It’s pretty funny how things happen. I’ve had the LTP Wildcat Awards in the works for more than a week based on the general gist that despite going 9-3, you have to look long and hard for Wildcat names on any “all-anything” list. I’m sorry, but how does Venric Mark not qualify for the Tribune’s Silver Football Award (Lee Gissendanner won it on a 3-8 team thanks to being #1 in punt returns and being a good receiver) – c’mon Teddy, I thought you had some pull over there! Yet, for those of you not in Chicago, one former ‘Cat player is getting the single most attention I can ever remember in one week for an NU player at the NFL level. Nick Roach has become the man of the hour, in the wake of the news that Brian Urlacher is sidelined for 2-4 weeks. Every hour of every sports radio talk show, local news reporters and print media beat writers have laser beams on the heir apparent to captain the Bears defense. It’s almost out of control. Roach was one of the few Bears who played a great game on Sunday, but now the weight of being the captain of the D rests on his shoulders with a playoff berth hanging in the balance. There are just too many stories to link to on this topic right now…give ‘ol Google a try and see what I mean.
The LTP Wildcat Awards
Most B1G schools had a gripe with this year’s All-Big Ten awards. When you scan the media and coaches awards, you can understand why. The coaches voted Taylor Martinez over Braxton Miller at QB. Michigan’s Jake Ryan was low down on the list and as Northwestern fans you wonder how in the world Jeff Budzien could “tie” for the best kicker award in his own conference. Let alone the scarcity of ‘Cats on the list, considering we went 9-3. Jeff Budzien got snubbed from the Lou Groza finalist list prompting Fitz to pledge himself to forever disassociate himself with the award and I’m right there with him. So, I thought to help forget about all the other awards and lists, let’s create our very own, the LTP Wildcat Awards so it can be all about us, all day long. We’re going to create some fun categories, so feel free to join in.
Best Offseason Coaches’ Move Award: Moving Venric Mark to RB
The news came in the off-season and didn’t exactly solicit a lot more than a “hmmm….interesting”. Fitz announced that Venric Mark, the ‘Cats star return man, would move from WR to RB and immediately most fans embraced it, but then immeditaely questioned his durability because of his diminutive stature. Knuckleheads like me extrapolated it to mean we’d be running a lot of option along the edge and boy, was I wrong. Mark, as you know, put up one of the most remarkable seasons in NU history by averaging 109 ypg rushing, 1310 total yards with an eye-popping 6.15 ypc average while also leading the entire nation in punt returning. His explosive play list is one that is visually seared in our memory banks and considering he had only 7 yards in a few plays in the Michigan State game and a 100-yard KOR vs Michigan that got called back for no reason, it could’ve been even juicier in the stat category. Fitz has already admitted that not moving Mark to RB sooner is one of his bigger regrets as a coach.
Most Clutch Play Of The Year: Trevor Siemian
It was week one and the ‘Cats had seen yet another huge lead melt away as Syracuse QB Ryan Nassib shredded our secondary. Kain Colter got injured and Trevor stepped in for a potential game-winning drive on the road, cold. After picking up the first down on a late hit to keep the drive alive, Siemian’s perfectly placed pass to Demetrius Fields won the season opener for the ‘Cats. There are other clutch plays, but the momentum of escaping Syracuse with a win to open the season helped us jump out to a great start to the season and you wonder just how things might have gone had it not happened.
Newcomer of the Year: Nick VanHoose
The redshirt freshman put on a show this season as each game he seemed to double his previous game’s improvement. The fact we have Nick for three more years gives me a ton of comfort knowing he has a chance to become in the conversation with Chris Martin and Sherrick McManis as one of the alltime greats at that position. Teams were already scheming to throw to the other side of the field from where #23 roamed.
Luckiest Call of The Year: Siemian Pass & Rashad Lawrence’s “Catch” vs Vanderbilt
This could also be viewed as the runner-up for clutch play of the year. Game tied 13-13 with under 4 minutes to go and a 3rd and 15 for NU around our own 40. Oh, yeah, a torrential rain pouring down under the lights at Ryan Field. Siemian throws a bomb down the sideline perfectly placed in Rashad Lawrence’s breadbasket and he grabs it momentarily and then it pops out as he gets hit. The bang-bang play looks like an incompletion, yet the SEC ref rules it a catch. The play stands, we get the go-ahead FG and then ice it a few minutes later thanks to Kain.
Worst Call Against Us This Year: Taylor Martinez’s safety
The ‘Cats had all kinds of mojo going as Nebraska couldn’t handle a punt return and the buzz in the air was very much upset for Northwestern and Martinez was scrambling in the back of his end zone as Chi Chi Ariguzo was wrapping him up and Martinez turned, and tossed the ball to the line. There was no eligible receiver anywhere near the play and the Huskers were able to escape.
The Kain Colter Award: Kain Colter
This guy gets his own award as it will heretofore represent the “sickest single game award”. Kain should get multiple awards, but his single game performance against Indiana was one of the more remarkable single game performances I’ve ever witnessed by a Wildcat. The stats alone are silly – 161 rushing yards at QB and 131 yards of receiving on nine catches, but the intangible of becoming Cyrus McCormick-like in his interchangeable parts on each play was one of the most bizarre and exciting things I’ve seen.
Strangest Play Of The Year: Chi Chi Ariguzo’s Syracuse Waltz TD
The ‘Cats were on D up 21-13 at Syracuse when Ryan Nassib threw a screen pass to Smith in the backfield which was dropped and bounced in to Chi Chi Ariguzo’s hands. The ball was live, but neither Nassib, Smith or Chi Chi realized it was. Thank goodness the cadre of ‘Cats defenders literally started pushing Chi Chi who went from a walk, to a jog, to a sprint for the strangest TD of the year for NU.
Best Improv Play: Kain Colter, Vanderbilt.
The ‘Cats had the ball up 16-13 and went in to old schoool Fitz ball, going ultra conservative with a couple minutes left and suddenly found themselves in a 3rd and forever and likely having to punt the ball back to Vanderbilt with about :30 to go. Colter started to his left and reversed course on his own, found a seam and sealed the win with an individual head-turning moment that we came to see over and over again in 2012.
Most Improved Player Within Season: Dan Vitale
The true freshman evolved from a good blocking back to a receiving threat and a huge part of some wins down the stretch. He’s one of many reasons NU is poised for a great 2013.
Nick Roach Injury/Momentum Swing Of The Year: Nick VanHoose
The ‘Cats CB went down with NU up double digits on Nebraska late in the second half. Nebraska pounced on our misfortune and went instantly to the air attack and racked up 140 yards through the air in a matter of minutes and as you know escaped with the 29-28 win. If you watch the tape it was a mini-me version of what happened after Nick Roach’s infamous 2006 broken leg vs Sparty late in the third.
Series Most Likely To Change NU’s Future: Final Possession vs Michigan State
Email Fitz, text Jim Phillips and flag down Mick McCall. Celebrate and shine a spotlight on the behavior and playcalling reversal that was our final possession of the win in East Lansing. Clinging to a 3-point lead and without the services of Kain Colter, Northwestern did what they hadn’t done in the past two seasons in similar situations – the played to win as opposed to playing not to lose. McCall had Trevor come out passing and shocked the fan base in a good way, as we picked up a first down and nearly won the game by getting enough time off the clock by moving the chains. Even if we had gone 3-and-out I would’ve stand and applauded this approach. It worked, our defense held with :30ish to go and I’m hoping EVERY TIME WE ARE IN THIS SITUATION in the future, we look at this as the new approach.
Johnny (Football) On The Spot: Chi Chi Ariguzo
The hard pressing LB had a standout season, and they say you make your lucky breaks, but man oh man did it seem like Chi Chi always found himself with the ball in front of him for turnovers.
Most Unexpected Storyline Of The Year: The Year of the Run/The Year of NOT the Receivers
This one stunned us. Can you believe Northwestern AVERAGED 231 ypg rushing? This was 14th in the nation and thanks to Kain Colter/Venric Mark and a much improved O-line, really became the bread and butter of our offense. The downside was the staff’s not wanting Kain Colter to pass, which makes the stat even more remarkable as defenses knew what we were going to do and we still beat them. We expected a dink and dunk fest with a loaded WR corps, but it was the opposite storyline.
Most Likely Player To Get His Own LTP Campaign: Jeff Budzien
Wow. The season he had was AMAZING, going 15/16 on FGs and not missing a PAT. He was clutch and won a few games for us (see: BC, Vandy) and was a foot away from having the second most thrilling game-winning FG behind only Brian Gowins ’96 Michigan kick. The fact he wasn’t even named a finalist for the Lou Groza award is a complete debacle.
Single Most Memorable Image of the Year: Bo Cisek
Yes, we’ll never forget the Michigan Hail Mary and the bat down by Daniel Jones, but to me, ten years from now we’ll remember Bo Cisek in the backfield as the clock wore down in our massacre of Illinois. The moment stood for so much more – a rare dominant, run-away win, a tribute to the alltime winningest senior class and just plain fun.
Surprise Stat of the Year, Defense: Rushing D
The ‘Cats have been, well, traditionally awful since 1996 against the run. However, kudos to Mike Hankwitz and Marty Long for producing an incredible turn around in our front seven against the run. Northwestern gave up just 122 ypg, good for 18th in the NCAA on the ground. A runner-up stat is our 2.1 sacks per game, eight more than 2011 and a middle of the pack finish.
Unsung Hero Award: Mike Trumpy
I’m still not sure why he wasn’t our go-to 3rd down back, but Mike played like a trooper despite drastically reduced touches. Instead of sulking about not being “the man”, he found his role and consistently produced every game, every touch. He had countless key first down pick-ups and I look for great things from him next year.
Now, it’s your turn. Go ahead and add your awards in the comments section. I’ll take the best ones and add it to the list.
‘Cats Place Pair on Academic All-America List
Congrats to OL Patrick Ward and DT Brian Arnfelt for being named to the Capital One Academic All-American Award team. Ward earned his second career FIRST team award, while Arnfelt was named second team. A truly great accomplishment gents. Click here for more.