Friday, September 25, 2015

WEEK 4: A Twenty-One Punt Salute

Northwestern came into the season with a tough schedule, an undefined situation at quarterback, back-to-back bowl-free seasons and the loss of the Hat to a team coached by a human bobblehead.  Another tough season seemed on the horizon.  Instead, Northwestern has won all of its games, they are 3-0, they beat Stanford and Duke, they have allowed a grand total of one (1) touchdown, they are ranked #17 in the country in the AP Poll, and they are going to win five simultaneous national football championships this year. 

The Duke-Northwestern game was played on the surface of the sun and broadcast locally on a channel showing nothing but Judge Mathis and ninja knife infomercials. Both teams feature ferocious defenses and both teams had first-year quarterbacks.  What followed was practically obscene.

Both offenses struggled in the unforgiving heat.  Balls sailed past open receivers.  Running backs fell fruitlessly into the arms of defensive tackles.  And punt after punt rained down upon Wallace Wade Stadium as possessions went through a football samsara, a cycle of death and rebirth off the exhausted legs of Hunter Niswander and Will Monday.

Do not adjust your monitor.  You are looking at eleven 
consecutive punts. This is taken directly from ESPN's 
game log.  The only adjustment I made was to zoom 
out the web browser because mine could not fit all of the 
punts on a single screen

The game was brutal and ugly.  And who cares?  Northwestern won.  Solomon Vault took the second-half kickoff some 97 yards and Warren Long snuck past a Duke defense that had loaded up on the line of scrimmage for a third-and-one.  The defense remained unmovable.  Dean Lowry terrorized Duke by tipping an interception to himself and coming inches from swatting another to the turf for a fumble and touchdown (referees ruled that the ball traveled forward enough to constitute a forward pass).  Anthony Walker was credited with 19 tackles, securing another Big Ten player of the week award.  Northwestern has the top-ranked scoring defense in the entire FBS.  The Wildcats' endzone might as well be the moon; sure it is possible to go there, and it's been done in the past, but opposing teams are wondering if they have the manpower and the short-sleeved white button-down shirts to engineer a way there and how are they going to convince the government to give them the resources to try in this economy.

Stanford scientists attempt to engineer a drive, but are unable to navigate past the 
VanHoose Belt

Yes, there are causes for alarm.  The offense, despite a superhuman 35-carry day from Justin Jackson on a muggy afternoon, bogged down.  The passing game remains a work in progress.  But cautious, measured optimism has no place in college football, a sport that lunges from ecstasy to horror in seconds, where victories are temporary and fleeting, where the only sensible way to handle the success of this team is to mold a car into the shape of the angry wildcat head from the helmets that says TRANSITIVE PROPERTY PAC 12 CHAMPIONS and shoots flames at passing motorists, most of whom have never heard of Northwestern's football team. 


But before Northwestern can move on to dismantle the Big Ten West, the 'Cats will be going UNDER THE LIGHTS to face the Ball State Cardinals.  This is not just a football game; this is prime time slobber-knockin', clock-cleanin', ball jarrin', big puntin' Midwestern football under the stars and on Big Ten Network regional action. 
Ball State's logo is a cardinal's head plummeting from the sky, presumably 
from a distressed headless cardinal injured in an unimaginably violent 
conflagration only seconds beforehand

The Big Ten Network has brought this team to prime time because of the storied rivalry between Northwestern and Ball State.  It all stems from the 1920s, when Ball State's football team consisted of Pericles N. Ball, a distant relative of the school-founding Ball family, who would travel to Northwestern football games and taunt the players for being feeble arm-noodles with the weak mustaches of a child.  Ball ordered pennants of a Wildcat logo with a giant no circle around it, but no printers would agree to print them because they were too absurd.  Each year, the Ball State football banquet would begin, end, and consist entirely of Ball reading an unhinged rant claiming that Ball State would start its program at the junior college level, eventually move up to the top division, and, 34 years later, finally walk into Evanston with a team mighty enough to grind the Wildcats into dust in a game momentous enough that word would spread over the telegraph to the far flung corners of Yugoslavia.

Northwestern and Ball State have never played, but only a fool would pencil in an easy victory.  The Wildcats will be favored, but anything can happen UNDER THE LIGHTS.  The Cardinals are 2-1 and have a very good coach.  They know the Wildcats will want to run the ball, and the 'Cats have yet to show they can pass effectively.  It is hypothetically possible that the lights in the stadium will go out and the plaintive cries of a Husky will echo through the Evanston night and Northern Illinois will come out of the tunnel as a MAC Commissioner John Steinbrecher swaggers onto the fifty yard line while Pat Fitzgerald stands in gape-mouthed stupefaction and Dave Eanet yells NO NO NO THERE ARE RULES AGAINST THIS.
Three kestrels flying over the Castle Steinbrecher heralded the inevitable ascension of young 
John to his destiny as the Commissioner of the Mid-America Conference, as noted in the 
ancient football text "Ain't Prophesied No One Yet" 

Ball State will be playing for a grand upset, a chance to demonstrate yet again that MAC teams can hang with a Big Ten opponent.  Northwestern has even more at stake: a chance to go undefeated into Big Ten play, solidify bowl positioning, and maintain a top-25 ranking and status as a Big Ten West contender.  Northwestern football rides high again, and the possibilities are unfolding in front of fans like an Early Modern prince with vague ties to the Spanish Crown seeing a portrait of the inbred, sickly Habsburg on the throne.  We have seen this before.

Two years ago, a ranked Northwestern finished its nonconference season 4-0 and ranked.  A bowl seemed certain and a spot in the Big Ten championship game seemed possible.  A tough loss to Ohio State showed that Northwestern could keep up with a top contender.  Then, the wheels came off.  The Wildcats lost every single game in the most confounding way possible like they had been cursed by a vengeful football deity for committing some sort of forgotten football blasphemy such as taking it more than one game at a time or scoring on the Forbidden End Zone or not jumping up and down and pointing emphatically enough after a fumble even if the ball rolled out of bounds 15 feet away from the closest Wildcat defender.  There are no certainties in college football.


Northwestern football is under the lights.  It will be dark out and later than normal.  There are several hours available to travel to your local library and peruse the section labeled by the Dewey Decimal System as incoherent football yelling (this section includes All Right It's Time to Trade Cutler to Zounds, Trade Cutler Already: The A to Z Anthology of Doug and OB Callers).  Ball State players will have to contend with the mayhem of Prime Time Ryan Field, with its shrieking fan maniacs and terrifying glow-in-the-dark tarps.  Kickoff is scheduled for 24 hours before a blood moon eclipse event, and the game should have been scheduled for then, a Big Ten-MAC showdown under Chicago's Big Ten Blood Moon with a tiny but fervent group of people braying about portends of the end of the world and a slightly smaller but no less fervent group proclaiming the glories of Wildcat football.


Anonymous said...

How the hell are there no comments on this???

Anonymous said...

That's what she said?