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”

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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