Monday, January 1, 2018

Music City Bowl Review: Pre-Overtime

“I think the kids wanted to go for it. They wanted to try and win it and I don’t fault the effort at all…They deserved the opportunity to have it in their hands,” is what Kentucky's Athletic Director Mitch Barnhart said about coach Mark Stoops's decision to go for two at the end of the game.  But I prefer to think that Stoops knew that he did not want to go to overtime against Northwestern, a team that does nothing but allow teams to go into overtime, to watch the scoreboard hit zero and to win games in a vortex where linear time no longer has meaning, where the game could stretch into infinity and there's no clock to manage, and that Stoops had stayed up all night reading a monograph entitled Schroedinger's 'Cats: Quantum Mechanics and Northwestern's Inexplicable Nine-Win Season and the implications were terrifying enough for him to do anything he could to end things in regulation.  Also it was cold and the game had already entered its nineteenth hour.
Opposing coaches go to overtime against Northwestern 

The Franco-American Music City Bowl ended on an exciting last play, but will be best remembered as an all-encompassing descent into madness.  There were bizarre coaching calls on all sides-- Stoops's decision to go for two, Fitzgerald's disastrous trick plays dreamed up after a pregame meal of hot chicken spiced with psilocybin mushrooms, and the takeover of the game by a Maniac Referee who entered the field dressed in a cape and headdress made of writhing snakes.

The program said that the referee crew came from the Pac-12 Conference, but my guess is that a group of wilderness raiders drove up on the referee's vehicle, seized it in a daring heist using balancing poles and grappling hooks and numerous bellowing guys with Aron Baynes haircuts and leather armor, and impersonated the crew with the goal of sowing chaos. 
The Pac-12 Conference sends its officials to a Bowl Game

That would explain the reason why the first half took more than two hours to complete because they sent every call to a grotesque carnival parody replay crew, why they ejected Paddy Fisher for targeting a receiver with his arms, and why, when Kentucky running back Benny Snell lightly brushed against a grasping official, they had him thrown into a pit beneath Titan Stadium.
The Nortorious Benny Snell begins his reign of terror against innocent referees

Northwestern's win prevented the bowl from becoming a complete debacle after they carted Clayton Thorson off the field.  The Wildcats then turned to veteran backup Matt Alviti, a senior who never started a game and whose major contribution to the anticipated game plan involved growing a spectacular mustache.  Alviti didn't make mistakes and moved the chains with a quarterback rushing attack Kentucky would have never seen coming unless they dusted off their Kain Colter tape.  Alviti's heroics were bittersweet for Northwestern fans who had been rooting for him for years and were hoping he'd have a chance to get into a game and apparently made those wishes known to the nearest monkey's paw.

Northwestern won the same way they managed to win all year-- a stout defense against the run (though it helped that Snell got ejected, Northwestern's rush defense battled without Nate Hall and without egregious ejection victim Paddy Fisher whom I hope spent the second half commiserating with Snell in that fancy ice cream place on Broadway), a timely interception from turnover hero Kyle Queiro, and of course Justin Jackson.  Jackson finished his Northwestern career with 157 yards on the ground, two touchdowns, a second consecutive bowl MVP trophy, and a mind-melting bevy of records including virtually every record at Northwestern, third all-time in Big Ten rushing yards, and an ascent to the top ten in rush yards in major college football history.  Even Jackson's records and accolades don't fully explain how good his career has been at Northwestern; the Wildcats' offense for four years has hinged on Jackson or the threat of Jackson causing teams to use the entirety of their scholarship players to try to stop him and allow Northwestern's quarterbacks to throw the ball to open receivers, many of whom are also Justin Jackson. 
Justin Jackson the Trophy Carrier

The Music City Bowl managed to be the apotheosis of Northwestern's bizarre season.  They got stuck in a perilously close game, battled through heart-rending late comebacks, persevered through a truly bizarre array of fourth-down decisions and ludicrous trick plays that Wile E. Coyote would scoff at as unnecessarily complicated, and managed to hang on to a win.  The egghead football statistics guys say that close games decided by a touchdown or less not to mention overtime are toss-ups completely dependent on luck; Northwestern won every single one of them and did so in a fashion that seems to defy science and mathematics and gets into metaphysical realms that turn into religion.  The 2017 Wildcats were an excellent football team and one that also seemed buoyed by a series of football miracles. 
Game-saving Two Point Conversion Preventer Marcus McShepard 
defends the pass with an Unholy Incantation

By the time that Stephen Johnson's pass floated through the fingertips of a heretofore unstoppable Tavin Richardson, it was no longer possible to root for Northwestern as a football team but necessary to do so with robes, orbs, candles, foam hats in the shape of wildcat heads, and other miscellaneous religious implements as they watched another pass fall incomplete to the ground and Pat Fitzgerald bellow from the sidelines in an otherworldly tongue and the band launch into its ancient hymn "U Northwestern Rah" into the ashen faces of the fans of the Apostate Wildcat fleeing into the freezing Nashville air and back into the arms of their true religion because did you see the score of the Louisville game.

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