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:

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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