No Flushing For Defense

For the last three years, Northwestern has had one mantra it has tried to follow. Whether a good or bad play occurs, a win or a loss, the team has to “flush it” and move on. There is always another play, another challenge and another game to conquer.

It got annoying actually hearing Northwestern players echo Pat Fitzgerald’s call to flush everything. I mean, how many weeks can you keep telling fans you are going to go 1-0?

The idea behind flushing it is a good use of coach speech. It is the idea that you cannot get too high or too low off of anything and have to be ready to move on and meet the next challenge. The players have embraced this idea.

The unfortunate part is that there has been much more to flush on the negative side. Especially lately. And especially on the defensive end.

There is a lot Mike Hankwitz and Pat Fitzgerald would like to forget on the defensive end. But what is it they say about history? If you do not learn from it, you are doomed to repeat it. And one thing nobody wants to see is a repeat of last year’s mistakes.

Experienced or not, Northwestern was never on the same page with its secondary. Outside of some solid play from Jordan Mabin and Brian Peters and flashes from Ibraheim Campbell, this year’s veteran as a sophomore, there were massive failures in a lot of areas. Miscommunication was rampant throughout the secondary and it led to the firework plays that give defensive coordinators nightmares. Hankwitz surely had a few sleepless nights as his secondary and defense made crippling mistake after crippling mistake.

It is easy to say those mistakes can be flushed. But not learning from them? That might be the biggest mistake of all.

Entering 2012, the Wildcats may be adjusting their consistent tagline on this front. Yes, they will still flush the bad and move on quickly from the good. Except this year, they are more conscious that they have to learn from past mistakes to improve, as David Nwabuisi said at Big Ten media days (h/t Chris Emma of Scout).

If you can’t learn from the past, you are ignoring it. We definitely looked at the tape and evaluated what went wrong to move forward this year. We don’t dwell on it; at the end of the day, this is a new year, new team, new defense.

You can flush it, but there’s no reason to completely flush it. You’ve got to learn from your mistakes, learn from the past.


There is a lot to learn from. And everyone recognizes it. The question is what will Northwestern’s defense do about it?

The secondary is significantly younger than it was last year. Ibraheim Campbell was a national all-freshman safety and seems to have lots of room for improvement. Northwestern also has reason to feel comfortable with newcomers like Nick VanHoose. And players can only get better (at least, if you are optimistic). The defensive line and linebackers also understand they need to improve, led by Nwabuisi, Chance Carter and Tyler Scott. There is talent there if it shows improvement.

Those seem like huge “ifs.” But they are also opportunities. That seems to be the new message as Northwestern refines its flushing techniques to improve and move on in 2012.

Each mistake is an opportunity to show growth and improve. That is something Northwestern struggled to do, letting mistakes compound and, yes, letting history repeat itself. The Wildcats will still say they are flushing away the bad, but not without learning from it.

If they do not, it could be another season wondering what went wrong on defense.

LTP N Flag Project

Steve R. puts a pair of Northwestern flags on the board in some exotic locales. Steve recently visited Castle Hill overlooking the Danube River in Budapest as well as the Belvedere Palace in Vienna. Two more flags to dot our impressive N Flag Project map (see navigation bar above).  If you’ve got a photo with a Northwestern flag, send it our way and we’ll post it here and add it to the map! Simply email it to .

Steve R. at Castle Hill in Budapest, Hungary

Steve paints the Belvedere Palace in Vienna with some purple!


  • Chasmo

    Players win games, not coaches; nevertheless, it’s difficult not to see coaching as the primary reason why the Cats have been a terrible defense for well over a decade now [with one season being the exception].
    When Colby was the DC, the Cats had many players from those defenses go on to play in the NFL and yet as a unit the defense was always terrible.
    Now Hankwitz is in charge and the reason being given this summer for the Cats poor play in 2011 is “miscommunication” on the field, which seems once again to point to problems with the coaching.
    NU will see some new players take the field for the defense this year and it will see some veteran players return from injury and it will see some young players return with more experience.
    But what has changed about the coaching staff?

  • cardiac_cat_fan

    I think this post hits the nail on the head regarding NU’s secondary. it was frustrating enough watching every team attack deep and score (even Eastern Illinois University), but the fact the coaching staff never really gave us a good explanation for what was going on.

    Fitz pointed the thumb at himself and his staff several times saying they need to do a better job coaching, but that’s just a coach’s deflection. We heard youth was an issue, but aside from Campbell that doesn’t really hold up, and he played well enough. At a point we heard that they needed to make the secondary calls more simple because miscommunication and complex reads were at the crux of the blown coverages issue.

    I’m leaning more towards the complexity of the reads on defense causing concerns. I just hope this season Coach Hank can dial up a scheme that works well for our secondary, because any of the current players in the secondary can play corner better than Jeravin Matthews – who was thrown at nearly every pass play last year (not belittling his effort).

    Hopefully our transfer from Stanford can help provide some physical talent and senior leadership. GO CATS!

  • A passionate (non-alumni) Fan

    Don’t get me wrong, our secondary is not very good and I don’t see a huge improvement from last year. But no matter who is in the secondary, if the QB has over 4 seconds to throw the ball without a rush, the secondary will look awful again. So to improve our secondary, the front four have to dominate every game. Great DL play can plug a lot of holes in a secondary. I believe the Cats are only as good as their DL play this year. Go Cats.

    PS. Any word on Kyle Prater eligibility?

    GO CATS!!

    • cece

      it’s the last day of July, so doesn’t that mean the word has to come today? here’s hoping….

    • cardiac_cat_fan

      I was at the Run for Walk race in memory of Randy Walker this past weekend in Evanston at Ryan Field. While I was waiting to introduce myself, I heard a fan ask AD Jim Phillips about Kyle Prater’s eligibility. Although no word has been given by the NCAA, Dr. Phillips said he felt really good about it, and explained that not only did NU write a letter for Prater’s case to transfer, so did USC. Hopefully he sees the field this season. GO CATS!

  • Cats-brother

    Where did NU defense rank in sacks and pressure on the QB?In the Mich St game Cousins didnt touch the dirt once (clean jersey). I trust the talent has improved in the seconday though youth will be a challenge. I also trust that the DC has decided because he should have better athletes he can simplify the scheme.

    The spring game was promising from a D line perspective but we will see.

    I think the bigger challenge this year will be the O line. I hope the Defense specifically the d backs will improve after all they can only go up.

  • DT

    Good article and take…

  • PhillyCat

    I’m pretty optimistic about the secondary this season because going in their backs are against the wall. Like the Nebraska game, they have little to lose and much to gain as expectations are low at this point. Van Hoose’s Spring Game blunder is much like Ibraheim Campbell’s first few games where he looked lost, so hopefully it was a learning experience for the kid. The even keel attitude is a necessity, especially as a defensive back, because you WILL get beat at some point. Telling the team to “flush it” however can extinguish their passion should the good outweigh the bad. None-the-less they are still kids who are playing this game for the love, and filtering their excitement could take the fun out it, and ultimately the spirit. It’s a risky move being that the secondary is so young. You kinda want them out there flying around and getting excited which should fuel the rest of the defense.

  • cece


    thanks for posting.

  • cardiac_cat_fan

    Pat Fitzgerald and Kyle Prater tweet that the NCAA has approved Prater to play for Northwestern this coming season! GO CATS!!!

  • VAWildcat
  • ZF
  • A passionate (non-alumni) Fan

    Prater eligible!!!! GREAT NEWS!!