The Waterboy
2018 Archive

Nov. 16, 2018

Timely Playmaking

OK. Let me set the stage for this contest… Here were the underwhelming Wildcats coming into a very hostile and frigid Kinnick Stadium to lock horns with their locker room rival Io_a HogEyes harboring their somewhat wishful hopes at maintaining their prospects to earn a seat at the B1G Conference Championship banquet table as West Division representative still within reach.  When one considers how verifiably distant those prospects were after the ‘Cats’ had bumbled and stumbled their way to an utterly woeful 1-3 record over the first third of their 2018 gridiron campaign, the fact that these hopes were still alive and viable in the hearts & minds of the NU football team and their faithful supporters heading into this, their 10th game of the season, clinging to a 5-1 conference record, was nothing short of miraculous.  No way in the world would anyone claiming to possess even a modicum of the common sense that Providence had given him/her at birth would have given the Wildcats a snowball’s chance in hell of still competing for a West Division title at this advanced stage of their current season considering that 1-3 start; but then again, here the ‘Cats stood, with their dreams of capturing that coveted Divisional Championship still intact, eager and anxious to prove that they deserved that honored table reservation.

How the ‘Cats Wrestled a “W” from the HogEyes

Outstanding D
Any casual observer of this fall’s version of the Wildcats will come to the irrefutable conclusion that the No. 1 strength of the team is their defense.  And that strength never had been put to the test more than it had facing the Io_a offense last Saturday, despite the HogEyes having dropped their last 2 consecutive B1G games, both of which were on-the-road, tooth & nail, high-scoring “Ls” against State Penn (30-24) and Perdue (38-36).   In fact, the pervasive opinion among the most reputed collegiate football pundits, prognosticators and “informed” media talking heads was that DC Doc Hankwitz’ defensive ‘Cats were little more than paper tigers and primed to lay an egg, especially since the HogEye O was rounding into form and scoring with consistent regularity, averaging 34 points over their last 5 contests.

Per usual, in the week leading up to last Saturday’s brawl, Io_a HC “Captain Kirk” Ferentz had his corn-fed offensive conscripts physically pumped-up and emotionally charged to dominate the incoming ‘Cats and dash the visiting team’s dreams of tightening their tentative grip as the B1G West Division’s frontrunner.  This attitude of projected offensive dominance was bolstered by several strategic pre-game advantages –

●    The Wildcat secondary had been bitten hard by the injury bug over the last several games with 3 of Doc’s 4 starting DBs sidelined and declared PUP (Physically Unable to Perform) – both starting Safeties and a CB.  The roster replacements for these MIA DBs consist of 2 lightly used upper classmen and a true Frosh.
●    These 3 “next man up” DBs were slated to face an experienced HogEye passing attack that featured 3-year starting Junior QB Nate Stanley throwing darts to one of the best TE tandems within the B1G in Noah Fant and T.J Hockenson, who, thus far in 2018, have accounted for 980 total receiving yards & 10 TDs, many of which were red zone receptions.  If Stanley finds his passing rhythm, especially employing easy pitch-n-catch tosses to his NFL-ready dynamic TE duo, a 200 yard passing yardage production day is a viable possibility.
●    The HogEye O had been among the most efficient of all Division 1A teams in regards of “moving those chains” on 3rd down situations, converting 50% or more of these scenarios for 1st downs across 5 of their last 6 games.
●    The Io_a offense prided itself on winning the time-of-possession sweepstakes, holding the bean for 34-plus minutes on average across all games played in 2018 – 7th best TOP among Division 1A teams.  Combined with an up-tempo field play style, intended to wear down an opponent’s D over the course of a game, time-consuming offensive possessions which ultimately end in scoreboard points are a trademark of “Captain Kirk” and his HogEye O.

Needless to say, Doc and his defensive brain trust were extremely familiar with these salient advantage points, so they game-planned specifically to neutralize them.  Did they ever! 

First & foremost, Doc’s schooled his defensive front 7 to stone the HogEye rushing attack with quick, correct point-of-attack recognition coupled with efficient, effective tackling techniques, especially when converging on the ball carrier in the open field.  Doc’s LB corps and 8-man rotation DL turned the tables on “Captain Kirk’s” patented ground-n-pound rushing attack, limiting this normally reliable weapon to a paltry 64 yards gained off 22 rushing attempts.  The trench warfare between the dominating ‘Cat D and the ineffectual Hog OL was a thing of beauty for the visiting team as the Io_a rushing attack was summarily shut down, rendering ‘Captain Kirk’s” offense one dimensional and wholly dependent on their passing attack for their yardage production throughout most of this toe-to-toe donnybrook. 

The second impressive aspect of Doc’s defensive schemes was the manner in which the Wildcat secondary, populated with relatively inexperienced replacement players, rallied together as a bend-don’t-break collective.  Io_a’s QB Nate Stanley-led offense did accumulate significant yardage through the air (gaining 269 yards off 27 completions on 41 passing attempts), but the lion’s share those yards-gained were relegated mostly between the 20 yard lines.  When NU’s secondary did succumb to the HogEye passing attack, it restricted the damage to a single FG in late Q2, and a short field TD scored on a 28 yard explosion pass play in late Q3 that was set-up by a boneheaded Clayton Thorson INT that gave the Hog O starting field position at the ‘Cat 42.  Nevertheless, for this cobbled-together secondary to hold the prolific Io_a offense, that had averaged over 34 points scored in each of their 5 previous B1G games, to 10 total points was an amazing accomplishment, especially considering that NU’s most experienced lockdown DB, Senior CB Montre Hartage, was sidelined permanently by a freak lower body injury in mid Q3, which meant that all 4 positions within the Wildcat secondary were forced to depend upon newbie coverage personnel to neutralize Stanley and his WR corps over the game’s final, hectic 20 minutes.  And this group of Purple defensive playmakers not only rose to meet this daunting challenge, they threw a cold blanket over the Io_a passing attack with an efficiency that belied their relative inexperience while validating their individual and collective pass coverage skillsets.  It certainly was NOT a suffocating coverage effort, but it did have its moments; and in the end, the newbies delivered the asked-for goods. 

This communal defensive success easily could be considered the Wildcat D’s season-defining outing and the defensive coaching staff’s greatest teaching achievement in 2018.

“The TD Scamper”
The most impactful offensive weapon over NU’s last 4 B1G games has been the much welcomed ascendance of True Frosh RB Isaiah “King Koopa” Bowser into the role of OC Mick McCall’s featured RB. 

Since the forced medical retirement of former featured RB, Jeremy Larkin, virtually every media outlet report regarding the operational status of NU’s offense has obsessed with fundamental fact that the Wildcat O had become irrevocably one dimensional and overly dependent on the fickle playmaking skills of their “damaged-goods” Senior QB Clayton Thorson and the ‘Cats’ on-again/off-again passing attack.  The major sub-plot to this scenario was that Thorson assumed his accustomed role as NU’s primary offensive weapon while in the midst of adhering to a strict recovery protocol dictated by his knee reconstruction surgery 9 months ago to repair that damnable and wholly avoidable ACL injury sustained in the ‘Cats’ 2017 Music City Bowl game facing the Kentucky Wildcats.  Shouldering this one dimensional offensive attack restriction, Clayton had performed his passing playmaking duties with variable levels of success, which was an admirable feat in and of itself, since opposing B1G defenses designed their game plans specifically to neutralize the Wildcat passing attack and exploit CT’s understandable lack of mobility.  Despite CT’s diminished capacity to avoid a hard pass rush from an opponents’ DL, the ‘Cat O retained the ability to execute its passing game well enough to capture the “W” flag against 2 of their first 3 B1G foes via dramatic, gut-wrenching single digit victories that were secured in Q4.  However, such late-game offensive heroics by Thorson & Co. was proving to be unsustainable as the pressure to compete and overcome these tailored defensive game plans became increasingly complex from one Saturday to the next.

Enter Isaiah “King Koopa” Bowser.  I cannot fathom how this resuscitated rushing attack came to fruition for the ‘Cat O in mid-season, but the fact that it happened at all was nothing less than a veritable godsend.  When I first witnessed how efficiently IB toted the pigskin into & through seams in the LOS opened by the ‘Cat OL against the Rutgers Scarlet Blight D, it left me downright speechless.  “King Koopa” not only hit the correct holes/seams at the designed the point of attack, he did so with authoritative quickness, power & precision that were common characteristics of the featured RBs who carried the bean for the Wisky Drunkards and their offensive brain trust throughout the last 2 dozen-plus seasons.  But here was a relatively unknown ‘Cat newbie, a True Frosh RB dressed in a Northwestern uniform, who possessed the equivalent size, rugged physiology, eye-blink quick reactions, honest straight-line speed and appropriate “angry” attitude to attack the LOS as might be expected of a grizzled veteran B1G RB and who seemed to have been cloned from genes of Wisky’s current feature RB, Jonathan Taylor, or the BugEater’s starting RB, Devine Ozigbo. 

And it didn’t take long for IB’s rushing attack contributions to come to the fore:
●    113 yards gained on 21 rushes against the Scarlet Blights
●    118 yards gained on 34 rushes against the Wisky Drunkards (besting the yardage production of featured Wisky RB, Jonathan Taylor – 46 yards on 11 carries).
●    94 yards gained on 21 rushes against the Noted Dames (besting the yardage production of featured Fuggin’ Irish RB, Dexter Williams – 59 yards on 19 carries)

Subsequently, in last Saturday’s grapple against Io_a, when the ‘Cat offense needed it the most as QB Clayton Thorson vomited his guts out on the NU sidelines due to some virulent stomach ailment and was incapacitated to perform with anything approaching his usual consistency, “King Koopa” Bowser carried the pigskin-hauling load in career PR fashion, collecting 164 yards off 31 rushing attempts against a stout HogEye defensive front 7.  Bowser’s timely rushing afternoon not only diverted the pressure to perform away from Thorson by giving the ‘Cat O another healthy viable yardage production option from their current passing woes, it literally helped the Wildcats manage the scoreboard clock in NU’s favor, shortening the game via extended possessions by the ‘Cat offense as Thorson & Co. played a controlling game-within-a-game of ball-hog “keep away” with the Io_a offense.  And did that tangential consequence frustrate the ever-lovin’ bejeesus outta the home team HogEyes.

Then came one of the game’s seminal offensive plays for the Wildcats.  At the 11:43 mark of Q2, with the ‘Cats trailing the HogEyes by a 0-3 score in what, at that juncture, had been a titanic push me-pull you scrum between the two combatants, Thorson & Co. got the bean back in hand via another change-of-possession punt that gave the visiting team starting field position on their own 20.  Utilizing an up-tempo style of offensive play execution coupled with OC Mick McCall calling for a mix of alternating pass and rushing plays, the ‘Cat O methodically drove the LOS downfield to the Io_a 34 yard line.  That’s when it happened…

On one of ‘Cat OL’s best run blocking plays of the entire contest, on a 2nd-n-6 down, “King Koopa” took the handoff from CT, sprinted to his left and settled behind his pulling OC-ROT tandem executing a counter trey blocking scheme.  When the pulling tandem opened a 3-yard wide seam off the LOT’s original position on the LOS, the True Frosh RB turned into & through that seam and broke into open space in the HogEyes’ defensive 2nd level beyond.  Upon entering this open area, Mr. Bowser correctly recognized that he was free & clear of virtually every Io_a defender on the field of play; so the newbie RB ignited his afterburners, turned his route downfield then raced untouched 34 glorious yards, crossing the Io_a goal in a matter of seconds to score the ‘Cats’ first go-ahead TD of the contest.  Talk about a timely scamper… This uninterrupted rush was that and more!

I truly couldn’t determine who was more stunned at what had just transpired – the HogEye team and coaching staff standing along the Io_a sidelines or the faithful HogEye fans watching the proceedings from their frigid seats in the Kinnick Stadium stands.  Whichever it might have been, the stadium became eerily quiet.  Then the Black & Gold Boo Birds began chirping loudly at the home team’s irreversible defensive blunder.  Upon hearing the Boo Birds’ vocal displeasure, I couldn’t help grinning broadly in a moment of pure schadenfreude glee. 

Die HogEyes, DIE!

“The Catch”
With the Wildcat rushing attack clicking on all cylinders, there was little wonder why OC Mick McCall kept his vertical passing game in check for major portions of the contest.  After all, the proficient efficacy of the ‘Cats’ ground game permitted Thorson & Co. the discretionary freedom to pick and choose when, where an how they would exercise their vertical pass weaponry, rather than allow pressure filled down & distance situations or a suffocating Io_a defensive stand to dictate the necessity for turning to downfield pass plays for better yardage production by the visiting team.  However, when the HogEyes converted CT’s brainfart pick in late Q3 into a quickie short-field TD and a 10-7 lead, the pressure on the Cat offense to push the ball downfield via the pass began to build as the scoreboard clock wound down.

After Io_a’s 1st offensive series of Q4 was stoned in 3-n-out style by Doc’s D obliging a change of possession, ‘Cat WR Flynn Nagel returned the subsequent HogEye punt 14 yards to reposition the LOS at the home team’s 46 with 10:26 remaining on the game clock.  When NU’s first play in this ensuing offensive possession, a rush by Bowser, was stopped cold for a 1 yard gain and Thorson’s easy, on-target 2nd down pass was dropped by True Frosh WR JJ Jefferson, standing all alone in the HogEyes’ short right boundary zone 8 yards downfield, things appeared to have taken a grim turn for the worse for the Wildcats.  In response, ‘Cat OC Mick McCall dialed-up a vertical pass attempt to one his most reliable target receivers, Junior WR Ben Skowronek, to test the deep coverage skills of Io_a’s secondary personnel deployed to defend this upcoming 3rd down scenario.  That’s when the 2018 season’s most unbelievable pitch-n-catch phenomena happened.

But first, with everyone watching from the coaches’ box and seated in the Kinnick Stadium stands expecting a desperate vertical heave attempt by CT to move the bean beyond the line to gain for a possession extending 1st down, McCall employed reverse psychology and called a simple draw play to the Cats’ “Flyin’ Hawaiian” RB, Chad Hanaoka.  NU’s diminutive former walk-on ball carrier promptly took the handoff from Thorson, blasted untouched straight through a huge hole in the right A-gap and didn’t stop picking ‘em up & laying ‘em down until he was wrestled to the turf by a HogEye SS after a 13 yard gain that gave the ‘Cat O that highly prized 1st down at the HogEye 34.  At this point, the Io_a defensive coaches were thoroughly baffled by the unorthodox play call; the defensive players were knocked back on their heels and reeling at the swift shift in field play energy; while the HogEye Faithful were left in slack-jawed silence having witnessed yet another abrupt turnabout in the game’s real-time momentum.

Then McCall made the game-clinching coup de gras play call, directing Thorson to receive the snap from center in his standard shotgun position; set-up calmly behind his pocket protection; wait for his receiving target, Mr. Skowronek, to gain separation from his cover DB as he ran a contested fly route straight down the left sidelines and into the deep left boundary zone, then let the bean fly in a gentle arcing trajectory to the sprinting WR.  Just as Skowronek crossed the Io_a goal line, he correctly calculated that the ball was dropping too swiftly for the Junior wideout to attempt the catch in stride.  So instead, he dove forward, his body fully stretched-out and extended parallel to the turf, then reached his left hand far out to snare the bean in flight.  Suddenly, not only did Big Ben capture the thrown ball cleanly in the palm of his left hand, but as he pulled the bean into his body, it rode up the WR’s arm and nestled firmly in the crook of his elbow, with his forearm positioned below the ball, just as Skowronek hit the end zone turf.  To his credit, Ben maintained his focus and finished the reception motion by squeezing the captured ball and anchoring it between the crook of his elbow and his shoulder pads while he kept his forearm below the ball, preventing the pigskin from ever touching the end zone turf.  To be sure, this circus grab and textbook finish was the most indisputable, incontrovertibly cleanest reception that this writer had viewed in over three decades of watching pass completions at all levels of the game, from Pee Wee football to the professional ranks. 

Without a doubt, “The Catch” will be a staple red-letter play on NU football highlight reel videos for years to come.  

Sealing the Deal
With the ultra-valuable 7 points from “The Catch” giving the ‘Cats a tenuous 4 point lead, the game clock still showed 9:27 remaining in Q4 – ample time for the Io_a O to recover their scrambled wits and refocus their attention towards sustaining a methodical drive of their own to score the game-clinching points in the final minutes of regulation time.  As was the case for most of the game, NU’s kicking off coverage game remained an enigmatic liability, even after the momentum shift that ”The Catch” seemingly delivered to the Wildcat sidelines.  To help counteract the negative field position effects regarding the inability of the ‘Cats’ newbie place kicker to boot the ball at least to the Io_a goal line on kickoffs, Fitz decided to employ the squib kickoff following “The Catch” in the fleeting hope to give Doc’s defense a better chance at keeping the starting LOS position within a reasonable distance from the standard touchback LOS of the 25 yard line.  Unfortunately, NU’s kickoff cover team failed to converge properly on the squib kick and the HogEye kick return team pushed the picked-up ball to their 37 yard line, putting even more pressure on the Wildcat defense to make a significant drive stopping play against the Io_a offense.

As fate would have it, both the HogEyes and the ‘Cats exchanged 3-n-out offensive series on each of their own relative possessions following this squibbed kickoff return.  On Io_a’s second possession following NU’s squib kickoff, ‘Cat replacement Safety, Cameron Ruiz forced a fumble from hands of HogEye RB Mekhi Sargent that was recovered by ‘Cat replacement CB, Travis Whillock at the NU 49, effectively halting this second HogEye endgame drive.

When NU’s offensive possession following this first fumble recovery stalled on its own forgettable 3-n-out series, the ‘Cats punted the ball back to the HogEyes at their own 10 yard line with 2:41 left on the clock.  On the 5th play from scrimmage in this third Io_a possession, Joe “The Wizard of Gaz” Gaziano punched the ball out from the grip of HogEye RB Ivory Kelly-Martin as he sprinted into the C-gap to the inside the Wildcat DE.  This forced fumble was recovered by NU’s Cameron Ruiz, ending this final ill-fated drive at the Hogs’ 42.  From there, the Wildcat offense simply burnt the remaining time off the scoreboard clock.

So it was Doc’s fumble-forcing D who finally and rightfully sealed the deal for the victorious ‘Cats.
As improbable as it was unthinkable prior to the commencement of last Saturday’s slate of games involving the B1G teams which were remained in contention to win the West Division Championship – namely the Wisky Drunkards, the Perdue Broiler-Chickens, the Io_a HogEyes and, of course, the Northwestern Wildcats – the only team among these four contenders to capture the “W” flag in their respective game and keep their dream of a Championship season alive & kicking was the Wildcats. 

This unbelievable series of events didn’t merely keep that dream alive, it hand-delivered the B1G West Division title to the ‘Cats with 2 games left to play in their 2018 conference campaign.  I’m still numb at the thought of the B1G Football planets aligning to do so.  I’ve often listened, albeit half-heartedly, whenever Pat Fitzgerald alluded-to a West Division Championship as an annual team goal at the start of every season since he became NU’s HC in 2006.  Even now, I remain a bit skeptical that the Wildcats actually deserved the honor of winning this title outright rather than the 3 other contending teams losing the title via their own series of “Ls” which, consequently, allowed NU to back into the title at this early date. 

However, when taking into account their current 6-1 record across all B1G foes AND their undefeated, untied 4-0 record across the West Division rivals that the ‘Cats have faced to date, the Northwestern Football Wildcats most certainly earned the title; if only because they did the needful to capture the “W” flag when the final gun sounded marking the end of each hard-fought battle against these 4 opponents.   

Still, the war has not been won with two significant B1G West Division battles yet to be fought.  Only when the ‘Cats take care of business, going 1-0 against this Saturday’s opponent, the Minny Golden Rodents; and then repeating the 1-0 trick once more against the arrogant, full-of themselves Ill-Annoy Fighting Lovies, will I truly be satisfied and convinced that the Wildcats deserve the honor of representing the West Division in the B1G Championship game this coming December 1st. 

The Waterboy
“Win with Grace, Lose with Dignity”

Be Bold.  ”Fortis Fortuna Adiuvat,” indeed!

Nov. 1, 2018


When the Northwestern University football Wildcats beat the favored Wisky Drunkards last Saturday, quite literally, there was unrestrained jubilation in the streets surrounding Dyche’s Ditch by scores of Wildcat Nation Faithful simply because this monumental victory and the way in which was achieved was as much unexpected as it was improbable.  After all, Wisky is the 2-time consecutive defending B1G West Division Champion (& Champion in 3 of the last 4 seasons) and nothing but nothing gave any indication that the 2018 season wouldn’t become the Drunkards 3rd straight Championship in as many fall campaigns.  After all, leading up to this last weekend’s grapple with the ‘Cats, the Wisky O’s rushing attack had assumed its “standard” ground-n-pound efficacy, with featured Soph RB and Heisman Trophy candidate, Jonathan Taylor, having amassed 100+ yards rushing in 7 consecutive gridiron contests, including the 25-point blowout loss to Meat Chicken two weekends ago (one hellova feat in defeat, by the way); while Junior QB, Alex Hornibrook, continued to demonstrate a returning veteran’s poise and command to pilot the Drunkard aerial attack with sufficient levels of outstanding accuracy and reliable consistency to shred an opposing secondary into unreadable strips of paper, often before the end of H-1.

However in the week prior to this upcoming titanic donnybrook, subtle cracks began to appear in the seemingly impenetrable, iron-clad façade of B1G West’s No. 1 Heavyweight Contender.  First & foremost, Hornibrook was declared PUP (Physically Unavailable to Play) against the ‘Cats due to having been placed on a medical concussion protocol after absorbing a shot to his noggin’ in Wisky’s evisceration of the Ill-Annoy Fighting Lovies the previous weekend.  Good news for Fitz’ Wildcats. 

Secondly, Hornibrook’s named replacement, little-used Soph QB Jack Coan, whose career collegiate gridiron experience consisted garbage time appearances in 6 games in 2017 and within which he completed all 5 passes he attempted over that PT, and who remained a relative newbie to the QB position so far in 2018 and, in the weekdays leading up to last Saturday’s hallmark game, “was getting more work in prep for the ‘Cats” which would be his first career start, ever, as QB for the Drunkards.  More good news for Fitz’ Wildcats.  

Thirdly, the Wisky secondary had been bitten hard by the injury bug (that sidelined 3 starting DBs), forcing the Drunkard DC to fill his active 2-deep roster with walking wounded and lightly experienced replacements. The timing of this situation couldn’t have been much better for the Wildcat O as this vulnerable, patchwork quilt secondary was scheduled to face a resurrected ‘Cat QB Clayton Thorson & his steadily improving WR corps that had scored valuable end-game points at the most crucial and opportune times, especially in Q4, over the Wildcats’ last 3 B1G contests – scores which were major contributors that secured individual victories and set NU’s current conference record at 4-1.  Even more good news for Fitz’ Wildcats.

And lastly, but certainly not least, was Soph RB Jonathan Taylor’s propensity to fumble the bean when taking an appropriately delivered heavy hit, which had been a reoccurring item of note to this juncture in Wisky’s 2018 season.  Consequently, it was specifically emphasized in game week practices that ‘Cat DC Doc Hankwitz’ defensive front 7 focus on attacking Mr. Taylor with extreme prejudice and attempt to strip the pill from the RB’s grip when tacking him because, quite frankly, he tends to lose the feeling in his hands when he absorbs that slobber-knocker shot and subsequently doesn’t hold onto the ball – a very common affliction for an underclassman ball carrier when facing ultra-aggressive Division 1A defensive personnel, like the one NU possesses.  The best news yet for Doc’s heat-seeking missile LB & DB corps.

Bottom line: In a rare celestial circumstance, the competitive advantage planets aligned in Northwestern’s favor since they had the fortune to face the Wisky Drunkards in a home game at Dyche’s Ditch when the visiting B1G team from MadTown, WI, was at a significant weak point in their 2018 season.  

“Fortis Fortuna Adiuvat” (translation: “The Goddess ‘Fortune’ gives her favor/blessing to the bold”)… 

Indeed, this was the Wildcats’ time to Be Bold in the most consequential game of their 2018 campaign against their bitter rivals from behind the Cheddar Curtain!

How the ‘Cats Manhandled the Wisky Drunkards

As stated above, Wisky’s featured RB, Super Soph Jonathan Taylor, had been running roughshod over, around and through their opponents’ defenses in every game the MadTown Drunkards have played in 2018, even in their losses to BYU and Meat-Chicken.  Rushing the bean constantly behind the superior blocking talent of Wisky’s road grater-like OL, who average 6’4’’ and 310 lbs, will do that.  As a unit, the Badger linemen are bigger and more imposing than those humongous human beings who populate the Dazed & Blue Horde’s OL – and that’s saying A LOT.  And before this game’s opening whistle even sounded, the prevailing expectation among collegiate football media analysts and pundits was that Bucky’s ground-n-pound rushing juggernaut would steamroll the “Mildcats” into roadkill “sailcats.”  Therefore, my competitive instincts were pre-set to dead-red high because Wisky’s best unit would be matched-up head-to-head with NU’s best unit.

For most of the game, I viewed the individual matchups between Doc’s defensive linemen and those Badger players lining-up opposite them across the LOS via my binoculars, and the physical comparisons were mind boggling.  Not only did each Wisky OL tower over his ‘Cat DL counterpart, they seemed to be at least a full foot wider and 30 pounds heavier than the ‘Cats linemen as well.  Simply stated, there was just no comparison.  However, the great equalizer for the Wildcat DL when facing these behemoth Big Red OL was their definitively more effective field play techniques – meaning Doc’s DL personnel, to a man, had a much faster reaction off the snap of the ball and employed more effective individual quickness, speed and hand fighting techniques to neutralize and/or get around the blocks of these enormous Drunkard linemen.  Again, that’s saying A LOT.

And to the credit of every defensive lineman in Doc’s rotation (all 8 of them), essentially one or more Purple DL was/were having a better competitive time of it, field play wise, on literally every down throughout whole portions of the game despite this relative physical size differential.  Proof of this was twofold.

First, Doc’s defensive front 7 bottled-up and limited Wisky’s rushing attack, especially against Super Soph RB Jonathan Taylor, who garnered a pedestrian 46 total yards on 11 carries – which was Mr. Taylor’s worst single-game yardage output of his 2018 season to date.  The interesting issue regarding this factoid is that the Wisky offensive brain trust apparently had made a pre-game executive decision to distribute the rushing duties to three other RBs besides Taylor: Seniors RB Taiwan Deal (8 total yards on 4 carries) & Alec Ingold (12 total yards on 4 carries) and Soph Garrett Groshek (88 total yards on 7 carries), from the Drunkard’s first possession right on through to the game’s final gun.  This dubious distribution decision was as equally baffling as it was ineffective simply because the Wildcat defense was equal-opportunity rush-stopping machine in its own right over the entire 60 minutes of this fracas, rendering this decision a moot point.  In any case, this summary stoning of the Badger’s prolific rushing attack by Doc’s D was one hellova Herculean achievement.  

Second, individual Wisky linemen, most notably the Badger’s ROT (No. 79 in your game program), resorted to incessant false start movement in which he would lift his hand off the turf from his 3-point stance and/or begin to take a definitive half step a fraction of a second prior to the snap of the ball allowing him to “catch-up” with the quicker reacting, faster moving Purple DE who constantly blew this ROT’s doors in.  A quick review of the game video via BTN2Go-dot-com website’s cable broadcast replay clearly shows this player’s undeniable false start motion AND it doesn’t lie.  Making matters worse, these constant false starts never drew a single penalty flag from the line judge – not a one!   Although many Wisky Drunkard apologists might dismiss this motion as a “borderline infraction,” this ROT’s pre-snap movement occurred early & often, especially in H-2, because his primary blocking assignment, the Wildcat DE lined-up across the LOS from him, “beat him to the punch” on, at least, 50% of the downs played regardless of whether the offensive play was a rush or a pass.  These frequent false start movements by the Badger ROT were a measure of last resort to counter getting out-quicked and out-hustled for most of the game.  It was a thing of beauty and of frustration all at the same time.

Talk about Doc’s troops being well coached and well prepared to play!  IMHO, the Wildcat defensive coaching staff is the absolute best that serves under HC Pat Fitzgerald… Period. 

Post-TO Scoring
Closely interrelated to NU’s virtual shutdown of Wisky’s ground-n-pound rushing attack was the forced fumble capabilities demonstrated throughout last Saturday’s grapple by Doc Hankwitz’ defensive personnel.  As stated above, Mr. Taylor’s noted reputation for losing the handle on the pigskin when he absorbed a significant hard hit was a well-known chink in the Drunkard’s offensive armor and the Wildcat defensive coaching staff made it a priority for the ‘Cat D to pry the bean from the Soph RB’s grip whenever, wherever he toted the pill.  And that directive reaped huge scoreboard dividends in the upset-minded ‘Cats’ bid to wrestle the “W” flag away from the pre-game favorite Badgers.

Mr. Taylor’s first fumble was completely unforced, occurring when the Soph RB failed to secure the handoff from his QB, Jack Coan, and the bean dropped to the Dyche’s Ditch turf then rolled 5 yards towards the LOS whereupon Wildcat CB Trae Williams scooped it up in hand for the recovery at the Drunkard’s 15 yard line.  Thorson & Co. required 7 downs, including a pass interference penalty that extended the offensive series an additional 4 downs, to convert the fumble into a go-ahead TD that reset the score to 14-7 in favor of the ‘Cats. 

Taylor’s second fumble happened at the 5:33 mark of Q3, after the Soph RB rumbled 5 yards to the Drunkard 42, whereupon ‘Cat LB Paddy Fischer hooked his paw around the pill being held in the crook of Mr. Taylor’s arm just as he was falling to the Dyche’s Ditch turf and yanked on it for all he was worth.  To the surprise of all, the bean popped out from Taylor’s grip before he hit the grass and as Paddy picked it up, he was stripped of it as well, sending the pigskin 10 feet into the air and, fortunately, it landed right into the open mitts of ‘Cat CB Montre Hartage for the recovery.  When the ensuing Wildcat possession stalled at Wisky’s 8 yard line, ‘Cat PK Charlie Kuhbander booted a chip-shot FG extending NU’s lead to 24-10 just before the end of Q3.

Wisky’s third & final fumble materialized during the Drunkard first possession of Q4 after ‘Cat P Jake Collins booted a 46 yard rugby-styled punt while a member of the Drunkard punt return team committed the ultimate boneheaded penalty of a hold/tackle against a Wildcat punt blocker at the LOS before the ball was even kicked.  This holding call not only negated a nifty 25 yard punt return, but, by NCAA rules, dictated that the required 10 yard walk-off be assessed from the point where the Badger PR specialist first received the punted bean.  That fortunate set of circumstances repositioned the ensuing LOS within the shadow of the Wisky goal posts at their own 8 yard line and forced the Drunkards to deal with a 2 TD scoreboard deficit while facing 92 yards of long green to the Wildcat goal line.  Indeed, The Goddess ‘Fortuna’ was still smiling on the underdog Wildcats.  On the first down of this possession, Wisky QB Coan received the snap from under center then took 2 steps with ball in hand toward his RB standing directly behind him.  As Coan extended the ball to his RB to complete the handoff exchange, the newbie QB inexplicably lost the handle on the bean and it landed on the turf then rolled 3 yards behind the Wisky goal line.  A now panic-stricken Coan picked-up the loose pigskin off the end zone turf, turned back downfield and took-off towards the original LOS with the ball in both his hands but out away from his midsection and most certainly not secured under his arm for this improvised run.  As Coan tries to run past ‘Cat DT Fred Wyatt hand-fighting the Wisky OC, Fred reaches out and bats the unsecured ball from the loose grasp of Coan.  The batted ball flies downfield to the Wisky 13 where a wicked mad scramble for the loose ball commences between diving ‘Cat defenders and Drunkard OL.  Senior Wildcat LB Nate Hall (my personal favorite player on NU’s defensive roster) put an exclamation point on his return to active duty within the ‘Cats’ starting defensive lineup by aggressively pouncing on this loose pill and turning the ball over to Thorson & Co. for a possession at the Wisky 13 (Waytago Nate!!!).   The ‘Cat O promptly capitalized on this gift-wrapped opportunity by converting this fumble recovery into a valuable short field TD 4 downs later – a scoreboard tally that essentially represented the game-clinching points for Northwestern.

So 17 of the Wildcats’ 31 total points scored had been set-up via fumble recoveries by Doc’s defense.  This single statistic was THE difference maker that secured NU’s victory over the Wisky Drunkards.  The fact that Doc’s D held the Big Bad Badger rushing juggernaut offense to 7 total points in H-2 didn’t hurt either.

Take a Seat
When Wisky RB Jonathon Taylor’s 2nd fumble led to the ‘Cats’ FG in late Q3, inflating the home team’s lead to a 2 TD margin (at 24-10), it became apparent that Badger HC Paul Cryst had endured enough of Mr. Taylor’s pigskin handling foibles and this last TO coerced him to make the tactical decision to bench his underclassman RB for the remainder of the contest.  After all, the Soph RB’s 2 hot-n-flaky turnovers proffered the ‘Cat O two extra stress-free possessions that they converted into 10 easily scored, short field points – all within the context of a competitive game in which scoring points had become an ever more elusive end-product for the Drunkard offense to deliver.  In Taylor’s stead, Cryst called the number of Soph RB Garrett Groshek as his new RB of choice, especially since Groshek owned the added playmaking skillset of a reliable go-to out-of-the-backfield receiving target – skills that Taylor, obviously, didn’t possess.  Cryst’s RB replacement ended-up being a timely one, especially when the ‘Cats scored their last TD of the game off Badger QB Jack Coan’s brainfart fumble that increased NU’s lead to 31-10 in early Q4 (described above).  Facing this daunting 3TD deficit, Wisky’s offensive strategy immediately shifted to a pass-first attack mode for the final 12 minutes of the game – a shift that rendered Mr. Taylor a “more replaceable” chess piece option in the Drunkard’s end-game plans.  Consequently, when Taylor was directed to ride pine at this juncture, Wisky’s No. 1 heavy-duty rushing weapon was removed from the game – a move that greatly eased the workload of the Wildcat defense.  When I noticed this benching, I breathed a huge sigh of relief.  IMHO, this tactical decision to sit Taylor was the equivalent of the Badger offensive brain trust waving a white flag of surrender. 

Take a seat, son.  Groshek’s got this covered.

“King Koopa”
Since the emergence last Saturday of RB Isaiah Bowser in the Wildcats’ bug tussle against The Rutting Scarlet Blights, where he broke the century mark for rushing yards gained (133), there has been a “running” movement among internet bloggers and members of Wildcat Nation to hang an appropriately “catchy” moniker on the True Frosh.  Most have been lame attempts at humor while others wished to establish a pseudonym that might proffer the rising star RB a public relations boost whenever his name might be mentioned in collegiate football media & news reporting circles.  IMHO, the best of the bunch was a reference to the cartoon turtle/antagonist character from the Nintendo gaming franchise “Mario Bros.” or “Super Mario” known as “Bowser” or the more correct appellation, “King Koopa.”  And when it comes right down to it, this cartoon character’s name actually fits.  The King Koopa/Bowser character is a creature who routinely blasts through obstacles in his path and/or bowls other characters over if they to get in his way while he runs headlong hither and yon within various Nintendo game scenarios to accomplish some malevolent objective or task (like kidnapping the lovely & enticing young lady character “Peach”).  Since “Bowser” is the actual surname of the True Frosh’, I’ll simply call Mr. Bowser: “King Koopa.”

Well. King Koopa accomplished what many thought was impossible to achieve against the heretofore ultra-stout Wisky rushing defense, that being, gaining over 100 total yards rushing (118).  In fact, this is the first time in many, many moons that any Northwestern RB not named Justin Jackson The Ball Carrier (or “JJTBC”) had gained over 100 yards rushing – in consecutive games.  But here is King Koopa… realizing that elusive ball carrying feat in only his second stint as OC Mick McCall’s starting RB. 

Over the 2018 season, Fitz and McCall never truly abandoned their priority paradigm of a “balanced offense” that is characterized by consistent yardage production via equal parts rushing and passing.  But now they’ve got it - and not a moment too soon – because noone can ever predict with much certainty whether “Good Clayton” (the prolifically accurate passing QB) or “Bad Clayton” (the frustrating QB who will underthrow or miss wide open receiving targets with regularity, or worse still, will toss the bean into the empty hands of a member of an opponent’s secondary) will appear in any one game… or in any one quarter for that matter.  And in the ‘Cats’ game against the Wisky Drunkards, both “Good Clayton” and “Bad Clayton” made significant impact on the proceedings occurring on the green grass of Dyche’s Ditch. 

Nevertheless, despite which QB personality, “Good Clayton” or “Bad Clayton,” showed his ugly mug during any one offensive possession, the positive counterbalancing element in McCall’s offensive formula was RB Isaiah “King Koopa” Bowser, who consistently ate-up rushing yardage and time off the scoreboard clock in near equal amounts – a combination that became a red letter factor in NU’s valiant effort to capture the “W” flag as the final gun sounded.

Similar to the previous weekend’s enigmatic game against a much weaker Rutting Scarlet Blights team, last Saturday’s wholly surprising performance wasn’t anything near what I expected from the ‘Cats when battling the Big Bad Wisky Badgers.  It’s been a good 4 days since Fitz and his troops delivered this satisfying victory and I’m still giddy and smiling at its recall or whenever I’ve viewed its cable broadcast replay on the BTN2Go website (which I’ve done at least 4 times, thus far, from opening whistle to rolling credits).

Needless to say, the B1G is buzzing as the Northwestern Football Wildcats hold a tenuous grip on 1st place in the B1G Conference’s West Division – a full game ahead of all 5 other West Division teams.  Just that very thought fuels my imagination at the prospects of actually EARNING the honor of representing the West Division in the B1G Conference Championship game at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis this coming December 1st.  Fitz has talked of it, from the start of Kamp Kenosha throughout the entire current season, as a team goal; while individual position coaches and players speak to it in hushed tones during post-game interviews.  It’s like everyone in the NU football family recognizes that damn 1000 lbs gorilla standing menacingly in the corner of the room, but no one is willing to bring their audience’s attention to it, lest its visage is proven to be ethereal, rather than physical; and, at its mention, it will evaporate into thin air.

But I’ll Be Bold and declare proudly and sternly that The Goal, THE B1G ONE, is standing right before my beloved Purple Team.  I haven’t harbored these deep feelings of unbounded anticipation and exhilaration since I resided in a home a mere 500 feet west of Nicholet Hall in the “now almost mythical” 1995 and19 96 seasons; when, late in the evening, I would walk to the players parking lot to greet and cheer the Purple Team as they got off the bus returning from their latest road game. 

There’s still A LOT left to do in order to transmute that B1G Championship pipe dream to granite hard reality.   But this victory against Wisky last weekend has paved the ‘Cats’ path to the doorstep of Lucas Oil Stadium. 

Now the 2018 Wildcats must stay the course; ignore all the platitudes, glad-handers, fan adulation & media scrutiny; and maintain their focus on the daunting but doable task at hand.  True, this squad is closer than prior squads have ever been in the past 17 seasons…  As close as those historic 1995, 1996 & 2000 campaigns had been at this juncture within their individual journeys to THE B1G ONE.

Be Bold.  ”Fortis Fortuna Adiuvat,” indeed!

The Waterboy
“Win with Grace, Lose with Dignity”

Oct. 26, 2018

Beware The Letdown

Many members of Wildcat Nation were wringing their hands at the piss poor field play exhibited by NU in their bug tussle against the Rutting Scarlet Blight last Saturday, and it’s more than a little understandable.  After all, the ‘Cats were clutching a tenuous 3-1 B1G West Division record to their bosom after the prior weekend’s heroic 10 point comeback in the final 5-plus minutes of regulation time facing a determined Nebby BugEater squad; and this game was projected to be nothing less than glorified scrimmage against THE worst football program in the 14 team B1G.  The fallacy of that dismissive prediction is that the 2018 Wildcat team is not populated by a bevy of automatons, but is comprised of 18-23 year old young men, who had survived a gut-wrenching wringer of roller coaster emotions in their prior gridiron grapple last Saturday and, subsequently, were prime candidates to suffer that most enigmatic condition of the human psyche known as “The Letdown.” 

“The Letdown” game isn’t the exclusive property of an emotionally fickle collegiate team like the 2018 ‘Cats who often appear to be searching for that subtle formula to attain competitive balance & continuity from one gridiron confrontation to the next.  Even the most talent-laden, traditional powerhouse teams in Division 1A are susceptible to this capricious malaise of elusive consistency.  For two red-letter examples, look no further than the Ohio State BuckNuts and the State Penn Inmates. 

Two Saturdays ago, both of these highly ranked teams (the No. 4 BuckNuts & No. 9 Inmates) played the most  physically and emotionally draining contests of their respective 2018 seasons to date when they locked horns with one another in front of the largest crowd ever at the Inmates’ home venue, Beaver Stadium, in State College, PA.  (Side Note: Setting an all-time Beaver Stadium attendance record of 110,889 is one hellova achievement; but if any one game might have set it, this was it).  Down 26-14 with 8 minutes left in regulation, after Inmate QB McSorley set the PSU yardage production record for a single player in a single game (461 total yards), the BuckNuts switch-on the nitro boost to their top fuel dragster offense then went on a virtual tear over, around & through a State Penn D that had neutralized OSU’s prolific scoring machine over the previous 52 minutes.  Two highlight reel-worthy TD pass receptions, a 47-yard bomb & a follow-up 24-yard pitch-n-catch that included a couple broken tackles, allowed the BuckNuts to best the Inmates in this barroom brawl and capture the “W” flag for a 1-point gut-check victory in that game’s waning minutes.  (Sound familiar?)

In the aftermath of this titanic struggle, State Penn paid the steep cost of a “not unexpected” Letdown the next Saturday when the 13-point underdog Moo U Green Meanies executed their own version of the BuckNuts’ late Q4 come-from-behind rally and took-down the favored Inmates, 21-17, in a B1G East Division showdown that featured a marquee QB matchup between Moo U’s Brian Lewerke and PSU’s Trace McSorley.  Despite those two playmakers passing for 259 yards and 192 yards respectively, it was the Moo U defense that proved itself the difference maker by limiting the Inmate offense to a single FG scored over the entirety of H-2, a stoning that opened the door for the Green Meanie O to outhustle a physically & mentally spent Inmate D and score the go-ahead TD in the final minute of regulation time.  (Again, Sound familiar?)  Making matters even worse, last Saturday the Indy WhoZits came within an eyelash of extending State Penn’s nightmare of their 3rd consecutive “L” when the WhoZit offense literally threw the Inmate D up against the upset wall once more by scoring 4 TDs off 554 total yards gained.  However, State Penn received a get-out-of-jail-free reprieve when a couple of Indy special teams gaffes in H-2 gifted the Inmates two short field TDs that essentially ended the WhoZits bid to secure a 2nd kill-shot upset in as many weekends to Inmate HC James Franklin’s under-performing squad.

As for the BuckNuts, I truly can’t decide whether or not their 49-20 blowout loss to an immensely fired-up Perdue Broiler-Chicken team last Saturday (2 weekends removed from the OSU-PSU donnybrook) should be considered a Letdown or a Clunker.  My pigskin intuition leads me to characterize this wholly unimaginable upset as the ultimate clunker – the same thing that can and does happen to a Grade 1 Thoroughbred after being challenged in a couple of allowance races which were meant originally to serve as strategic preps for a future graded stakes race.  Often these pre-stakes race tune-ups turn into intensive battles for relative horse-flesh supremacy in which the higher-class equine athlete expends his energy reserves to cross the wire at the head of the pack in an exhausting effort to live-up to his reputation as the superior animal.  What’s so commonplace in such cases, the ultimate price for this huge energy disbursement is paid in full when that racehorse enters the starting gate of that more prestigious stakes race already burnt-out and listless; then subsequently, this betting window favorite doesn’t even hit the tote board.  IMHO, this played-out racehorse metaphor is an apropos description of what occurred to the BuckNuts in the weeks following the State Penn fracas and leading up to their supposed walkover against the prohibitive dog Broiler-Chickens.  Despite the fact that the BuckNut O still scored points at a furious pace via their prolific passing game when facing the Indy WhoZits & the Minny Mighty Marmots on consecutive Saturdays; the BuckNut D showed signs of vulnerability, especially when defending the better-than-average passing attacks of these 2 foes.  Subsequently, I wasn’t surprised whatsoever when the Perdue O, led by their much improved QB David Blough, carved-up the BuckNut secondary like a Thanksgiving Day turkey.  The coup de gras came when the OSU offense sputtered in H-1, allowing the game to transform into a veritable route with Blough wielding the Broiler-Chicken passing attack scalpel with a surgeon’s precision (completing 25 of 43 passes for 378 yards & 3 TDs) and True Frosh/Phenom WR Rondale Moore confirming his ascendance as his QB’s go-to receiving target (12 receptions for 170 yards & 2 TDs), while the Perdue offense tallied scoreboard points practically at will throughout Q4. 

After the dust from this melee settled, many collegiate football pundits and analysts branded this upset for the No. 2 BuckNuts as “inexcusable.”  Being much more pragmatic, I’ll proffer it a more genteel appellation and simply call it “A Letdown.”

So here come the Wildcats, basking in the ego-boosting glory of their GOAT come-from-behind victory in the annals of Northwestern University football against the BugEaters, and confidently “prepped” to pound the double-digit dog Rutting Scarlet Blights into submission as their 2018 Homecoming football foe of choice on their home field in Piss-the Cat-Away, NJ.  Unfortunately, the Wildcats weren’t necessarily as “primed” for victory in this road game as much as they were “ripe for the picking;” and to that end, the Scarlet Blights were all too willing to take full advantage of the full-of-themselves ‘Cats.

How the ‘Cats Dodged a Letdown to The Scarlet Blights

To The Rescue
As H-2 commenced, Doc Hankwitz’s troops shook-off any and all negative effects of their collective defensive lapses from H-1 and emerged from the halftime locker room loaded for bear and looking to stone the Rutting Scarlet Blight offense in their tracks. 

‘Cat QB Clayton Thorson didn’t make things any easier on his defensive teammates when poor quarterbacking decisions led to a trifecta of field play brain farts that put Doc’s D squarely behind the eight ball on NU’s first possession of H-2.  On a 2nd-n-10 down at the Wildcat 46, Thorson not only held onto the bean too long as he scanned the RU secondary for an open WR target, he didn’t toss it into the cheap seats of HighPoint-Dot-Com Stadium when the Scarlet Blight pass rush got into his grill.  Worse still, in an attempt to salvage the quickly degrading situation, CT tried to sprint through a seam between three ‘Cat OL who had locked horns with their pass rush DL blocking targets near the LOS.  In the process, those DL converged on CT, smacked the ‘Cat QB hard and forced a fumble that was recovered by the home team at the NU 47. 

The ‘Cat defense didn’t miss a beat, as they limited the scoreboard damage of CT’s brain fart-induced recovered fumble to a red zone FG that increased the Wildcats’ deficit to 15-7 at the 9:58 mark of Q3.  From that point to the end of the game, Doc’s D not only stiffened, they dominated the Scarlet Blight O by stoning the home team to NO 1st DOWNS and UNDER 20 TOTAL YARDS GAINED off 4 CONSECUTIVE 3-n-OUT POSSESSIONS.

Talk about coming to the rescue of foundering Thorson & Co. offense when it was in dire need!!!

Although this summary stoning was laid against the worst offense in the B1G, it was a prime example of the type of defensive dominance that Doc’s troops can muster.  And fortunately for OC Mick McCall’s QB, this dominance set the table for the mini Q4 comeback that eventually won the game. 

The Gambler
Down 15-10 with 12:48 left in regulation time, the Clayton Thorson-led Wildcat offense assumed possession of the bean on NU’s 37 following another 3-n-out defensive stand.  So here they stood… at an undeniable do-or-die crossroads that might determine the victor of this contest.  Either the ‘Cat O takes control of their heretofore craptastic yardage production situation, methodically drives the 63 necessary yards to score the go-ahead TD and survives the Scarlet Blights’ upset bid or they return to Evanston with their collective tails between their legs after having earned the dubious distinction of being named the No. 1 contributor in the ‘Cats’ worst loss of their 2018 campaign (Yes, even worse than that kick-in-the-pants “L” delivered by the Akron Zips in week 3).

Unfortunately, typical to what they’ve done for most of the afternoon, the ‘Cat offense doesn’t respond to the urgency of the situation as one might expect and, after 3 plays, fails to deliver the series’ initial 1st down.  So Thorson & Co. face a crucial 4th-n-1 down at the NU 46, which, if they don’t convert, could very well be the game clinching defensive stop for the Scarlet Blights.  So Fitz assumes the role of Riverboat Gambler and calls for the “Bush Push” QB sneak in which CT sets himself under center awaiting the handoff snap; while, a few seconds prior to the snap, the SB shifts from his original slot position and resets himself immediate adjacent to one side of Thorson as he barks out the final snap count.  Once the ball is hiked, the SB repositions himself directly behind Thorson, with hands on the QB’s butt; then, as Thorson dives headlong into the play’s designed A-gap point-of-attack and drives his legs for all he’s worth, the SB pushes his QB’s backside giving him that extra impetus to cross the LOS and over the line to gain with ball in hand capturing that anticipated 1st down.  On this occasion, it works to perfection as Thorson gains 4 yards to extend the offensive possession another 4 series of downs.

Then 5 plays later, the ‘Cat O faces their second critical 4th down of the possession – a much more challenging 4th-n-5 situation at the Scarlet Blight 15.  Rather than follow conventional football wisdom by taking the 3-points via the chip shot FG conversion with 9 minutes and change left on the clock then turn control of the game back to Doc’s D, Fitz reprises his Riverboat Gambler alter ego once again; and, this time, with the game’s outcome now on the line more than ever.  Thorson receives the long snap from center in his standard shotgun position, sees WR Flynn Nagel running a drag route into the open short middle zone sans any cover DB then tosses a simple pitch-n-catch straight into his target receiver’s mitts for a 10 yard completion that resets the LOS at the home team’s 5 yard line.  The Riverboat Gambler collects his second 4th down conversion pot of the current possession.  On the very next down, the 7th of the offensive series, True Frosh RB Isaiah Bowser receives the handoff from Thorson, sprints into and through an off tackle seam in the left side of the LOS and rambles 5 yards untouched to paydirt scoring the go-ahead TD for the ‘Cats at the 8:12 mark of Q4.    
However the Gambler still has one more hand to play, this time on a 2-point PAT conversion attempt that would provide the Wildcats a 3-point lead that may prove significant if Doc’s D fails to hold the line against the Scarlet Blights’ next offensive series following this scoring drive.  Thorson accepts the long snap from his OC then drifts to his right waiting for a receiver to get open just behind the goal line.  WR Flynn Nagel executes a short inside curl from his right slot position into the short middle zone and the settles into a slim seam between two LBs one yard into the RU end zone.  A now-confident CT delivers a chest high 95 MPH fastball to Mr. Nagel who makes a clean grab with his hands for the 2-point PAT conversion, while the two cover LBs on either side of Flynn flail at the laser beam-like dart as it zips untouched between them to its intended target.  The successful PAT conversion makes it 3 consecutive pots collected by the Gambler.  Nice haul.

A True Letdown
Without a doubt, last Saturday’s bug tussle between the Wildcats and the Scarlet Blights was not QB Clayton Thorson’s finest hour, despite applying his quarterbacking talents against what had been for most of the 2018 season, the B1G’s most porous of defense.  However, I’ll give credit where credit is due as it pertains to the Wildcats’ primary offensive playmaker, which still remains Mr. Thorson, and the degree upon which he is depended, game in and game out, to carry a Herculean volume of the Wildcats’ offensive water by his coaches, his teammates and his fans.  That’s a monumentally heavy load for any young man no more than 22 years old to bear. 

I truly don’t have a clue regarding the fundamental causes that so negatively affected CT’s usually reliable and accurate passing capabilities; but something made the Senior QB badly miss open receiver after open receiver for entire portions of last Saturday’s game against the Scarlet Blights.  One might call this latest example of diminished field play a temporary aberration, or perhaps more appropriately, a reoccurring inconsistency, but whatever it might be called, I’ll chalk it up to the fact this young man remains just that – a fallible young man who is susceptible to this sport’s vagaries and foibles as most young man would be when handed the responsibility to lead by example so frequently and in the most angst-filled gridiron situations one could ever imagine.

Then when one considers how remarkably efficient and dependably consistent his decision making and passing accuracy was during that pressure cooker scenario of “The Drive” against the Nebby BugEaters just one week ago and recognize the simple fact that he remains a work in progress in his attempts to reprise that high level of pigskin playmaking, his “A” Game, so to speak, the following weekend, and the one after that and the next one after that.  Consequently, it’s no wonder that Mr. Thorson might stumble a bit and underscore that salient point he remains an imperfect human being on any particular Saturday, like he did last Saturday, and we fans have the luxury to categorize it as a Letdown.  And if it was, in fact, a True Letdown, so be it.  I’m willing to give the young man a kitchen pass regarding his previous miscues then proffer him the wherewithal to mentally turn the page and move on.  After all, there still a hellova lot of weighty water to carry.

Indeed, this performance wasn’t anything near what I expected from the ‘Cats when battling the weak sister Scarlet Blights; but nevertheless, a Win is a Win and will remain a Win in future days as we review the 2018 season and ruminate on its particular highs and lows.  And like a transient wave of crests and troughs, we too should move ourselves beyond the previous contest to address the next challenge, which happens to be the Wisky Drunkards – the reputed Biggest, Baddest Hound in the B1G West Division kennel, and NU’s chief rival in the new millennium. 

Time to tighten your chinstraps fellas.  This is the B1G ONE!

The Waterboy
“Win with Grace, Lose with Dignity”

Oct. 19, 2018


For any true-blue, dyed-in-the-wool fan of the collegiate football program from the University of Nebraska at Lincoln (an institution of higher learning whose known call-letter/acronym to most anyone else outside of those populating Husker Nation is appropriately and correctly spelled “UNL” and not “NU” which is the proprietary call-letter/acronym property of Northwestern University), I respectfully have and always will refer to your team mascot as the “BugEaters,” a very unique and apt moniker conceived, accepted and widely used as UNL’s team mascot name of choice during the bygone decade of the 1890’s (a nickname that followed other earlier labels: the “Tree Planters,” the “Rattlesnake Boys,” the “Antelopes” and the “Golden Rods,” among others and that preceded the current “Cornhuskers”).  Consequently, I beg your indulgence to not take umbrage at its reference within my gridiron game commentaries, like the one below.  After all, would anyone possessing the common sense that Providence bestowed on them at birth ever question the indisputable toughness & resourcefulness of a person who preferred be called a “BugEater?”  Not me, and that’s a fact, Jack!

Another note:
Throughout my extensive travels to view literally hundreds collegiate football games played at 4 dozen-plus university venues across this great nation (at least), I’ve experienced no finer fanbase than those who follow the gridiron Nebraska BugEaters – and that includes the exceptional football fanatics of the State Penn Inmates.  To my personal delight and appreciation, I’ll admit that most every card-carrying member of BugEater Nation with whom I’ve had the pleasure of meeting is, at once, some of the most knowledgeable, the most congenial, the most approachable and willing to engage in friendly dialogue/debate over a cold adult beverage of any I have experienced at a sporting event – ever.  This point in fact is the underlying reason why I’ve gladly driven the 9 hours between Evanston & Lincoln to see the gridiron ‘Cats play the BugEaters firsthand and have allotted the proper amount of time (read: hours) prior to and after the contest to intermingle personally with those fans.  To interact with the BugEater faithful beforehand; then view the game from the stands; then interact with those same folks afterwards, categorically, is the best reason why I choose to spend my valuable time and hard-earned dollars to attend a collegiate football game on an idyllic fall afternoon.  And last Saturday’s NU vs BugEater festivities around and within Dyche’s Ditch was yet another example of the satisfying entertainment experience that draws me to watch this compelling sport in person rather than via a sterile, remote TV or cable broadcast. 

To BugEater Nation, I salute and thank you.  IMHO, there ain’t nothing better!

Clayton Thorson – The Return 2.0

My stomach is still churning and my fingertips are still tingling after having personally witnessed the most remarkable, thrilling and inexplicably mind-blowing gridiron comeback in all my 65 years of life upon this planet. 

When the situation looked the bleakest and the ‘Cats were looking-up from a seemingly insurmountable 10-point hole at the 5:41 mark of Q4, I turned to my friends and acquaintances seated around me and facetiously announced that I would finance the mold of a bronze statue of Senior Wildcat QB Clayton Thorson and erect it at an honored position side-by-side to the Hannibal bronze overlooking the south endzone of Dyche’s Ditch if someway, somehow he could/would lead the Wildcat O, not to victory, but merely to tie the score in regulation time.  The Purple patrons surrounding me got a good chuckle from that ridiculously bold promise.  However, truth be told, I was half-serious when voicing it, if only because I realized Thorson’s unreal command of NU’s vertical passing attack that he currently possessed in an end game scenario that was transitioning rapidly into a veritable shoot-out with the Adrian Martinez-led BugEater O.  And Clayton did not disappoint.  However, CT’s late Q4 offensive playmaking prowess was only one of a series of intriguing storylines that served as foundation to the most monumentally historic comeback in the annals of Northwestern University football. 

How the ‘Cats Out-Gunned the BugEaters

Shock & Awe

In the ‘Cats’ first possession of Q4 following the 3 yard TD scamper by BugEater RB, Maurice Washington, and the 2-point PAT conversion off a Martinez QB draw that inflated the BugEater lead to 28-14, when Clayton Thorson first hooked-up with WR Charlie Fessler on a short curl into the left boundary for a 7-yard gain, then once again on a short square-out into the same left boundary zone for another 7-yard completion to wideout Ben Skowronek, I came to the conclusion that an aerial circus shoot-out might be imminent. Two downs later, with the unrelenting BugEater pass rush bearing down on him, CT tossed a perfect 18-yard over-the-top pitch-n-catch heave off his back foot to his favorite WR target on the afternoon, Senior Flynn Nagel, who snagged the bean in stride behind his cover CB at the Nebby 43; sprinted downfield along the left sidelines with that CB hot on his heels; then juked a BugEater SS closing on him from the middle of the field, making the Safety overshoot the Purple WR.  In a desperate bid to recover from this over-pursuit failure, the SS attempted a diving arm tackle, a move that not only missed Nagel but picked-off his pursuing CB teammate and left the BugEater DB tandem sprawled-out on the Dyche’s Ditch turf instead, leaving Mr. Nagel running free & clear with ball in hand and nothing but green grass in front on him the rest of the way to the Nebby goal line.  Flynn gladly accepted this giftie open path to TD paydirt, delivering a highlight reel worthy 61-yard explosion pass reception that restored the home team’s deficit back to 7-points (28-21 in favor of the BugEaters).  At that juncture, I knew for certain that an offensive shoot-out was on.  Was it ever.

On NU’s next possession following the Purple’s 61-yard TD scoring play, Thorson delivered one of his worst passes of the entire game – a miss-thrown toss that sailed behind his intended target, Mr. Nagel, who was double covered by a Nebby LB & Safety.  Rather than batting the bean to the turf, Nagel attempted a one-handed circus catch and, regrettably, merely tipped the errant throw up in the air and straight into the clutches of BugEater SS, Tre Neal, who grabbed the giftie INT at the 50 and rumbled upfield for 14 yards where he was tackled from behind by WR Ben Skowronek at the NU 36.  This wholly avoidable INT at the 9:24 mark of Q4 sent both the BugEater players on the green grass of Dyche’s Ditch and their fans in the stands into a state of frenzied celebration.  Capitalizing on this emotional shift in momentum, Nebby QB Adrian Martinez and the BugEater O rolled-out their up-tempo ground-n-pound attack once more and tore through NU’s D, ripping-off hard rush after hard rush, until Doc’s defensive front 7 finally stoned the BugEater O on 3 consecutive downs that stalled the time-consuming drive at the ‘Cats’ 17 yard line.  Exercising conventional football wisdom, the BugEater offensive brain trust opted to score points rather than go for a kill-shot, game-clinching TD; and the BugEater kicking game delivered on that decision by booting a 34-yard FG that increased the visiting team’s lead to 31-21 at the 5:41 mark of Q4.

Undeterred by this defensive setback, Wildcat OC Mick McCall might just as well have shouted, “Cry ‘Havoc’ and let slip the dogs of war” (Julius Caesar; Act 3, Scene 1), to Thorson & Co. for what happened afterwards.  Shelving his dink-n-dunk passing game plan, McCall ordered his Senior QB and WR corps to unleash their “shock & awe” vertical aerial attack and blitz the BugEater secondary as best they could with unrestrained abandon. 

Down a FG and a TD and with less than 6 minutes left on the scoreboard clock, Thorson & Co. went into pure passing mode.  After 3 consecutive incompletions (with 2 drops) and facing a 4th-n-10 down at their own 25, CT delivered a pin-point pass to Soph wideout, Ramaud Chiaokhiao-Bowman, for a 16-yard completion that repositioned the chains at the NU 41 and kept NU’s fading hopes for a comeback alive for another set of downs.  After the Nebby secondary was called for a 15-yard PI penalty that reset the LOS at the BugEater 40, Clayton connected with Senior RB Chad Hanaoka (who wears the highly coveted/valued No. 1 jersey as reward for his exemplary commitment to the football program’s “Wildcat Way” model of behavior on and off the field) on a check-down reception that netted 14 valuable yards and a 1st down at the UNL 26.  3 incompletions later (with 2 dumper passes thrown at the feet of Hanaoka to avoid a costly sack – the same intentional grounding/sack-avoidance tactic that Meat-Chicken QB Shea Patterson had used to great effect in their game against the ‘Cats 2 Saturdays before) and facing their second 4th-n-10 down of the current offensive series, Thorson retained his composure in the face of an all-out 7-man BugEater pass rush and delivered another 16-yard on target and in stride toss to WR Flynn Nagel who was dropped for a 1st down at the Nebby 10.  There, the drive stalled and Fitz sent his newbie replacement place kicker, Soph Drew Luckenbaugh, out for his second FG attempt of the afternoon.  Eschewing his missed 42-yard FG in late Q3, the first attempt in his collegiate career, and ignoring the urgency of this tense scenario, Drew coolly, calmly booted the bean 31 yards through the uprights to whittle the Wildcats’ deficit down to another 7 point margin (31-24, the BugEaters).

Despite the lack of true efficiency on the vertical passing attack exhibited in this latest drive and having burned 4:07 off the game clock, Thorson and his receiving corps still had their collective eyes on the prize while they prayed for one last offensive possession and one more chance at redemption from their numerous earlier field play miscues.

And their prayers were answered a scant 24 seconds later…

”…Stoned And I Missed It”

Fortunately for the Wildcats, the BugEater place kicking game made two glaring execution gaffes both of which essentially kept NU within striking distance of the visiting team from Lincoln, NE. 

The first occurred when the BugEater’s 2nd offensive possession in Q1 stalled at the ‘Cats 28 yard line.  Husker HC Scott Frost called on his place kicking specialist, Barret Pickering, to attempt a 45 yard FG with a variable field-level wind at his back.  Pickering placed a good foot strike on the ball, but the swirling wind took hold, making the bean drift slowly to the right, eventually caroming-off the right upright and falling harmlessly to the Dyche’s Ditch turf.  This missed FG was Bullet #1 the Wildcat D had dodged, keeping the score at 7-0 in favor of the BugEaters. 

The second happened on the PAT attempt following the TD that Nebby scored on their last possession of H-1.  Viewing the kick though my field glasses, it appeared that Pickering’s kick foot duffed the turf just before it struck the ball off center, forcing it to sail wide right and no good.  This missed PAT was Bullet #2 the Wildcat D had dodged, keeping the ‘Cats’ tenuous 1-point lead (14-13) intact heading into the halftime intermission.

Those 4 combined missed points became super significant and proved to be major contributors to the score being tied at 31 apiece at the end of regulation time. 

However, even more important than missing scoreboard points, these two shanked kicks heavily influenced an impactful set of play calling decisions made by the BugEater offensive brain trust during the Husker’s only offensive possession in OT.


When the BugEaters capitalized on Thorson’s mid-Q4 INT with a subsequent 34-yard FG that increased the visiting team’s lead to 31-21, the UNL faithful seated in the stands to my immediate front began to congratulate themselves and express their universal relief at the prospect that their 2018 win-less nightmare was finally over and that a modicum of BugEater pride had been restored to this storied collegiate football powerhouse program via this greatly anticipated road “W”. 

Reacting to the overt demonstration of glee by these BugEater fans, I honestly thought to myself…
“Careful, gentlemen… This thing ain’t over; not by a long shot!”  

And it truly wasn’t, if only because Doc’s troops rediscovered & reprised their previously dormant tackling techniques and began to effectively exercise them to stone the BugEater ground game in the waning minutes of regulation and into OT.

I truly cannot fathom the fundamental causes for the remarkable late Q4 turn-around that reversed the Wildcat defensive front 7’s previous craptastic field play that plagued Doc Hankwitz’ most reliable unit throughout the first 55 minutes of the game.  But when Clayton Thorson & NU’s O needed it the most, Doc’s D gathered their heretofore scrambled wits and began to make their correct reads, recognize the BugEater ground game’s point of attack and close hard on the ball with bad intent & extreme prejudice.  Please indulge me to excuse the use of the following “off color” metaphor… But this suddenly unexpected stiffening by the Purple defensive front 7 who, up to that point in the game, had performed like a flaccid and malleable male reproductive organ, but now executed their defensive plays with renewed vigor & enthusiasm as if Doc ordered his defense’s water bottles be spiked with copious doses of Cialis or Viagra and the expected modifications to the ‘Cat defense’s collective physicality finally kicked-in allowing for a much more effective and resilient field play effort over the final 5 minutes of regulation time.

Regardless of whether or not ED meds were involved, when the contest’s final outcome was on the line, NU’s defensive front 7 employed a psychological tactic of selective memory, putting their previous piss-poor tackling in the rearview mirror, and started to execute up to their usual high quality run-stopping standards.  This better-late-than-never reversal of defensive playmaking fortunes became an integral contributor in the Wildcat’s bid to snatch elusive victory from the jaws of defeat against the now over-confident BugEaters. 

When Luckenbaugh’s subsequent on-side kick was recovered and downed at the NU 47 yard line by a member of the BugEater’s “good hands” kickoff return team, things looked more than dire for the ‘Cats – they looked downright bleak.  However, Doc’s defense still had one more opportunity to redeem their own series of tackling miscues and defensive foibles from the previous 55 minutes; and to this end, they were more than “up to the task,” they exhibited their finest rush defense capabilities of the entire game. 

Hoar-rid Frost Calls

Despite whatever pro or con reactions my personal perspectives might elicit from members of Husker Nation fanbase regarding the suspect play-calls made by the BugEater offensive brain trust on UNL’s final possession in regulation time that followed NU’s unsuccessful on-side kick-off attempt, I stand by them wholeheartedly. 

IMHO, Nebby HC Scott Frost and his OC clearly bungled the golden opportunity they were given to seal the deal of the game’s final outcome by failing to gain that single critical 1st down that easily, routinely would have burnt the remaining time off the game clock and proffered UNL their first “W” of the 2018 season.  Allow me to expand on my observations and opinions…

●    Although never really DOA, at the time of UNL’s final possession, Doc’s D was still very strong physically, very motivated and very willing to sell-out in terms of halting the bleeding caused by their poor tackling in the face of the BugEaters’ ground-n-pound rushing attack.  HC Scott Frost and his offensive brain trust seemingly ignored this point and blindly continued to depend on the athleticism of their OL and RBs to break down NU’s defensive front 7 personnel when executing their OT-to-OT running game, especially when Doc stacked the defensive box with 7-8 defenders.  Frost and his OC never changed their rush-first strategy when facing these “in-the-box” numbers and, to me, it appeared that they arrogantly held firm their notion that their O could still blast through those defensive personnel numbers to get that crucial 1st down.  Guess what?  They couldn’t; so they didn’t; and the rest is now history… 

●    The fact that NU still possessed all 3 of their TOs with 2:26 left on the game clock, did little to induce the BugEater offensive brain trust to dial-up an option play, a speed play or some counter action play that would attack the Wildcat defensive edge and force Doc’s defensive personnel to defend sideline-to-sideline while burning even more valuable seconds off the game clock.  Instead, the Nebby offensive formations on downs 1 & 2 underscored that they were committed to their “between the OTs” power rush game, regardless of the yardage production limitations of those sets when facing superior “in the box” defensive numbers.  It was almost as if the BugEater offensive coaching staff didn’t have confidence that their edge rushing plays could avoid a crucial TFL that would set the line to gain further back a couple more yards.  Conversely, the BugEaters’ 3rd down play was, as a matter of fact, a “soft” or slow-developing edge rush against the ‘Cats’ standard 4-2 (4 DL w/ 2 LBs) defensive set.  However, once the ball showed itself as a handoff (i.e.: there wasn’t any fake or misdirection action), every Wildcat defender, especially Doc’s secondary personnel, converged swiftly en masse to the LOS (a.k.a.: a “sell-out” run support strategy), pursued the ball carrier with bad intent and dropped him for a minimal gain. 

    Allow me to point-out that there was little to no innovation in UNL’s 3 called rushing plays in that fateful final possession which generated yardage gains of:
-    0-yards on 1st down (against 8 in the box);
-    0-yards on 2nd down (against 8 in the box); and
-    +3 yards on a 3rd-n-10 down (against NU’s standard 4-2 set; but supported via an all defender sell-out to the LOS at the handoff).

    IMHO, a QB-RB read option, a run/pass option, a counter action rush or a short controlled pass off a play action fake would have been much more preferable and would have produced more yards in comparison to those 3 “meh” rush plays.

    Strong advice: If it ain’t workin’ then call something else from another page of the offensive playbook.

●    A controlled short-yardage pass (the dink-n-dunk variety) or a “to-the-short-boundary-zone” pass (e.g.: an outside curl, a square-out route or a smash route) or a play action pass apparently was never considered.  Again, when the first 2 “OT-to-OT” rushes got stoned for no gain, it was time to stretch NU’s defensive secondary into covering the passing zones downfield from the LOS, especially either short boundary zones or the short middle zone.  I’m not privy to UNL’s offensive playbook, but it surprised me that a pass was never called during this critical last possession, especially when facing a 3rd-n-long down.  IMHO, it would have made sense to do so, especially if, upon an incomplete pass, the ball would have been punted back to the Wildcat O in that situation, which happened anyways when the BugEaters did little to gain the yardage needed to get that badly needed 1st down.   

Whatever their mindset was at the time, the rush-centric play calls by the BugEater offensive brain trust played right into NU’s clock time-conservation strategy.  I mean… C’mon man, to execute 3 offensive plays and only burn 20 clicks off the game clock is more than absurd; it’s irresponsible.  Without a doubt, Doc’s D needed to be tested much more than they were during the BugEaters’ final offensive series.  But they weren’t - Period!

Instead, NU’s defense rose to the challenge of summarily stoning the BugEater rushing game for zippo yards gained and a paltry 20 seconds ticked-off the game clock in the process.  This single defensive stand was THE biggest Win-Win scenario of the entire contest and set the table for what was to come: the Wildcat O’s final, fateful, all-or-nothing, execute-or-lose possession.  

“The Drive”

When the BugEater punt team downed the ball at NU’s half-yard line at the 2:02 mark of Q4, my heart sank.  For all the previous field play heroics leading-up to this late stage of the game, where the ‘Cat O had driven the length of the field on their previous offensive series to score an absolutely crucial FG, the very 1st successful FG of a replacement place kicker’s collegiate career, that reset the score to a 7-point deficit; then to stone the BugEater O’s up-to-then prolific ground-n-pound rushing attack to a 3-n-out series while only 20 seconds expired off the scoreboard clock, forcing a critical change of possession; then… this. 

I’ve viewed many football games, from Pee Wee and youth league teams, to teams from the most renown Divisions of Ohio high schools, to teams populating the NCAA’s Division 1A Power Conferences, and I’ve never witnessed a 99-plus yard offensive scoring drive, in person, by any team, at any time – EVER.

Yet, here were the Northwestern Wildcats, on the verge of giving-up the first “W” of the 2018 season to a newly installed HC and his under-performing team from a traditional NCAA Division 1A powerhouse football program, with multiple national championships to their historic credit, currently sporting a dismal 0-5 record.  The same NU Wildcats who were set to commence play in their final offensive possession of a very competitive, hard-fought contest against this win-less traditional powerhouse football team with 2 minutes and change left in regulation time, with no time outs available AND 99.5 yards of long green between the starting LOS and their target goal line – not to win the game, but merely to tie the game with a TD and successful PAT kick that would send the contest into Princeton overtime.

Could this end-game scenario get any more challenging than this for my beloved Wildcats?  I think not.     

So Clayton Thorson and Co. trotted-out and lined-up along the LOS with many players setting their feet inside the goal line of their own end zone, listening to their QB bark-out the pre-snap signals and awaiting the snap of the first play in this winner-take-all offensive series.  The ball is hiked to CT standing behind center in his typical shotgun starting position.  He collects the ball in his hands, sees a WR running a square-out route into the short left boundary zone, cranks his arm back and lets-fly a pass that sails high over its intended target.   Meanwhile, a crashing DL rushing headlong toward Thorson lays a hard two-handed swat to the Senior QB’s helmet, drawing a yellow flag from the back judge for a roughing the passer PF.  Talk about receiving a hand-delivered gift, wrapped in glittered paper and festooned with a satin ribbon and bow…  The BugEaters couldn’t have done much more to give the ‘Cats reprieve from their half-yard starting LOS jail cell than what they did on this possession’s first play from scrimmage.

Over the next 6 plays, CT goes off on his own personal tear, completing 5 consecutive passes that repositions the LOS at the Nebby 32.  On the 7th play from scrimmage, Thorson delivers an arcing 27-yard touch pass in stride and on target to WR Ben Skowronek who snatches the bean in a seam between the LBs & the Cover 2 Safeties then gets tackled at the BugEaters’ 5 yard line with 25 ticks left in regulation time.  On the field of play, the Nebby D is reeling like a bunch of punch drunk sailors, while in the stands the Northwestern faithful are going absolutely bird-shit bonkers and the UNL fans sit slack-jawed, in stunned silence watching what just transpired in a little less than 100 seconds.  On the 8th play from scrimmage, after the referee starts the game clock once more, CT takes the snap from under center and immediately clocks the ball to halt the clock with 17 seconds remaining.  On the 9th play from scrimmage, Thorson receives the shotgun snap from center and stands behind his pocket protection scanning the BugEater secondary.  He quickly spies WR JJ Jefferson running a crisply executed smash route into the short right boundary zone, gaining separation from his cover LB in the process and tosses an easy pitch-n-catch lob to the now-open receiver.  The True Frosh wideout makes the grab then dives over the goal line into the end zone with ball in hand for the improbable, wholly insane TD with 12 clicks remaining on the regulation game clock.  From play #1’s initial snap to this final TD score, “The Drive” took all of approximately 108 seconds to complete.  In its wake, Dyche’s Ditch erupts in a euphoric cacophony the likes of which I can’t recall hearing in all my years either as an athlete on the field or a fan in the stands. 

In all honesty, “The Drive” wasn’t a thing of beauty nor was it an offensive series filled with flawlessly run pass routes and picture perfect, pin-point passes.  Suffice it to say, despite its flaws, it most certainly got the job done AND well within the time allotted AND without the benefit of any timeouts to assist in the clock management aspect of its execution.  Nevertheless, its undeniable impact on the Nebby BugEaters both on the field and in the stands was deeply felt and enormously palpable, to say the least; and whose gut-wrenching influence extended into the upcoming OT period. 

Karma is Served – Part 1

Northwestern University football and Princeton Overtime – at its entertaining best, a made-for-prime-time-sporting-news-broadcast event; or in its designed simplicity, a melodrama-laden final act scenario wrought with fascinating intrigue and captivating excitement.  When performing on this OT stage, the Fitz-coached Wildcats possess a decidedly huge advantage because:
1.    This isn’t the Purple team’s first OT rodeo; and
2.    The ‘Cats are completely comfortable with its field play consequences and its fair yet brutal finality.

I truly have no inkling the level of familiarity that BugEater HC Scott Frost and his coaching staff possess regarding the nuances of the Princeton Overtime, but their highly suspect offensive play calling choices made and executed during UNL’s last offensive possession in regulation time seemed to have been carried-over into this OT stanza.  Having won the coin toss, Wildcat team captain, QB Clayton Thorson, adheres to conventional strategic wisdom and chooses to go on defense in the OT’s first inning; while giving the True Frosh QB Adrian Martinez-led BugEater O the honor of executing their offense at the top half of that first inning.

On their 1st play from scrimmage, the BugEater offense executes a routine dive, “up the gut” into the right A-gap that gets stoned after a 2-yard gain.  On 2nd down, Martinez completes a simple pitch-n-catch toss to his starting RB, Devine Ozigbo, running a bubble screen route to the right flat for a 7-yard gain that sets-up a very makeable 3rd-n-1 down.  On this 3rd play from scrimmage, the BugEaters’ ROG jerks his body slightly forward from his original statue-like 3-point stance, drawing a false start penalty that pushes the LOS back 5 yards giving the Nebby O a more challenging 3rd-n-6 to go down.  This costly self-inflicted wound penalty and its 5-yard mark-off punishment proved to be significantly consequential on the next down when Martinez completed a second simple pitch-n-catch pass to a WR, who went into motion from his right slot position to a left slot position right before the snap of the ball, then ran a shallow flat route intended to take advantage of the expected soft man-to-man coverage in the short left zone of the NU secondary.  ’Cat cover DB, Tre Williams, recognized the pass route, swiftly closed on the receiver just as he completed the catch of the Martinez toss, and then, using correct open field tackling technique, sat down/broke down directly in front of this wideout toting the bean in hand, waited for the WR to make his move.  When he did, Williams careens flush into the grill of the WR, wraps his arms decisively around the receiver’s midsection & wrestles him to the Dyche’s Ditch turf.  Tre’s well-executed, classic open field tackle limited this pass reception to a 5-yard gain and forced a 4th-n-1 OT scenario that subsequently became a game-changing down.

In an earlier key-to-the-game point mentioned above, I explained how a missed PAT and a missed medium-ranged FG prejudiced subsequent play calls made by BugEater HC Scott Frost and his offensive coaching staff. And this is the juncture where the mental predisposition from those place kicking miscues reared its ugly head and coerced a super-suspect play call decision that effectively neutralized the yardage production capabilities of the BugEaters’ offense all on its own.  Facing this 4th-n-1 situation, Frost exhibits extreme mistrust in his place kicker’s ability to convert the 33-yard FG (again, Frost’s perspective was prejudiced by those missing 4 points off the 2 place kicking gaffes), and instead, makes the executive decision to forego this chip-shot FG attempt, and dial-up a play from scrimmage intended to collect the 1 yard needed to give the BugEater a 1st down that would  extend the current possession and provide the BugEater O a chance to score a more valued TD.  However, fate intervened to bury these prejudiced plans beneath a truck-load of psychological merde of the BugEaters’ own making.

Once his offense lines-up along the 16 yard line LOS moments before this 4th down play commences, Martinez stands in his usual shotgun QB position 5 yards behind his OC, barking-out the snap count and waiting to grab the long snap from center.  When the long snap does happen, the pill flies back to Martinez a couple inches off the turf and skips right past the squatting QB who flails his hands in a desperate attempt to snag the errantly hiked bean before it passes him; which it does and settles another 8 full yards behind the BugEaters’ Frosh QB.  Martinez quickly backtracks to the bean; scoops it up off the turf; and, with the Wildcat pass rush bearing down on him, scrambles this right scanning downfield for any open receiver.  Seeing none, Martinez continues to scramble to his right and further back upfield, eventually settling himself at the 38 yard line, 22 yards upfield from the original LOS; whereupon the BugEater QB rears back and chucks a desperate Hail Mary heave in the direction of the NU end zone.  The Wildcat secondary converges on the wounded duck throw and Purple Safety JR Pace snags Martinez’ heave and collapses to the end zone turf, with ball in hand.

Watching this 4th down comedy of errors play-out in favor of the Wildcat D – as they applied a firm, vice-like grip around the collective throats of the BugEater O – I thought to myself:

May your overt lack of confidence in your kicking game personnel haunt you, “Mr. Frost, Karma is served and YOU WILL LIKE IT!” 

“I got you in a stranglehold, baby…  You’re gone; I crushed your face!!!”

Karma is Served – Part 2

The one individual player who deserves as much praise and game ball kudos for his outstanding field play against the Nebby BugEaters (as does Senior QB Clayton Thorson) is not Senior WR Flynn Nagel…  After all, Mr. Nagel has been an indispensable cog in the Wildcats’ offensive gear box for 3 seasons running and his 12 pass reception afternoon coupled with 220 total yards gained and 2 TDs scored contribution as the ‘Cats battled the BugEaters to a satisfying “W” in OT is as routinely expected as it is a highly commendable PR collegiate career best.

No… The game ball worthy praise I’m reserving is direct towards Newbie/Soph place kicker, Drew Luckenbaugh.  Talk about being thrown into the deep end of the pool and matter-of-factly told: “Son, you either swim or you sink and die.  It’s yours to do with as you will!”

It’s very true that this Soph’s place kicking duties were categorically framed and directed by NU’s special teams coach, Pat Fitzgerald, towards booting effective, “no deposit/no return” kickoffs, and not towards converting FG attempts, which were the sole game-time responsibility of his teammate, fellow Soph, Charlie Kuhbander.   However, when Charlie went walk-about from NU’s game day active roster due to an unspecified injury to his kicking leg, Fitz tapped Mr. Luckenbaugh on the shoulder and voiced his “next man up” mantra.  Sink or swim, the FG kicking job was Drew’s and his alone; at least against the BugEaters. 

Drew’s FG kicking duties started-off rather inauspiciously as Mr. Luckenbaugh’s first FG attempt in late Q3 had the trajectory of a booted kickoff – low and drifting to a corner pylon sitting upright at the sideline end of the opponent’s goal line – and certainly unlike what is expected of a correctly stuck FG kick that jumps off the turf, flies high into the air and travels straight and true between the uprights of the target goal post.  However, to his credit, Drew righted his listing ship – or his errant FG kicking technique – on his next 2 attempts which provided 6 crucial points to the Wildcats’ bid to mount a comeback against the BugEaters.  And don’t forget about the successful PAT boots – 4 in all – that added another critical 4 points to the ‘Cats’ comeback total.  That makes Drew’s end game point contribution at an even 10 points – just under 33% of the Wildcats’ scoreboard total.

All the while, Drew’s special teams coach, Fitz, never wavered in either his positive support or his confidence to use Mr. Luckenbaugh as a major point scoring contributor for the Wildcats. 

For your steadfast confidence in a newbie place kicker, “Mr. Fitzgerald, Karma is served!”  


Wow… What a game!  What a comeback for the ages!  What a vehicle to showcase the kind of exceptional talent that currently resides on this team that can and should transition to the next level!  This one contest will be recalled fondly for so many items – individual effort; team cohesion in the face of overwhelming adversity; the rise of players from anonymity to assume their rightful place among those playmakers on both sides of the LOS who receive well-earned acclaim for their dedication and focus on delivering the needful on a consistent basis; and yes, even to individual NU coaches who stay the course regarding the “Wildcat Way” that will serve their mentored athletic young men throughout their collegiate experience and within all facets of their future endeavors.  This game was the embodiment of what is so fulfilling, so impactful, so compelling regarding the positives surrounding intercollegiate athletics; and why we, as fans, are drawn to it as confirmation of our personal value systems.  
Without a doubt, the current brotherhood of gridiron Wildcats could have (and in many respects, should have) failed in this monumental comeback that, to this writer’s humble perspective, will be recorded as the GOAT in Northwestern University football program history.  Plainly stated, there is nothing to compare to it.  From QB Clayton Thorson’s flawed but resourceful leadership; to WR Flynn Nagel’s career PR pass receiving exhibition; to the resiliency of Doc’s defensive front 7 to forget their prior rush defense foibles and keep their focus on delivering those crucial playmaking stops against a highly talented, well coached rushing offense that will make their own lasting mark in future seasons; to a newbie place kicker who wouldn’t allow the current situations’ unforgiving  pressure to perform deter him from delivering what his coaches expected from him all along despite his relative inexperience within the white-hot crucible of big time collegiate competition.

Please oblige me while I wax rhapsodic at the indelible memory of one of the greatest gridiron games I have ever witnessed personally in my lifetime and within the context that this single piece of athletic theater is now, and will be considered in the future, one of the most absorbing, competitive contests ever to be played by the football team and athletic program to which I am so emotionally attached.

I am truly blessed to have been alive and to have seen it all for myself!
The Waterboy
“Win with Grace, Lose with Dignity”

Oct. 12, 2018

Clayton Thorson – The Return 1.0

It’s always been so very difficult to pin-down the causes, but some teams simply have another team’s number, regardless of the sport.  Over the past 4 decades, the Io_a Hog Eyes always gave the NU Wildcat teams fits, especially when it comes to football, softball and baseball.  The ‘Cats can be the hottest sporting commodity in the B1G, and then the Purple will face-off against the Hog-Eyes and the bottom seemingly drops-out of the whole damn thing.  For a red-letter example, look no further than NU’s 2000 football season, the second under HC Randy Walker, who was a stop-gap replacement for Saint Gary Barnett, who left Wildcat HC position in pursuit of his dream HC job at Colorado in 1999.

After the 1999 season, one in which the gridiron Wildcats sleepwalked their way to a wholly non-descript 3-8 record, Walker realized that his milquetoast O had hit the wall and was going nowhere.  And with his decision to hand the upcoming season’s starting QB reins over to soon-to-be-Senior Zak Kustok, the former 4-star high school recruit who had transferred from the Noted Dames to the ‘Cats that previous summer, Walker realized he needed a fresh approach to his replace standard, predictable offensive playbook.  So over that same summer, he sought the advice of then spread offense gurus, Rich Rodriguez (Yes, THAT Rich Rod) and Mark Martz, who taught Mr. Walker the nuances of an innovative twist to an old-school option offense called “The Spread” which featured a zone read option play series coupled with its alternative run-pass option play series (both of which, in recent years, have become game plan staples in the collegiate football offensive paradigm).  When Walker introduced the 2000 Wildcat O to his version of “The Spread,” modified to accentuate the strengths of his personnel, the Purple offense became virtually unstoppable.  In fact, the ‘Cats Spread Offense went totally bonkers, scoreboard wise, against their B1G foes – scoring 47 points against then No. 7 Wisky; 37 points against then No. 18 Moo U.; 52 against the Indy WhoZits; 41 against the Golden Rodents and 54 points in the Instant Classic 2000 NU vs Meat-Chicken contest at Dyche’s Ditch.  The only blemish over the ‘Cats’ first 6 B1G conference games that fall was a 28-41 stumble against their protected rival Perdue and their All-Everything QB Drew Brees (Yes, THAT Drew Brees – the NFL’s GOAT in passing yardage & passing TDs).  Well, the then No. 12 Wildcats headed to Io_a S#itty City and a gridiron grapple with the 2-8 Hog-Eyes in what was advertised by many collegiate pigskin pundits to be a virtual walk-over “W” for the prohibitive favorite ‘Cats and their newly installed Spread attack.  However, 2nd year Hog-Eye HC, Kirk Ferenz, and his team wasn’t listening to any of this white noise b.s.; and, instead of rolling over & playing possum, the Hog-Eyes handled Walker’s Spread O with apparent ease, limiting the ‘Cats to a regular season low score of 17 points, as they hung a well-earned 10-point “L” on the full-of-themselves Wildcats.  If any college football fan wants to witness the underlying competitive foundation that fuels the on-going enmity between the Wildcats & the Hog-Eyes, he/she need only look at the video of this particular donnybrook.  The Hog-Eyes just seem have NU’s competitive number in key contests.

Well, as counterpoint, it seems like NU frequently has the number of Moo U.  Whereas, HC Mark Dantonio’s Green Meanies can best most any other team on any given Saturday, even the Big Bad Dogs of the B1G’s East Division, like Meat-Chicken or State Penn, Moo U seemingly is more inclined to lay a proverbial egg when competing with the Wildcats, especially as of late.  Mind you, it’s not a dominance thing; no, far from it.  It’s just that, perennially, Moo U mentally comes-out flat when facing Fitz’ Wildcats.  And last Saturday’s contest was a case in point… 

How the ‘Cats Out-Gunned Moo U

Over The Top
A frequently voiced criticism of ‘Cat OC Mick McCall’s “standard” game plan is that he has an annoyingly frustrating tendency to employ the short passing attack way too early and much too often; and throughout the  2018 campaign, this dink-n-dunk passing strategy has been a regrettable “go-to” staple for the Wildcat offense.  IMHO, it is a major cause for the ‘Cats’ H-2 scoring woes that are a well-chronicled characteristic in every game played thus far this season.  Perhaps it’s born of the fact that individual players populating the Wildcat receiving corps just cannot seem to gain consistent separation from their opposing coverage DBs when running downfield pass routes.  Or perhaps it’s due to the indisputable point that the ‘Cat OL has been particularly hard-pressed to keep their Senior starting QB, Clayton Thorson, standing upright behind his pocket protection long enough to complete his progressions when scanning for that open receiver.  Whatever the cause, the box score statistics are more than a little telling: heading into their game against Moo U, the ‘Cat offense had scored a scant 13 points total in H-2 across all 4 games played in 2018 thus far.  And with the forced absence of their medically retired feature RB, Jeremy Larkin, coupled with McCall’s stubborn reliance on his dink-n-dunk passing game, prospects for reversing this H-2 scoring drought were close to non-existent. 

Then, suddenly… something miraculous came down.  To the surprise of many among Wildcat Nation watching this offensive snorefest, Mick McCall unexpectedly opened his playbook to the chapters detailing NU’s up-to-now dormant vertical passing attack.  Not only that, but just as suddenly… ‘Cat WRs began to gain substantial and consistent separation from their cover DBs.  And… NU’s OL kept their vulnerable Senior QB, Clayton Thorson, more upright than usual, as he stood relatively hurry-free behind his pocket protection.  And… CT responded to this welcomed reprieve from pass rush pressure by flexing his repressed vertical passing muscles and delivering the bean on target and in stride to those open receivers with a regularity that had been unseen for entire quarters of earlier played games.  And not a moment too soon!

In late Q1, Wildcat Soph WR Kyric McGowan took full advantage of a pass coverage gaffe by Moo U’s secondary and sprinted downfield along the NU sidelines a full 20 yards behind the nearest Green Meanie DB.  CT not only recognized this wide-open receiver running free & clear in the deep left zone, he capitalized on this fortunate circumstance by tossing a high arching, picture-perfect pass that dropped softly right into McGowan’s eager mitts.  McGowan did his part by making the grab and turning-on his afterburners for a 77-yard explosion pass play, the longest pass completion of CT’s 4-year Northwestern QB career, netting the Wildcats an easy pith-n-catch TD and a 7-3 lead, mere seconds before Q1 ended.  Holy Vertical Pass, Batman!!!

But that highlight reel pass completion was only the start of the Clayton Thorson aerial circus against Moo U. At the 14:37 mark of Q2, the ‘Cats reclaimed possession of the bean at NU’s 49 yard line.  On the 3rd offensive play from scrimmage, CT saw Purple WR JJ Jefferson sprinting downfield on a flag route to the right endzone pylon after having gained the slightest of separation behind his cover DB.  Thorson promptly delivered another high-arching vertical pass to the Frosh wideout who, at the very last instant, dove forward with outstretched arms, snagged the pill mere inches off the turf, brought it into his body then crumpled and rolled onto the end zone grass with ball firmly in hand for NU’s 2nd highlight reel pass completion TD of the game.  The formerly enthusiastic home team fans in the stands of Spartan Stadium who witnessed Mr. JJ’s acrobatic catch now sat in mesmerized, slack-jawed silence as the Wildcats increased their lead 14-3.  That eerie hush emanating from the green-clad patrons was exceedingly noticeable over the BTN2Go broadcast’s audio feed.  Beeee-Yoooo-Teeee-Full!

Then H-2 arrived – OC Mick McCall’s all-too-familiar enigmatic “crisis of conscience” half.  However, instead of succumbing to the pressure of performing at a B1G level over the final 30 minutes of this grapple, Thorson & Co. eschewed the H-2 woes of their previous 4 games and continued to execute their productive vertical passing attack.  Despite enduring a bizarre mid Q3 offensive series in which CT’s 6-yard pass clanked off the facemask of its intended receiver and careened softly into the midsection of a Moo U DE who grabbed the giftie INT and turned the ball over to the Moo U offense at the NU 33 – a TO that was converted to the 2nd TD score in early Q3 that gave the Green Meanies a 19-14 lead, Thorson kept his composure and focused on moving the chains.

NU’s first opportunity occurred on their possession immediately following that Moo U TD off that crazy-bounce INT.  After a fair-catch kickoff return decision, McCall directed CT to “air it out” and the ‘Cat O went into full pass-happy mode.  Thorson completed 6 of 7 pass attempts, culminating with a 3rd highlight reel TD pitch-n-catch to his favorite receiving target, SB Cam Green, who ran a perfect fly route and caught CT’s masterful toss that was placed just beyond the reach of the cover DB and into Cam’s hands 5 yards into the endzone, giving the ‘Cats the lead once more that they would never relinquish.  To say that Thorson was “on his game” at this juncture would have been some serious understatement.  Most of Q4 was a battle for field position in which NU finally reset the LOS deep into Moo U territory via a consequential Purple possession that featured a series of pin-point passes from CT to a trio of Wildcat receivers that forced the Green Meanie offense to work within the shadow of their own goal posts.  When the ‘Cat D stoned the Sparty O for a change of possession at the Moo U 11, CT delivered the game-clinching TD 3 downs later via a 2-yard QB sneak that increased the home team’s deficit to 10 points with just under 3 minutes left in regulation time. 

“Turn out the lights; the party’s over…”

The Good Hands People
With Senior ‘Cat QB Clayton Thorson’s personal vertical passing renaissance on obvious display throughout last Saturday’s tussle with Moo U, most (if not all) of his notable passing statistics would have been rendered moot had it not been for the extraordinary hands of his WR corps.  As CT was “dropping TD dimes” into the expectant mitts of Messrs. Kyric McGowan, JJ Jefferson and Cam Green, one mustn’t forget that those throws would have faded into back page reporting obscurity had they been dropped – as, too frequently, had been the case in the ‘Cats’ previous 4 games of the 2018 season. 

The welcome return of the Wildcat vertical passing attack is a product of a fickle two part dance – one in which, firstly, the QB identifies the open WR sprinting downfield beyond his cover DB then delivers the pill in stride and on target to that open receiver; and, secondly, that receiving target quite literally keeps his eyes “on the ball” tracking its trajectory into his hands, whereupon he squeezes the brown bean and hugs it to his bosom like a newborn child.  The delicate balance at play in this two-part passing tango was especially in evidence on JJ’s and Cam’s TD grabs, both of which were made on pin-point accurate throws that had passed just out of the reach of their Moo U cover DBs who were exercising “press coverage” techniques (read: the DBs were hand fighting the WRs throughout the entire course of their pass route to get a better angle at positioning their own mitts to deflect the bean away from its intended target receiver).  In fact, some of the best examples of “press pass coverage” techniques within today’s collegiate game are employed by the Meat-Chicken secondary.  The Dazed & Blue DBs are virtual masters at “press coverage” techniques which easily could have drawn pass interference flags on any number of downs the previous Saturday when defending Wildcat wideouts, but hardly ever were, because its use is prevalently exercised and so well disguised, especially when competing against “lesser talented” receiver corps personnel, like the unit that NU fields. 

However, in last Saturday’s Moo U game, the “Thorson-to-WR (fill-in the name here)” vertical passing tango delivered immensely valuable dividends in TD scores and/or scoring opportunities (in the form of FG attempts), particularly in H-2.  And when it comes to the 2nd part of this dance, its ultimate success is predicated on the use of “Good Hands” by Wildcat WRs.  A tip of my hat to a job well done, fellas! 

Bends But Doesn’t Break
IMHO, the most valuable individual on the coaching staff of the Northwestern University football team is Defensive Coordinator, Mike “Doc” Hankwitz.  Whereas HC Pat Fitzgerald undoubtedly is the face of NU’s football program, Doc Hankwitz, without question, is the team’s heart and soul leader.  It’s been that way ever since he first arrived in Evanston in 2008 and continues be so through the 2018 season.  Doc not only is the team’s best football talent evaluator, but he is also its most effective talent developer, most insightful talent deployment manager, its most innovative game planner  and especially its most impactful high quality defensive field play motivator.  The fact that Doc was lured away from a similar position on the Wisconsin football coaching staff, in which he was perennially recognized as a renown defensive coaching guru, and, once he became available, was hired immediately by newly installed Wildcat Athletic Director Jim Phillips has been Dr. Phillips’ most consequential employment coup of his illustrious career as Northwestern AD.  And ever since he darkened the doorstep of Nicholet Hall, Doc has gotten and continues to get the best field play results from the players under his tutelage; and the 2018 season is no exception to this norm.  Whereas in 2017, the NU defense was considered the team’s most talent-laden unit and a national power in its own right, the 2018 version has shown that its greatest strength resides in its defensive front 7 personnel while its weakest aspect can be found in its defensive secondary.  However, Doc’s defensive coaching wizardry has come to the fore once again if only because the whole of his 2018 defense has been markedly greater than the sum of its individual parts.  In truth, Doc’s 2018 defense can be characterized most succinctly by the key phrase: “bends but doesn’t break” and this description was on full display in last Saturday’s NU versus Moo U contest. 

Once in Q1 and a second time in Q2, the Moo U offense mounted an offensive drive that reset the LOS within the NU 10 yard line.  And despite the fact that they yielded substantial yardage during the course of either of these Green Meanie possessions, Doc’s D stiffened while playing within yards of their own goal line, forcing the Moo U offense to settle for a FG rather than a TD score, essentially proffering the Wildcats a combined -8 point differential across these two home team scoring opportunities.  The same situation occurred again late in Q4 with the ‘Cats clinging to 29-19 lead, when the Moo U offense drove the bean from their own 25 yard line to the NU 6.  Once more, Doc’s D held firm, stoning the Green Meanie possession on a 4th-n-goal down at the ‘Cat 1 yard line and ensuring the capture of the game’s “W” flag for the visiting team from Evanston.

To be sure… “Bend but doesn’t break” is an apt descriptor.   


Well, it took 4 games before the “Good CT” quarterback finally demonstrated his quality playmaking talent in H-2; but it was a welcome sight, never the less.  Still, the 2018 ‘Cats are considered little else than an “also ran” competitor when it comes to the B1G West Division championship, and that’s an apropos evaluation.  To expand-upon and enhance that middling sentiment into something that holds greater respect and acclaim will take a substantial infusion of personal dedication and effort across every position on the NU football team’s roster. 

Without a doubt, the next few weeks will put the “Good CT”-led Wildcat offense through the ringer, especially since the ‘Cat ground game has transitioned into nothing less than an ugly rumor of its former “Jeremy Larkin, featured RB” self.  But that’s the “honest to Gawd’s truth” of NU’s current gridiron situation.  And being situationally aware of what lies ahead is always a good thing.

The 0-5 Nebby BugEaters come to Evanston this coming weekend with high hopes of spoiling NU’s 2018 homecoming festivities.  I’m still holding a lit torch for the Wildcats to reprise the football playmaking abilities that I witnessed from the Purple team on the turf of Spartan Stadium in East Lansing 7 day ago.  I’m confident that Doc will do his utmost best defensive game plan-wise to meet the challenge of BugEater Wunderkind QB, Adrian Martinez, and his bevy of talented WRs; and I hope that OC Mick McCall will do likewise for his offensive plan that will be put to the test against the BugEater Black Shirts.  

It will be B1G Conference football at its competitive finest.  I can’t wait…

The Waterboy
“Win with Grace, Lose with Dignity”

Oct. 4, 2018

H-2 Blues

Holy Cow, Jack Brickhouse...  Fitz and his DC, Doc Hankwitz, had the Michigan Dazed & Blue Horde offense right where they wanted them.  Riding an H-1 wave of the most impressive offensive field play display of the 2018 season to date, coupled with an equally extraordinary defensive performance, the Wildcats retired to the halftime locker room sporting an unimaginable 17-7 lead against the prohibitive favorite Dazed & Blue Horde from Annie’s Treehouse.  Indeed, it was as much a thing of unexpected awe as it was of bewildering beauty.  How in the world of Pappy Waldorf could the same team that got thoroughly humiliated by an Akron Zippity Doo Dah squad in their previous game take the fight to the No. 14-ranked Meat-Chicken Horde, with their 2-deep roster populated with 4 & 5-star recruits and led by uber-flamboyant HC, Jim Hair-Ball… er, I mean… Harbaugh, and literally neutralize the visiting  team’s vast array of overpowering weaponry on either side of the LOS with what appeared to be utter disregard towards the ‘Cats’ rightfully deserved “lowly place” in the natural rankings/order of B1G Dog power programs? 

However, that euphoric feeling of superior gridiron field play glory built-up throughout H-1 died a slow, painful death in H-2 as the ‘Cats’ all-too-familiar Ghost of Post Halftime Ineptitude reared its ugly head once more in the form a “Bad CT” offense that failed to execute even the most basic of offensive plays against a swarming, not-to-be-denied Dazed & Blue D that sacked Clayton Thorson 5 times while it stoned the Purple O for a mere 56 total yards gained in H-2.  Talk about wallowing in your own fetid cesspool of playmaking failure.

This schizophrenic situation of an unstoppable H-1 offense transitioning into a completely incompetent H-2 offense of mismanaged play calling and outright assignment failures is both bewildering and confounding to coaches, players, parents and fans alike.  What else can I say? 

How the ‘Cats Succumbed to the Dazed & Blue Horde

Large Human Beings
One undeniable characteristic that anyone seated in the stands watching events unfold on the green grass of Dyche’s Ditch was the imposing physical size of the Dazed & Blue linemen.  On offense in particular, the unimaginable mass differential between the individual OL players wearing the blue helmet with the iconic yellow wing on it and the ‘Cat DL facing them was beyond daunting, it appeared freakishly intimidating.  Simply stated, these early 20-something players are enormous human beings, especially the Meat-Chicken OC, No. 51, Cesar Ruiz, and his adjacent teammates, LG, No. 74, Ben Bredeson, and RG, No. 50, Michael Onwenu.  One could thread a yardstick through the backside belt loops of the football pants of any of these three players, then stand in front of them and never see either end of the measuring stick.  Talk about wide-bodies. 

In fact, RG Onwenu is so thick and muscle bound, he can’t assume a traditional, level-back 3-point stance; but is forced to literally assume a squatting position (like he’s gonna take a power dump cathartic), with his butt a full foot lower than his shoulder pads in order to compensate for not being able to bull his neck/head far back enough to lift his face/eyes to view his blocking target properly.  Although that squat position looked downright uncomfortable and limited his initial reaction off the snap of the ball, once he got his meat-hook hands, powered by his Popeye muscled arms, under the sternum pad of his blocking target, he physically manhandled that DL like he was a rag doll.  However, despite the point that all three Dazed & Blue middle OL, the OC & his OG wingmen, controlled their Purple DL counterparts with noted regularity, that workload came with a high price tag. 

Over the course of a 60 minute game, large human beings constantly exercising physicality of that high level exacts a demanding toll in sweat equity fatigue and exhaustion by both parties: as the Meat-Chicken OL struggled to maintain their blocks against a lighter, more mobile, very reactive and highly motivated ‘Cat defensive front 7; while the Wildcat DL kept their focus towards gaining separation from these Silverback Gorilla-styled behemoths then pursuing/closing-in on the ball carrier.  When comparisons are made between linemen from these two units, the relative cost of such consistent, unrelenting physical field play is higher on the defensive front 7 because, instead of knowing the current play’s point of attack and having the associated luxury to adjust/modify your requisite energy expenditure just enough to fulfill your individual blocking assignment, as an OL routinely does, a defensive player must always react to his reads then locate, pursue and close on the ball to limit yardage gains at every moment on every down.  Any drop-off in this defensive effort at any time, and the competitive advantage shifts to the offensive squad in an eye-blink.

Unfortunately, that’s exactly what happened to Wildcat DC Doc Hankwitz’ defensive front 7. 

Worn Down & Out
Having exhausted most of their collective energy reserves throughout H-1in what this writer felt was their most commendable field play performance of the 2018 season, Doc’s defensive front 7 was THE major contributing factor responsible for building the Wildcats’ surprising 17-7 halftime lead against a prolific Dazed & Blue offense that had made minced meat of a Nebraska BugEater defense the previous Saturday.  Ignoring the white noise wisdom from collegiate football pundits who predicted that the Big Bad Meat-Chicken O would steamroll the “Mildcat” D into virtual roadkill 7 days later, Doc’s troops rose to meet the challenge and prevailed for the first 30 minutes of the game.  However, that laudable H-1 effort would become moot if, over the course of the contest’s final 30 minutes, OC Mick McCall’s O couldn’t deliver time-consuming scoring drives of their own which would have provided valuable recovery time to their defensive teammates and relieved the pressure on them to compete against and/or neutralize those huge human beings populating the Dazed & Blue OL and limit the visiting team’s yardage production and scoring potential. 

However, as had been the case in each of NU’s previous 3 games, the Clayton Thorson-led Wildcat O literally got punched in their collective chicklets by the opponent’s D and knocked flat on their behinds early & often in H-2.  When the Dazed & Blue defense stoned Thorson & Co. on NU’s first possession of the 2nd half, game momentum clearly had shifted to the visiting team.  HC Jim Harbaugh capitalized on this momentum shift and rolled-out his ground-n-pound attack, directing his Very Big Uglies to beat-up on the Purple defensive front 7 over an 11-play offensive series that featured 7 rushes augmented by a 36-yard explosion pass completion that re-positioned the LOS at the NU 10 for a 1st-&-goal scoring opportunity.  Despite the fact that Doc’s defense regained their composure to limit this red zone possession to a FG, the chinks in the Wildcat’s defensive armor began to show. 

As the Wildcat O never proffered anything approaching appreciable respite to the ‘Cat D from their Herculean effort to stem the rising tide of continuous yardage gains by the Meat-Chicken offense in H-2, Doc’s troops plainly transitioned into a squad that truly had been “ridden hard and hung-up wet” by mid Q4.  When the Dazed & Blue offense finally scored that go-ahead TD at the 4:06 mark of Q4, the game’s outcome was nothing less than a fait accompli because the Thorson & Co. offense remained a total “no show” in the 2nd half. 

The Wildcat defense deserved better – Much Better!

Playmaking Delta
Anything I might say or write regarding the reason(s) why Clayton & Co. failed miserably once more to execute their effective H-1 offensive game plan into and through H-2 would be pure speculation.  As a Purple dyed-in-the-wool Northwestern University football fan, I cannot, for the life of me, come close to identifying the causes that contribute to the increasing playmaking delta of the Wildcat offense between H-1 and H-2.  Whatever the causes, something is clearly very wrong with NU’s offensive brain trust and its ability to lead, to instruct, to develop a comprehensive, effective game plan and make appropriate halftime adjustments to improve that game plan in real time H-2.  It’s an ongoing plague that, if not addressed sooner than later, eventually will cut the competitive heart out of this team.  The exact same scenario was endured by the Moo U (Michigan State) football program in 2016, when the Green Meanies stumbled and bumbled their way to a woeful 3-9 record with notable losses to the Indy WhoZits (L 21-24 OT); to the Maryland Twerps (L 17-28) and, in their most damnable failure of that forgettable season, to the Ill-Annoy Ill-Whine-I (L 27-31).

If the Fitz-and-McCall-led ‘Cat offense doesn’t pull their collective noggins out from their moons and get their “merde” together, this team most certainly will duplicate Moo U’s 2016 season of utter failure in 2018. 

You have been warned!  ‘Nuf said…


Despite all the doom & gloom above, I’m not quite ready to press the panic button… yet; but I definitely have flipped its safety cover up & off and exposed it.  The Dazed & Blue Horde was positioned for their own great letdown against the upstart 15-point dog Wildcats; yet when it came to crunch time, Big Blue took complete control of the proceedings and sealed the deal with minimal trepidation in mid Q4.  Good teams do that to mediocre teams on a regular basis. 

So this week leading up to next Saturday’s impending grapple with Moo U, I’m still carrying a torch that this 2018 version of the football ‘Cats can prove themselves to be much more than a mediocre, also-ran team in the grand scheme of things, especially given that the B1G West Division isn’t populated with dominant B1G Dog football programs that perennially seem to exist in the B1G East Division.  Hell, even the Perdue Broiler Chickens handed the Nebraska BugEaters and their newly installed “Second Coming of JC” HC, Scott Frost, an embarrassing 42-28 “L” in Lincoln, NE, no less.  However, the gild most definitely is off Clayton Thorson’s lily, so to speak, and there is a program imperative for OC Mick McCall’s prized pig Senior QB to rise like a Phoenix from the ash heap of his numerous H-2 failures and confirm that he possesses the offensive playmaking leadership chops to take the Wildcats to the next level of gridiron competitiveness.  If “Good CT” can come out from the shadows of NU’s halftime locker room skull sessions and stand front and center on the H-2 stage under the glaring spotlight of critical evaluation and perform like he often has demonstrated in H-1, this season is his redeem and recoup. 

The potential to do so is there.  Just reach-out and grab that damn brass ring of gridiron respectability and bring home the “W” flag from East Lansing.   

The Waterboy
“Win with Grace, Lose with Dignity”

Sept. 28, 2018

Déjà Vu – All Over Again

Well, I wouldn’t have believed it, but NU pulled-off another somnolent gridiron exhibition against what should have been a far more inferior team in the visiting Akron Zippity Doo Dahs.  Rather than romping over, around and through the visiting team from central Ohio, the ‘Cats reprised their annual tradition of summarily crapping the bed via another inexplicable loss to an on-paper overmatched out-of-conference opponent that was supposed to the Purple’s easiest “W” of their entire 2018 campaign.  Last season, it was a thoroughly embarrassing 41-17 butt-kicking loss to the Dookie Blue Imps, that I had planned to chronicle as “The Debacle in Durham”, that prompted me to exercise a little-used commentary submission escape clause in my verbal agreement with my Editor-in-Chief , Hail To Purple.  And in reaction to last Saturday’s letdown, I nearly invoked this exact clause once again when it came to writing my honest observations regarding the humiliating “L” laid on the ‘Cats’ by their weakest-by-far 2018 foe – however, I didn’t, despite the undeniable fact that the situation indeed was a case of Déjà Vu, all over again.  Subsequently, it took me a full 7 days to recover from the overwhelming urge to vent my runaway emotions in what surely would have been a vitriolic, rant-filled diatribe on how this fall’s gridiron Wildcats got their collective behinds whooped by a truly woeful Akron team.  But over the course of the week since I personally witnessed this latest “public pantsing” football spectacle at Dyche’s Ditch, my “Better Angels” have proffered me enough solace and perspective to assuage my raging synapses from going off on HC Pat Fitzgerald’s current version of his Purple Pigskin Warriors and, instead, and allow me to declare  exactly what myself and many others among Wildcat Nation have often thought, but few would have said it out loud… that they are “The Underachieving ‘MildCats’.”  So instead of writing some in-depth examination of just what went wrong, I’m gonna make this analysis short (as possible), sweet and to the point. 

So without further ado, here goes…

How the Zippity Doo Dahs Zapped the ‘Cats

Commitment Problems
OK, OK, Clayton Thorson can throw the pigskin, that’s an indisputable given.  What is wholly up in the air is to which team receiver he will throw the bean.  CT was at his best (“Good CT”) and at his worst (“Bad CT”) last Saturday against the Akron Zippity Doo Dahs; with “Good CT” demonstrating his prolific passing skillset for the greater part of H-1; while “Bad CT” trotted-out onto the green grass of Dyche’s Ditch for whole portions of H-2 and, quite literally, gave the game away.  

It’s true, Fitz and his OC Mick McCall have placed the reins of NU’s offense into the hands of Thorson in 2018 and consequently, the final scoreboard fortunes of every game the Wildcats play will this fall will depend on whether or not “Good CT” or “Bad CT” shows up.  What is most frustrating in this scenario is when both show-up in the same game, like they did against Akron, and there is little anyone else can do about it.  Anyone, except NU’s offensive brain trust, who have shown that they are too committed, too arrogant and/or too stubborn in their executive decision to keep the fate of a single game in the hands (and arm) of their designated primary playmaker and eschew substituting for him when he’s effing-up the whole damn thing.

Fitz and McCall had to be riding a veritable tsunami of euphoria when Thorson eviscerated the Zippity Doo Dah D in H-1 and staked the ‘Cats to a commanding 21-3 lead heading into the halftime intermission locker room.  Obviously, recall of that commendable performance played a major role in their decision to keep CT playing in H-2 when he clearly was struggling to maintain his quality QB field play as he continued to chuck the pill towards receiving targets which either were very well covered or simply couldn’t gain significant separation from their cover DB.  When “Bad CT” is making poor decisions regarding his passing targets, whether open or not, it’s time for McCall to recognize the fact, step-in and have a frank “Come to Jesus” dialogue with his primary playmaker, if only to reset his locomotive QB’s driving wheels back on to rails of passing success. 

However, this isn’t how Mick McCall coaches a starting QB.  He lets his QB (read: Thorson) play-out his poor field play string – in order to right his own foundering ship so to speak – without direct immediate intervention.  IMHO, I believe that Fitz and McCall truly believe that Thorson possesses the self-evaluation wherewithal to kick “Bad CT” to the bench and let “Good CT” return to the field of play to lead the ‘Cats’ charge to victory.  That type of blind commitment to what is actually happening in real time is both unrealistic and dangerous, especially in regards to the other members of the Wildcat team who are playing their collective asses off. 

Simply started, when CT threw that first INT and literally hobbled away from confronting the DB who returned the pick 97 yards upfield from the Akron 3 yard line to TD paydirt, lest he put his repaired knee in danger of getting blasted attempting a TD-saving tackle (which he was in position to do), McCall should have benched him for a healthier T.J. Green for the remainder of Q3, if only to allow Thorson time to “get his head right.”  The problem was that, on NU’s next possession, “Good CT” made a welcome appearance in an “Answer TD” drive (that featured a rare double 15-yard penalty play against the Zippity Doo Dah D) that reset the score to 28-19 in favor of the ‘Cats just before the end of Q3. 

It was this “Answer TD” that galvanized the commitment mindset of Fitz & McCall to give CT whatever opportunities he needed to redeem himself from his horrible QB field play throughout Q4 that included:
●    A fumble at the NU 8, which rolled into the NU end zone and was recovered by an Akron DL for a TD – solidifying the Akron improbable comeback for a nutso-crazy 32-28 lead, in mid Q4.
●    A 50-yard Pick 6 INT on NU’s next possession following CT’s fumble at the NU 8 – increasing Akron’s lead to 39-28 with 7:24 left in Q4 and throwing the ‘Cats down an 11-point hole from which they never could or would crawl-out.  

That blind commitment killed the ‘Cats. Chances at capturing the “W” flag.

Not Good Enough – Part 1
The word is out… NU’s defensive secondary is nothing less than CRAPTASTIC (capital letters for emphasis).  There is no other word to describe it.  BTN2Go videos don’t lie and the NU secondary continues to demonstrate that, as a unit, they are more than just a little vulnerable to the go-for-broke, over-the-top explosion pass.  Simply stated, they have the TD pass prevention capacity of a sieve.

They sucked against Purdue’s underclassman QB, Elijah Sindelar, who torched the Purple DBs for 196 yards & a TD (completing 18 of 30 passing attempts) in NU’s 31-27 squeaker “W” that easily could have been salvaged by the Broiler Chickens if the home team’s star DL hadn’t committed a brainfart personal foul penalty at the 2:06 mark of Q4 that clinched the game for the visiting ‘Cats. 

They were a virtual no-show, when facing the Dookie’s Senior QB, Daniel Jones, who confirmed that he is a legitimate NFL 1st round draft pick QB via his dominating 3 TD performance in Q2 that systematically turned every member of the Wildcat secondary into so many slices of burnt toast.  (Unfortunately, Mr. Jones’ colossal passing performance was cut short by a devastating season-ending collarbone injury sustained in H-2 – one that required surgery to repair the following morning and, undoubtedly, will threaten to kill his chances at securing a high draft pick contract.  A shame, indeed.)

And the all-too-familiar failure of the ‘Cats defensive secondary to prevent the 20-plus yard explosion pass play reared its ugly mug once again against the Zippity Doo Dah offense when they gave-up pass completions of :
●    43 yards – leading to Akron’s 1st FG in Q2
●    40 yards – leading to Akron’s 2nd FG at the start of Q3
●    25 yards – for an Akron TD in mid-Q3
●    56 yards & 24 yards – for an Akron TD at the end of Q3

If just one of those explosion pass plays were defended with the routine coverage capability that any casual college football fan might expect from a B1G defensive secondary, then NU’s mad-scramble comeback in the game’s final 3:42 might have meant something besides an “honorable mention” in the ‘Cats’ last gasp bid to overcome their monumental 11-point Q4 deficit.

But they couldn’t, so they didn’t… And it sealed their team’s “L” fate for good.  No ‘bout a-doubt it, the pass coverage capabilities of NU’s current defensive secondary don’t come close to retired DB coach Jerry Brown’s 2017 “Sky Team.”     

Not Good Enough – Part 2
For the 3rd consecutive game, NU’s OL was a genuine enigma.  They would block well one down then totally unravel the next.  The ‘Cat OC, in particular, had the most impactful negative play of the game when he executed an ole’ block on his DT who shed the OC’s craptastic blocking attempt, flew into the NU backfield and straight into the grill of Clayton Thorson, forcing the Wildcat QB to fumble the bean at the NU 8 which subsequently bounced into the end zone and was recovered by the Zippity Doo Dah D for a go-ahead TD that gave the visiting team its first lead of the contest.  When the casual observer notes that the Purple OL limited Akron’s defensive front 7 to 4 total TFLs & 2 sacks (which included that forced fumble sack) for the contest, one might quibble that the overall field play by NU’s OL actually wasn’t THAT bad.  However, when that same observer considers the “on paper” talent disparity between the supposedly superior ‘Cat OL personnel and their “inferior” DL counterparts on the opposite side of the LOS, this unit shoulda, woulda, coulda have dominated the competitive proceedings much more than they did.  And the simple point of fact was… They never did exert their dominance over their DL blocking targets with anything that approached regularity; and at various critical times/downs throughout the game, plainly broke down and failed to execute.  That’s how I saw things transpire on the field of play from my 50-yard line vantage point in the West stands through my binoculars – and I ALWAYS watch the physical competition between players lined-up on either side of the LOS first & foremost.  With the on again/off again field play profile of individual ‘Cat OL over the course of the contest, it amplified Clayton Thorson’s overt brain farts failures more than “normal.”  Unfortunately, those mistakes became a key ingredient in the Wildcats’ recipe for losing to the “weakest” of their 2018 slate of opponents.



The fact that the Thorson & Co. had ball in hand with 0:02 left on the scoreboard clock and poised at the Akron 30 yard line to throw a “Hail Mary” pass attempt into the Zippity end zone for a potential “W-stealing TD” was as unimaginable as it was improbable  given the circumstances leading-up to this single game-deciding down. 

After finding themselves looking up from a daunting 11-point hole with a scant 3:42 left to play AND after the Zippity kicking game had failed miserably on what would have been a game-clinching 48-yard FG attempt at the end of their latest offensive series, NU’s yardage production-challenged O was gifted the opportunity to mount an insane comeback that would have been one for the Northwestern football history books.  Without warning, “Good CT” inexplicably reappeared and did his level best in this ‘Cat possession following Akron’s missed FG by completing consecutive passes of 16, 18 and 15 yards, which set a 4th & 10-to-go down at the Akron 24 yard line.  On the ensuing play, Thorson heaved a jump ball to his most reliable WR, Ben Skowronek, who out jumps everyone and miraculously comes down to the endzone turf on one foot an inch inside the end line with ball in hand for an improbable TD that cut the Zippity Doo Dah lead to 5 points.  All this drama had been played-out in a mere 81 seconds.  Next, the onus to continue NU’s comeback bid fell on the Wildcat D; and they delivered the near unthinkable, stoning the Akron O for 3 consecutive TFLs and successfully covered a 4th down pass attempt for an incompletion that stopped the clock with 2 seconds remaining, giving CT and his O that one last gasp shot at redemption & historical (or hysterical) immortality. 

Oh, somewhere in this favoured land the sun is shining bright,
The band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light;
And somewhere men are laughing, and teens still type their tweets,
But there’s no joy for Wildcat Nation – Clayton’s “Hail Mary” fell incomplete.

If only NU’s mad scramble towards redemption from a multitude of offensive & defensive sins could have occurred without Clayton Thorson having hand delivered that damnable 2nd Pick 6 INT to Akron’s DBs at the 7:24 mark of Q4.

The Waterboy
“Win with Grace, Lose with Dignity”

Sept. 14, 2018

“Soft Kitty, Warm Kitty…

Little Ball of 2H!?…”
The “modified” phrase above is taken from a lullaby sung in various episodes from the long-running CBS sitcom, “Big Bang Theory” (although, in truth, the song and lyrics are an altered version of a popular children’s nursery rhyme from Australia; and if one conducted more in-depth research into the song’s history, he/she would discover that its lyrics were plagiarized from a 1937 poem and its melody set to an 18th century Polish folk tune). 

Whatever be the history behind this lullaby, the fact that the Northwestern University Marching Band plays it with unabashed regularity belies the fact that its covert message is, truthfully, a genteel dig, a good natured slap in the face as it were, to the NU Wildcat Football Team.  And since it’s played so frequently at NU football games, IMHO, the NUMB director has no clue regarding this song’s sonic “kick in the crotch” reputation, especially against the “Kitty ‘Cats.”  Unfortunately, when it was played within the context of NU’s veritable sleepwalk grapple against the Dookie Blue Imps last Saturday, it became all the more apropos and deserved.

I must admit, I’ve not witnessed, in person, a more lackluster, wholly unmotivated gridiron bug tussle from a Pat Fitzgerald-coached team than I did in the pillow fight the Wildcats had against their foe from Durham, NC.  And to think that this game was not only the ‘Cats’ 2018 home opener but was widely advertised as a so called “revenge game” that was earmarked by college football pundits as a chance for the ‘Cats to redeem themselves from the embarrassment of the surreal 41-17 “public pantsing” blowout loss at the hands of the Blue Imps in last season’s “Debacle In Durham.”  Instead, this contest metamorphosed into something more reminiscent of a Wildcats’ white flag Saturday scrimmage-game commonly played throughout the Dark Ages of the 1980’s.  Yes, this game was that bad; if not perhaps worse. 

When it comes right down to it, as I trudged out from Dyche’s Ditch west stands, head spinning, I ruminated on what positives, if any, might be gleaned from the trainwreck I just observed.  And, honestly, I could identify only one: The ‘Cats’ first offensive possession.  When the ‘Cats took the opening kickoff, the Wildcat O looked virtually unstoppable.  QB Clayton Thorson started the contest like a house afire, completing 5 passes off 5 attempts for 29 yards and RB Jeremy Larkin popped a 40-yard cutback burst into & through NU’s right A-gap, setting the LOS at the Dookie 4 before many patrons had a chance to settle into their seats.  The Blue Imp D looked shell shocked and, two downs later, capitulated under the unrelenting yardage production pressure of the ‘Cats’ offensive juggernaut, giving the home team easy TD and a 7-0 lead after a scant 5:10 had clicked off the scoreboard clock.  After such a dominating exhibition of offensive power and efficiency, no one in attendance would have ever predicted that this score would represent NU’s first and last points of the game.

But the ugly truth was: this lone score was all the Wildcats could muster in their “revenge game.”

The putrid aroma of this stink bomb of a home opener game will linger long after the ‘Cats players leave the Dyche’s Ditch premises.  My warning to the players dressed in Purple: the stench of this clunker has penetrated deep under your collective skins and will not wash away with plain soap and water fellas.  It will only wear off after a couple weeks of heavy-duty sweat equity practice.  In the meantime, all of you earned the well-deserved humiliation of walking around campus smelling like you just rolled out of an outhouse dung heap. 

I can only hope that this contest’s universal mortification becomes a motivating factor for vastly improved field play across all positions throughout the remainder of this fall’s campaign.  Time and concerted effort will tell. 

How the Blue Imps Forked the ‘Cats – Version 2.0

A True 1st Round Draft Pick 
Nearly everyone associated with the 2018 Northwestern University football program has been effusive in their praise laid at the altar of NU’s latest pigskin prodigy, Senior QB Clayton Thorson, especially when they consider his near miraculous 8-month recovery/rehabilitation timeframe from ACL reconstruction surgery that characteristically has a “standard recovery period” of 12 months.  CT may have hit mark of his target 2018 gridiron return early in his rehab process; but his effectiveness as NU’s primary ball handler is questionable at best, if only because he has “protected status” as the Wildcats’ starting QB.  Simply stated, he doesn’t (or can’t) run with anything approaching speed or elusiveness (in fact, he lopes/scuttles rather than runs); so any rushing option by the Purple starting QB is moot.  He doesn’t (or can’t) even step-up into his pocket protection with the proper fluidity and confidence of a 4th year starting QB.  He receives the long snap from center standing in his customary shotgun position and instantly assumes the mobility profile of a traffic cone.  The across-the-LOS upfield burst & penetration by an opponent’s DL, once CT receives the shotgun snap, is nothing less than a balls-to-the-wall, sell-out because everyone is acutely aware of Thorson’s “footspeed” limitations, particularly regarding any decisive movement to avoid the pressure from a defensive lineman getting into the QB’s grill 1.5 seconds into the play.  And IMHO, NU’s OL is not blocking well enough, at least at this point in the season, to give Thorson more than 2-plus seconds of uncontested freedom to operate in the Wildcat backfield.  It’s a blueprint for failure. 

So what’s the bottom line to this whole Thorson as NU’s current saving grace offensive playmaker?  IMHO, whatever yardage production advantage CT might contribute to the ‘Cat O via his passing strength and accuracy those advantages have been and will continue to be neutralized by his overt lack of true mobility since he’s an enormous sack liability on every passing down.  If all an opposing defensive front 7 does is “rush the QB,” the Wildcat O will exhibit yardage production like they’ve shown against Perdue Broiler Chickens and the Dookie Blue Imps…  In other words, NU will accrue passing yardage numbers but won’t put enough numbers on the scoreboard to make a difference in any game’s final outcome.

As counterpoint to Clayton Thorson, one should take a critical look at Dookie’s QB, Daniel Jones.  In the Blue Imps’ 2017/week 2 evisceration of the eventual 10-3 Wildcats, the final 41-17 blowout score was deceptive.  The Dookie O, led by Mr. Jones, literally chewed-up and spit-out the NU D both through the air and on the ground.  Jones’ passing acumen was on full display as he completed 29 of 45 attempts accumulating 305 yards and 2 TDs in the process.  And his rushing was equally as effective, gaining 114 yards on 16 rushes while tallying another 2 TDs with his legs.  Jones’ contribution to the 2017 game’s final outcome was substantial – 418 yards out of the Dookies’ 561 total yards gained while he scored 4 of his team’s 5 total TDs.

And although Jones didn’t reprise his eye-popping yardage or scoring production from 2017, his dominance in last Saturday’s game proved just as consequential.  All the Dookie 3rd year starting QB did was complete 11 of 14 H-1 pass attempts; and 16 of 22 attempts for 192 yards and 3 TDs by game’s end, accounting for every point scored by the Blue Imps for the afternoon, as he sliced-n-diced NU’s defensive  secondary with the precision and accuracy of a neurosurgeon’s hand.  If it hadn’t been for his early departure from the game at the end of Q3 due to what was diagnosed afterwards as a fractured clavicle, without a doubt, Jones’ final stats would have been even more praise worthy.  The unfortunate thing of it is: Jones looks to be near done for the season after having sustained this broken collarbone which subsequent reports have confirmed required surgery to repair the following Sunday morning.

If anyone was looking for a NFL 1st round draft pick-ready quarterback from this game, look no further than the Dookies’ Daniel Jones.  With a little luck, his injury won’t knock him out of the 2019 draft altogether.  I truly hope not.  Mr. Jones is a class act with true NFL talent. 
The DB Stink Pot
Perhaps Pat Fitzgerald can bring retired former DB coach Jerry Brown back into NU’s football coaching ranks; because current DB coach Matt MacPherson just isn’t getting the job done whatsoever thus far in the Purple’s 2018 campaign.  A one-word descriptor for the overall pass coverage field play from the ‘Cat secondary is: craptastic.  As a collective unit, they seemingly can’t cover anyone, anywhere, at any time.  10-12 yard cushions are commonplace.  Defending an opponents’ “over the top” passes is nothing less than a crapshoot, as explosion passing plays frequently turn the ‘Cats’ secondary personnel into burnt toast.  2 near explosion pass completions – one for 18 yards and another for 17 yards – set-up the Dookie’s first TD of the game.  2 “true” over-20-yards explosion passes – one for 52 yards and another 26-yarder – set-up the Dookie’s 2nd and 3rd TDs, respectively.

Can you see a pattern here? 

Dookie HC David Cutcliffe and his offensive brain trust had an offensive hay day as NU’s secondary didn’t know whether to s#it or go blind, especially in their transitions from run support to pass coverage and visa-versa.  The Blue Imp’s 2nd scoring drive in mid-Q2 was a single play possession featuring a free & clear post route by Dookie WR Johnathan Lloyd after his cover DB, Greg Newsome bit on a play action fake in the Blue Imp backfield.  With Newsome’s gaffe of looking into the Dookie backfield being the foundation of his blown deep zone coverage, the play was a simple over-the-top pitch-n-catch toss from QB Daniel Jones to Lloyd that covered 52 yards and delivered the go-ahead TD for a 14-7 lead which the Blue Imps never relinquished.  On the visitor’s next possession, Cutcliffe and his OC called 5 consecutive rush plays, all of which delivered positive yardage and 2 first downs which forced the ‘Cats’ defensive front 7 back on their collective heels.  Then… when convinced that the Wildcat DBs were cheating in their run support defense, they called for another vertical pass that netted that 26-yard completion against NU’s soft-as-baby-doo-doo pass coverage DBs.  The defensive coverage schemes by the undisciplined ‘Cat secondary were as easily readable as the contents of a circa mid-1700s New England Primer. 

The cause of this piss poor field play is as much the fault of NU’s secondary coaching staff as it was the doggie doo cover techniques by the Wildcat DBs.  I’ll just chalk it all up to the sum of both contributing factors which reconfigured the pass & rush yardage prevention capabilities from NU’s defensive secondary personnel to something that one flushes down a toilet without giving it a second thought. 

The pig wallow aroma that this unit crafted in this “revenge game” will be hard to shed.  Michigan’s offensive coaches will be salivating and licking their chops upon reviewing last Saturday’s game film of MacPherson’s DBs.       
Attrition Rate 
One of the strangest circumstances that occurred over the course of this game was the attrition rate of the ‘Cats’ offensive tackles.  One by one, the injury bug bit the butts of those players populating the 2-deep roster of ‘Cat OTs, forcing these critical “Big Uglies” to ride pine for extended periods of the game.  The first to succumb was 2017 All B1G RT Rashad Slater; then LT Blake Hance (who valiantly tried to “gut it out” but his diminished mobility forced him to the NU sidelines) went down, followed by 2nd team LT Gunnar Vogel, then 2nd team RT Jesse Meyler.  By mid-Q3, NU OL coach Adam Cushing was turning to his 3rd string OTs to assume blocking duties, in particular, RS Frosh RT Ethan Weiderkehr.  Viewing the field play of Vogel, Meyler & Weiderkehr via my field glasses, it was painfully apparent that none of these non-starting OTs was prepared to fill a “next man up” role.  With the Wildcats behind by 2 TDs throughout H-2, OC Mick McCall was coerced into an offensive game plan that was exceedingly pass-centric.  That’s when the Dookie defensive brain trust unleashed their front 7 as they pinned their ears back and blasted these newbie OTs straight back across the LOS & into the NU backfield on a virtual search and destroy mission to nail anyone toting the bean, be it QB or RB.  Was there little wonder why the Wildcat offense sputtered and choked throughout H-2?  The Blue Imp’s final defensive stats reflected the degree to which the Dookie defensive front 7 took full advantage of this very dire situation: 3 sacks; 13 QB hurries and 6 TFLs.  Such wholesale dominance from the sell-out penetration effort by the Dookie DL against NU’s newbie “fill-in” OL personnel isn’t very conducive to mounting any kind of an offensive comeback.  ‘Nuf said.

Dookie HC David Cutcliffe and his OC knew that they had to strike early and often against the Wildcat D, the reputed strongest unit that NU fields.  In order to do so, the Blue Imps had to press the ‘Cat defensive front 7 to perform down after down without a break, which, if done correctly, would wear-down the defenders and open exploitable cracks in the game plan of ‘Cat’ DC Doc Hankwitz.  So they rolled-out their very familiar up-tempo offense in which the visiting team’s offense hardly, if ever, gathered in an inter-down huddle which would afforded the home team’s D a slight breather before they had to execute once more on the following down.  Instead, when the refs reset the ball after a particular play was over and established the new LOS, the Dookie O immediately lined-up across that new LOS, received the next play from their sidelines, re-positioned themselves into the appropriate formation to execute the called play then snapped the ball – all in a matter of 12-15 seconds.

Using an up-tempo offense to keep an opposing defense off-balance and sucking wind is nothing new to the current collegiate football game.  In fact, NU uses it very well whenever it would/might become an effective weapon against a foe whose defense is more methodical (read: slow) to recover from the last executed play, particularly when there is a physical size, speed or skill mismatch between the ‘Cats and their opponent.  This is exactly what happened throughout Q2 of last Saturday’s game.  As soon as the zebras reset the bean for the next down, the Dookie O was getting the call, lining-up in the set to execute the play and the snapping the ball to start the play.  And it was quite effective, especially against the huffing and puffing personnel populating the Wildcat defensive secondary (who, as I stated earlier, became too winded to know whether to “shit or go blind”). 

The great Green Bay Packer HC Vince Lombardi coined a famous quote describing the effect that occurs when any team is standing around, hands on hips and sucking wind between downs: “Fatigue makes cowards of us all.”  Once more… ‘Nuf said.

Frankly, I truly believe that Dookie HC David Cutcliffe has ‘Cat HC Pat Fitzgerald’s number.  Mr. Cutcliffe essentially employed the same game plan for last Saturday’s bug tussle that he did with such overwhelming success in last season’s blowout “W.”  I guess the old adage applies to NU’s last 2 games against the Blue Imps: “If it ain’t broke; don’t fix it.” And without a doubt, the Dookies aren’t broke when it comes to getting the better of the Northwestern Wildcats, either home or away.

There is one other item I must expand upon… and it is this –

Clayton Thorson most definitely is NOT an NFL-ready QB, not by a long shot.  So convinced am I in this opinion, that I’ll venture a prediction right here and now: Thorson won’t get drafted whatsoever in 2019.  No Way.  No How.  In fact, CT won’t even receive a “cup of coffee” flier from an NFL franchise as an undrafted free agent (UDFA) QB.  The main reason is that he’s damaged goods, plain and simple.  Indeed, very damaged.  And being damaged goods, no team at the next level will be willing to entertain the idea of spending the cash and/or filling a spot on either their 53-man roster or their practice squad when CT’s a walking, talking PUP (Physically Unable to Play) liability.  He might get a look-see from the Canadian Football League; but even there, where a QB is protected from harm like a prized pig at the Io_a state fair, his early return from ACL reconstruction surgery paints him with an “Undesirable – Good For Dying” red spot on his chest, like the Russell Crowe character in the film, Gladiator.  If Fitz and NU’s cartel of orthopedic physicians had any cahones to speak of, they would have opted for a red shirt year or petitioned that bastion of integrity and fair play, the NCAA, for a med-shirt 6th year of eligibility for CT in 2018 in order to proffer the Senior QB the required time to fully recover and rehab from this most serious surgical procedure that can befall any football player at any level.  But they didn’t and subsequently we now are witness to the consequential negative results of that very bad “alternative” plan to protect their prized pig QB from further damage: The 2 platoon QB system in which neither quarterback is thriving and will never lead the 2018 Wildcats to even a Tier II bowl bid.

Truly, “If a team has 2 starting QBs; that team has no starting QB.” 

For the last time… ‘Nuf said. 

The Waterboy
“Win with Grace, Lose with Dignity”

A Tribute

If you, my readership, would indulge me at this time, I would like to honor the life and death of an individual who was very influential to me in establishing the foundations for my personality, my perspective on living and my life’s value system.  I’m referring to my only nephew, Edward Julius Mularz III, also known to scores of folks residing in the Cleveland/Northeast Ohio region as “Cowboy Eddie,” who ”shuffled off this mortal coil” this past Labor Day, just days before his 49th birthday. 

A detailed biography of Eddie within this commentary would be much too lengthy to present to you, so allow me to present a written thumbnail portrait of this remarkable individual and the profound impact that he had on most everyone who met him and those who took the time to know him during his 48-year journey upon this Earth, especially me.  

You see, Eddie was born totally deformed on his left side – no viable left leg (which had to be amputated), no left ear, no left kidney, extreme scoliosis of the spine being the most notable maladies among a myriad of other major physical disabilities with which he was birthed.  In fact, his attending pediatricians gave the newborn baby boy a week to 10 days to live and advised his parents, my eldest brother Ed (who was attending NU getting his PhD in Mechanical Engineering) and his bride, Celia, to allow nature to take its course towards post-birth mortality lest this child endure a short life of immeasurable suffering and pain.  However to their credit, his parents realized that the life force in this baby’s heart and mind was too strong, too resilient to succumb to his body’s shortcomings.  And their perspective was spot-on.  Not only did baby Eddie live, he thrived, despite having to withstand/survive dozens of major surgical procedures to “correct” what God and nature didn’t complete following his conception. 

As Eddie matured from a child into an engaging adult, he never allowed himself to be defined by his physical disabilities or appearance, nor did his parents and family (myself included).  His entire family tree treated Eddie like a normal kid, teen, young adult and grown man.  He was very sports oriented throughout his life (he played youth baseball with a prosthetic leg, then transitioned to men’s softball and was a pretty damn good pitcher in either case).  He loved and admired his uncles (my Irish twin brother Ken and me) as we both became well known high school football athletes who eventually garnered athletic scholarships to Notre Dame and NU, respectively; yet he never felt that his life lacked for anything, especially in regards to sports recognition.  He was bound and determined to capture whatever fame and fortune was achievable via his hard work ethic & dedication to his own life aspirations.  And Eddie did just that.  He did well academically, got the grades to attend prestigious St. Ignatius High and then John Carroll University.  He sought a career in radio, in particular as a program engineer and production resource, and never refused a seat in front of some microphone somewhere within the sports radio industry in the greater Cleveland area as a guest commentator.  And that’s the environment into which the “Cowboy Eddie” persona was conceived, nurtured and eventually gained widespread recognition from the sports radio listening public throughout Northeast Ohio.  For years, Eddie was a radio production resource broadcasting live Cleveland sports franchise games: the Indians & Browns, the Gladiators (Arena football) and the Monsters (hockey), for several “boutique” limited-range sports radio businesses and their affiliates that mainly served the Cleveland metro area. “Cowboy Eddie” or “The King of Mul” (short for Mularz, a well-known Polish surname) became an on-air personality who conversed regularly with the principal radio sports talk show host, voicing his counterpoint opinion, as the pair dissected and critiqued recent games to a loyal radio listenership.  It was only when his body’s pulmonary deficiencies (breathing limitations which led to speech/speaking issues) in his early 40s became too intrusive for him to continue on-air dialogs, that convinced Eddie to back away from his beloved radio broadcast responsibilities and towards other viable speech employment opportunities (he was a 1st line nationwide call-in customer service rep for Nissan Corp. for several years).  Unfortunately, it was these monumental pulmonary problems that sealed his limited life prospects.

Throughout my personal, professional and especially my athletic career, Eddie always was and remains my Honest-to-God hero.  He never complained.  Never solicited sympathy regarding “the hand he was dealt.”  He always maintained his composure and humor in the face of his severe physical challenges, especially when his disabilities progressively took their cumulative toll, chipping away at “Cowboy Eddie’s” lifestyle, speaking and travelling abilities, right up to and through his final departure from this mortal coil.  He lived a rich, full life surrounded by those he loved and who loved him.  Over the course of my life, I’ve undergone many major invasive surgeries to address various problems as well, including radical shoulder reconstruction, a high tibia plateau osteotomy, 2 knee replacements and a hip replacement – all of which were profoundly painful and debilitating.  However, it was my nephew Eddie who showed me the appropriate inner resolve, stoicism and PMA (Positive Mental Attitude) necessary to address and overcome the mental & physical discomfort associated with these needed procedures and how to have a hearty laugh at the whole damn mess.

Eddie, my boy, Uncle Ken and I love ya and miss ya A LOT, you big lug nut.  And I hope to see you once again on the other side, in several dozen years or more.

In Memoriam:

Sept. 8, 2018

"If a Team Has Two Starting Quarterbacks...

That Team Has No Starting Quarterback.”
The phrase above is a highly regarded, widely quoted adage among many football experts, especially collegiate coaching staffs and other “knowledgeable commentators.”  IMHO, there’s more than a modicum of truth to it.  In fact, there are scores of examples throughout the history of the college football game which serve as unambiguous verification of the message to be taken from this principle.  Unfortunately for Northwestern’s football program, the current coaching regime has not heeded the red-flag warnings imbedded in this maxim, especially at the start of the current 2018 pigskin season.

Mind you, HC Pat Fitzgerald and OC Mick McCall have one very good reason to employ the unorthodox 2 QB system at the start of the Wildcats’ fall campaign.  NU’s offensive brain trust, on strong recommendation from NU’s medical staff, fully embraced this advice meant to protect their potential 1st round NFL draft prospect QB from becoming yet another regrettable college football footnote that chronicles the consequences faced when a highly talented, universally recognized pigskin prodigy (read: Senior Clayton Thorson) who wasn’t proffered the necessary time to recover adequately from a truly gruesome ACL injury sustained in his last game of the previous season (in CT’s case, against Kentucky in the 2017 Music City Bowl).  As is often the case in an early-return scenario by a full contact sport athlete following post-season ACL surgery, that valued player, all too often, endures the unthinkable – reinjuring his torn ACL in his first or second game after that shortened rehab stint, ostensibly ending his football career.

To this writer, when NU’s offensive brain trust announced that they intended “to heed” the attending medical staff’s sound advice to protect Thorson from such a potential career-ending scenario in his first game following his knee reconstruction surgery, I felt relief that common sense had prevailed.  However, nothing prepared me for the unexpected protocol employed by Fitz & McCall “to shelter” NU’s primary playmaker over its last 2 seasons from a similar disastrous ending due to a premature return to the gridiron: the resurrection of the 2 QB platoon system.

When I witnessed its use on the ‘Cats’ 3rd offensive series of last Saturday’s grapple with the Broiler Chickens, I was both aghast and dismayed.  To be sure, in past gridiron campaigns, Fitz & his OC successfully exercised this riverboat gambler’s approach towards minimizing the threat of further injury to a currently rehabilitating quarterbacking commodity by splitting the QB duties between 2 qualified primary ball handlers – the most recent/notable example being the Kain Colter/Trevor Siemian starting QB tandem experiment in 2012.  Despite a myriad of impending negatives, that 2012 QB platooning paradigm produced relative success, as the ‘Cats opened that season with 4 consecutive wins – a start which, in retrospect, proved to be more an aberration from the norm, especially since this Colter-Siemian collaboration displayed more disturbing field play flaws than consistent playmaking by either QB over those opening 4 W’s.  But the fact remains that the dynamic duo of Colter, as rush-oriented QB, & Siemian, as pass-first QB, rotating as the ‘Cats’ preferred QB whenever or  wherever their individual playmaking talents matched-up against particular foes and specific game situations, worked well enough to deliver admirable win-loss records of 5-3 in the B1G and 10-3 overall by the end of 2012.

But that was then; and this was now.  As his 2018 Wildcats girded themselves throughout their slate of pre-season practices to face the new and improved Perdue Broiler Chickens under 2nd year HC Jeff Brohm, in the B1G’s season opening game in West Laughable, Indiana, HC Fitz unveiled his the executive decision to share the ‘Cats’ quarterbacking responsibilities between his All Everything, returning-from-ACL-surgery 1A QB option, Clayton Thorson, and a newbie 2nd string QB option in redshirt Junior walk-on T.J. Green, who earned the 1B counterpart to Thorson by beating-out talent-laden underclassmen QBs, Aiden Smith and Andrew Marty.

As this drama unfolded before me, I thought to myself, “Is Fitz and McCall off their rockers, or are they both crazy like foxes in rolling-out another 2 starting QB model once again and positioning them front & center stage under the glaring spotlight of the BTN’s Thursday night, prime-time college football broadcast extravaganza.

This totally unexpected move was either gonna be a work of genius (delivering B1G dividends) or a blueprint for disaster (becoming a QB train wreck).

How the ‘Cats Plucked the Broiler-Chickens

Return On Investment  
Several interesting characteristics highlighted Clayton Thorson’s personal journey over the months that passed between his ACL surgery and subsequent rehab endeavors:
  • Everyone involved in CT’s surgical procedure – from NU’s orthopedic surgeons, to the Wildcat coaching staff, to NU’s sports information offices, to CT’s team mates, to his family members – played their part in keeping whatever pertinent information regarding Thorson’s recovery status, that might have been made available for consumption to an inquisitive public, in a virtual informational lockdown.  By design, NU’s entire athletic department infrastructure was directed to keep their individual and collective pie holes shut regarding this subject matter.  When fielding any and all inquiries on Thorson’s current health, positive spin replies were maintained with steadfast discipline on any information which might have exposed any number of newsworthy indicators regarding CT’s rehabilitation progress.  Essentially, NU pumped bright sunshine up the moons of anyone asking – which only added fuel to the truthful or fictitious speculation fires among those posing such questions in their effort to scoop whatever news was available on whether or not Thorson would be field play ready by August 30th.
To quote poet Thomas Gray’s musing… “Where ignorance is bliss; ‘Tis folly to be wise.”
  • The opinions of most college football pundits & prognosticators regarding the projected success or failure in the Wildcats’ upcoming 2018 football season hung heavily on CT’s rehabilitation status, so since they were fed a steady diet of blue skies, blooming flowers and singing songbirds, Thorson’s eventual return as the ‘Cats’ starting QB for Perdue game week was never in very clear to anyone outside the NU football family.  Consequently, the ‘Cats were never any more than soft 3 point dogs in the days leading up to their opening tilt against the Broiler Chickens.  If the ultimate goal of Fitz & NU’s athletic department was to keep the Sin City odds makers and Perdue’s defensive brain trust guessing right up to game time, then mission accomplished.
  • CT never felt sorry for himself in respect to his injury.  Not one bit.  However, while Clayton’s general PMA (positive mental attitude) may be one thing, the reality of his ACL recovery physiology (read: the severity in which his body reacted to an extremely invasive knee reconstruction procedure) is quite another.  What information did leak through the miniscule cracks of NU’s self-imposed news blackout revealed that CT was ahead of the standard 12-month schedule for post-ACL surgery rehabilitation.  Way ahead.  And that accelerated rehab timeframe was due overwhelmingly to the fact that CT simply worked his fanny off to get himself back on the gridiron and in position where he could compete for the starting QB role for NU’s August 30th season opener against the Broiler Chickens.  Expended blood, sweat & tears = ROI.  ‘Nuf said.
Better Than Expected  
With the backdrop of Clayton Thorson’s projected return as NU’s starting QB being the preeminent storyline prior to kick-off, when CT finally did trot out to assume his familiar primary playmaking role on the ‘Cats’ first offensive series, one could almost hear a universal sigh of relief from Wildcat Nation.  Still, what had yet to be determined was the debatable question: “Was CT up to the QB task at hand; or was he going to fall victim to either the physical limitations of his reconstructed right knee or to possible deficiencies regarding his O line’s capacity to keep him upright and his uniform relatively clean from grass stains?”  Those concerns were answered in short order. 

Having been given possession of the bean at the NU 36, following ‘Cat SS J.R. Pace’s INT and 20 yard return of a desperation wounded duck heave by starting Broiler Chicken QB Elijah Sindelar thrown in a vain effort to avoid a sack by the determined pass rush from the Purple DL, Mr. Thorson and his focused OL went right to work.  With Thorson collecting 34 total yards via 4 consecutive pass completions, coupled with 15 more yards via NU’s ground game from the Purple RB tandem of Jeremy Larkin and John Moten IV, plus a giftie 15 additional yards off a boneheaded personal foul penalty by the Perdue D, CT & Co. drove the pill to TD paydirt on their initial offensive drive of the game, giving the ‘Cats a 7-point early lead.
After Doc Hankwitz’ D stoned the Perdue offense into a woeful 3-&-out on their second series and a subsequent change of possession punt, Thorson & Co. began their 2nd possession from virtually the same starting point as NU’s 1st drive, at the ‘Cat 35.  On the second play from scrimmage, Mick McCall’s starting RB Jeremy Larkin rip-off a nifty 46-yard scamper that included a highlighted reel worthy slobber-knocker stiff-arm from Larkin to the noggin’ of Broiler Chicken CB Tim Cason that knocked the Perdue DB 5 full yards off his angle of pursuit. After Larkin’s burst to daylight, the ‘Cat O was in scoring mode once at the PU 13.  3 plays later, Thorson & Co. converted their 2nd TD in as many possessions to take what appeared to be a commanding 14-zip lead. 

Having delivered the bean on target and in stride to his receiver targets on every pass thrown over these first 2 offensive series, CT tallied 6 completions off his first 7 tosses (with that lone incompletion being a drop of a well thrown ball by an open WR).  If anyone sitting either in the coaches’ box or the Ross-Aid Stadium stands had any misgivings regarding Clayton Thorson’s readiness to successfully execute his QB responsibilities at a B1G conference level against the 3-point favored Broiler Chickens, those doubts were summarily put to rest at the 5:34 mark of Q1.  

Indeed, Clayton Thorson was poised and prepared to pilot the Purple Pökelboot much better than anyone might have expected (other than his coaches & team mates, of course) in his first game back as McCall’s #1 QB.  12 month standard ACL recovery time be damned.
Cushing’s OL Version 2.0 
There were many lingering questions whether or not the Wildcat OL would or could carry their reputed reliable field play prowess from the last half of the 2017 campaign into this season’s out-of-conference slate of games.  After all, a bafflingly trend of OL coach Adam Cushing’s squad in recent seasons has been that, over the course of the OOC, the overall blocking competency from the Purple “Big Uglies” was hampered severely by missed assignments on rushing downs and/or “ole’ blocks” on passing downs which exposed Thorson to harassment and/or hits much too frequently.  And given Thorson’s fragility from off-season ACL surgery, preventing any & all harassment or hits on CT wasn’t merely unacceptable, it was this unit’s #1 priority goal.  Nobody wearing an Old Gold-hued Perdue helmet was to lay a hand on Thorson… No Body, No Way, No How.  Period, End of story!  Cushing’s OL delivered the blocking goods in spades with -
  • ZERO SACKS from the Broiler Chickens’ DL
  • One TFL given-up for the entire game
  • Executing textbook blocking technique(s) against Perdue’s defensive front 7 that became the foundational launchpad to RB Jeremy Larkin’s collegiate career single game rushing record of 143 net yards on 26 carries.
Again, ‘Nuf said…
The “Wildcat” Way
To limit all unnecessary hits to Thorson, whenever the ‘Cats moved the bean within 10 yards of the Perdue goal line, OC Mick McCall’s rolled-out a game plan employing several unique, but effective offensive formations coupled with a set of plays designed specifically to maximize the yardage production potential via one-on-one blocking matchups that favored the Wildcat’s red zone offense personnel.  

If the ball was placed 2 yards or closer to the Broiler Chicken goal line, McCall sent-in 2nd teamer T.J. Green as his QB of choice to execute all QB sneaks from that short down/distance LOS.  NU’s standard version of the QB sneak always employed the now-legal “Bush Push” technique executed by a Superback who would shift from his initial slot position to a pre-snap position behind an OG and immediately adjacent Green, who was always set under/behind the center and prepared to receive the snap directly into his hands.  At the snap, the ‘Cat OL would use a collective wedge/phalanx block technique (with the OC as point and each OL to either side setting his helmet on the outside hip of the OL teammate to his inside), driving his feet/legs for all he’s worth to get appropriate push across the LOS.  Meanwhile, the QB (read: T.J. Green), with ball in hand via the center snap, positioned his helmet/pads into the target “A gap” (the point-of-attack seam between the selected OC & OG tandem), driving his feet/legs for all he was worth in his own right.  Simultaneously, the SB would take a sideways step to reposition himself directly behind the QB, literally put both hands on the QB’s butt and push him across the LOS.  At the start of this plow-horse QB sneak, it’s very commonplace that the initial charge of the OL against the opposing DL would be neutralized into a scrum-like mass of humanity on either side of the LOS.  The “Bush Push” gives that extra “oomph” needed to move that mass of humanity and the ball (in the hands of the QB) across the LOS and, if executed correctly, another full 1-2 yards beyond, before the QB would get dog piled-on by the defensive 2nd level (LBs & Safeties) and collapse to the turf under a ton or more of “Big Uglies” from either team. 

Needless to say, using a vulnerable Clayton Thorson with his newly repaired knee is NOT an option when executing this QB sneak as all that “beef on the hoof” wrestled one another.  Subsequently, with T.J. Green having substituted Thorson at the QB position, T.J.’s “Bush Push” QB sneak in Q2 was successful at scoring the 3rd TD of H-1 for the ‘Cats.  

However, the most innovative play calling was the use of the “Wildcat” series once the ‘Cat O drive positioned the LOS deep into the Broiler Chicken red zone.  This Wildcat series employed RB Jeremy Larkin as QB, set 5-yards deep from the LOS in shotgun formation, poised to receive the direct long snap from center then execute the read option with a second tandem RB, usually John Moten IV, positioned to JL’s side as the wide rush option back.  With ball in hand received via the shotgun snap from the OC, all Jeremy had to do was run this option RB tandem straight towards the DE defending the designed/chosen point-of-attack defensive edge; read which of the two option backs the DE eventually committed to cover (either Moten or himself); then allow the uncovered RB (which, against Perdue, was always JL) to tote the bean across the LOS and downfield towards the Broiler Chicken end zone.  On the ‘Cats’ last possession of H-1, Mr. Larkin executed the Wildcat formation read option with surgical precision, keeping the ball in hand and pushing it across the goal line for a TD that expanded NU’s lead to 31-17 just before the halftime intermission.

Again, relegating Thorson to riding pine on the ‘Cat sidelines away from harm, particularly when Big Human Beings with bad attitudes are intent on bludgeoning the other Human Being on the other side of the LOS during these short field red zone downs, was the most prudent thing to do once the scrimmage line was established within the shadow of the Purdue goal posts.  Add the salient point that RB Jeremy Larkin, assuming the role of NU’s primary ball handler out of the Wildcat set, was executing the read option play’s duties with a confidence and decisiveness that kept the Perdue D back on their heels, the personnel switch from Thorson to Larkin whenever McCall exercised his Wildcat series was a no brainer decision. 

Wildcat Nation… Be prepared to witness much more of this critical personnel switch whenever the Wildcat series is called-upon during red zone downs.  It works very well.
Newsome In and Sindelar Out
DC Doc Hankwitz’ defensive front 7 did its best to keep the Perdue O bottled-up; however, there were several field play breakdowns which were exploited by the Broiler Chicken offense that resulted in significant explosion plays which kept the home team within scoreboard striking distance over the entirety of the game.  And most were delivered in H-1 by Perdue’s starting QB Elijah Sindelar, WR Jared Sparks and, most notably, true Frosh WR Rondale Moore.

If RB Jeremy Larkin is NU’s recognized premier fleet of foot athlete (besides, perhaps, Senior Jelani Roberts), Perdue’s “Wunderkind” speedster, Rondale Moore, is the Boiler Chickens’ version of Usain Bolt.  Mr. Moore is lightening swift (he has clocked an honest 4.33 40 yard dash) and eye-blink quick (he can break the ankles of pursuing DBs with regularity via a precision turn-of-foot and an elusive change of direction that defies description).  And both were on full display in the Broiler Chicken’s first two TD scoring drives of H-1. 

After the ‘Cats built their 14-zip lead in Q1, it was Sindelar who kick-started the Broiler Chicken comeback. Having converted on 3 consecutive passes for medium gains, the PU QB threw a 20-yard frozen rope in stride & on target to his Lightning Bolt WR Moore, who snatched the bean at the NU 12, left his cover DB, Wildcat SS Jared McGee, grasping at thin air, then sprinted untouched into Perdue end zone for the home team’s first TD of the game, cutting the ‘Cats’ lead to 14-7.

On the Broiler Chickens’ next possession, Mr. Moore flashed his speed demon quickness once again on a perfectly executed jet sweep in which the Frosh went into motion from his initial slot position, received the handoff from Sindelar immediately behind the Perdue OC at the NU 24 yard line then the attacked NU’s left defensive edge.  With ball in hand, Moore made a cheetah-like cut downfield to his right inside a well-executed inside-out seal block by a pulling LOT against ‘Cat edge defender, Sam LB, Nate Hall.  Then once he gets by Hall, Moore makes a 2nd cut to his left, back out towards the wide-field sideline just as PU WR Terry Wright lays an outside-in block on ‘Cat SS J.R. Pace, sealing the safety to the middle zone and cleanly out of the play.  When Moore sees ‘Cat CB Trae Williams close on him straight upfield and into his grille for a potential takedown tackle, the Perdue WR plants his left foot into the turf, makes a 3rd cut, this time to his right once more, just inside the closing Williams, who had lowered his head and eyes for his expected hit on Moore.  With his face lowered just prior to contact, all Trae accomplished was to lose sight of Moore for a fraction of an instant (read: horrendous tackling technique).  The “heads-up” Moore recognized Trae’s self-induced “blind spot” and took full advantage of the CB’s tackling gaffe with this 3rd cut downfield to the inside of the now stumbling Williams, juking the Purple CB out of his jockstrap and out of the play at the same time.  Now free & clear of all Wildcat DBs, Moore cuts for the 4th time, again to his left and out to the sideline and sees nothing but green grass ahead of him along the sideline.  Moore ignites his afterburners and leaves any remaining ‘Cat defenders in his rear view mirror as he races down the sidelines 72 yards to the NU end zone, scoring the TD that knots the score at 14 apiece. 

Note:    I must admit… I haven’t witnessed a similar combination of vision, elusiveness and outright pure speed in a collegiate football player since I saw Notre Dame WR legend Raghib “Rocket” Ishmail do his thing for TSISB some 30 years ago.  IMHO, Perdue’s Rondale Moore is the second coming of the “Rocket.” 

Upon seeing this overt lack of tackling discipline, along with a couple other missed tackles and a penalty to boot in H-1, Doc concluded that CB Trae Williams was overmatched in his attempts play the CB position, especially when covering Mr. Moore.  A change was due, if only to give another DB the chance to defend Moore with any kind of consistency. 

Enter 2nd string CB Greg Newsome in relief of Williams.  Although Newsome never truly shut down Moore, Greg did show that he was up to the challenge, at least when it came to keeping Moore from delivering further explosion plays for the Broiler Chicken O for the remainder of the game.  One contributing factor that must be mentioned regarding Newsome’s relatively better CB field play, he didn’t have to cover Moore with Elijah Sindelar throwing the bean to the true Frosh WR.  After Sindelar tossed his 3rd INT of H-1, Perdue HC Jeff Brohm benched him and turned Perdue’s QB reins over to his 2nd team QB, David Blough.  And although Blough had his moments, the aerial connection magic between Sindelar and Moore was broken and not to be reprised for the rest of the contest.

Frankly, this victory was not a thing of beauty.  In fact, the NU versus Perdue game was what I’d best describe as a full spaghetti Western – a combination of The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. 

The Good:
  • Clayton Thorson’s welcome and successful return to effective, efficient QB field play in his first game back following ACL surgery – after only 8 months of rehab rather than the expected 12.
  • The Wildcat OL’s return to their dominating blocking form that was characteristic throughout the last half of the 2017 season – with 4 TDs scored via the Wildcat ground game in this first contest of 2018. 
  • ‘Cat RB Jeremy Larkin’s career single game rushing day (143 yards on 26 carries) set-up by the bullet point immediately above.
  • Three INTs by NU’s defensive secondary that directly lead to 3 ‘Cat TDs and to the benching of Elijah Sindelar, the Boiler Chicken’s best passing QB who torched the NU secondary throughout most of H-1. 
  • The Wildcat O had ZERO turn overs.

The Bad:
  • The executive decision by Wildcat HC Fitz and OC Mick McCall to reprise the 2 QB platoon system that they’ve turned-to in past seasons, to mixed results.  IMHO, it was the wrong thing to do for the right reason. And although its negative impact on the game’s final outcome was limited, the offensive game plan to swap Thorson with T.J. Green per a pre-determined number of offensive possessions, without regard to the existing positive momentum established by CT in his first 2 offensive series, was counterproductive and just plain wrong.  I guess that’s why Fitz is HC and I’m a fan in the stands. 
  • Doc Hankwitz’ defensive front 7 allowed a whopping 202 yards net rushing by a Boiler Chicken ground game considered mediocre by many pundits and pre-game prognosticators – although 72 yards were accrued via WR Rondale Moore’s highlight reel jet sweep for PU’s game tying TD in Q1 and another 45 yard explosion rush booked by RB D.J. Knox that launched Perdue’s 3rd TD scoring drive in Q3.  Simply stated, this level of ground game yardage production against a strong NU rush D is unacceptable, especially from a 2nd tier B1G rushing team like the Broiler Chickens.

The Ugly:
  • As  predicted, Perdue went pass happy on NU’s defensive secondary, allowing Broiler Chicken QB tandem of Elijah Sindelar (18 completions on 30 attempts) and David Blough (12 completions on 16 attempts) to move the Perdue O downfield via their aerial attack with occasional abandon.  This porous pass defense by the Wildcat secondary will not play-out competitively against the more talented passing offenses that the ‘Cats will face in future 2018 games, like Duke next weekend.
  • The Wildcat D’s frustrating early-season tendency to allow opposing offenses to collect numerous explosion plays (that gain 20-plus yards) which can & will neutralize the results of time-consuming drives by the Wildcat O.  Again, this tendency will scorch the ‘Cats’ behinds badly on any one game’s final scoreboard tally, particularly when facing the stronger, more balanced offenses of future B1G West Division foes, like Wisky and Io_a.
  • Featured offensive playmaker, Frosh WR Rondale Moore, setting an all-time Perdue football program record for accrued yardage for a single player, in a single game: 79 yards rushing; 109 yards receiving and 125 yards on kickoff returns for 313 yards total gained in this game alone.  To be sure, Moore is a very rare difference-making offensive talent; but to allow a true Frosh to run roughshod over a seasoned D like the ‘Cats possess, with returning veterans populating most every position across the defensive 2-deep roster, in his very first game as a collegiate football athlete, is plain unacceptable.

The Wildcats better get better in one hellova hurry before they play that team from Durham, NC that is heading into Dyche’s Ditch this coming Saturday who embarrassingly undressed the ‘Cats in their worst defeat of the season in 2017.

The Waterboy
“Win with Grace, Lose with Dignity”

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

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