Sept. 21, 2017






Preface

It’s true – I didn’t submit my expected commentary analyzing the ‘Cats’ comprehensive dismantling in last Saturday’s game against the Dookie Blue Imps.  In doing so, I had evoked the to-be-judiciously-employed submission escape clause in my journalistic contract with Hail To Purple’s editor in chief (name withheld to protect both innocent and guilty parties alike, but most of you know who he is anyways), the gist of which reads: “Ask For Forgiveness rather than Ask For Permission.”  I must admit to have commenced writing said commentary on at least a half dozen occasions in the workweek days following the Dookie disaster, all of which ended-up becoming a deep dive into what many among my readership would have appropriately defined as a rant piece.  Mind you, I’m not immune to the rant, especially when spending an inordinate amount of time in video replay review of specific downs/plays meant to confirm and/or verify a targeted field play point-of-observation at hand that is intended to receive my “insightful evaluation” content.  In doing so, I consistently fell into the dark abyss of depression and wrath-filled prose – not a very good place to reside when attempting to maintain one’s focus and decorum on providing the “why” of a particular play rather than the regretful and anger-inducing “what” of the same play.  After having thrown away my current attempt at civil discourse to restart the next one on multiple occasions, I came to the inevitable conclusion that the task of composition had become an exercise of vicious vitriol rather than an act of affection towards the 2017 Wildcats.  Subsequently, I made the executive decision to exercise the “Ask For” escape clause, which allowed me to bail on submitting a rant-filled garbage piece instead of proffering my readership a meaningful commentary worthy of their time to peruse.  I thank you for your indulgence in this matter.  

Expectations Fulfilled

What a profound difference a week makes, especially when comparing last Saturday’s virtual walk-over against the BuGS-U Gnats to the previous weekend’s wholly humiliating public pantsing laid on the ‘Cats by the fired-up Dookie Blue Imps.  While I ruminated on those two grapples, my mind boggled on how completely different each of NU’s 3 2017 out-of-conference games have been from one another.  If pressed to provide an suitable single word descriptor for these OOC contests, an intrepid blogger like myself would hardly elicit any criticism  whatsoever after having submitted the following keyword associations:
●    NU vs Nevada -    a Challenge
●    NU vs Dookies -    a Trainwreck
●    NU vs BuGS-U -    a Laugher
When critically evaluating these one-word narratives, it wouldn’t be much of a stretch to predict that most casual collegiate football fans would incorrectly conclude that all 3 matches involved 3 distinctly divergent teams.  However, the simple truth is that the collective contests above were played by the enigmatic Wildcats, who, per usual, have stumbled & bumbled their way to a baffling 2-1 record that, unfortunately, has become the non-con schedule result norm for a Fitz-coached team.  Even more disconcerting is the undeniable fact that a myriad of field play deficiencies across the ‘Cats’ O, D and special team squads remain unresolved, hanging like an executioner’s axe over the collective necks of this season’s version of the pigskin Purple and coercing us card-carrying members of Wildcat Nation to ponder and fret about future potential disaster(s) before the dinner bell rings heralding the disproportionate meat-laden entrée of NU’s 9-course B1G campaign banquet in two weeks’ time.  But that’s all future games stuff.  So without further ado, the following are my initial perspective points regarding NU’s bug tussle against the BuGS-U Gnats.   

First off, the BuGS-U Gnats football team is a Twinkie and a bad one at that.  More precisely, the Gnats are a 5-years past edible due-date Twinkie – rancid & molding in its unopened original cellophane packaging.  This pointedly frank characterization is not news to anyone who still retains even a modicum of the standard measure of common sense that Gawd in his infinite pragmatic wisdom had seen fit to proffer upon most human beings at birth, especially to preseason college pigskin pundits & prognosticators who confidently predicted that last weekend’s worm-wrassle with BuGS-U would be the easiest of NU’s 2017 gridiron campaign.  And these usual suspect “experts” were spot on regarding this astute assessment. 

Secondly, the personal embarrassment that emanated from last Saturday’s Debacle in Durham when facing a loaded-for-bear Dookie Blue Imp squad and that had been implanted indelibly into the psyche of every individual athlete donning a Purple helmet served as immense incentive to –
1.    Flush the distasteful memory of that Dookie trainwreck;
2.    Embrace the suck of the daily grind needed to improve the level of field play in each phase of the game; and
3.    Get down to the task of rededicating themselves towards not repeating this gut-wrenching piss-poor performance, particularly against such a universally recognized Twinkie like the Gnats. 
And the ‘Cats delivered on that motivation by playing the kind of a high quality football game that is typical of a legitimate B1G conference team for 60 full minutes...  Finally.

Last but not least, as this contest progressed, it transitioned from a glorified, unofficial scrimmage against a totally overmatched foe into a pseudo baptism of fire (or at least a baptism of tepidity) for many ‘Cat players who were designated 2nd & 3rd teamers on Fitz’ pregame depth chart.  Throughout NU’s slate of OOC games, an alarming theme has become markedly manifest: injuries, many serious, across what was once considered a loaded depth chart, especially on the defensive side of the LOS.  NU coaches and fans alike have witnessed an unnerving rash of game & season-ending injuries to key personnel, the most severe of which have befallen the ‘Cats’ veteran defensive secondary, a squad that was considered a major team strength in the weeks preceding this season’s opening game against Nevada.  Consequently, those remedial sub-situations were as much sorely needed (excuse the gallows-humor pun) as they were welcome, if merely as a vehicle of opportunistic necessity that presented these next-man-up players with viable chances to accrue valuable PT while they showcased their positional field play prowess, thankfully, against a less-talented foe.  I can only cringe at the potential nightmare that would have been all too real had Fitz & his coordinator coaches been forced by situational circumstance to toss these relatively unproven sub players into an overwhelming, pressure-packed gridiron maelstrom of going mano-a-mana against a much more powerful opponent – like a Wisky or a State Penn – which would have demanded that they perform way above and beyond what many realistically were prepared-for in order to execute & complete their game plan assignments at the required level of competency to be considered a success – a virtual mission impossible, in most cases.  And to their credit, many of those subs rose to their individual position challenges as best as might be expected.  However, when the final field play evaluations have been tallied via post-game video review sessions, I suspect that more than a few will be given a grade of TBD (To Be Determined) instead of a Job Well Done.  Embrace the suck, indeed. 

How the ‘Cats Zapped the BuGS-U Gnats

Trench Warfare
Drastic improvement in the overall field play from every position on both the ‘Cat OL & DL was a paramount priority owning to the complete collapse of technique discipline demonstrated throughout the Debacle in Durham, especially in H-2 whereupon my personal assessment of individual and collective field play of ALL positions via extended video reviews led me to the unavoidable conclusion that both units summarily threw in the bloody towel of competitiveness and, instead, waved a white flag of surrender.  I’m quite certain that if or when any of those OL & DL personnel might chance to read this damning evaluation, their personal pride and integrity would take great umbrage to its message.  However, despite having lived with the lingering memory of the Cats’ public undressing 10 days removed from that original deduction, I am steadfast and will not apologize one iota for that candid assessment simply because, speaking as plainly as I can, that’s exactly what I saw.  Period… End of story.  I’m confident that Fitz and his coaching staff (OL coach Adam Cushing and DC Doc Hankwitz, in particular) concurred with this humiliating assessment on their own, because reports chronicling BuGS-U game week practices stated categorically that those drills emphasizing correct OL blocking and DL shedding techniques were ratcheted-up with considerably increased passion and intensity.  So admittedly, the OL and DL personnel got their general acts together in the days leading up to the BuGS-U bug tussle; and the desired mutual improvements in overall field play across all line positions was fully evident BIG TIME against the Gnats.  However, one must temper his/her elation at such a dramatic upward trend in performance efficiency and effectiveness, because, after all, it still came against, well… the milquetoast Gnats.   But that progress was notable all the same. 

Trench Warfare
I must admit, Senior Superback Garrett Dickerson has been and remains one my personal favorite players on the 2017 Wildcat roster.  Throughout his Purple collegiate career, he’s has fought through many a debilitating injury with admirable dogged determination and, currently, he appears to be 100% healthy at last and is ready, willing & able to compete with the best TEs in the B1G… or the nation for that matter.  And did he ever compete against BuGS-U.  One of the more delightful items of interest that I personally took-away from the steamrolling of the Gnats was the joy of witnessing Mr. Dickerson’s veritable coming-out party as NU’s SB extraordinaire.  Mr. Dickerson day wasn’t merely effective, it was literally off the chain – with a career best 9 receptions off 10 targeted throws from his QB, Clayton Thorson, while accruing a very valuable 150 yards in the effort.  What’s more, of those 9 grabs, an eye-popping 8 of those snatches were of the 1st down-producing variety.  That last statistic, quite honestly, was the most remarkable of all for the SB.  In fact, his noteworthy performance was recognized by the football e-zine (internet magazine), Pro Football Focus.  Check-out this article highlighting Dickerson’s career day. One further stat to be mentioned (and taken from the linked article above), is Dickerson’s assessed grade-point for his outstanding piece of gridiron theatre: a 99.9 point total out of 100 possible points – near perfection, mind you – garnering THE HIGHEST-RATED game-time performance of any offensive position within the collegiate football world for the week… by an astounding 5 full points!!!  Can you say, “Remarkable?”  I knew that you could…

Going Vertical
Unfortunate as the Debacle in Durham was, the single, most impactful silver lining item to be pocketed from the shocking carnage incurred at the hands of the Blue Imp’s Category 5 hurricane defensive lockdown of NU’s offense capabilities was that it forced Wildcat OC, Mick McCall to rethink and abandon his per usual OOC offensive game plan and unleash his entire repertoire of offensive weaponry on the hapless Gnats on the following Saturday.  And it couldn’t have come any sooner.  The scoreboard might have shown a 49-7 score as the final gun sounded, but that lopsided tally shed but a dim light on the evening’s Purple offensive juggernaut, piloted by Junior QB Clayton Thorson, that hand delivered the first true blowout in several seasons in front of an anxious partisan Purple fanbase seated in the stands of Dyche’s Ditch.  In total, 678 yards of offense were recorded for the contest – 375 via McCall’s directed aerial attack complimented by an additional 303 yards off his ground game.  And again, the casual observer to these factoids must bear in mind that these gaudy yardage statistics were generated against an extremely porous BuGS-U D that served little more resistance than a low-lying speed bump to the supercharged Indy racer that was the Thorson & Co. Special last weekend. 

The most effective aspect of the refined Thorson & Co. aerial yardage production option against BuGS-U was the liberal use of the vertical pass, which, during the prior weekend’s game against the Blue Imps, had been repressed in deference towards employing NU’s assumed high quality ground-n-pound running game as McCall’s preferred offensive attack option behind feature-back, Justin Jackson The Ball Carrier (who will be referenced from this point forward as “JJTBC”).  That fateful decision by NU’s offensive brain trust proved to be nothing less than an unmitigated failure when facing the Dookie defensive counter-strategy of stacking the box with player numbers and peppering the LOS with constant blitzes, reddogs and DL stunts, all of which was intended to stone JJTBC from generating yardage gains via the rush.  So rather than beat the dead horse by continuing the mindset to set-up his passing attack through successful execution of his running game, as was attempted unsuccessfully against the Blue Imps, McCall reversed this previous offensive paradigm and utilized a pass-first attack option designed to exploit the weak defensive secondary of BuGS-U by air mailing the bean downfield from Thorson’s arm into the hands of his receiver corps as they sprinted into whatever open space was available within the Gnat deep pass zones.  It worked like a charm as explosion play pass completions occurred early and often throughout the contest.  The Thorson-to-Garrett Dickerson pass option delivered explosion plays of 28, 27, 18 & a second 28 yards.  The Thorson-to-Bennett Skowronek pass option netted explosion plays of 58 & 18 yards, each of which resulted in a TD score.  The Thorson-to-Flynn Nagel pass option produced explosion plays of 18 & 20 yards.  The Thorson-to-Jeremy Larkin pass option generated a highlight reel explosion play of 39 yards, a potential TD reception whose excitement was short-lived when Jeremy was tackled & stripped of the pill before crossing the BuGS-U goal line (the fumbled pigskin rolled into the enemy end zone and was recovered by a Gnat DB for a touchback that killed Mr. Larkin’s bid to score a passing TD of his own).  That makes a total of 9 explosion play pass receptions out of Thorson’s 23 total completions over the entire game – representing a very commendable 39% ratio. 

You see Mr. McCall, exercising the vertical pass attack option can and will generate positive yardage results, particularly if your game plan includes tactics which afford your premier QB an advantageous in-game passing environment (i.e.: keeping Thorson upright & untouched behind well-executed pocket protection).  Doing so would give Clayton the appropriate conditions to maintain the necessary composure and focus to allow him the crucial time to scan the defensive secondary before him and deliver the bean on target & in stride to that open WR visible in his crosshairs.  A strong recommendation going forward in NU’s upcoming B1G campaign:  Don’t fall into the punji pit of foregoing your vertical passing attack just to assuage the potential temporary PR shortfall of not fully utilizing your highly advertised rushing attack option featuring JJTBC.  Your conference opposition most definitely will compose defensive game plans to stop the ‘Cat ground game as its No. 1 priority.

The Maestro Finds His Baton
NU’s Offensive Maestro Clayton Thorson’s reputed passing acumen returned with a vengeance against the BuGS-U Gnats.  Pondering on the message proffered by that poignant previous sentence is music to my ears, indeed. The conductor’s baton that Mr. Thorson wielded so adeptly when he orchestrated the Wildcat offense in NU’s praiseworthy come-from-behind “W” against the Nevada Woof Pucks in game #1, and which he seemingly misplaced during the Debacle in Durham whitewash against the Blue Imps in Game #2, apparently was relocated in the nick of time to reprise his high quality pitch-n-catch passing touch once more throughout last weekend’s game facing the “not-ready-for-prime-time” passing defense of the Gnats.  Despite his HC’s philosophic football assertion that “statistics are for losers,” the total sum of Thorson’s QB stats from Saturday evening’s contest frankly don’t lie.  Instead, they underscore the Junior QB’s substantive skillset to matriculate the ball down the field of play and into the opponent’s end zone via his downfield vision & arm as well as with his feet with admirable precision and regularity.  Completing 23 passes off 30 attempts, while garnering another career high of 370 total yards (Clayton’s 2nd single game passing yardage record set within the first 3 weeks of the 2017 season) and collecting 2 TDs in the process, will write a very telling post-game story line all by itself.  It’s all a very good thing. 

Conclusion

Given several days to pause and reflect on the flood of exciting emotions and details of last Saturday’s blowout victory against BuGS-U, allows the intensive post-battle fervor of having just crushed a rancid and molding Twinkie opponent to subside gracefully and be replaced by a sense of soothing serenity and confidence of having done the needful against one of the worst football programs in the 2017 MAC. 

OK, now I’m over it.

This coming weekend is NU’s 2017 bye week and it couldn’t have arrived at a more opportune time.  This game-free weekend offers the Wildcats a valuable window of opportunity to lick their many significant wounds and gird themselves for what should their greatest set of mental, physical and emotional challenges of their 2017 B1G conference campaign – first against the Wisky Drunkards in 2 weeks’ time then against the Inmates of State Penn the following Saturday.  

As for NU’s next opponent, the Drunkards of Wisky, they are one of the finest, most complete football teams in the nation; and nothing they’ve done in their season thus far contradicts that assessment.  They currently have posted a 3-0 record in their 2017 schedule, while earning a well-deserved 9th place rank on this week’s AP beauty pageant poll.  The current version of the Drunkard football team fits their reputed norm of fielding another very high quality, competitive squad similar to what the program has assembled over the last dozen years or more.  They are well coached, have Big Ugly NFL-ready talent across most every position in their OL and DL roster, have lockdown DBs & aggressive heat-seeking missile-like LBs in their secondary, have an RB stable stocked with diminutive yet fast, tough thoroughbreds who service Wisky’s ground-n-pound rushing attack standard with enthusiasm & power and a prototypical NFL QB in 6’4” Super-Soph Alex Hornibrook .  The Drunkards are coming off a 40-6 road “W” thumping applied last Saturday to a weak-sister BYU Codger team that has compiled a lackluster 1-3 record in 2017.  In that game, Hornibrook demonstrated definitive signs of rounding into All B1G QB form after having logged an incredible aerial circus stat sheet that includes 18 completions off 19 attempts, across 8 receiving targets, while collecting 256 yards & 4 TDs via the pass along the way.  Simply stated, this team is loaded. 

The ‘Cats better tighten-up their collective chinstraps for this one.  It’s gonna be a bumpy ride. 

The Waterboy
“Win with Grace, Lose with Dignity”

He’s a Lumberjack
Similar to what was done in my post Nevada game commentary, awarding this week’s Lumberjack Trophy to a deserving player has been postponed because, once again, there truly wasn’t a notable slobber-knocker kiss laid on any BuGS-U player by a Wildcat on any down last Saturday.  Sometimes historical precedent (or is that hysterical precedent) does repeat itself.

Most certainly more than one trophy candidate will arise during NU’s coming contest against the Wisky Drunkards.  So stay tuned for that award presentation…
 









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 HailToPurple.com.


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