Friday, November 20, 2015


Purdue football is a depressing morass of football ineptitude that nearly turned Ryan Field into an unimaginable house of horrors.  The Boilermakers managed to accomplish that with the dangerously plucky play of their football team and not by unleashing the pure creepy power of Purdue Pete, a mascot so unnerving that the students who portray him are invited to spend a semester abroad appearing briefly in mirrors in Japanese horror films.
Don't play this video or else seven days later you have to watch a Purdue 
football game

It is astonishing that decades of focus testing a mascot with a giant plastic head simultaneously wielding a hammer and the placid, blank expression of a loping movie slasher has made the current version of Purdue Pete the least harrowing.  Behold the 1960s version of Purdue Pete, who looks like a cross between a malevolent bad-trip Bob's Big Boy and a prescient antecedent to Frank from the movie Frank.
This really should be the new Purdue fight song

On Purdue's first play from scrimmage, Boiler quarterback David "The Bloughman's Crede" Blough hit a streaking receiver for a 68-yard bomb to tie the game and from there Purdue did not yield an inch.  At the half, the Wildcats clung to a 14-7 lead and had managed something like 19 passing yards, because the forward pass is an unmanful and unsporting instrument of deception.

The ineffective pass attack led to a miniature quarterback controversy.  Fitzgerald replaced quarterback Clayton Thorson with Zack Oliver after an egregious interception.  Oliver moved the ball somewhat more effectively until an equally egregious interception convinced the coaches to give Thorson another shot.  The quarterback rotation either showed a desperate attempt to spark the offense or a brilliant ploy by Mick McCall to use the fact that number 10 and 18 look similar enough on Northwestern's jerseys that the Purdue defense can be easily discombobulated by a classic quarterback switcheroo with the ultimate goal of convincing the opponent that any Northwestern player can become a quarterback at any time without warning.
McCall's substitutions ideally cause the opposition to yell out he's 
quarterback no he's quarterback no he's quarterback in the classic play 
known colloquially as the Reverse Quarterback Spartacus

Thorson recovered from his temporary benching to lead the Wildcats on the game-winning drive with his patented ungainly giraffe runs.  In the fourth quarter, a sleepy Northwestern defense came alive, keeping the Boilermakers out of the endzone.  There is little to learn from this game.  Purdue has given many Big Ten teams scares despite the team's moribund record, and Northwestern's offense continues to resemble a Rube Goldberg machine designed to manufacture punts.  Nevertheless, Northwestern is an unexpected 8-2 and any Northwestern fan who is disappointed should be immediately fitted with a Napoleon hat.  With two games to play, this is already the third-most successful team in the Pat Fitzgerald era.


After three consecutive wins, the Wildcats face their toughest challenge since Iowa on the road at Wisconsin.  The Badgers are also 8-2, and their only losses were to mighty Alabama and the undefeated Iowa juggernaut that is devouring the Big Ten West.  Wisconsin has flown under the radar this year, with some underwhelming wins and without the mesmerizing brilliance of Melvin Gordon who had one of the greatest seasons in the history of college football last year.

The Wildcats have their work cut out for them at Camp Randall.  They have not beaten Wisconsin there since the 2000 Damian Anderson game.  In fairness, the Badgers have not won in Evanston in the same period, which has to be the most confoundingly wonderful stat in college football considering the fact that Ryan Field is at best a neutral venue during Wisconsin games.  There are typically so many Wisconsin fans at Northwestern home games that the Wildcats appear to have been victims of a slick marketing scam that promised a home crowd and the customer service number is now a deli.

Last year, a ranked Wisconsin squad came to Ryan Field against a struggling Northwestern team at a time when Gordon threatened to explode for a touchdown every time he touched the ball.  Instead, the Badger coaches decided to put the ball in the hands of their quarterbacks Tanner McElvoy and Joel Stave, who had missed most of the season to that point struggling with the yips.  The 'Cats picked off four passes and had a tremendous game from Justin Jackson to secure the upset.
Joel Stave is shown celebrating the upset with his primary receiving 

This Wisconsin's team is markedly different.  Head Coach Gary Andersen departed for Oregon State and UW alumn Paul Chryst has come over from Pitt.  Stave has improved considerably and is enjoying a far better season.  Wisconsin's defense is as fearsome as Northwestern's and, though they lack a running back as terrifying as Gordon and starter Corey Clement will likely miss the game, there is no doubt the Wisconsin Badgers are going run the ball a ton because they ought to change their team name to the Wisconsin Running Behind 400-Pound Manifestations of the American Midwest.  The weather forecast calls for bitter cold and accumulated snow and is being televised on the Big Ten Network as the Big Tennest football event of the year as two running backs slam into defensive linemen for three hours in between commercials for extra-large men's pants.

Northwestern and Wisconsin have identical records and wildly different reactions to it.  Northwestern fans are giddy for the 8-2 season, even if both losses involved a systematic dismantling of the team into subatomic football particles.  The Badgers expected to effortlessly romp through the division-- during their opening game with Alabama, the broadcast put up a graphic of Wisconsin's schedule while the announcers cackled like televised von Schlieffens explaining how the forces of the Kaiser will trample unopposed across Western Europe.  Instead, Wisconsin lost the de facto Big Ten West championship game at home to Iowa in an unbearably ugly 10-6 game.  Wisconsin is heavily favored, but they, like Northwestern, are playing only for a shot at a "New Year's Six" bowl game.
"New Year's Six" is apparently a football term now as part of the Iron Law of College 
Football Terms that says they all have to sound like nineteenth-century anarchist regicide 

Northwestern will rely heavily on the defense and its running back trio of Justin Jackson (the ball! carrier!), Warren Long, and electric kickoff return man/receiving threat/hardbitten noir detective operating out of the Monadnock Building Solomon Vault.  Perhaps Godwin Igwebuike, who intercepted three Wisconsin passes last year, can continue to fool Wisconsin's quarterbacks into throwing to him by convincing them that he just spilled a bunch of purple gatorade on his jersey.  No matter what, it will be a difficult task to manage to scrape a victory in this series dominated by overwhelming home field advantage.


Northwestern basketball season has begun.  Chris Collins's third year features an intriguing mix of young players, but is led by two vestiges of the Bill Carmody era.  Those two are center Alex Olah, a bruising seven-footer from Romania who has quietly turned into one of the conference's best big men who is not temporarily hanging out in the Big Ten because the NBA won't let him in, and Tre Demps, an undersized gunning guard who specializes in insane clutch shots.

The Wildcats return sophomores Bryant McIntosh and Scottie Lindsay and introduce sharp-shooting freshman Aaron Falzon.  These promising players, plus a forgiving out of conference schedule against an unending stream of Chicago Dental Colleges, should allow the 'Cats to rack up enough wins to contend for an NIT berth.  Unfortunately, their hopes of finally breaching the NCAA tournament took a big hit when Vic Law underwent season-ending shoulder surgery.  Law, a heralded Chicagoland recruit, seemed to come into his own at the end of last season and had fans excited for his next season.  His injury also seriously harms Chicago-area pun headline writers, who spent last week sadly filling notebooks filled with headlines such as "McIntosh reboots Northwestern's backcourt" or "Alex Olah says 'Adios' to backboard" before dramatically hurling a whiskey glass to the floor and storming out of The Siemian's Paw, Chicago's Big Ten sports pun headline bar.
Pun headline writers receive no solace from the news that freshman 
forward Dererk Pardon will redshirt this season

The NCAA Tournament is Northwestern's El Dorado.  Every November begins with a faint hope of making it in; every March reveals it to be mythical.  Before the Law injury, this season seemed like the best shot they've had since Shurna brought them within a Big Ten Tournament game of a shot.  Northwestern's weak non-conference slate does not help, nor does a season in the brutal Big Ten against some of the best teams in the country. 

Last year, Northwestern qualified for the College Basketball Invitational, a gray-market sub-NIT tournament that probably operates from illegal Bill Laimbeer's Combat Basketball rules, but the Wildcats declined to participate.  Northwestern declared that it was above such a lowly tournament. This was disappointing for fans of underground sporting events such as the CBI and illicit wrestling matches in which Bonesaw is ready.

Northwestern University does not officially endorse the use of any kind of saw

This Northwestern season gives fans an opportunity to see young players like McIntosh and Lindsay come into their own and send off two senior stalwarts.  A young, exciting team should bring out supporters.  There is no reason why Welsh-Ryan Arena, a tiny, ridiculous bleacher barn, should not become a tiny, ridiculous, sweat-soaked death barn filled with raucous fans actually cheering for Northwestern.  A pro-Northwestern crowd at a home game against Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin, or Michigan would so discombobulate the visiting team they'd have no idea where they were and that would lead to at least one easy backcut layup.


Northwestern faces a tough challenge on the road at Wisconsin.  The Badgers are incredibly difficult to beat at Camp Randall and the game will be played in miserable cold and snowy conditions.  A Northwestern win would solidify them as the second-best team in the West and set them up for a potential New Year's bowl game.  A loss on the road against a good team would not be catastrophic.  We are only two weeks from Chicago's Big Ten Hat Vengeance Game at Soldier Field and the delightful, improbable, and terrifically fun season would be substantially dampened without reclaiming The Hat.

The Illini face a tough test on the road against an improved Minnesota team that gave Iowa all it could handle last week.  If the Illini falter, then the Hat Game will not only be for the Hat and a win in College Football's Greatest Rivalry Just Look at the Anti-Northwestern Merchandise, it will have an Illini bowl berth on the line.  Even though Northwestern and Illinois are sworn blood-rivals according to Tim Beckman's Clock, I've been rooting for them this season as they've played well in the midst of institutional chaos.  That all ends November 28th in the fog of Hat Rage.  All of Chicago will be watching this clash between Chicago's Big Ten Team and The Team That is Annoyed About Chicago's Big Ten Team Even Though Chicago's Big Ten Team is Pretty Much Every Big Ten Team But Northwestern and Illinois.

1 comment:

Staniel said...

"Northwestern University does not officially endorse the use of any kind of saw"

Prof. Bailey would beg to disagree.