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”

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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