The Big Picture

Fitz coaches Peters with no helmet

Happy Monday Mourning everyone. As the co-workers inquiries in to what happened begin, I wanted to point anyone who might not have checked out LTP this weekend to visit the Sailgate recap here. Take 2 minutes and watch the video recap which will be on the Pat Fitzgerald Show. We also just received bonus Sailgate video which we’ll include this week which brings to life the incredible tailgate.  Now, back to business.

The Wildcats should be a better team with Persa in the fold, but their limitations on defense are obvious. And for all the good things this program has done in recent years, these types of losses reinforce the perception that Northwestern can’t get to the next level. – Adam Rittenberg, ESPN.com, 9/17

There it is in print. Our biggest fear memorialized on a website. Adam Rittenberg succinctly captured the collective sentiment of our fan base in two sentences.  On a day when Ohio State would lose to Miami dropping them out of the top 25 for the first time in seven years and defending Big Ten c0-champ Michigan State got smacked around, the ‘Cats failed to capitalize on momentum once again.  Adding salt to the wound, Illinois, everyone’s 2011 wildcard team, stepped up to upset Arizona State smothering their air attack and catapulted themselves in to the Top 25.  But it gets worse.

All year long we’ve commented on how Northwestern has gained the lion’s share of CFB media coverage in Chicago. It was to the point in March where you expected to see more purple in print than even TTFSB.  On the day we lost to Army, there were our in-state rivals getting the headline and NU being relegated back to the secondary story.  I could just here Martez Wilson’s quote echoing in my head. He said after they crushed us at Wrigley last year “We proved we are Chicago’s Big Ten Team.”  Well, with heads hung low among the NU fan base, the fear is we’ve got two weeks to make some major improvements or we are headed down a path that could slide us back to fighting for any coverage.  Talk is cheap. Well, let’s restate that. Our marketing team has done a wonderful job talking about NU and it is actually expensive. The positive messaging that has created a huge buzz in Chicagoland about the ‘Cats is the “talk” and all it takes is some early season apples to really challenge that return on investment.

Optimists will point to the fact our m.o. is to always drop a non-conference game we shouldn’t. They respond with the fact we always win a conference game or two we shouldn’t either. Even I was stunned to learn we were looking for our first back-to-back 3-0 start since the 1950s. That is remarkable (not in a good way). We’re going to spend quite a lot of this week analyzing and over-analyzing the loss to Army and transitioning to an absolute must win at #24 Illinois. Optimists will tell you that we are a program designed to play the underdog role and we all feel more confident as you can bet the Illini will be licking their chops after watching game tape this week.

Pessimists, or rather pragmatists, are already in hot debate over the Army loss. One contingent is pinning it in our defense. From the playcalling on “D” to the lack of tackling on the initial hits. Another camp is pinning it on the offense, claiming both the playcalling – for not stretching the “D” against a very weak secondary and pinning it on Fitz for believing that we’d become a great rushing team  against a now apparently weak BC (0-3, lost to Duke) team and Eastern Illinois.  Few have even discussed our special teams which was poor (punting, placekicking were awful) sans Venric Mark. Many are discussing the coaching and playcalling. The problem was that it was “D” all of the above. Plus, there were other factors which we’ll address in a second.

In the big picture, almost every Big Ten team has had either a bad loss or looked suspect in their wins. Wisconsin is the class of the conference. Nebraska and Illinois are a step behind but in the conversation. After that it is a big group of meh.  Yet, when an Iowa loses to Iowa State (apparently not as bad a loss) or Penn State barely beats Temple or Michigan State gets clobbered by an average Notre Dame team you don’t hear fans talking about the PROGRAM taking a step back. When NU loses their seemingly inevitable non-conference game, we talk about the program taking a step back. We are hyper sensitive to this perception. However, having not really been a candidate for the upper tier since 2008, at some point you get to the point where you say until proven otherwise we are what we are – a competitive middle of the Big Ten pack team.

If there was one word to describe our team on Saturday (you sarcastics can have fun right here) it would be “tight”. Our “D” was overthinking. We weren’t reacting, we were robotic. Coaches spent 7 months prepping for this as they told us. I feel we were overloaded with think and not enough let it rip factor.  On offense, we made some poor tactical decisions which were compounded by Colter’s bad day passing. However, I hate to point to individuals as I respect every one of them, but Jacob Schmidt on 3rd and long in the final drive is just making sense, especially considering a)Trumpy was moving the ball every touch and b)our offense is predicated on 3rd and 5 passes.

The momentum of having huge road crowds (BC, Army) and the potential poking our head above to 2011 upper tier status is the single biggest mark I have on our program. We’ve yet to prove we can consistently deliver a win when expectations exist. The BC expectations weren’t on our side. We delivered. Any time we get momentum and the team is not named Iowa, we seem to falter. Fans cringe at a line of us being favored. The bigger the stage the harder we fall. When we get ahead in our underdog ways (see: Penn State, Michigan State 2010) we get – yup, you guessed it – tight. The playcalling transforms in to ultraconservative mode. It feels as if the coaching staff is trying to prove to fans we can be something we’re not ( I realize this is ridiculous, but it FEELS this way). I think I speak for many of us when I have one message for the coaching staff: “Let it rip!”

I really don’t care if we lose to Illinois if we come to play, the defense flies around, we take calculated risks and the players play. Let the leash off of the guys and trust that the offense can come together. The WRs are starving for touches. Jeremy Ebert seemed like a guy who was having his first glass of water in the Sahara. Run the spread, pass a ton, isolate key matchups and be who we are. Clearly there is no reason to say the sky is falling. Most every Big Ten team has an apple of a game per year – even if they are wins.  We are so sensitive to it, it sometimes feels like we psychologically make it a self-fulfilling prophesy. It’s not all on the coaches, however.

All you need to do to see why we lost is re-watch the opening kickoff. Venric Mark got crushed and Army was letting it rip having a blast. We were flat and tight. Army was playing with nothing to lose.  I knew it was over when Fitz went ballistic on the Campbell helmet to helmet penalty.  He clearly was trying to create a spark. Other than Bryce McNaul and Brian Peters, no one really bit. I can’t understand how a Fitz-coached team, with good kids who seem to be underdog mentality guys, plays with so little passion. It was visibly clear they simply wanted it more than we did. A good friend told me he thinks that one of the limiting governors of our team is that we are TOO nice. We need to find a nasty level (albeit it clean). We’re all proud of the program and the way we represent ourselves off the field. However, in year six of the Fitz era, it is time we start seeing the discipline (ie. penalties????) and heart we TALK about so much take place on the field.

All is not lost, folks. The Illini are 3-0 and ranked #24. We as a fan base are likely thinking “thank you”. We can beat the Illini, there is no doubt in my mind. But we can only do so if the players find the passion that the coach has and the coaches call plays that reflect who we are as opposed to who we wish to be. I banked a ton on this season based on senior leadership and perhaps Dan Persa’s lack of playing to date has been THE factor in that leadership coming together on the field. Perhaps it is simply his 2010 skill that is biasing my expectations. I think we have a chance to have a GREAT season. We could also slide back in to mediocrity which would be devastating to me. Time will tell, but let’s practice some patience as the Illini game to me, with two weeks to prepare, becomes quite a big answer to the riddle of the 2011 ‘Cats. More to come all week long.  I promise to get to the bottom of the Dan Persa medical redshirt eligibility this week as well.

Maclin Gets Kafka – Again!

The message boards and comments lit up last night as former ‘Cat QB, Mike Kafka was downright excellent in step-in duty for Michael Vick (injured 3rd Qtr concussion) in the Eagles close loss to Atlanta.  The commentators raved about the former Northwestern QB and mentioned NU many times to all of our delight. However on the game make-or-break 4th down, former Mizzou ‘Cat killer Jeremy Maclin dropped a near perfect pass to end the game and thus getting Kafka for the second time – this time as his own teammate. Click here for the details.

  • http://www.northwesternhighlights.com Northwestern Highlights

    I don’t think the offense was particularly conservative. Colter seemed to get a more open playbook than the first two games and there were quite a few deep routes being called. Kain just had trouble connecting. There were two passes to Ebert down the seam that would have gone for big plays, if not touchdowns, that weren’t on target.

    I also wouldn’t call the Illinois game a must-win. Nebraska and Iowa might end up being more challenging, but I don’t think there are going to be many other games on this schedule that will be more difficult than the Big Ten opener.

    Persa is going to change the look of this offense. Keeping the run game going will be critical, but he’s going to be able to pick apart secondaries in a way that Colter can’t, at least right now.

  • Mark

    I have nothing that hasn’t already been said about the Army game. But everyone here should read the article in The Atlantic, “The Shame of College Sports,” by Taylor Branch. He’s obviously better known for his trilogy on the civil rights era, America in the King Years. The article will remind us all of why college football is in the scandalous mess it’s in and why we’re Cats fan(atics). Anyone know when Illinois tickets are being mailed?

  • http://www.northwesternhighlights.com Northwestern Highlights

    @Mark

    If you’re referring to the NU allotment, mine arrived in the mail on Saturday. It’s the usual visitor’s section.

  • wcgrad

    As someone who has coached/competed as a rower at NU, I can attest to the difficulty of developing that ‘killer instinct’. No matter the energy you show as a coach, it’s really difficult to get yourself/your athletes away from thinking about the race[game] as a whole and toward each stroke[play] instead. If you show me a player who is thinking “we have to score on this drive, then stop them, and then score again” in the 4th quarter, I’ll show you a player who makes a mental error in a key moment.

    This makes the problems with the sideline energy particularly disturbing because it’s not something that you can control as a coach – the athletes have to adopt the attitude. Play loose, have fun, execute.

    I’m going to go out on a limb and say that NU will beat Illinois. I just have a feeling.

  • wcgrad

    @Mark

    Read that article on Saturday Night here’s the link:

    http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2011/10/the-shame-of-college-sports/8643/

    Thought the origin of the term ‘student-athlete’ was particularly dark and cynical. While I’m proud of the way the Athletic department takes care of its athletes, I can’t help but wonder if ‘doing things the right way’ is even possible in such a system where the ‘right way’ doesn’t seem to exist.

  • ryan

    The problem wasn’t with execution, or not playing with fire, or whatever LTP wants to blame it on. the game plan for that defense was obviously terrible, was proven terrible by halftime statistically, and then continued to be proven terrible the rest of the game. The refusal of the coaching staff to adjust defensively could have lost that game, and combined with an obviously too late adjustment on offense there’s no way that the players can execute successfully. Fitz can run around on the sideline and yell all he wants, but that doesn’t change the fact that his gameplan put our weakness (slow, small LBs) against army’s strength.

    The game really rocked my faith in the coaching staff

  • skepticat

    As ugly as the Army loss was, let’s try to put it in perspective a bit. Very few of us, I think, expected to get through our non-conference schedule without a loss. Unfortunately, the red-herring that has become the BC victory raised expectations more than was justified. Army’s previous losses didn’t help either, but from what I’ve read in this blog, that was more from self-inflicted wounds than lack of skill — much like the Irish, in fact. This week both of those teams took care of the football and dominated. It’s perhaps a credit to our defense that they manage to keep Army out of the endzone despite being steamrolled for 40 minutes. Although again, during the last 6 minutes when they needed to step up and close the door, they were unable to.

    Let’s face it. This is a team that, last year with Persa, managed to scrape out some close wins, and without, struggled just to compete. There were a lot of questions entering this season about how far we’ve come since. Unfortunately, it looks like not much. Having just faced our toughest opponent so far, the defense failed to perform, and the Colter bandwagon has seemingly screeched to a halt and thrown the question of who’s our #2 QB back up into the air. This team needs to be something other than Persa, and so far it hasn’t really happened. That’s pretty much how we ended up last year. IMO, getting back to a bowl game is about where the bar should be set for this year.

    What’s most damaging about this loss, I think, is how it once again leaves the fan base high and dry. Our showing for this game was pretty remarkable, as it has been during our recent bowl run. But sooner or later, I think people are going to want to see that our team we can win one these games before continuing to invest significant time and money on supporting them.

    And one comment about our new “Chicago’s Big Ten team” motto: perhaps it’s just because I’m actually from Chicago (and when I say that, I mean from within the actual city limits, not from somewhere within a 2-hour radius), but it’d be nice if there was some, you know, actual association with the city. I’m speaking specifically of band day at our home opener. While we seemed to be able truck in bands from suburbs near and far — even as far away as Minnesota — as far as I could tell, there wasn’t a single band from the actual city. Of course, if I’m wrong, feel free to set me straight. :-)

  • Db

    agree with NH’s assessment. only reason this is a must win is if they play like crap they will have no confidence. if they play well and get nosed out, all is not lost unless you are focused on a bcs birth.

  • http://LakeThePosts DT

    Folks, we are we are… A 40-50 level program in terms of on-field performance capable of winning 6-7 games against our current schedule. Said it numerous times on this blog that with the current coaching staff and approach a reasonable expectation should be to challenge for a Big Ten title every 3-4 years, go at least .500 in The Big Ten on an annual basis and win a bowl game or two every three years. That said, NU will continue to be on the upper end of mediocrity with Fitzgerald as coach… Enjoy it for what it is… Enough to keep us all coming back for more and debating the same shit every year…

  • JM

    The worst part of the Army loss is that the entire narrative of NU as a program on the rise is now endangered.

    Yes, we read about improving recruiting classes and three straight bowl appearances, but last year’s team (and bowl) was significantly worse than the one that proceeded it, and a loss to the Illini heading into a stretch of Michigan-Iowa-PSU could knock us clean out of the postseason (particularly with dates left at Nebraska and hosting nemesis MSU).

    What’s more: We’re now repeatedly in the position of not delivering on our talk. Last year’s \Chicago’s B1G Team\ gets smoked by the Illini at Wrigley. This year’s \Heisman candidate\ doesn’t see the field for one snap in September. And the \championship train\ can’t drive through one-dimensional 0-2 Army despite a crowd full of Purple (on a day when our BC win was proven to be less than impressive).

    I hope Persa plays versus Illinois and provides the spark that turns this thing around, and that this loss is ultimately proven to be no more revealing than the equally terrible loss at Syracuse in 2008. But right now, I’m having a hard time feeling good about how we’re trending.

    Hope I’m wrong.

  • Just the Facts

    Perhaps a thought experiment can solve the “Who’s to blame, offense or defense” question? If you were told before the game that you could lock in Army at scoring 21 points, would you have taken it? My guess is that a lot of people would say yes. If you were told before the game that you could lock in the Cats at 14 points, would you have taken it? I doubt anyone would have. So while giving up 21 was not great, 14 points on O was unacceptable.

    Also, about the Cats being tight, sometimes you can be overcoached. On many plays, it seemed like the LB was chanting to himself “contain” and Steelman (Army QB) would cut inside for a gain. The D seemed like they were thinking too much instead of being aggressive.

    Just a thought, but it looked to me like the Cats may have deliberately let Army score the final TD in order to preserve time. If they hadn’t, Army would have used up the rest of the clock and likely scored anyway.

    Finally, I thought that Army did to NU what NU normally does to other teams. They overcame superior talent by methodically running what they did best and doing it well. Whereas with the Cats it is the spread run very quickly and tiring out the D, Army does the opposite and moves slowly and grinds down the D. It seemed like our coaches didn’t have a plan to use the Cats’ superior athleticism. We neither tried to use superior line size/strength to overcome the opponent nor did the Cats create opportunities in space to use their speed on O.

  • zeek

    Can someone please call out of coaching staff on this. This loss was not on the players in my mind.

    If Fitz can’t get them motivated for the game when there’s 8k+ Cat fans in attendance, that’s on him.

    Much more importantly, if the defensive coaches don’t realize that the 3-4 is basically spotting Army 2-3 yards on every play, that’s on them. We ran a horribly inefficient scheme against the triple option. It was especially egregious on our goal line stands in which our linebackers were 2+ yards into the endzone and had no chance of being involved in the play at all.

    Losing to Army has to be unacceptable given their recruiting restraints and the fact that this is supposedly one of Fitz’s best teams.

  • zeek

    One other thing, I hate to say this, but look at the 2013-2014 schedules.

    Right now our non-protected crossovers are Indiana and Penn State. Penn State is relatively down and Indiana is Indiana.

    In 2013-2014, our non-protected crossovers are Wisconsin and Ohio State. By then both could be firing on all cylinders. I don’t want to get ahead of myself, but we simply don’t have the margin of error to be dropping games like this in the future.

    Our schedules ramp up in difficulty immensely by 2013 with the non-conference additions along with those two teams rotating onto the schedule. We’ll also have 9 conference games eventually.

    In the future, we simply can’t be dropping games to non-conference foes that we have to beat.

  • Db

    If they were not letting them in on the final scoring drive, then someone should be fired tomorrow. Fitz made some comment like “pick your poison” with respect to stuffing the middle vs. contain, but on the 1 you cant go with 3 down linemen ever, let alone against a team where their qb carries the ball every play.

    I would assume they were just letting them in, but they had huge line gaps on most of the 3rd and 4th and shorts as well. Just weird.

  • Steve K

    Punting 3 times within their 40?
    That’s not showing any sign of killer instinct.

    The fact that we recovered a fumble at their 30, proceeded to go backwards and then punt just about sums up my feelings on this game.

  • Narcissus Smith

    DT, I generally find your pessimism to be kind of a buzzkill, but I’d say your assessment above is completely accurate. Unless the coaching takes a quantum leap forward, we’re going to remain a mediocre team in the Big 10.

    Ironically, it seems like Fitz wants NU to be something it never can be, a traditional, grind it out, overpower-your-opponent Big 10 offense (not that this shouldn’t have worked at Army). Why aren’t we putting up 50 points a game with the spread? Why aren’t we running the zone read with Colter? Why not use Colter in the wildcat, or convert him to a WR and install a reverse option pass? (Purdue did this a ton with Vinny Sutherland 10 or so years ago) If he can’t throw, he can’t throw. He’s still obviously a useful player to have. Embrace the fact that we’re going to have trouble on defense (inability to recruit the most elite athletes), so we better be putting up a ton of points with a slick system that relies on speed and misdirection. It seems Fitz really doesn’t want to do that, or he and his staff aren’t smart enough to do it.

    As has been said above, 21 points against the defense isn’t that bad when they were on the field for over 40 minutes. But you know it’s going to be a lot worse than that against Illinois and Nebraska, and thank god we’re not playing Wisconsin. Look at the NU-Michigan 2000 game. That should be the blueprint. Spread passing, tons of zone read. We don’t have DA, but Colter and Persa can both run better than Kustok and if Colter can’t throw slants or quick outs, recruiting him as a qb was probably a bad idea.

  • hudhaifa3

    Awaiting Henry’s comments…………………because I might just agree with him

  • surfmen93

    Agree with just about every comment… truth is NU failed on all four aspects: Offense, Defense, Special Teams and Coaching. Yet, were still tied with 6 minutes left. I think if NU was losing at halftime they might have made an adjustment. And the fact that I THINK that is even a problem.

    And yeah, where’s Henry in CT when we all AGREE with him?

  • Lake The Posts

    @all – great comments, some of them though I thought I covered, but perhaps just had it in my had as some seem to be challenging, but looks to be agreeing with me. NU certainly let them in on the goal line. No doubt about it. Just look at the formation we had and the effort – I watched it five times on replay. I agree with the call at that point, or we would’ve possibly run out of time/had :30 left at best.

    The one key thing I left out in this post was how important THIS season is. The launch of the unprecedented Athletics fundraising combined with the number of senior starters has this as huge momentum year. It’s big for recruiting and big for opening up checkbooks. A trip to Detroit would be tough for both.

    The beauty of CFB is that every game matters so much. NU always says goal #1 is to win the Big Ten and while it seems unfathomable today, it is still technically alive. By next Monday we’ll have hyped ourselves up to believing again. I do believe if Persa had gone in to the game in the 3rd quarter, the NU section would’ve gone absolutely crazy. I’m curious to see the Persa/Colter combo on the field at the same time.

  • Db

    If you were fitz and you became a head coach less than 10 years after you graduated, what do you know? You know what you played with, and those 95/96 teams were smashmouth teams. I have no idea if this style they are playing is him or mccall, but it shouldn’t shock anyone if he defaults at times to a ‘darnell autry the ball carrier’ aura.

    By the way the team didn’t score a lot of points with persa, despite a record setting completion rate. Hold off on McCall’s HOF invite.

    I do really want to know who called fullback up the gut on 3rd and 4 with 1 minute left and no timeouts, with a freshman in his 3rd series ever at the helm. The excuse ’4 down territory’ doesnt apply with that other set of factors in play (not just down, distance, score).

  • Db

    @LTP…persa at qb and colter running motion…perfect slight of hand to disguise schmidt up the middle for 2.5 yds…

  • skepticat

    @Narcissus Smith
    “it seems like Fitz wants NU to be something it never can be, a traditional, grind it out, overpower-your-opponent Big 10 offense”

    I’d agree with you except for one thing: Stanford. Granted, I haven’t watched a ton of their games, but lining up and pushing opponents off the ball seems to be exactly what they do, and they’ve become a top 10 team doing it. I have to believe that, if it can happen there, it can happen here. Not that we need to become a smash-mouth, pro-style offense like Stanford, but I don’t see any reason why we can’t emulate their success. And actually, what DT describes sounds perfectly acceptable to me. I just don’t think that that’s where we’re at right now, and I’m not so sure we’re moving in that direction either.

  • http://LakeThePosts DT

    @Skepticat-
    Given the fact, we are coming off a 3-5 Big Ten season, another bowl loss, and have not been an earnest contender for a Big Ten Championship in 10 years, let me clarify my doubts about the ability to achieve those parameters I described… My point was that scenario I proposed– is the best case expectation under the current regime and one as a season ticket holder and long time fan I’d say is realistic given the level of expertise at the top of the program. Finally, from what I’ve seen of Stanford, they are not playing 1-10 level ball via smashmouth.. Sure, some Pro Set and “West Coast” elements, but Luck provides the most capability at QB this side of The New England Patriots… All due respect to Mike Kafka who showed any of his doubters he does indeed belong in the league last night… Great job, Mike!

    @N Smith- Actually, we agree on a few things starting with the fact sans the Glory Days of 95-96 (more 95) NU has done well in years the “O” is clicking… Without an effective offense, (25+PPG) this program will be hard pressed to stay mediocre. If that is a buzzkill, guility as charged! NU can play at a Top 25 level but new coordinators are needed and giving a 10 year deal (at a million plus a year…) to a 36 year old guy with no tenure per se beyond NU, sporting a career losing conference record and zero bowl wins was the sweetheart deal of the offseason in college football..

  • Mark

    @ DT
    I’ll stay with the Purple Koolaid, but re your comment many of us thought THIS was the year the Cats could contend for he title. (OK, secretly I still believe that.)

    @Northwestern Highlights
    Received Illinois tickets today in Ohio.

  • AntiqueCat

    As we conduct this post mortem, let’s remind ourselves of a couple of realities:
    (1) College Football is cyclical. Almost all programs have up and down cycles, except maybe those with absolutely no admission standards. Even Penn State has cycles, for Joe Pa’s sake. (2) Just about every team wins games they should lose, and loses games they should win. (3) Coaches have pipelines. Going back just one generation of coach, Randy Walker had an enviable running back pipeline. He had earned a reputation as a coach of RBs as an assistant at NU and NC, and as head coach at Miami. His reputation allowed him to recruit above NU’s weight at that position. He also had a linebacker pipeline to California. I don’t know what that pipeline was based on, but it let him bring in a lot of pretty high quality players. These pipelines are above all personal (I’m not talking about state school connections at the HS level, which are often based on regional loyalty). Walker’s pipelines did not survive his death.

    The sad circumstances of Fitz’s accession at Northwestern meant that he hadn’t had the time to develop his own pipelines. He’s starting to – it seems he’s got a lineman pipeline from St. Edward’s Lakewood OH, and a couple of other places.

    Walker’s death also meant that Fitz was tossed into the deep end well before he was “ready.” He was put there on an emergency basis by an AD who is a pretty good football man. His coordinators – experienced coordinators with decent reputations – were brought in to take some of the pressure off. The choice was a gamble, whose outcome is still uncertain.

    After all, what should we expect from NU football? To contend for a national championship? Of course not. B1G title? Some years. Let’s be realistic about this. The reasonable hope is consistently above .500, very often in the .650 to .750 range, and once in a while above that. Bowl games 3 of 4 years is a realistic goal. Is Fitz the coach to get us there? I don’t think we can tell yet. Randy Walker was far better prepared to be a head coach than Fitz was, but in his first 5 years at Miami of Ohio he was just barely below .500. I think that Fitz has done very well. There are some caution flags, but given the circumstances, he’s done very well.

    It seems to me that Fitz changed recruiting strategy a couple of years ago, beginning to place new emphasis on speed and athleticism. If I am right, and if it pays off, it’ll be next year. NU is not about to change horses, so we had better learn some patience.

    And yes, I worry about the play calling, the O-line performance, and the defensive intensity too. On the other hand, I’ve seen bad coaching here – I saw John Pont and I saw Francis Peay, and the memories still sear. Wherever Fitz is on the coaching spectrum, he’s nowhere near those two.

  • Narcissus Smith

    Yeah, it’ll be very interesting to see what happens when Luck is gone. They definitely weren’t tearing it up before he got there, at least in the recent past. Also, as much as we all dislike Harbaugh, I think most would agree that he’s a better coach than Fitz.

    Despite the anomaly of Luck, I still think Stanford has some inherent recruiting advantages over us anyway. Assuming that the admissions standards for athletes are comparable, we’re competing head to head in a very small recruiting pool (elite high school football players who excel at and care about academics). Personally, I’d choose Stanford for the weather and better academic reputation, and I don’t think I’m an outlier. Unless there are some geographic or familial connection to NU, I bet it’s an uphill battle. Honestly, if we get any recuits that Stanford has offered scholarships to, I think that’s a testament to Fitz’s recruiting ability. Which it seems is superior to his game planning or game management abilities.

  • Narcissus Smith

    @Antique Cat

    I agree with you that it comes down to expectations. I think what you’re describing is the current reality and the reality of the last decade or so (with some down years), but I really, really hope we can shift the paradigm to where the expectation is that we’re going to be one of the top teams in the Big 10 every year. With the many recruiting disadvantages we have, it’s going to take extremely competent coaching to get there, which I think is why some of us freak out when we see a game where Fitz is clearly outcoached.

    I know the current equilibrium is a huge step forward from where we’ve been historically, which is great. But I do think it’s possible for NU to develop into a Big 10 power and I’d love for that to happen.

  • mwmakerx5

    Someone said to me today \losing games each year to teams like Duke, New Hampshire, Bowling Green State and Army is the Wildcat Way.\ I, for one am not buying that crap. If we are ever going to elevate the team, we have to win games like the one last Saturday. Take a loss against Nebraska or someone respectable, but not against a team that was beaten by Northern Illinois and San Diego State. And I think the main post here hits it right on. What scared me about Saturday is that my hopes that this year we separate ourselves from mediocrity were really brused and crushed. My love of NU goes well beyond football; but I put a lot of time and money into supporting this team, which includes contributions to the Wildcat Athletic fund. How many times do you keep going down this road? I’m not from here, so I’m not really a Chicago sports fan. But I have to believe this is what being a Cubs fan is like. – lol. And sadly, I find myself loathing those Cubs fans who keep returning year after year, like lambs being lead to slaughter. But now I find myself taking a long look in the mirror questioning my same resolve over this football team.

    Maybe I should start supporting Women’s LaCrosse.

  • wildcat6

    @Antique Cat

    Rick Venturi went 1-31-1 here in three seasons in the late ’70′s – those are the memories that sear for me, and would make me pine for Francis Peay’s average season at NU.

  • Wildcat75

    Some perspective, please foks. The Army road loss, while highly disappointing, was not a disaster. The defense played poorly, but controlling the clock and piling up yards is what Army does. Yards don’t really matter. Scoring does. Allowing 3TDs to Army was the difference-maker, but even that was not insurmountable if the offense scores points. Colter simply didn’t (couldn’t? can\t?) hit wide open receivers downfield, even with protection. The arm strength isn’t there long down the field or on sideline routes where it’s much needed. Then coaches screwed up by not putting Trevor in sooner. Start the fourth quarter or even the second half with him and it’s a different game. He’s green, but there were so many receivers open and he could have hit enough of them to keep the Army defense much more off balance. And that would have created even more room for Trumpy and the running game. Fitz is still learning. He’s partially responsible for this loss. That’s part of coaching, and I still think he’s the best man for the job…but talk to me again after Illinois.

  • LondonAlum

    This is a great series of posts because I agree with almost all of them. To me, what went wrong on the field was a bit chicken and egg: the defense was on the field too long because the offense couldn’t sustain drives, and the offense did not have time to break out because they were never on the field because Army did sustain drives against our 3-4.

    I also agree with those who assign blame to the coaches. I have no idea if Fitz, Hank of Mick are the right coaches for NU. However, even though I give coaches big leeway since I have zip experience as a coach, I think some adjustments should have been made – particularly on defense – as the game unfolded. I was sitting at home in London watching on a laptop and was wondering, ‘when are they going to put five men on the line rather than three’, but nothing happened. If I could see this, you think someone sitting in the press box could have.

    I also am disappointed in those who have thrown in the towel. NU is so much better than when I attended in the Pont-Venturi era, and as much as I respected Dennis Green and Francis Peay, they did not win much. We win more games in a year now than we won during my four years at NU. Am I giddy with 7-5 – unfortunately, yes! The Big Ten is a tough place, and NU — because of what it is — will never be a Nebraska, Ohio State or even a Wisconsin … thank goodness for that. And, yes, whilst Stanford is great now, are the Cardinal’s 2010 and 2011 seasons like NU’s 1995 and 1996 seasons – here today, but unfortunately gone three years later?

    I agree that the Cats have a lot of work to do during the two weeks before the Illinois game. I also admit, looking at the schedule, I have a hard time believing we will win more than 6 games, based on the Army performance. And, I do not want to say that everything will be fine when Persa returns.

  • AntiqueCat

    @wildcat6 -

    We could have a lot of fun debating which Dark Age coach was the worst. My ranking is (1) Pont, (2) Peay, (3) Venturi and (4) Green. I’m easy on Venturi because Pont left him with a pretty empty cupboard for talent, AND Venturi had to deal with Pont as AD PLUS the complete indifference, nay, downright hostility of the NU administration of those days. Sir Francis I remember most for the completely unimaginative offense. I can remember the few of us in attendance at some of those games listening to Bob Christian’s dad calling the plays before they lined up. Green was able to recruit some guys, but Sir Francis couldn’t coach them.

    Anyway, my point, such as it was, is that Fitz is still learning to be a head coach, is recruiting some talented players, and has the backing of the administration. There’s more reason for hope than despair. I have the same reservations that the rest of us have, though.

    @ mwmakerx5
    By all means, follow NU LAX. I do, and it’s a lot of fun. The game is fluid, high speed, and played at the highest level. And the young ladies have fun! Softball is a hoot too.

  • http://www.hailtopurple.com/jhodges/ jhodges

    PSYCHOLOGY

    For a long time (I’ve been an NU fan for just over 11 years now) I have refused to truly believe that NU has some kind of psychological roadblock when playing as favorites. This game, unfortunately, changed my thinking as it was clear that the ‘Cats just couldn’t get things together mentally despite having larger and generally more talented players. And it’s not like anything Army did was a surprise: they came out and did the same thing they’ve been doing on both offense and defense, and the ‘Cats had been preparing for this since the spring.

    As some others have noted, I think this was especially evident on defense, where they looked competent at times (particularly later in the third quarter) but other times inexplicably broke down despite having guys where they needed them. What really showed was when Steelman got 2-3 extra yards almost every time he was tackled mostly due to a hesitation by the tackler that allowed him to get moving forward for more yards. I agree with the over-thinking hypothesis because I think we saw the same thing the year when McCall came on board on offense where the QB and receivers just didn’t click at times.

    TALENT LEVEL

    We’ve been told that NU’s recruiting has gotten better and NU has more depth than ever. But this game showed me that this isn’t really that true; while the ‘Cats may have more depth (demonstrated by the young guys now starting) they couldn’t use that to their advantage against Army. The fact is that NU’s academic restrictions (which I am in no way advocating changing) prevent NU from compiling talent at the same level as the powerhouses. This means that NU must get the planets to align in order to rise to a conference championship (getting a bunch of experienced senior starters in one year along with some other teams having down years). Fortunately Fitz has seemingly raised the floor a bit, but it is unrealistic to expect NU to compete for championships year in and year out.

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