I found it really interesting that Fitz went public with his off-season concentration on the October challenges this past September. Fitz is now just 12-17 in the month of October, a scary stat sight indeed. Since and including 2010 we’re just 5-8, and it is safe to say our play in the month we are about to depart has been the primary reason we’ve failed to get to the next level. Fitz’s former head coach, Gary Barnett, used to wear a t-shirt proclaiming champions are crowned in November. For the first time in the Fitz era, Northwestern has a shot to win the conference as we enter November.
Fitz is 13-8 in November and if you really put it under the scope, it should have an asterisk. The 2010 season featured two games after Dan Persa ended his season with a ruptured Achilles and we promptly lost to Illinois at Wrigely and the painful debacle in Madtown. Consider this – we went 3-1 in 2008, 3-0 in 2009 and 3-1 last season with the outlier being the 2010 campaign as I described when we went 1-3. You can get really nerdy and start going team by team to really try and substantiate the quality of opponent, which is merited, but I can tell you this month includes many signature wins including a previously unbeaten (9-0) #4 Iowa team, a top ten Nebraska team a top 20 Wisconsin team and an Illini team that was pretty good at the time.
The following is pure speculation on my part as I haven’t asked Fitz directly about it, but I do believe the uber-passionate head coach has taken a longer lens of the season, more of a marathon approach than a sprint, if you will. Fitz came out after the Indiana game which set a school record for total yards of offense (704) and claimed that it was just chapter one. We all know and have endlessly questioned and debated what has happened since then – an offense that has declined precipitously – mostly due to purposeful platooning of two QBs whose mere presence tipped off defenses in a most predictable way. I’ve had the sense all year long that we’ve been slowly rolling out a master plan that was building towards November. We sure as heck got snakebitten along the way (read, Penn State, Nebraska) and flatout outcoached in those two games as we let their defense dictate our offensive strategy.
Gary Barnett also always had an in the hallway catchphrase and one of my favorites was “the great ones adjust”. Fitz and company will have to come to this November with that mindset and utilize it in-game if we’re going to repeat our November success. I’m hoping Fitz reconsiders his recent statement when he tried to apologetically inform reporters that trickeration wasn’t in his playbook. All you have to do is look at his predecessors – Walk and Barnett – both of whom he admires and respects greatly – to see that trickeration in moderation is an essential part of winning.
Randy Walker might very well have been the most old school football coach in the B1G. The kind of guy that benched players for fumbling and had them sleep with a ball at night. He put the ultra in ultra conservative when it came to his approach to the media, sticking to his way and being very comfortable in it as well. Yet, Walker implemented the spread at a time when it was nascent. He’d think nothing of one of his WRs tossing the ball downfield. Fitz even tried to pay tribute to Walk with his signature spin on the fumblerooski with the final play of the Outback Bowl – my favorite call that didn’t go right of alltime.
Gary Barnett was the master of trickeration. Again, though, it was always used as a way to adjust in-game. No play sticks out to me more than Barnett’s Gator formation play in the ’96 Michigan game. The ‘Cats were down 16-0 through three quarters and then mounted a comeback. It was fourth quarter time and a do-or-die 4th down. We had five or six “receivers” spread out to the wing (way pre spread era) and through a screen pass to D’Wayne Bates, who just bullrushed over Michigan thanks to the blocking of a bevy of ‘Cats that picked up a key 1st down that helped us go on to score. Michigan didn’t know what hit them. The great ones adjust.
I’m thrilled that we stuck with Kain Colter and simply ran it down Iowa’s throats. I’m hopeful that McCall will open up the playbook against Michigan and especially Michigan State and let him throw regularly. It shouldn’t be deep balls, but back to our ways of 6-9 yard pass routes that will simply open up things for us. He’ll even need to connect early downfield to prevent the Michigans from putting a safety in the box. With Kain in the game, the two best defensive coordinators in the conference (by far) will be simply saying “if you’re going to beat us, you’ll have to beat us deep”. The temptation will be to revert back to the platoon system of Trevor coming in to open things ups, but that’s not the type of ingenuity that it will take to beat Michigan and Michigan State, at least on offense.
From a macro perspective, the 2008-2011 seasons seemed to go much better in November because our defense – from middling to atrocious early in those seasons, picked up steam and improved. Our offense was humming in September in most of those seasons and while we had years and games we struggled in the red zone, there was a feeling of confidence among fans every time we had the ball that we’d march it downfield. We may not score, but the concept of a three-and-out was on the fan’s mindset as a shutout on defense was.
Now, it is the opposite. Our defense, as PRR laid out yesterday, has been steady despite what the stats may tell you. Obviously, the injuries at CB will have a huge impact in the gameplan, but amazingly, there is a confidence in our defense – through 3 quarters – that hasn’t existed since Hankwitz’s first year in Evanston. However, I think it is fair to say, our chance at winning the division will come down to our offense performing at previous year levels. Has Fitz been holding out a November gameplan? Will we make adjustments now and let the accurate Colter throw the ball in his short to mid yardage range sweet spot? Will we finally utilize the bevy of talent at WR to be more balanced? We shall see. The great ones adjust and champions are crowned in November. The two go hand in hand and for the first time in the Fitz era, we’re playing for high stakes as we flip the calendar from Halloween to November.
LTP N Flag Project
The photos keep trickChapultapec Castle in Mexico City.ling in from around the globe. Today we feature Daniel K. and his makeshift “flag” – his t-shirt – on a recent visit to Chapultapec Castle in Mexico City. If you have a shot of a Northwestern flag from your home or on a visit, send it to us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll add it to our map (see navigation bar across the top of this page).