‘Cats – Illini Gameday (Literally) Edition
Let’s hope the immense distractions that have been playing out nationally regarding this game are only distracting us and not Evan Watkins and the ‘Cats. NU students have been up all night with many reading this in the dark while standing on the set of ESPN Gameday. I feel as if we’re about to experience the most surreal football experience in our collective lifetimes. And considering that feeling we had walking through the looooong tunnel at the Rose Bowl to take to our seats that is saying something. LTP caught wind that we are wearing throwback uniforms of the mid 1990s variety – the purple and black Fitz-era type. I have yet to officially confirm, but be on the lookout. Away. We. Go.
ARV/#25 Northwestern (7-3, 3-3) vs Illinois (5-5, 3-4)
Date: November 20, 2010
Kickoff: 2:35 pm ct
Location: Wrigley Field (39,800) – Chicago, IL
Series since 1995: Northwestern leads 10-5
Alltime Series: Illinois leads 52-46-5
Trends: ‘Cats have won six of the last seven
Favored Team: Illinois (-8)
TV: ESPN PXP -Mark Jones, Color – Bob Davie, SL-Erin Andrews
Radio: WGN Radio.com PXP – Dave Eanet, Color – Ted Albrecht, SL – Sam Valensizi
Sirius Radio Channel 90, XM Radio Channel 196; WNUR 89.3 FM (student station)
Coaching Stats: NU – Pat Fitzgerald (5th year – 34-26, 18-20) vs Ron Zook ( 6th year – 26-43, 15-31)Fitz vs Illini: 3-1
Zook vs ‘Cats: 1-4
The Ground Rules:
Before we jump in to the “normal” coverage, it is important we are all on the same page with the wacky ground rules for this once-in-a-lifetime approach to a college football game:
1) All offensive plays will head toward the West end zone, including all extra points and all overtime possessions.
2) All kickoffs will be kicked toward the East end zone.
3) After every change of possession, the ball will be repositioned for the offense to head toward the West end zone.
4) As a result of a coin toss held by the conference office Friday morning, Illinois will occupy the West team bench in the first half and Northwestern will occupy the West team bench in the second half and for all overtime periods.
I’ve never been so exhausted BEFORE a gameday. Today, the country will find out where the heck ESPNU is on their respective TVs as the ‘Cats and Illini meet for the 104th time in a trophy game, The Land of Lincoln Trophy, but have generated so much national PR this game has become must see TV. Since defeating Iowa in dramatic fashion, the college football world has had a rather roller-coaster diversion from Cam Newton files as the right field wall may have become Auburn’s best friend. With the Big Ten’s decision to step in and force both teams to play offense going in one direction – West – the gameplan(s) have been revised and the only thing that is certain is now surreality.
The ‘Cats enter as 8-point underdogs but it feels as if both teams fan bases feel as if these are teams heading in different directions. My, what a difference two weeks can make. The Illini have been crushed two lockerroom challenging losses – one getting scorched for 67 points in the 3 OT thriller at Michigan and then last week a collapse against previously conference goose egg holder Minnesota (we ‘Cats fans know to not throw stones at that one). The press has questioned the Illini’s cohesiveness and you wonder if there may be in-fighting and fractures with team chemistry that similarly plagued some of Juice Williams’ teams. This media hype on Wrigley and NU has projected a feeling that we SHOULD be favored yet we’re in our familiar underdog role, which is our collective comfort zone. The Illini opened eyes with incredible “D” against the likes of Ohio State and Penn State and took care of business against Indiana and Purdue in ways that we can only dream about. Yet, it feels like a different team ago.
The major headline in all of the actual game is Evan Watkins’ debut as a starter. The 6-6, 245 pound manchild and RS frosh will get to play in one of the most memorable events in NU history in his own hometown. The lack of game experience by Watkins has NU fans clutching to the QB-U success we’ve developed in recent years having success plug-and-playing QBs. Watkins has a stellar arm and can throw big time and his mobility is the most underrated attribute. I am concerned about all of this chaos leading to distraction, but who knows?
When Evan Watkins Is On The Field
Let’s hope first and foremost he remembers which direction to go. God knows I’m confused and I have zero bearing on the game. I’m expecting an unfavorable play mix of too much run early by NU which could be troublesome. I’d love to see him jump out of the gate tossing the rock, but I feel as though we are ultra-conservative on this and will likely try to ease him in to it. The Illini secondary is the weak link here and we MUST test them downfield. It will be really fascinating to see how we handle the first drive, but candidly I’m prepared to be frustrated by the play-calling early. I hope I’m wrong. If we’re handing off on 2nd and 3rd and ten I’ll be mightily upset. Prove me wrong Mick McCall. Keep an eye on who steps up to be the calming influence and Persa-like captain on the field. My money is on Ebert or Dunsmore.
When Nathan Scheelhaase is Facing West:
No secret to Mike Hankwitz’s plan here. Its’ called contain, contain, contain. Contain Mikel Leshoure, the standout Illini RB who averages 100+ yds per game on the ground and contain Nathan Scheelhaase who is evasive like Dan Persa, but not nearly as accurate. Force Scheelhaase to beat NU downfield and Hankwitz is doing his job. The key will be stopping the run on 1st down and putting the accomplished freshman in 2nd and 3rd long situations.
The Wrigley Factor:
Several folks, including Fitz have mentioned the old street football addage “losers walk” after a score. If there is one big advantage to me it is the fact NU won the coin toss yesterday for the sideline positioning. Northwestern won the toss and will have the advantage of being close to the now famous west end zone meaning easier communication when driving for scores and close proximity for substitutions once we cross the 50. We get it for OT as well if necessary.
The Rodney Dangerfield “no respect” cards will be out today. The ‘Cats have been underdogs in every one of Fitz’s appearances against Illinois, yet we are 3-1 against them during this span. The puzzling part is NU has been an underdog in a season in which they entered 7-3 and 6-4 in games against sub .500 Illini teams. In Ron Zook’s six seasons, he has had only one .500 or better season. Conversely, Fitz has had only one season in which he hasn’t been at least .500. Go figure.
I’m expecting at least one spine tingling “Dan Persa” chant tomorrow and with good reason. It’s Persa’s birthday which will be his most bittersweet as he watches from the sidelines. A reminder – PLEASE send in your notes of inspiration and ‘Get Wells” to Dan by emailing me at lake the posts @ gmail.com – we have nearly 70 to date and I want to make it to 100. We’ll ensure he gets them on Monday so get them in today!!
Ring The (Wedding) Bell:
Congratulations from LTP to former Wildcat player Doug Szymul who is getting married today to former Wildcat tennis player Stacy Kokx. In addition to their collective last names being a bonanza in points on a Scrabble board, the two lovebirds are bummed their missing the game. However, in true ‘Cat fashion, be on the lookout for ten guys in tuxedos around the Gameday set. Szymul is an ESPN employee and has some pull to get around the set. Doug – be careful my friend. You don’t want to be late…best wishes from LTP!
Lake The Posts Factor: 9.0
OK, I admit beating a 5-5 team is not worthy of ripping down FG posts, but c’mon. When you have students who can rest their beer on the post in right field (don’t even think about it!) there is a tempting logistical factor that weighs in on this usually-reserved-ranking-for-importance metric. Let’s face it, this is a bowl-like game that because of the attention will now have many more eyeballs and an 8-3 mark sounds pretty nifty don’t you think? Three straight 8+ win seasons? THAT would be progress.
Pick to Click: Drake Dunsmore
It’s time for double “D” to step-up and assume the leadership role in Persa’s absence. With Ebert having a shot to eclipse 1000 yards receiving you can bet Vic Koennig is focusing on shutting down #11. Hence, Drake’s breakout game of the year is due.
ESPN Gameday Factor
Please take photos that we can share tonight and tomorrow from the festitvities on LTP. Also, screen grabs will be very much appreciated. I’m thinking any LTP references might get special props. Hmmm…
Flip a coin. I haven’t a clue of what to expect. I do like the coaching advantage as I’m hoping there is just enough of an edge that it’ll make a difference. The ‘Cats are in familiar territory – an underdog in November with bowl positioning on the line. Will Mr. November get us to 11-5 during his tenure? I think so, but barely. I’m pretty confident the craziest stat I know of in the FBS will stay in tact – that is, NU has gone 26 straight games either being tied or ahead in the second half of a game. I’m expecting a VERY low scoring 1st quarter with teams finding their flow in the second half.
Northwestern 23 Illinois 21
LTP will be at the game and therefore won’t be posting until late Saturday night. Feel free to use this space as the community to share, hi-five, moan, groan and hopefully bring home the win. A full report coming later tonight when I get home.
Did (N)U Know?
With a win today, Pat Fitzgerald would tie his mentor, Gary Barnett with 35 all-time wins at NU and be within one of Ara Parseghian. Fitz is 15 shy of tying the all-time wins mark (49) at NU.
LTP will be at the game in full force so use this comments section as the community to hi-5, rant, rave etc…Expect a recap post LATE tonight after I get back from the Wrigley festivities.