17.  Undaunted by this turnover, the ’Cat D went right to work and administered a 3-&-out stoning of this crucial Nevada possession, limiting its potential damage to a 26-yard FG that gave the Woof Pucks a brief 20-17 lead that lasted all of just under 5 minutes.  With that chippie FG registered on the scoreboard, Nevada’s point production was over for the remainder of the contest.

Apparently, Fitz and his coaching staff got the full attention of their entire team over the 20 minutes of that halftime locker room skull session.  ‘Nuf said. 

Band of Brothers
Throughout the winter months and extending into the preseason, collegiate pigskin pundits and amateur evaluators alike questioned who would step-up to fill the graduated field play shoes of NU’s surprise 2016 All-B1G WR Austin Carr.  Those Qs were answered with definitive conviction during last Saturday’s grapple against the Nevada Woof Pucks: the entire Wildcat receiving corps.  Many a casual observer most likely would have proffered that claim to fame to NU’s Super Soph WR, Bennett Skoronek, owning to his 8 receptions that reaped an admirable 123 yards to the Wildcat’s total pass yardage production.  However, Mr. Skowronek wasn’t flying solo on the WR stat sheet, but was just one of many among the Purple receiving corps who made substantial pass reception contributions over full 60 minutes of the season opener.  Macan Wilson’s 3 grabs for 77 yards & a TD, coupled with Riley Lees’ 2 completions for 35 clicks & his own TD, Flynn Nagel’s 29 yards off 4 receptions and Garrett Dickerson’s additional 4 snatches for another 29 yards provided a pass receiving conglomerate that was instrumental in NU’s effort to dispatch the very game visiting team from Reno.  Of course, none of this would have been possible if not for QB Clayton Thorson’s vastly improved passing game.  The superior skillset of OC Mick McCall’s primary playmaker sealed the deal, especially in H-2.

Maestro, Take A Bow…
To say that Clayton Thorson had a career best day is nothing less than pure understatement.  Combine his 28 pass completions off 38 attempts (just south of 75%), which collected 352 total yards and 2 TDs, with his 2 TDs off QB sneaks at the Nevada goal line, then one can readily recognize Clayton’s highlight reel 4 TD afternoon.  The only other B1G offensive playmaker with comparable game stats during the conference’s 2017 season opening weekend was Da BuckNuts Senior QB, JT Barrett, who collected 304 passing yards & 3 TDs along with another 61 rushing & a 4th TD.  As a result, the media pundits shunned Thorson’s epic offensive day and presented the B1G’s Co-Offensive POW laurels to Mr. Barrett, along with State Penn RG Shaquan Barkley.  I guess one might expect such a pass-over when your team is a 24-point home team favorite over your season opener opponent.  So be it.  NU and Mr. Thorson have another 11 contests in 2017 to make the appropriate impression that will get acknowledged by those usual suspect evaluators.  

One factoid that might be overlooked among Thorson’s gaudy statistics against Nevada is that he distributed the bean across 8 individual receiver targets.  In addition, his overall body language, his recognizable composure under fire and his projected field play presence of mind as he calmly scanned the Nevada secondary for open receiving targets, either from behind his pocket protection or off a designed roll-out motion (as seen through my binocs) showed that the Junior QB was in complete control of himself and the Wildcat O as NU’s primary ball handler for the entire game. It was downright impressive.  Although one might take the pragmatic perspective that it’s too early for any definitive prognostication to be made following this opening game performance, I’ll take a giant leap of faith to declare…  In 2017, Clayton has raised his real time QB command-of-the-game to the next level of collegiate competency.  Usually, the most substantial improvement in field play for either a football team or an individual player during a single season is realized over the week from game No. 1 to game No. 2.  Hopefully, Mr. Thorson will continue this upwardly mobile trajectory as this fall’s pigskin campaign progresses.   I can’t wait to see what the near future holds. 


Although one might have considered the 2017 Nevada Woof Puck team a Twinkie primed & ready to be served-up for a thorough noshing, they proved themselves a game and competitive opponent.  Kudos must be given to Nevada HC Jay Norvell and his coaching staff for their outstanding work at getting this team prepared as well as it was for the road test of battling Fitz and his ‘Cats in their inaugural season as a newly installed coaching regime.  In my mind’s eye, they proved themselves worthy of further positive consideration from college football media types and they most certainly were not a true 24-point underdog.  Make no mistake, Nevada WILL make some noise in their Mountain West conference campaign this fall.  Which means NU was challenged and rose to the meet & defeat it, as opposed to what happened in their opening game foibles of 2016.  It’s all a very good thing. 

So now the ‘Cats hit the road to face the Dookie Blue Imps in a hot, hostile and, most likely, rainy environment in Durham, NC.  The Blue Imps are currently full of themselves after having thoroughly thumped a hapless and hopelessly over-matched North Carolina Central team once again – this time by a 60-7 score, a margin of victory that bested the Imps’ thrashings over these NCCU weak-sisters from the previous 3-4 seasons by an average of 30 or more points on each occasion.  Over the last 2 seasons, Fitz’ Wildcats have taken the measure of Dookie HC David Cutcliff’s Blue Imps in a 9-point roadie and an 11-point home “W,” respectively,  Now, in 2017, the Dookies feel that they are as prepared as they could ever be for some long-overdue payback.  All I can say is: “Bring it on, Dog!!!”  Frankly, I truly don’t think that those “off the ball” drive technique failures from last Saturday’s grapple against Nevada will carry-over to this weekend and be evident in the field play of either Wildcat OL or DL squad.  This Saturday will tell the tale for certain. 

The Waterboy
“Win with Grace, Lose with Dignity”

He’s a Lumberjack
This week’s Lumberjack Trophy has been postponed because there wasn’t a true notable slobber-knocker kiss laid on any Nevada player by a Wildcat player at on any down last Saturday.

 I had given some token thought towards giving this award to the entire Wildcat receiving corps for their overall outstanding field play in NU’s efficient passing attack against Nevada.  But then again, their job as WRs is to avoid the big hit, identify and sprint to the open area in one of the zones in the opponent’s secondary and snag the bean as it is delivered by QB Clayton Thorson.  Theirs is a unique and profoundly valuable skillset to be sure, but certainly it’s not one of slobber-knocker variety.  So no, the executive decision has been made that ‘Cat WRs don’t get this week’s award. 


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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