Inches away…

DevinGardnerMichigan_Northwestern111012

Inches.

Does it need to be said much more than that? Inches decide ball games, particularly close ball games. Against Nebraska inches separated Northwestern from a clinching interception and a devastating blown lead and loss. Against Michigan, those inches mattered even more.

A finger tip, a tiny opening, the nose of the football, a jump offsides. Those inches in the fourth quarter went against Northwestern in the end as Michigan came from behind (again) to win 38-31 in overtime at Michigan Stadium.

Northwestern had a 24-14 lead and gave up 14 unanswered points to fall behind. The Wildcats had the answer with a Trevor Siemian-led drive ended with a 15-yard pass to Tony Jones on a bullet to the middle of the end zone. Devin Gardner responded with a first-play interception to much-maligned cornerback Demetrius Dugar. The Wildcats began to run out the clock. Kain Colter led the drive and got Northwestern into Michigan territory.

On 4th and 1, Colter slammed into the line and was stood up. The referees gave him the first down by the nose of the ball and the Wildcats seemed ready to run the clock out. Three conservative run plays helped run the clock down to 37 seconds, but gave Michigan just enough time.

Brandon Williams had one of his worst punts on the year. Williams punted it 34 yards and Jeremy Gallon returned it 23 yards, setting up Michigan with 1st and 10 and its own 38 with 18 seconds left.

Devin Gardner had one miracle heave to get the Wolverines into field goal position. And 53 yards down the field he found Roy Roundtree in one-on-one coverage against C.J. Bryant Daniel Jones. Bryant Jones got a hand on the ball and forced Roundtree to adjust mid stride to a ball that had suddenly changed direction. Roundtree though made the adjustment and made the play. He hauled in the pass at the nine-yard line with eight seconds left, setting up the game-tying field goal.

Inches.

In overtime, the Wolverines got the ball first and Gardner found Roundtree again on a short hitch route for 17 yards after he evaded the initial tackle from Dugar. That set up Michigan for a third and goal with Gardner rolling out on a naked bootleg for the touchdown.

The Wildcats took the field and went somewhat conservative, favoring option runs with Kain Colter. Eventually fourth down and one came. Venric Mark was on the sideline after a nasty hit earlier in the overtime. Colter ran the read option, read it wrong and Tyris Jones was stopped well short of a first down.

Inches, yet again.

The Wildcats played a good game. They gained 431 total yards, got 104 yards on 23 carries from Venric Mark, got 82 yards on 24 carries and 96 yards on 8-for-14 passing from Kain Colter and even Trevor Siemian found his rhythm again, leading two touchdown drives and completing 6 of his 7 passes. There was no faulting much of anything from Northwestern. Except those inches.

The Wildcats had a near interception in overtime. They had a couple of close calls on offense throughout the game and perhaps a hesitancy to open up the playbook. The Wildcats missed some tackles in the secondary and generally played pretty loose — like always. The same predictability on offense and defense occurred. But the Wildcats survived and controlled the game it seemed throughout. They were never out of it, but never out of the woods either.

It was certainly another sobering loss. There is no getting around it. The Wildcats had a chance to win yet again. Had a double-digit second-half lead and let it slip away. There will be more measuring and reflecting to do as the Wildcats try to solve the same problem that has plagued them all year.

Perhaps it is comfortable knowing how close this season has been from being really special. Perhaps it is not comfortable, more frustrating.

Northwestern had it again. There is no excuses — no miracle play, no bad punt, no poor play calling, no poor execution — for losing. That time has long past. All that is left is the empy feeling that NU remains incredibly close.

And just inches away.

  • zeek

    Just want to point out that it seems like we aren’t going to get a statement win this season unless we get it in the bowl game.

    Our three chances were Penn State/Nebraska/Michigan.

    We absolutely have to win the bowl game this year. No excuses.

    • Nate

      Honestly, it felt like another bowl loss today…what a great opportunity to make it to Indy this year, but no. Next year is chalk full of “statement games”…OSU, Wisc, Mich, Neb…I’m getting queasy just thinking about them.

  • nucat96

    the punt was on the coaches, either kick a moon ball or right out of the end zone, why the coffin corner attempt? the long pass was on the coaches, rush 3 and only have 1 deep safety? what were the other 7 guys doing, protecting against a 15 yard out?
    I am sick of close. 7-3 is the absolute the worst our record should be considering how pathetically crappy our opponents have been. Forget about what we would have expected in August that mentality is for losers. Look at it objectively we had it all to play for this year and we let it go. I blame every coach associated with the program. If Dugar can’t cover, get him out or bracket or blitz more frequently don’t just hope.

    • Taylor C.

      I agree 100%, I love Fitz but this one was on the coaches.

    • Timc

      There were 8 seconds left on the end of that Roundtree catch. He has a huge size advantage on D Jones. You must coach db’s to go for PI on a play like that and live for another play. They would have been on their 48 with 8 seconds left. painful.

    • CMF

      Agreed. How often has Williams been asked to rugby kick this year? I can’t remember him doing it since last year (which didn’t work that well). He’s way better than Demos, he doesn’t need to do that. The only thing the coaches should have told him was put good hang time on it. 30 yard or 50 yard punt – don’t worry about pinning them deep, just hang time. I don’t like calling out specific players, but Dugar should have been replaced. Even if we have to move D. Jones to CB and put in Henry at Safety. Hell, Prater could probably have played CB better – it’s not like he’s playing WR. And anyone could have tackled better after the catch.

    • Mark

      While I agree with you about the prevent defense the team is much better than many on this blog predicted after last season. And by the way, MGoBlog guy was right – attack the UofM cornerbacks on vertical routes up the sidelines. Trevor’s two passes at the end of the first half were spot on – first one dropped on a difficult catch and the second beautifully thrown for a touchdown.

      Unfortunately both VanHoose and Evans were out – well, Evans came in on nickel situations but VanHoose never appeared. Dugar made the interception that should have wrapped the win up and kept the ball in front of himself all day. He played good.

    • Mark

      Dugar kept the ball in front of himself all day. He had the interception that should have sealed the win. Evans and VanHoose didn’t see the field except for some Evans appearances in nickel situations. Gardner had lots of time to throw on too many downs.

    • http://twitter.com/LakeThePosts Lake The Posts

      the pass d was on the coaches, the punt was on the punter.

      • DT

        Kinda like Jeremy Maclin in the Alamo Bowl?

    • Dave

      Was CJ bryant hurt too? He hasn’t played much but the little he has played he wasn’t abused like dugar consistently is. I’d rather take a risk with potential upside than an almost surely bad thing

  • Taylor C.

    I honestly think the punt at the end killed the ‘Cats. Brandon Williams shouldn’t have done a “rugby” style punt! It costs us a big return and a good bit of yardage. I swear it seems like we find a way to lose games in the 4th. Disappointing 4th quarter once again…

    • PBRCat

      Williams has been fairly solid on punts this season. I doubt that he kicked the ball rugby style without being told to do so by the coaches. This decision backfired big time

      • PBRCat

        Correction: According to the Sun-Times, Williams was instructed to punt the ball out of bounds. So maybe, a mistake was made.

  • cardiac_cat_fan

    let me be clear. this sucks. but these losses seem like so much more. i think in the success of this year (yes, 7-3 is a success to date) we forget how young this team is, especially on defense. we scared a lot of michigan fans today and were on the door step to victory. three losses. three fourth quarter blown leads. each more painful than the next.

    i hope looking back on this season NU views these losses as lessons, and learns how to win in these situations – like the Bulls who before finally winning a championship were tormented by the Pistons. given the ‘Cats youth and ability i predict we’re very close to rounding that corner, but sadly, it’s not today.

    GO CATS!

    • Nate

      I like your optimism…I just need to see NU close out someone late before I can believe it, ya know? So frustrating…already looking toward next year and what can be done to prevent this from happening…maybe more aggressive coaching?

    • nucat96

      we will be better next year but i got a newsflash for you

      ohio state, at wisconsin are on the schedule, indiana and penn state are out.

      • Jbonz

        we certainly had a chance this year to make it to the B1G championship. We blew it. And yes, next year will be tougher for sure. But, if we are going to win a championship we got to get through Ohio State and Wisconsin, so I am okay with them on the schedule. Let’s just beat them. BTW, my messages will get more incoherent as the night goes on…. I am officially going to drown my sorrow.

    • DT

      Give me a break… NU turned that corner in 95 and 96… Comparing NU under Pat Fitzgerald to The Bulls of Jordan and PJ, is like a go cart vs. F-1 as well… Please… This IS the year for NU to make a big charge… Ohio State back on the schedule next year, and do ya really think, Nebraska, Iowa, Michigan, Sparty or for that matter Illinois don’t have youth and potential as well? The Middle LB for Michigan today, the kid making huge tackles on the line, was a True Freshman for instance…
      This is habitual losing of games that should be won… More power to you if you see a silver lining…

      • TK98

        THANK YOU, DT, for making this point. It’s not like the competition’s getting any easier down the road. NU failed to capitalize on the success of the Barnett/Walker years, imho. New facilities? Whoopdee-frickin’-doo. As long as Fitz and our current staff are still coaching, we’ll be in the same ol’ situation: Expect Misery (when it counts).

        • DT

          TK– I hear ya.. If not Misery, Expect Mediocrity.
          Peace…

      • TK98

        EXACTLY. It’s not like the competition’s getting any easier. IMHO we’ve utterly failed to capitalize on the success of the Barnett/Walker years. New facilities? Please, we’re stuck with Fitz and a coaching staff that have proven the only thing we can Expect is Misery, Mediocrity at best.

        • TK98

          Crap – well you get the point. Dammit.

  • timc

    Plain and simple-CONSERVATIVE PLAY CALLING SHELL IS KILLING US. KILLING US. Trevor was hot. Kain was hurt. Fitz goes with Kain and runs into the pile. Play to get a first down and we win. How many times do we have to lose before Fitz understands that’s the problem?

    • Polymersci

      @5cde2f04e6dfb83bb8fe86ef9f92154e:disqus Absolutely agree. Get the first down and game over! Kain played a gutsy, physical game, but when the game is on the line put in the best players AT THE TIME to win. Quick slant over the middle or other quick pass seals the deal…Trevaor was throwing laser beams today. Maddening.
      PS; as DT stated, this is a trend, and I don’t think Fitz has the coaching acumen to finish…

      • TK98

        Do our coaches understand the idea of “SITUATION?!” Fitz constantly harps on “Players, Formations, Plays,” right? What about the @!#$!#@$!@ situation, Fitz?! F**k!

      • PBRCat

        Precisely! Northwestern needed one more first down to seal the victory.
        Eighteen seconds. A poor punt and bad special teams coverage put Michigan back in business.
        The big pass completion to set up the Michigan field goal looked as if the Northwestern defender tipped the ball to the receiver. If he had not tipped the ball, it may have been overthrown and ended up as an incomplete pass. Did anyone else see this replay?
        I am baffled by the decision to send the defense out first during overtime after Northwestern won the coin flip. After the final defensive series during regulation, I think it would have been better to put the offense on the field first.
        This was a demoralizing loss and fans are beginning to question the coaching decisions. Such concerns are justifiable in my opinion because we have seen this happen repeatedly — three times in 2012 and many more times in the past. Clock management seems to elude Fitzgerald. Dare I say that Lynn “Pappy” Waldorf’s career victory record seems safe until next season.
        Despite seven wins on the year, Northwestern has not beaten a quality opponent. The win over Iowa looks suspect since Purdue managed to hang another loss on the Hawkeyes today. The Cats have edged the cellar dwellers, but not the elite teams.
        Today’s loss was costly as it would have been a signature win and a chance to possibly rejoin the division race pending the outcome of the Penn State and Nebraska game.
        This loss was bad on so many levels. Northwestern cannot seem to buy a win when the team is ranked and Fitz has yet to win a game after a bye week.
        I sense another lesser bowl game destination and another loss.

        • Royko

          Well, you put defense out first in OT so your offense will know exactly how many points it needs to score to tie or win. If Michigan blows it, you can win with an easy FG.

          It’s not like that last defensive series was long enough to wear our D out.

          It was a hard loss, but we don’t need to second guess everything.

    • cs

      I agree wholeheartedly. We needed to get that last first down with under a minute to play and yet the play calls were way too conservative. Ball security is important but so is getting a first down to win the freakin’ game. It’s the same old script that under this coaching regime. I’m a big Fitz fan but he and his staff repeatedly don’t go for the jugular when their opponents have their backs against the wall. This loss is on the coaches, not the players. The players executed well. Coaches didn’t give them the best shot to win the game in regulation.

      • PBRCat

        Two games left to play, including the hapless Illini. I expect the Cats will pick up at least one more win, but how does it feel to be a player on this team now? Do the players have full faith and confidence in their coaches or do they have doubts too?
        The one dimensional approach to play calling and clock management on this team has cost the Wildcats three wins.
        A few more plays and better calls and this team could be undefeated.

  • DT

    PRR- C’mon… This is not a matter of solving a problem that has plagued NU this year.. Has been habitual for many years to see NU give up 3rd and 17 like Q-3 today, and obvious :18 seconds is more than enough time to torch the secondary… It’s systemic and why this program can’t stay in the Top 25 or win bowl games…
    The Cardiac Cats stuff might be fun to the casual fan or guy flipping around dozens of options on television, but sucks when you live through it on a yearly continual basis… Tests even the most loyal fans..

    • nwujames

      The Cardiac ‘Cats moniker should be put to rest. Cardiac ‘Cats referred to when we’d be trailing and find ways to make magic happen in the last minute of play. What we’re seeing is the opposite of that. On the bright side, we’ve led almost all the games we’ve played – the downside is the 4th quarter magic is most certainly gone.

      • PBRCat

        To me “The Cardiac Cats” referred to a team that rallied to win in the final two minutes, not a team that managed to lose in the final seconds of the fourth quarter on a regular basis. Folding late is not acceptable.
        One of the reasons for my mounting frustration is that Fitzgerald has had better talent than Walker, but has produced only middling results.

  • Chasmo

    And miles away from having the mental toughness to make the plays down the stretch that win games.
    Aside from the miracle season of 1995, NU annually struggles to win the type of game where a victory would take the Cats to the next level.
    The years under Walker and Fitz have been marked by losses to good teams almost every time NU was ranked and on the verge of moving on up to where it’s in the discussion when pundits talk about the nation’s good teams.
    So after this latest loss, NU falls back out of the Top 25, which is where it belongs right now.
    Perhaps this team can win two in a row and then get the monkey off its back. But if that happens, it probably will only because MSU and whatever team NU faces in a bowl make more losing plays than NU does. It’s hard to see this team beating a team that is its equal or superior.
    It’s just so sad.

  • WestCoastBuffaloJoe

    The coaches have done a good job figuring out the offense and how to use the two quarterbacks.
    The bad plays and decisions that = LOSS.
    (1) Punt the ball out of the end zone. give it to them on the 20 with no time outs.
    (2) On the second to last drive, Colter picks up 8 on first down to the Michigan 40, and we are penalized for a block in the back so it becomes 1st and 15 or 20. We could have put the game away on that drive. SOme momentum killing penalties on us today.
    (3) On the hail Mary pass. Rush 3 and drop everyone back. PLEASE let him run. no time outs. How do we end up with single coverage on Roundtree? Terrible.
    (4) 3rd and 18 in the first half deep in their own territory and we get called for pass interference and bail them out, they go on to score.

    Our secondary is killing us and the coaching of our secondary is even worse.

    Too bad, we are close.

    Still love Fitz and be certain that he is GREAT for the program. But he has to come down hard on himself for the punt problem and hard on the defensive secondary for undoing the hard work of the rest of the team.

  • http://twitter.com/buckyor Bucky

    I’d like to think that, at a certain point, the coaching staff would start looking at why it is we cannot hold double-digit second half leads. If this were a one-off event, it’s understandable, stuff happens. But two times is more than a coincidence and three times is definitely a trend.

    I don’t imagine there will be any significant changes before the end of the year, but I have to think that a rational staff would begin rethinking its late game strategy. We could start by leaving the three-man rush in the dustheap. With a secondary as porous as ours, all it does is allow the QB all day to find someone, or a huge avenue to run with the DBs all looking the other way.

  • CMF

    Our football team is blowing ‘signature win’ opportunities like the mens basketball team the past 2 years. From my perspective, the BWW Bowl is going to feel like the NIT. We should have been in a January 1 game this year.

    • DT

      And the Cats will probably be as successful in the Wild Wings Bowl as Carmody and his chargers in the NIT… Amazing dynamic to hear folks talking about better bowls and the NCAA Tournament when NU can’t close in the forums they have qualifed for..

      • zeek

        Agree. The focus needs to be on winning a bowl game period.

        Any bowl not named “Rose” is basically equivalent for us when people look back in 20 years. It’ll either be a win or a loss.

        We have to get a win in a bowl this year; doesn’t matter whether it’s named BWW or Gator or Texas or whatever.

  • nu_cat_95

    Some random thoughts about the game (some in reply to various posts already, some my own):

    * I liked exactly how they used TS. This team has made its bed with Colter (which I fully support). But when the situation calls for all passes, you bring in TS. You don’t mix and match on a gut feeling as to who’s hot. Colter is the start. TS comes in for a “we’re passing every down” situation.

    * Agreed, it didn’t hurt us or anything, but our head coach called an F-ing timeout before an F-ing kickoff. That’s the first time I’ve ever seen that. WTF?

    * The completion at the end was equal parts bad scheme (you have to be double-covering the deep post in that situation) and bad luck (Bryant was trying to knock the ball down, but considering he wound up higher than the WR, he should have just let it go for an incompletion).

    * We’ve played three decent teams — and lost to all three. I can’t imagine there’s a softer 7-3 team in the country.

    * Brian Griese is F-ing horrible.

    * Just launch the goddamn punt into the end zone (less possible after the needless delay of game penalty) or kick it out of bounds. Even if it goes out on the 25 (a worst-case scenario), that’s 15 more yards than letting them return it to the 40.

    * I rarely complain about the officiating, but it was pretty damn iffy today. But, despite all that, there’s no excuse for losing this game when you’re punting from midfield with a three-point lead with 30 seconds to go.

    • cardiac_cat_fan

      i’m not THAT fan, but the refs were pretty bad. missed facemask on Colter. missed horse collar, and that phantom hold on the kick off return by Venric. pretty bad.

      • PBRCat

        Agree with you on the officiating (Michigan always seems to get the benefit of almost every possible bad call and missed call).

    • NU Cat ’95

      Sorry, it was Jones (and not Bryant) in coverage on the Hail Mary.

    • NJ Cat

      I share your sentiments!!!

  • Indycat15

    Everyone wants to point fingers which is understandable- but that was some dreadful luck too. Now I know how the Patriots felt after David Tyree’s 1 in a million catch. I don’t know how the team rebounds from this.

  • Nu68

    If there ever was a text book case of bad coaching in the final two minutes … This was it. What a moron … The same failed game management game after game after game … The players deserve better ….

    • fred

      I’m sure you had the same thoughts when Siemian was brought in just before the half.

      • NU68

        Actually I “had the same thoughts” when he refused to put Siemian in at the end of the 4th. S was hot; C was done.

  • cdmarine

    I am mystified as to why we didn’t make a more aggressive attempt at that final first down. They make that first down and the game is over. Instead, we showed zero aggression in a situation that absolutely demanded aggressive play calling, and we gave them a possession they should never have had. The bad punt just sealed it. And yeah, I know that a pass in that situation might not have worked. But you know what? I’d rather have a team that makes those kinds of decisions and sometimes fails, than a team that doesn’t make those kinds of aggressive calls when everything’s on the line.

  • West Coast Cat

    Why the continual insistence of the coaches to run up the middle in close yardage situations, especially when the ball is on the far hash mark? You’ve got 4th and 2, overtime, against Michigan, Mark and Colter in the game, so why wouldn’t you get them BOTH in space where they can create? Their speed and quickness (the best offensive chance) is neutralized when they run straight into the mob. Enough has been cogently written about the second half “defense.” DT is absolutely right: the problem is systemic. Watching NU collapse in the second half is like watching an elderly drunk relative: eventually they’ll fall.

    • David

      Mark was out….Tyris Jones was in.

    • Mark

      I was at the game and NU did not “collapse.” They kept taking it to UofM except the prevent defense with 18 seconds – of course that is the play that cost them, eventually, the game. But there was no “collapse.” The other team was playing hard. If the level of talent continues to go up these close losses against some of the perennial powers will turn into victories.

      • DT

        Hey, Mark… NU won these type games against Michigan previously.. I guess our talent was better say between 95 and 01???

        Come on.. This was poor coaching and execution… Has nothing to do with better level of talent or doing better against “perennial powers”…

      • fred

        Even the prevent defense was decent. Jones went up early to get the break up and got his hand on the ball before Roundtree and almost had the breakup. He just didn’t swat it farther away.

        • DT

          Jones did not make the play, Fred… Roundtree did… And then, Michigan made another play, called a Field Goal… And then, they made multiple plays in OT, whereupon, NU caved like a house of cards… The college football landscape is littered with losers who “almost” made plays or needed one or two more to close and finish… Please…

  • byebyefitz95

    How sad is it we have a coach who jumps up and down like a kid on Christmas morning when a penalty is called on them. First the money at the bowl game last year and now this? You’re a joke fitz!!!

    • NU Cat ’95

      +1000 That was pathetic. You won’t see another coach in America do this… and I mean that in the most negative way possible.

      • David

        He was making a point about the officiating. It was clearly too much. But in this game..on third down inside the 10 Kain was sacked by his facemask with no call leading to a FG. On a run in the first half they missed a facemask on Colter. They bailed Michigan out on 3 and 17 with a lame PI..l.while ignoring a PI on Vitable. They call a block in the back against Ward 30 yards away from the play. They call a phantom hold as Mark crosses the 20 yard line on the Kickoff return. They fail to call intentional grounding on Gardner in the endzone for a safety. I half expected the officials to change their mind on the spot of the ball once the measurement was a first down at the end of the game. Michigan got a lot of help in this game. Fitz was not cheering the penalty….he was making a big deal about finally getting a call.

        • NU Cat ’95

          We’ll have to agree to disagree here. I’m with you in some of the calls being questionable. (I think the hold on the KO return was legit. The Michigan player was tackled on the play and held down on the ground. It was called 25 yards BEFORE Mark got there. It opened a pretty big alley.) But Fitz’s reaction was pathetic. You may see some coaches get in the official’s ear with a “about goddamn time” comment or maybe a fist pump. But jumping up and down like your fourth grader just scored in a Pee Wee game? Come on! Like I said, no other coach in America would behave that way. It comes across as beyond amateur.

          • fred

            I thought it was great. Classic Fitz enthusiam.

        • DT

          He looked foolish doing it whatever his motivation…

    • fred

      Siemian did his acting job falling down (like Syracuse) and draws the personal foul. What do you want Fitz to be, unhappy that one of his kids has the smarts and creativity to draw fouls in critical situations? Yes it was a late hit, but might not have been called if Siemian didn’t embellish the hit. It was a clever play by Siemian, and yes, I think Fitz was thrilled with the acting job.

  • Mark

    Just got home from Ann Arbor. Wow, that was exciting. Honestly the only thing I question is the “prevent” defense with 18 seconds left in regulation. But the long completion was actually a bit of luck; the DB who tipped the ball had to make a quick decision about whether to hit the ball or let it go over his head. He tried to knock it down and unfortunately it was tipped to UofM. But Gardner had all day to throw the ball with 3 rushers. Agree with one other commentator – 8 guys back and no one else deep? Again – as Glen Mason said almost two months ago – “Northwestern, play the whole game like you’re behind.” I really wonder why NU coaches feel (they couldn’t believe it factually as it isn’t factual) that rushing 3 in critical situations and going into “prevent” works?. The Cats looked good and kept answering UofM except in the overtime. Although I agree that the 3 best teams the Cats have played have all beaten the Cats the Cats looked good today. I don’t think they’ll be down against Sparty.

  • DarkSide

    59:42. We cannot play 60 minutes. I am walking around Ann Arbor in a daze.

  • Jbonz

    Okay, so is anyone watching Alabama – Texas A&M? Some parallels. Aggies up 5 points with 40 seconds left, going to punt… so, they have 22 seconds more than Michigan had….

    • Jbonz

      awesome, refs call neutral zone infraction… aggies will win ths one.. why can’t we get those breaks!

      • DT

        We got a break when it counted on the late hit and took advantage of it.. I think what you should be asking about A&M is how they went from a 7-5 team that beat NU in the Texas Bowl to a Top 10 squad that pretty much outplayed Bama and made a big play to close the deal on the big stage, something NU has been constitutionaly incapable of the last seven years under the current Head Coach…
        Let’s talk about how they fired Mike Sherman, whose Pro Set stuff and NFL approach– never quite yielded what A&M thought would be Championship level in the Big 12, not to mention the ambitious move to The SEC… How getting Coach Sumlin and implementing a system that first round pick Ryan Tannehill would have struggled with no less, that has enabled Johnny Manziel, a red shirt freshman at that, to play at Heisman Level.. Swope, Malena and many others, were the same guys that played against NU just 11 months ago… Both sides of the ball look better and more focused under Sumlin.. Hmmm…
        Net/net, what you might be asking is how A&M GOT to the next level, and WHY NU continues flounder pissing away big games in conference and at at bowls… Maybe, just maybe, a new coach might help NU get to the proverbial next level, just like Sumlin did in lieu of Sherman? Just sayin..

        • Jbonz

          DT, I agree with you. I won’t be defending Fitz. But who at NU is going to be asking Fitz the hard questions?? Schapiro? Phillips?

          • Polymersci

            It’s not going to be Phillips since he is the guy who gave an unproven young coach a 10 year multimillion dollar contract … So maybe Shapiro needs to step-up.

          • DT

            @jbonz:disqus– That is two million dollar question… IMHO, President Morty needs to think back on his tenure at USC, look in the mirror and have a soul searching moment if he is indeed overseeing progress and if the football program is allied to overall school mission of excellence…. Moreover, does he want a Brand Ambassador or strategist as his Head Football Coach?
            Phillips will ask questions when Schapiro, Pat Ryan, or other influential big bucks booster, trustee, et al, get fed up losing key Big Ten games as well as post season contests with the bright lights on… I guess my thought is, guys like you, me and some truly great fans and boosters that comment here, really have to believe that NU as an institution gives a shit in the first place… OR are they happy just to not be back in the Dark Ages, and give folks that comment here for instance, enough reason to buy season tickets, watch televised games, and send a few bucks to NGN…

          • Jbonz

            @DT To make this even worse, my wife went to Notre Dame. And I am kind of the anti-fan… I struggle to like anything about Notre Dame. But the fact is, in my opinion, Notre Dame deserves a lot of respect. They don’t expect success, they demand success. You have got to admire that. they will cut the cord on a coach quickly. Look at Willingham, Davies, and Weiss (btw, if 60 minutes has to have a special about how you are a terrible ambassador for the school….). I had doubts about Brian Kelly, but he is a good coach, we need someone like that.

          • DT

            @jbonz:disqus– For 40+ years I disliked pretty much everything about ND, but have mellowed a bit, particulary after rocking their world in 95… I think you make some great points and indeed the difference with NU and ND is the expectations. Some here might say Fitz could have had the gig at ND… Maybe so… That said, at his current rate of performance for NU, he would have joined Willingham, Davie, and Weiss, right out there door in three or less… As it is, a contract for life scenario in Evanston.. Guess that says it all…

          • Nate

            That’s the question I’ve struggled with over the past few seasons…does NU really care about how far their revenue-generating athletics can go? I’m not sure, get back to me after this football and bball season. Which is why I always bring up the question, should the academic standards be relaxed a bit? I know it takes a while for progress to be seen, but golly, how much longer do we have to wait?

        • Polymersci

          Or how the Michigan team quickly improved under Brady/Madison or Notre Dame under Kelly? And as DT clearly elucidated how Coach Sumlin has done an amazing job with the Aggies in less than a year! It all starts with the HC so when people continue to say Fitz is the perfect guy for NU, I hear Lee Corso…”Not so fast my friend!”

        • NUARANINETYFIVE

          Gary Barnett–OC; Ron Vanderlin–DC. Any questions?

          • NUARANINETYFIVE

            Both Associate Head Coaches who are responsible for all game day decisions. Fitz takes the appropriate ‘Paterno’ role of CEO/Spokesperson.

          • DT

            NUARANINETYFIVE – Yes… I’d have one operative question– Are you serious? In terms of your other tidbit of wisdom, I’d point to that great “CEO/Spokesperson” Joe Pa’s, interaction with his long time OC Fran Ganter.. When Joe Pa did not like play selection or flow of game, many times through the years, Paterno would take control of the “O” leaving Gantner standing in the wind of Happy Valley like a kid who just had his luncheon stolen.. Great leader that Joe Paterno… Certainly, not a guy to leave strategy unchecked.. Nor do the vast majority of other long term successful coaches.. They have expertise, related to strategy and implementation on one side of the ball…

            The difference with Fitz and Paterno as a “Strategist”, is Paterno had earnest experience and expertise on the offensive side of the ball that translated success on the field. Fitz, is a spokesperson and administrator first and foremost at NU because he lacks the tactical and strategic pedigree most in his position of BCS Conference Football do indeed have..

          • NUARANINETYFIVE

            Actually, I am. I do not see Fitz being fired. I think this is a similar situation as Illinois had with Zook. Zook being a solid recruiter and motivator and a horrible game day tactician. Everybody agrees that Fitz is an incredible representative of the university. Hire Vanderlinden with the understanding that he will take over for Fitz when he retires. Vanderlinden knows how to recruit or NU and has a current pipeline on the east coast that would add to our opportunities. We NEED the defense of the ’95 team…Ron can deliver. Secondly, Gary is DYING to get back into coaching. This is his opportunity. The creative offense calling he brought to NU sorely needed. This time–Gary will committ to the ‘Cats WINNING the Rose Bowl. He would get NU out of this conservative ‘rut’ we are in and has the respect of Fitz. Ron Vanderlinden deserves another shot at a head coaching job. Bottom line- Ron and Gary know how to win the BIG games. This staff does not. We get to keep what we love most about Fitz and outsource to Ron and Gary what is needed…leading a team with a killer instinct and (dare I say) has a legitimate shote at a National title with the upcoming playoff format. Look what is happening at the ‘other’ Wildcat team in Kansas. That same ‘turnaround’ can happen again. Barnett/Vanderlinden ’13 …real change.

  • Chris Luke

    Was at the game. That wasn’t one of his worst punts of the year, it was his worst punt EVER! Punt it out at the 20 and the game is over, even with the fluky tipped ball. We might as well have gone for it on 4th and nine. As far as the refs go, little beef here except for the obvious missed PI. Gardner did not ground the ball: he simply threw it up and there happened to be a receiver in the area. He was lucky it wasn’t a pick six. I simply could not believe what I was seeing at the end.

    • http://twitter.com/CheechPDX Steve Klopcic

      This is the key. That punt should have set them up with a full field to drive, 20s remaining, and no timeouts. I am so frustrated with the special teams. My 5 year old asked me why they didn’t kick it into the end zone. Really.

  • Scott

    Not quite sure what is more predictable this season…the repeating fourth-quarter problems that lead to deflating losses, or the predictable, angry name-calling on this board afterwards. Critique? Analysis? Great. Fine. But no outcome, and certainly no coach, deserves some of this season’s vitriol.

  • http://twitter.com/rwbluemoon Cody S

    everyone on this board is being a bunch of crybabies for the most part. we played great. this was hardly a coaching loss except for the single coverage and poor OT playcalling. everything else was fine. everyone here complained when they kept switching qbs, and now they want them switched when they think itll work. our gameplan was perfect. we got the job done. they got a miracle. end of

    • theclaw

      agreed. this wasn’t a normal fourth quarter collapse. just normal ebbs and flows and then something extremely unlucky happened

    • NJCAT

      It is ABSOLUTELY NOT CRYING when criticizing poor coaching decisions. One need not disagree with an entire game plan to legitimately disagree with calls on critical plays. It was tough enough that we seemed to be playing against both Mich and the refs yesterday. Only 2 penalties agst Mich. Come on! Not sure why its only pass int agst our defenders when they dont look back for ball but not called against our opponents. That fact notwithstanding, there is NO WAY this game should have been lost and the fact and manner it was was disgraceful!

      While watching (not Monday or Sunday morning quarterbacking), at the end of the game, I was telling my wife and sons we NEEDED a first down to put the game away AND it was worth the risk of putting the ball in the air to do so. I simply do not trust our D to close out a game. However, as much as people want to retrospectively criticicize Fitz’ playcalling on our last drive in regulation, his clock management and punting with 27 secs left was not unreasonable. What is UNFORGIVEABLE AND IRRATIONAL is not kicking the ball out of bounds!!!! In that situation, YOU CANNOT ALLOW ANY RETURN! Even a horrile 30 yrd punt would have put the ball at the 20 and would have required 2(not 1 ) big plays for Mich to score. Then you cannot have single coverage on the deep pass. THAT TOO IS COACHING.N I give the safety a pass for tipping the ball even though it was over Roundtree’s hands because when he jumped he didnt know that. The D BACKS HAVE TO BE COACHED TO FOUL RATHER THAN GIVE UP THAT LONG PASS. The stupid NCAA rule of only 15 yrds and not a spot foul for pass int. would have given Mich the ball at NU’s 48 with 9 tics left AND NO TIME OUTS.. NU still wins

  • Mark

    After today’s game against Michigan there have been comparisons of the Cats coaching staff to UofM and Texas A&M. I certainly disagree with some of the decisions the Cats’ coaching staff makes but also want to compare the raw talent coming in. Here are Phil Steele’s rankings of today’s starters for the 3 teams:

    QB: Cats: 50; UofM: 4; Texas A&M: 26
    RB: Cats: 255; UofM: 28; Texas A&M: 31
    TE/SB: Cats: 159; UofM: 10 (Funchess); Texas A&M: 156
    WRs: Cats: 69, 71, NR; UofM: 25, 68, NR; Texas A&M: 43, 59, 184
    C/RG/LG/RT/LT: Cats: 127, 122, 99, 93, 25; UofM: 31, 195, 153, 36, 26; Texas A&M: 56, 33, 542 (now projected as a 1st Rounder), 4, 31

    Notice a trend?

    DE/DE/DT(NT)/DT: Cats: 12, 37, 251, 237; UofM: 218, 16, 2, 30; Texas A&M: NR, 101, 140, 303
    SLB/MLB/WLB: Cats: 295, 96, 125; UofM: 281, 29, 240; Texas A&M: 173, 65, 52JC
    CB/CB/SS/FS: Cats: 408, 203, 85, 304; UofM: 56, 63, NR, 141; Texas A&M: 170, 79, 72, 140

    We all have a list of highly rated H.S. players who didn’t make it and walk ons who did (Zeke Markhausen). But if you look at Steele’s ratings the Very Highly Touted and Highly Touted high school players are the ones who dominate the dominant college teams. I think if Nate Silver looked at these ranking numbers of today’s starters for these 3 teams he might say NU is clearly below the other two teams in talent. He might even be able to develop a formula for predicting the point spread. Again, I disagree with some things the NU coaching staff does but one conclusion to draw from these numbers is that the Cats are pretty well coached. So if President Morty talked to Nate instead of us he might think: Our team overachieves, they’re almost never/never in the papers for crimes or dumb stuff, they graduate, so while the coaches may have issues they’re doing an excellent job.

    • DT

      @d7d8267edeed9ef594840360ffcef4bb:disqus- Your stats would probably make Dave Axelrod or Karl Rove blush with pride. Phil Steele should be charging for use of data as well albeit, might be in-kind for the publicity…
      Really, the bottom line of your analysis is that NU does a superior job coaching inferior talent? I guess we just don’t have a chance, to beat Michigan or Texas A&M right? Further, I’m assuming that some trend exists that you feel seven years into the current Head Coaches tenure, that trend will be alleviated as NU continues playing 40-50 level FBS? Are we to assume, Northwestern is playing at an optimal level and this is indeed acceptable level of performance in the Big Ten Conference for NU– given what you attempt to clarify is a decided lack of recruiting priority of our student-athletes? What I’m hearing you write/say..

      I’m really intrigued by your numbers on Running Back with NU being #255? Guess part of that, is the starter was recruited as an Athlete/Wide Out? Might be asked, why NU did not identify his potential out of High School during recruitment– burning two years of NCAA eligibility in the process before focusing on running back… Good coaching? See it how you wish I guess…

      • Mark

        My bottom line is that the coaching staff still believes in going conservative on both defense and offense when they’re ahead and it blows up on them – see my constant quote of Mason: “Northwestern, play the whole game like you’re behind.” I don’t know if rushing 4 today with 18 seconds would have produced a different result, but have seen enough of the prevent defense that only prevents Cats’ victories to know that rushing Scott/Williams/Lowery, and Arnfelt might have produced just a little more pressure so Gardner didn’t have all day to throw the ball all the way down the field.

        I certainly did not believe this morning going to Ann Arbor that NU was the 24th best team in the country. I hope that the talent keeps improving. I can’t speak to the mid -90′s through 2004 teams – I am a recent convert.

        I think Mark – 255 – was a running back and WR in H.S. It’s a little hard to tell from the info I have available (92 carries and 23 receptions in his senior year for a 9-3 team). But he has certainly shown this year that he’ll stick his nose in and drive the pile. Today I pointed out to my wife several times when no hole opened up you could actually see him accelerate into the pile – he lets things develop but when nothing opens up he hits the hole full speed. He’s definitely a tough guy.

        But my second point is that many of the teams NU plays have superior talent. While I and others have been accused of drinking the Fitz/Hank/Brown Koolaid – and actually I do because I like to go to games, enjoy them, and move on – I think there is also a Koolaid flavor I see being imbibed on this blog and it is “we’re smarter than all the other teams and if our coaches were just smarter – as smart as us – we’d win every game.” Unfortunately that is generally not the way it works in athletics – especially, I think, as the level of competition goes up. The athletes get much better and the coaches spend hundreds of hours coaching them on every single little aspect of play.

        I’m not crazy about being compared to Alelrod or Rove – especially the turd blossom. I thought you’d compare me to Nate. :)

        • DT

          Fair enough… I respect the response… That said, I think you need to calibrate your expectations and theory with a little bit more historical perspective, taking it back to the apex of the program from the mid 90′s through Y2K… The Cats played at legit Top 20 level three years… Bottom line it took place with talent that was recruited with less demand and prestige then 2012… You waded into the water on Texas A&M as well.. I’d remind you what Sumlin did with a Mid Major at Houston, stamping his ticket to the SEC at A&M, where they fired a current NFL “O” Coordinator and Head Coach to get him on the sidelines… Simple old rule of football.. The good coaches “coach em up”… Maybe I’m drinking that Koolaid you reference in that I think NU can and should do better. Enought said…

          Finally, I saved you a comparison to Dick Morris… :) Peace…

          • Mark

            @DT. LOL re the Dick Morris comparison, although my politics are actually more Bernie Sanders. Also, I hear you about the earlier era of success based on coaching.

  • mwmakerx5

    Very frustrating

  • http://twitter.com/michaelrroche Michael Roche

    After having had this sink in for several hours:
    This has been maddening to watch, to be sure. 3 blown leads, etc etc.

    That said, this season so far has been leaps and bounds better than anyone could have predicted. But didn’t we all think this team was a year (or more) away? I think these games just sort of prove it, right? Good, not great execution. They’re learning. They’re young. They’ll take a lot from this season and head into 2013 much better-prepared (and a much harder schedule).

    But, again – tough to keep watching this

  • mwmakerx5

    I was at the game. I’m not sure why everyone was so upset by the punt. Was it the greatest, no, but I don’t view that as the reason we lost the game. What really upset me was our offensive play calling after we recovered the interception. Why do we just shut down and try to run out time? We are so damned afraid of a turnover that we just kept sending Colter and Mark up the middle for 1 yard a pop. For heaven sake, keep the offensive moving and go for the first down! Why put yourself in a position to give the ball back to Michigan with any time on the clock? This team just can’t close out a win against a top tier team. So we’ll just continue to win 6 to 7 games a year against Indiana, Minnesota, etc. But when we play teams like Penn State, Michigan or Nebraska, we just can’t put the game away. I believe this is coaching above all else.

    • PBRCat

      Amen!

    • timc

      It’s not either/or here. I agree 100% about the conservative play calling, but the punt was HUGE. That play was just as situational as any critical 3rd down. It didn’t seem like all the options were considered, especially that of putting it in the end zone to eliminate ANY return and give them the ball at the 20. Taking the 5 yard penalty stupidly took that option off the table. The exchange netted us only 12 yards. 12 YARDS! Williams is not a rugby kicker. That’s coaching. How many of you like our chances of holding on with 20+ seconds and Michigan at their own 20 with no time-outs? That you can pretty much guarantee simply by thinking it through. Don’t you see? You can just make a decision assuming basic execution that this is what you would have to close out the game. Just BE Chip Kelly and look at the math. Look at the odds. Take Williams out of his zone literally and figuratively-make him “rugby on the run” and look what happens. THAT’S why so many of us are upset by the punt.

West Division

TeamsW (Overall)L (Overall)W (B1G)L (B1G)
Minnesota1000
Purdue1000
Iowa1000
Nebraska1000
Illinois1000
Northwestern0100
Wisconsin0100

East Division

TeamsW (Overall)L (Overall)W (B1G)L (B1G)
Rutgers1000
Penn State1000
Michigan1000
Michigan State1000
Ohio State1000
Indiana1000
Maryland1000