Friday, October 26, 2012

Northwestern Football Is Exhilarating, Terrifying, and Bowl-Eligible

Northwestern is vincible.  We all knew that the Wildcats would face trouble once they got into the Big Ten schedule, and they lost both games against difficult opponents.  At the same time, they took care of business on the road in Minnesota and became bowl-eligible for the fifth consecutive season.  Northwestern had only qualified for six bowl games in the entire history of the program before Fitz took over, although bowl requirements were much stricter in the 1950s and 60s; you didn't have the Winston Cigarettes T-Zone Bowl, or the Coppertone Asscheeck Bowl, or the Score a Touchdown/Give 'em Trouble/Lick 'em Like You'll/Lick That Stubble/Burma-Shave Bowl.

Unlike today's bowls named for ridiculous corporations, earlier bowls were 
named after solid staple crops and advertised to people with the exciting prospect 
of a gigantic naked infant lounging menacingly in the stadium.  Note in both 
programs, the stadiums are full of people who seem to be perfectly content 
with their football game being converted into a crib for a baby the size of the 
Chrysler building with no control over its own bladder and no sense of remorse

Northwestern has played more or less the same game for several weeks.  The 'Cats go into halftime with the lead, then the coaching staff unveils its Sword of Damocles packages on offense and defense as we watch the lead evaporate.  During the fourth quarter, the best word to describe Northwestern's playing style is "besieged."  It's tremendously exiting.

Someone who actually knows something about numbers will probably see in one 
second that this graph doesn't really show anything, but I would counter that a falling 
blue line and rising red line correlate directly with the number of household objects 
that I am destroying with my forehead as I watch Northwestern games because that is 
the proper way to watch football.  That's why I bring a briefcase full of scrap wood 
with me when I watch a game at a bar, so I can quietly excuse myself after a big play 
and smash it into smithereens with my forehead in a parking lot


Northwestern has allowed comebacks in all but two of its games this season-- the South Dakota steamrollering, and the actual Northwestern comeback against Vanderbilt.  The Commodores were so confused by the ordeal that they have refused to play Northwestern in football, canceling future dates with a letter to the athletic department instead of the traditional method of football scheduling, which involves sending a courier with a wax-sealed parchment or, at the very least, a falcon.  Fitz faxed the Vanderbilt Athletic Department 145 pages of ASCII pictures of a fist that, when bound together, create an animated fist-pump flip book.

The Wildcats managed to hold on until the Penn State game, when the offense disappeared in the second half.  This gave the Penn State offense the opportunity to unleash Matt McGloin, the flame-headed hobgoblin of Northwestern football.  McGloin and human battering ram Mike Zordich found new life against an exhausted Northwestern defense in the second half, took over the game, and rallied the Nittany Lions to victory.

Last week, Northwestern was unable to hold the lead against Nebraska, as Taylor Martinez led the Cornhuskers to two unanswered touchdowns.  Martinez has had two of his best games doing whatever it is he does that resembles passing against the Northwestern defense; the Wildcat coaching staff will be training DBs before next year's game by firing footballs at them from Napoleonic War cannons.
Allumez la mèche et trouvez le trou dans la zone de couverture

The comeback also happened while Northwestern was wearing its fancy new Big Game Black Alternates, which marks another loss in dandy duds.  These new uniforms featured a stenciled Wildcat on the helmet instead of the traditional sculpted N, although by the end of the game, the logo seemed to be yowling in frustration as the Huskers marched towards the with the aid of the inconsiderate forces of inevitability.

Northwestern's running game remains impressive.  Venric Mark is an electric back who terrorizes opposing special teams coordinators, and the option game with Colter is dangerous near the goal line.  The passing game, however, is still developing.  Northwestern averages just over 172 yards per game, good for dead last in the conference.  That's less than Wisconsin, a team with a playbook that consists of two plays labeled "give the ball to Ron Dayne," with the words "Ron Dayne" scratched out and replaced by whoever is the current running back.
The Badgers are trying to find an Aaron Gibson equivalent for their Replacement 
Daynes to run behind, but NCAA regulations currently prohibit tying two tackles 
together and letting them share the same pair of pants

Kolter has drifted back into his role from last year, working as an option quarterback and slot receiver.  Siemian is sent in on obvious passing downs.  Fitz plans on slowly rotating running backs, receivers, and backup linemen into the quarterback spot; one day the entire Wildcat offense will come off the sideline all yelling "I'M QUARTERBACK," which will confuse the defense.


Northwestern has a burgeoning quasi-rivalry with the Hawkeyes: we don't like them, and they are vaguely indifferent.  The Hawkeyes suffered some tough losses in their non-conference schedule, but are in the mix for the LEGENDS DIVISION.  Like Northwestern, they've struggled in the passing game as they learn Greg Davis's system.  It is Davis's sorry fate in life to be universally despised by fans of whatever team he happens to coach for-- crowds gather to chase him from town like a Reverse Pied Piper.  Their offense has been boosted by unheralded walk-on Mark Weisman, who has managed to stagger out of the Hawkeyes' gruesome human rights disaster at running back to the backfield, like the football version of William Brydon at Jalalabad. 
Weisman reports to practice after avoiding a diseased piece of dining hall turkey,
an out-of-control cement mixer, a crate of marbles spilled precariously around 

the quad, a pack of wild dogs, and a crazed pre-med student desperate to collect 
as many knee ligaments as he can before the authorities find him

Both teams see this as a crucial and winnable game.  The game will be played at Ryan Field, and I expect a supportive crowd of 30,000 Nebraska fans who will be staying in Evanston as fans in residence after winning a grant from the Northwestern Department of Football Culture.  Like all Northwestern games, this will probably come down to the last minute because I picked the wrong football season to stop sniffing glue.


This season was supposed to be a rebuilding year.  Instead, we've seen the emergence of exciting young players on defense, such as Chi Chi Ariguzo and NickVan Hoose, and Venric Mark is as dynamic a playmaker as the Wildcats have ever had.  Northwestern has qualified for a bowl game, and the Big Ten's new status as a national joke has kept them in the LEGENDS DIVISION title hunt, where a championship will allow them to take their place in the pantheon of LEGENDS with the Legends of the Fall, Hercules's Legendary Journeys, and the Legends of the Hidden Temple.  It is important to keep that in mind as the 'Cats dangle precariously from another fourth quarter cliff.   And Northwestern is in position for an eight or even a nine win season, in position to go to a marginally less crappy bowl, and in position to wrench The Hat off of Tim Beckman's head and parade it in victory down Sheridan Road.  Northwestern and Iowa may not have a fancy rivalry trophy, but they do have the opportunity to ruin each other's season, and that may be the sweetest trophy of them all.

Actually, it is not, it is still the hat, give us our damn hat back.

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