From Cardiac ‘Cats To Soul Crushers; The Great, The Good & The Disappointing In NU’s 38-31 OT Loss
I put a four hour cool it rule on myself. After Northwestern managed to lose a game up 3 and punting with under :20 to go, the tried and now tired ways of not putting teams away has cost the ‘Cats any chance at a division title. I couldn’t put in to words the frustration, anger and sorrow I felt as Northwestern got stopped on 4th and 2 in OT. The final score read Michigan 38 Northwestern 31 and I found myself trying to find a way to comfort myself. I looked back at the title of this morning’s post “60 Minutes” and I even added “not a second less.” Boy, have I never been less happy to be that spot on.
Every team uses the woulda/coulda/shouldas in a season, but I sat there in disbelief knowing if this team had the killer instinct its coach displayed as a player we’d be 10-0. Instead, the same player who was a spark on the field in back-to-back Big Ten championship teams and led the killer instinct seemed to once again contribute to the lack of killer instinct with the play-not-to-lose mentality, yet having his players make physical errors and an unconscionable cover scheme in the waning seconds that led to a game that will be known in NU lore as the Michigan “Hail Mary” Game.
Never in a million years did I think that I could feel so empty with this year’s team at 7-3 with the ‘Cats leading in every single 4th quarter and losing to Penn State, Nebraska and Michigan. Furthermore, for the first definitive time this century I can say we’re toe-to-toe in athleticism with every team we play. Yet, there I was, sulking like a six-year-old thinking somehow I was owed this win after spending 8 days in a hospital with a frightening infection that shook me to the core. How could I have such a traumatic real life experience yet still let the Wildcats rattle me equally to the core?
I was so proud of the way guys like Kain Colter and Venric Mark played – true warriors coming back after injury – and seemingly finding a way to overcome adversity and inch their way to a fistfight of a victory. Demetrius Dugar had been targeted all day long and was downright abused, yet came up huge with what seemed like a potential game-sealing pick. The ‘Cats were doing all of the little things and visions of an 11-win season started to dance in my head. Yet, this cloud of negativity hung up there – the weight of no lead is safe with Northwestern kind of thing.
Earlier in the day I had watched BTN’s documentary film on the ’95 ‘Cats and it put me in such a good place. Ironically, the key theme was culture and mindset. From Gary Barnett to Chris Martin to Rob Johnson to Fitz, guys talked about believing in themselves and how they indeed needed to execute on the field to back-up their off-the-field psychological makeover. This theme stuck with me as I watched a program on the field that was no different from Michigan in terms of talent. Our offensive line was dominating Michigan. Our skill positioned players were as fast if not faster than the Wolverines. Yet, there was still that aura of the Big House and Brady Hoke being undefeated at home.
Technically, Fitz played the odds after Kain Colter secured the closest first down in memory. He forced Michigan to burn all of its timeouts and maximized clock burning, but the ‘Cats failed to gain a single yard and even lost yardage. In fairness, I would’ve killed to have seen a healthy Colter on that final drive (truth be told I thought he was done for the year based on his pain factor on the play he got injured), but it was pure ultraconservative ball. Technically, it’s hard to argue with the math. However, the symbolism of it all struck me. I remembered Darnell icing the Notre Dame game with a run to the outside for 30+ yards. Then, with Brandon Williams set to punt, we went rugby style and kicked it right at Michigan when a touchback or moon shot would’ve made it nearly impossible for Michigan (no timeouts) to even get within FG range). I screamed at the TV like most of us did. Then, Michigan’s #1 receiver somehow was single covered when it was Hail Mary time. Let’s face it, Roundtree made one of the more ridiculous catches on the batted ball, but as soon as it was complete, you could feel the air go out of the balloon. I don’t need to rehash what happened from there, but it seemed like our program had crossed some sort of karma line. We had been the cute, scrappy, Cardiac ‘Cats, known for being undersized, underdogs yet finding ways to win. On this day, we went in to the bizarro world of being equally as athletic as all of our 2012 opponents, yet after listening to our coach exhorting expectations, a fan base has them and we’ve failed to live up to them. Somehow, the karma boomerrang is swinging around. Is it the law of averages that we’re simply losing the close ones that we won so many times? Is it our go-in-to-a-shell approach to late game leads?
I reverted back to the BTN documentary and Sam Valenzisi and Ray Robey talking about reflecting upon the ’94 gamble tainted season and how close they were. The talk of guys that were now Barnett guys refusing to lose. I had to go to a place of comfort, a place that explains the inexplicable and I net out on what many will say is a cop out. Especially in a horrendous Big Ten and the 7th year of the Pat Fitzgerald era. I reminded myself of my own expectations of this season – that 7-5 would make me very happy and that 2013 was to be our year.
I can only hope. What else is there? The most infuriating thing is that I’ve failed to see Fitz and the staff learn from the seemingly same mistakes and actually correct them. What evidence is there to suggest that we can win the close ones? What evidence is there to suggest that we can adjust to other teams making changes in game? I start doing mental roster recall for the 2013 lineup to ease my pain. Colter? Back. Mark? Back. Scott, Gibson, Lowry, Carter? Back, back, back. VanHoose, Campbell, Henry? Back, back, back. You get the gist. Actually, I do almost the opposite and list the few departees and convince myself how Drew Smith will step up and replace Nwabuisi. I do this with Mulroe, Ward and Arnfelt.
The reality is we’re a 7-3 team in a major BCS conference that won’t be ranked. We seem to lose to the name brand teams that mean so much to a program always battling perception. Yet, there are three games left to try and turn our new 1994 in to a 10-win season. How will this team respond next week against a fantastic Michigan State defense? Can we respond, go 9-3 and finally cross off another major “To Do” with a bowl win? Sadly, until we prove we can put a team away, the answer doesn’t beg a ton of confidence.
It takes way more energy to just embrace this pain then to let it go and be proactive. What can we do to make sure that NU learns from its mistakes and uses this pain, this soul crushing heartache to create the base for a perfect 2013 season? I keep thinking we’re about to turn the corner, but I’m fearing we’re in a circle. The killer attitude that guys like Mark and Colter possess needs to be contagious. It needs to be a united mentality of turning to the coach in the game and saying “let’s put them away..let us go get that first down.” I can’t take this loss with me all week. Not after the hellish real world past two weeks I’ve had. It’s downright unhealthy. Let’s review and then take out our frustration on a team I love to hate – Sparty. We’re due for a 2005-er.
Kain Colter – Chalk one up to the stats don’t do it justice. The ‘Cats primary signal caller was a warrior, orchestrating a 248-yard rushing attack with his usual dynamics of timely pitches, gutsy keepers and some beautiful passing. Colter had 24 car/82 yds, 8/14 96 yds, 1 TD.
Venric Mark – What a show. Venric posted his Big Ten best 7th 100-yard+ rushing game with 104 yards on the ground, which was only part of the story on a day when he posted 260 all-purpose yards. It should’ve been a bunch more as his 100-yard KOR TD was nullified by a holding call that I’ve still yet to see how it was on us as the Michigan player was on top of us. Mark nearly busted a KOR for the win on the final play of regulation. Mark was hammerred several times throughout the game and really looked in bad shape with an arm injury in OT on 2nd down. He didn’t return. I simply love this guy and the way he plays with a purpose.
Trevor Siemian – Kudos #13. The recently maligned sophomore QB put on a clinic today. He was only 6/7 but put up 87 passing yds and 2 awesome TDs. He came in cold for the final series of the first half and put an absolutely perfect pass in the hands of Cameron Dickerson for a game-tying TD to make it 14-14 at the half. Siemian also rallied the ‘Cats after Mark’s KOR TD was called back and he marched NU downfield with a thread the needle TD pass to Tony Jones with 3:59 to go to put NU up 31-28.
Jared Carpenter’s backtip – Fitzgerald Touissaint had ripped off a 50-yard run early in the game and seemed like he was weaving his way to a TD when the ‘Cats safety teed up a back-tip that sprung the ball loose from the Michigan RB and the ‘Cats recovered on a huge momentum swing.
The NU O-line – It’s hard to argue with this unit’s play which enabled NU to rack up 481 total yards of offense on the nation’s #7 total defense. The ‘Cats ran at will on Michigan and while the unit gave up two sacks, they consistently opened up gaping holes and played near perfectly on the option pitch blocks. Even when they did wrong, like Patrick Ward’s alleged illegal block in the back, the call was bogus.
Christian Jones – The ‘Cats leading receiver on the day hauled in 5 receptions for 61 yards including a phenomenal grab on the ‘Cats opening drive on a 3rd and 12 that kept it alive. It would be the first TD this year that Michigan had scored on it by an opponent on an opening drive.
Mike Trumpy – You almost feel bad for #32 as he’s playing great, it’s just that he’s playing next to a guy who is a legit candidate for the Big Ten MVP. Trumpy had 42 yards on 4 carries and a clutch 11-yard reception. Trumpy barely got tripped up on a run that seemed destined for a first half TD.
Damien Proby – The ‘Cats LB had some nasty hits and led the way with eight tackles. However, the ‘Cats seemed to miss Devin Gardner time and again when they had hands on him.
Rush Defense – Michigan put up 133 yds on the ground on 32 carries, but 50 of those came on the one Touissaint fumble. Gardner had 49 yards rushing but seemed to be much more elusive and was huge on 3rd down with his legs.
3rd Down – NU went 8/16 on 3rd down with a ton of 3rd and long situations. It was great to see Kain throw on third down, a must as we go forward.
The Final Punt – Just awful. The ‘Cats take a delay of game penalty, knowing they can kick it deep, yet go rugby style and kick it right to the Wolverines PR man who promptly brought it out to the 38 yard line. All we needed to do was either kick a moon ball or even worst case scenario get a touchback. With :18 and no timeouts, that can’t happen.
Final Play Coverage – I don’t get it. We had three down linemen, yet seemed to be in single coverage over the top on the Wolverines best receiver. You can’t bash Jones for batting the ball down as that is textbook defense, but man, how was he in that scenario? Even when we went ultra conservative, we messed it up.
Fitz’s Antics On Colter’s Late Hit – Fitz acted as if we’d just won on a Hail Mary, Instead, it was a downright silly overreaction to Trevor Siemian getting a late hit prolonging the ‘Cats final drive. This is the same guy who was asked not to carry Barnett out after the ND win because we need to act like we’ve been there before.
Pass Defense – Man do we miss Nick VanHoose. One of my rules is to never single out a player, but I can’t help but mention the island that Demetrius Dugar was on all day long. It was too much a part of the gameplan to not mention and it was clear he was targeted on nearly every pass. I was elated when he stepped in to get the pick as I felt so happy for him. We continue to give enormous cushions on the edge. Gardner lit us up for 286 passing yards.
3rd Down Defense – The ‘Cats were awful on 3rd down. Credit the athleticism of Gardner and the oh-so-close inability of our guys to hang on to him when they had him. Michigan went 7/10 on 3rd down.
Officiating – I thought it was inconsistent all day long. Michigan was 2-yards short on an early reception, yet got the spot. Colter seemed short, but got it. Kovacs faceguards and never turns, but doesn’t get called for a PI and Ward gets a phantom block in the back. Let me be clear, the officiating didn’t lose this game, we did, but it sure was choppy.
Lack of Killer Instinct – How many times can I say it?
Alright fans, let’s pick ourselves up and get ready for the one team we’ve wanted as much as any all off-season long. It’s time to put the hurt on Sparty, our recent nemesis and start priming for our first bowl win since 1949.
STATS TO STEW ON
- Northwestern lost its first OT game vs a Big Ten team (7-1)
- Brady Hoke remains undefeated at the Big House
- Northwestern racked up 481 total yards (248 rush, 143 passing)
TEAM TOTALS NU MICH
|NET YARDS RUSHING||248||133|
|Average Per Rush||4.3||4.2|
|Yards Gained Rushing||281||148|
|Yards Lost Rushing||33||15|
|NET YARDS PASSING||183||286|
|Average Per Attempt||8.7||9.5|
|Average Per Completion||13.1||17.9|
|TOTAL OFFENSE YARDS||431||419|
|Total offense plays||79||62|
|Average Gain Per Play||5.5||6.8|
|Average Yards Per Punt||41.0||51.3|
|Net Yards Per Punt||35.2||41.3|
|Average Yards Per Kickoff||60.3||62.2|
|Net Yards Per Kickoff||36.3||32.8|
|Punt returns: Number-Yards-TD||3-30-0||1-23-0|
|Average Per Return||10.0||23.0|
|Kickoff returns: Number-Yds-TD||4-126-0||5-119-0|
|Average Per Return||31.5||23.8|
|Fumble Returns: Number-Yds-TD||0-0-0||0-0-0|
|Third-Down Conversions||8 of 16||7 of 10|
|Fourth-Down Conversions||1 of 2||0 of 0|
|Sacks By: Number-Yards||1-2||2-21|
Individual Statistics (Final) 2012 Northwestern Football Northwestern vs Michigan (Nov 10, 2012 at Ann Arbor, MI)