Dec. 1, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

The Waterboy
“Win with Grace, Lose with Dignity”

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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