Nov. 14, 2014

Embrace The Suck

It was morbidly curious that after the Iowa debacle of November 1st, Northwestern HC Pat Fitzgerald uttered what must be considered the most poignant catch phrase of the 2014 season when he referenced the quote: “Embrace the suck” in an interview conducted during the week leading up to last Saturday’s “game” against a woefully under-coached and immensely skill position-challenged team like the Michigan Dazed & Blue Horde.  I truly haven’t a clue why Fitz, who very deservedly has come under progressively intense, pointed criticism regarding his many mind-boggling poor game-time coaching decisions throughout the course of NU’s latest multi-game losing streak against some of the weakest B1G competition that the ‘Cats will face in this fall’s campaign, would turn to this particularly telling phrase.  In critiquing Fitz’s use of this phrase, especially at this juncture of a season when the Wildcat football team, once again, looks like a rudderless ship adrift in a sea of overwhelming gridiron opposition, I will state categorically that it underscored just how far things have spiraled in Fitz's ninth season as HC of the football Wildcats.  Not only was the phrase resoundingly misused, it was the ultimate kick in the solar plexus to each and every player listed on the current team’s roster. 

Now, a bit of context.  “Embrace the Suck” is modern military speak (a.k.a. “warrior slang”), and in particular, a US Marine crafted vernacular (rumored a by-product from 2010 Operation Iraqi Freedom) with the meaning (paraphrased): “The situation (that we are in) is bad; so deal with it or die.”  Essentially it’s equivalent to the WWII military anachronisms: FUBAR (Facked-Up Beyond All Recognition) or SNAFU (Situation Normal - All Facked-Up).  In battlefield usage, it’s considered “black humor” or levity used by soldiers facing a deadly scenario to defuse or lighten its frightening implications.  Subsequently, the phrase’s context transitioned into urban vernacular and has come to mean “the work at hand sucks (is unpleasant, distasteful, “not part of your job description”) but do it anyways because you’re the most skilled individual to complete it successfully” and, at its core, is considered a backhanded compliment.

I must admit, despite my previous understanding of this phrase and its context, from both a military and urban urchin perspective, I cringed when I heard Fitz had used it when referring to NU’s 2014 football season.  Was the use of this key phrase Fitz’ professional white flag?  Was it his personal admission that the current season was a bust?  What did the players think when they heard it? 

I know how I felt… equal parts embarrassment, confusion and, in particular, unfettered anger, for the first time ever, at Fitz as a Wildcat HC. 

By using this catch-phrase, Fitz has become his very own very bad joke, a caricature of himself, clapping on the sidelines, huddling together with the special team unit of the moment (especially the KO or PR team), directing them regarding field play strategy and specifics, then watching slack-jawed as that unit trots onto the gridiron then delivers the latest brain-fart play in the current game’s seemingly endless string of brain-farts by the very players who just received his situational coaching instructions.  Now the casual fan might understandably retort that this latest brain-fart play was totally accountable on the players who failed to execute as instructed.  I say the root cause for brain-farts such as these runs much deeper than that superficial explanation.  IMHO, Fitz has lost contact with his players; and conversely, the players are totally through listening to Fitz and his instructions delivered in his inimitable cheer leading, rah-rah, “let’s get ‘em” styled coach-speak.  And the use of the “Embrace the Suck” catch-phrase, especially when any Wildcat fan considers that it was uttered during the intervening week between last Saturday’s debacle against the Iowa HogEyes, a game that was most reminiscent of those woeful blowouts played-out during NU’s Dark Ages, and last weekend’s “push me/pull you” bug-tussle against a totally inept and ripe for evisceration Michigan team, underscores that Fitz now has extricated himself from personal accountability for his team’s field play results.  Fitz would have been much better served had he simply uttered the banal refrain from his original mentor, the deceased Randy Walker, frequently spoken during post-game interviews following train wreck games: “That really wasn’t us out there.” 

This team deserves better game week and in-game coaching.

How the ‘Cats Out-Sucked the Dazed & Blue Horde

More No-O Suck
At the half, I turned to my good friend seated to my left and stated, “This game is nothing but a bug-tussle.” Although the observation elicited a chuckle and some eye rolling between us, I couldn’t have been more serious in the assessment.  The offenses from both NU and Michigan literally sleepwalked through the game’s first 30 minutes, with the head-scratching futility of either combatant’s attempts to move the ball with any consistency clearly underscored when one reviewed the halftime statistics – 

First downs: NU - 7; Mich - 6 
Rushing yards: NU - 9; Mich - 58 
Total yards gained: NU - 128; Mich - 107
3rd down conversions: NU - 3 for 9; Mich - 1 for 7 
Score at the half: NU - 0; Mich - 0

To say both offenses resembled a pair of dung beetles wrestling in a death-match prizefight over a wildebeest turd on a barren patch of sunbaked mud on the Serengeti Plain was an extreme understatement.  At best, it was an enormous amount of exertion expended by both combatants with zero to show for the effort.   To the great chagrin of Wildcat Nation, the ‘Cat O unfortunately reprised their putrid yardage production performance from the prior weekend’s Iowa game and merely extended it well into this one.  And mind you, the Dazed & Blue D was undeniably more porous and susceptible to even a mediocre passing attack than any other defense from any other team I had seen this year, including non-NU football games viewed on TV.  That Wildcat OC, Mick McCall, and his scoring-challenged O, led by his one legged starting QB, Trevor Siemian, could not or did not take advantage of this weak-sister Michigan defense was beyond unbelievable; it was wholly inexcusable.  

And just when you thought that the incomprehensible ineptitude of the ‘Cats’ O couldn’t get much worse than what already was witnessed through H-1, NU’s offensive spectacle in Q3 was something produced and directed straight out of central casting for a Harold Pinter theater of the absurd stage play.

First absurd item of note: NU’s rushing total for Q3 was minus 29 (-29).  That’s correct, a negative 29 yards rushing – adjusted for the yardage lost due to 3 sacks (of -9, -2 & -21 yards, respectively) laid on an immobile, traffic cone-like Trevor Siemian.  Combine those negative yards with TS’ equally horrific Q3 passing stats: 3 completions on 6 attempts for 11 total yards, and the ‘Cats’ total Q3 yardage production was minus 18 (-18), with 3-&-outs (and, of course, zero 1st downs) on each of their 4 possessions during that fateful, game-deciding quarter.  Yet, Fitz and his OC, Mick McCall, demonstrating their superior wisdom and experience as they exercised their selective “Next Man Up” substitution philosophy exception towards their starting QB, continued to call Siemian’s number as their QB of choice, throwing the now re-injured senior quarterback quite literally to the rabid Mich Wolves, without any hope for reprieve.  If I was Siemian’s father, I would have elbowed my way to the Wildcat sidelines and insisted that my son be benched to avoid permanent injury and further embarrassment.  But not his HC or OC, because both apparently were singularly focused on “Embracing the Suck.”

NU’s second notable absurdity occurred during their 1st offensive series of Q3, off a “hey what” fumble by the Dazed & Blue O when the OC snapped the bean directly into the shoulder of WR Devin Funchess as he crossed behind him while in motion (a bungled direct snap from center play to the WR in motion… who knows?) that was recovered by the ‘Cat D at the Mich 27, giving Siemian and Co. their first, best chance to convert this “gimme” change of possession into the game’s first points for either team.   The plays for this critical series: a commendable PBU by a Mich DB defending a well-thrown, on-target vertical pass from TS to WR Tony Jones; followed by a 5-yard gain off a bubble screen to Prater; then yet another frustrating too-short pass completion in which the target WR, Dan Vitale, failed to run a disciplined square-out route beyond the 1st down marker once again, leaving the ‘Cat O a 4th-&-2 down.  The Suck just kept on coming as newbie K Jack Mitchell’s subsequent 27-yard FG flew wide left.   Embrace it.

Next on NU’s absurdity hit-list, was what occurred during the ‘Cats’ 2nd Q3 possession that followed the Dazed & Blue’s multi brain-fart punt that sailed a scant 36 yards and whose length was reduced another 10 yards off a holding infraction that handed the Wildcat O their next best starting field position at the Mich 49 and its second consecutive scoring opportunity possession thus far in the contest.  A 6-yard pass completion followed by a 3-yard rush put the bean on the Dazed & Blue 40 yard line, giving the Wildcat offense a welcome 3rd & 1 scenario with a chance to capture its first 1st down of H-2 and extend the current drive towards a possible first score.  That’s when NU’s offensive brain trust simply imploded.   Mich HC Brady Hoke countered this crucial 3d-&-1 down by using a 4x4, 8-in-the-box defensive formation with a DL “gap” set where his 2 DTs were aligned strategically in both A gaps on either side of NU’s OC and his Will LB blitzing into the POA (point of attack) gap to blast into & through the gap and stone the ‘Cat ball carrier at or behind the LOS.  Facing such daunting in-the-box numbers demands a simple, yet effective short-yardage, power rush play: the QB sneak, to bulldoze the center of the LOS for that desperately needed 1 yard.  But no, a stubborn McCall calls for a lazy handoff to his RB positioned in I-formation behind his QB in a shotgun set to attack a B gap that was already plugged by a shooting Dazed & Blue big ugly and reinforced by that heat-seeking Will LB poised to stuff the ball at that exact POA.  No audible, no time-out, no tactical play change from the sidelines.  Just clench your teeth and butt cheeks then execute a throwback mano-a-mano RB dive behind an injury-riddled, patchwork-quilt OL who compiled a ground attack blocking profile that had generated 9 total yards on 19 rush attempts over the first 35 minutes of the game.  And if that stat wasn’t enough to coerce you to rethink your play call, the Mich D used similar numbers-in-the-box formations on virtually every ‘Cat 3rd-&-short down up to this juncture, all of which stoned nearly every B gap rush from NU for little to no gain.  Fitz, Mick, did you honestly think this play was the correct short yardage option against the 10th-ranked rush defense in all of Division 1A that had stuffed you like a Thanksgiving turkey throughout H-1?  Even the highly effective ground-n-pound rushing attacks fielded by the Wisky or BuckNut offenses surely would have recognized the minute possibility of gaining that valuable 1 yard via this suspect dive play and called another one more suited to attack this every-available-defender-in-the- box formation… like a QB sneak.  Of course, this slow-developing RB dive was summarily stoned behind the LOS for a 1-yard loss, as forecast.  On the following 4th-&-2 down, McCall called upon his usual, highly-predictable short dumper pass; and holding true to form with every other NU receiver running a similar short dink-n-dunk pattern on 3rd down in 2014, the target WR, Garrett Dickerson, not only failed to run his crossing route beyond the 1st down marker (only 2-yards downfield, mind you), he ran the crossing route at such a leisurely pace that he failed to gain even a modicum of separation from his obviously slower cover MLB, who broke-up Siemian’s telegraphed 2-yard pitch-n-catch toss easily.  Talk about “Embracing the Suck!” 

And last, but certainly not the least item registered in NU’s Q3 absurdity list, happened on the ‘Cats’ possession following SS Ibrahim Campbell’s INT at the Wildcat 16 and subsequent 79-yard highlight reel return where he was tackled finally at the Mich 15 yard line – which proffered NU its best starting field position for the game, by far.  However, all expectations for a quick-strike score were vaporized into thin air when the ‘Cat O was rudely thrown for yardage losses totaling 28 yards on 3 consecutive plays – the worst of which occurred on the Wildcat’s 3rd-&-17 down when Siemian’s inability to use his rub-challenged feet to avoid the Dazed & Blue pass rush was exacerbated when he was called for an obvious intentional grounding penalty as he stood like a traffic cone within the OT slot and heaved the bean downfield rather than get wrestled down to the Dyche’s Ditch turf, resulting in a minus 21-yard play. 

At that juncture, the Wildcat D’s 2 INTs, coupled with the Dazed & Blue’s punt unit gaffe, had hand-delivered 3 gift-wrapped possessions into the ‘Cat O’s lap, all in Mich territory in Q3; and Mick McCall and his hobbled QB failed in monumentally epic fashion to convert any of those offensive opportunities into desperately needed points.  This exhibition of explicit offensive ineptitude throughout Q3 was the worst for the Wildcat O in the 2014 campaign, out-trumping the H-1 offensive train wreck against the HogEyes a weekend earlier, simply because the ‘Cat D had provided hard fought-for starting field position possessions with short green to the opponent’s endzone, any of which, if converted into scores of any sort, undoubtedly would have made a huge contribution in momentum shift and field play control to the ‘Cats.  

Fitz’ Suck now had an ever-tightening stranglehold around the ‘Cats’ throat.           

Special Teams Suck
Special team play for this game was a mixed bag of the good paired with the very bad. 

Highlighting the good was the FG D’s 5th block of 2014 when the unit beat-back a Mich 41-yard attempt just before halftime to preserved the kiss-your-sister 0-0 tie.

The bad began when Wildcat P Chris Gradone’s problematic punting demon reared its ugly head once more early in the game as he shanked his first boot of the afternoon for an inconsequential 24-yarder.  That same fickle demon bit Gradone’s substitute P, Hunter Niswander, flush in his backside when he shanked his first punt of the season for a paltry 20 yards, giving the Dazed & Blue O possession at the NU 44.  Luckily, the Dazed & Blue O bumbled-away this short-field gift with a 3-n-out series of their own.  The ‘Cats’ kicking game woes continued, as mentioned above, when PK Jack Mitchell booted his first FG attempt of the contest, a 36-yarder, wide left 80 seconds into Q3 that would have given NU a 3-0 lead. 

However, the game-changing special teams gaffe occurred when PR Tony Jones misjudged the flight of the Mich punt following the Dazed & Blue’s stalled 2nd possession of Q3, opted against calling for a fair catch (which he had done with regularity since he was installed as PR substitute for NU’s injured and unavailable starting PR, Miles Schuler), scrambled forward to catch up and position himself underneath the falling bean, and simply muffed the ball, allowing it to split his hands then tumble to the turf, where it was devoured immediately by the Dazed & Blue punt cover team at the NU 21 yard line.  Rather than follow the Wildcat’s example for offensive ineptitude when faced with a short field to paydirt, the yardage generation-challenged Dazed & blue O collected itself and went for the jugular, completing a 18 yard quick strike pass, that was followed by a well-blocked 3-yard rush for the first TD of the game and the lead.

The ‘Cats’ analog Suck-o-Meter dial was red-lined by NU’s Fitz-coached not-so-special teams, and that dial never fell below that red line. 

No Guts – No Glory
I agreed whole-heartedly with Fitz’ crucial decision to go for the 2-point after TD conversion attempt once the ‘Cats had cut the Dazed & Blue lead to 9-10 off a circus TD catch by WR Tony Jones at the 0:03 mark of Q4.  And I still do days later.  Owning to the overwhelming multiple scoring opportunity failures and yardage production difficulties endured by the ‘Cats’ struggling O throughout the game, it was the most logical option to pursue – to avoid overtime and reach for the brass ring represented by those game-clinching 2-points after TD if the Wildcats were ever going to capture the contest’s “W” flag. 

Unfortunately, McCall’s 2-point conversion play call depended heavily on the resiliency of Siemian’s injured right ankle holding up long enough to execute a sprint-8 option pass play into the Dazed & Blue right defensive edge without issue.  However, that idea was nothing more than wishful thinking.  TS re-tweaked his ailing ankle on an overtly stupid QB keeper rush that dropped TS on a hard shot to the legs just 1-yard short of a 1st down at the Mich 39 with 2:04 left on the game clock, and left him visibly limping as he fought through those returned pain bodies.  On this, the game’s most critical play, TS received the snap from center then turned and sprinted to the Mich D’s right edge with ball in hand, cocked at chin level prepared for a precision throw to any open WR in his field of vision.  The Dazed & Blue DE to the POA recognized the QB sprint to his defensive edge and drove hard upfield to cut off the route of the Purple QB’s sprint towards his contain area and compress Siemian’s operational area back towards the ‘Cat backfield.  This upfield drive by the edge DE forced Trevor to pull up, to apply the brakes, so to speak, to his sprint motion with his feet/legs, which, if done successfully, would have used the DE’s own upfield momentum to take this edge defender even further and deeper upfield away from the QB and out of the play, leaving TS upright in the vacated space just above the right defensive edge/corner area, scanning the short and middle sideline zones in the Mich secondary for that open receiver.

Unfortunately, the force required for Siemian’s foot plant to successfully engage that pull-up or braking action to temporarily arrest the forward momentum of his sprint-out motion was too much to handle, as Siemian’s right ankle gave out on the and he crumpled to the turf in a heap.  Game Over.  


As I exited Ryan Field I overheard at least a dozen individual Wildcat fans who voiced Fitz’ latest coach-speak catch phrase: “Embrace the Suck;” and not a single utterance was complimentary.  Personally, I took a rather restrained degree of satisfaction from the fact that the ‘Cats weren’t blown out of Dyche’s Ditch, as I had fully expected prior to the game’s opening whistle, and remained competitive throughout the contest.  But then again, upon further review of the competitive profile of the NU’s opponent from Annie’s Teehouse, Michigan, I came to an unavoidable conclusion that the 2014 version of the Dazed and Blue Horde, under the faltering mentorship of their soon-to-be-unemployed HC, Brady Hoke, was competitively on par with the victory-challenged Wildcats – meaning both combatants represented very bad teams each coached by an equally ineffectual head coach.  My next unavoidable conclusion was that the game, indeed, proved to be little more than a dung beetle bug-tussle over a turd ball rolling around the green pasture of Dyche’s Ditch. 

The unremarkably bland flavor resting on my palette at the end of the contest quickly turned sour at the thought. 

The Waterboy
“Win with Grace, Lose with Dignity”

He’s a Lumberjack
This week’s Lumberjack Trophy is awarded to ‘Cat LB, Anthony Walker, Jr.

This well-deserved presentation commemorates the de-cleater shot delivered by this Red-Shirt Frosh Mike LB against Dazed & Blue RB, Drake Johnson, on the very first play of H-2 resulting in a 1-yard TFL.  Upon receiving the handoff from his QB the Mich RB then immediately bent or cut-back his route to the LOS away from its original intended POA near or around the left A gap area and into an open lane in the backside area immediately to the right of his line of blocking OL.  Mr. Walker had a unobstructed view of the handoff free and clear of any fronting blocker then, reacting to this read, quickly drove hard upfield across the LOS into the Mich backfield, his cross hairs fixed firmly on the Dazed & Blue ball carrier, to meet and greet the bean toting Mr. Johnson with extreme prejudice just as he initiated his cut back move into that open backside lane.  When he did, the crack of pads reverberated throughout Ryan Field, as the Mike LB hit the Mich RB squarely, lifted him clear off his feet and planted him firmly to the turf of Dyche’s Ditch. 

Classic tackling technique, to be sure.  Congratulations, Anthony.

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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