LOLHat week Gameday (UPDATE: Trent is at home)

It’s already the last game of the regular season for the ‘Cats (!), and Illinois comes limping in to Ryan Field looking to hold on to the Land Of Lincoln Trophy for another year.

Andy and Roger are rolling in the West Lot right now. Stop by the tailgate with the earth flag (blue background) and say hi. I am in Pennsylvania for the Thanksgiving holiday, and I’ll be posting up at the BWW in West Chester, PA to watch the game. I’ll be adding some commentary as the game gets going. Go ‘Cats!

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Illinois Week – A Recent History

Get that DeLorean to 88, Marty, we’re taking a look back at the recent history between Northwestern and Illinois.

2011: In Which the ‘Cats Squander an 18 Point Second Half Lead

I wanted the 2011 game in Champaign badly after the debacle at Wrigley Field in 2010 (we’ll get there). Dan Persa was making his debut after his Achilles injury. Though the Illini were ranked at the time, the ‘Cats (led by #7), jumped out to an insurmountable a 28-10 lead in the second half. Eighteen points evaporated quickly as Scheelhaase-to-Jenkins somehow turned itself to Montana-to-Rice. The Illini signal caller threw for 393 yards and three TD’s (all to Jenkins). A.J. Jenkins torched the Northwestern secondary for 268 (WTF?) yards and three touchdowns.

OH GOD MAKE THE FLASHBACKS STOP (Reid Compton/US PRESSWIRE )

I still hold to this day that this performance singlehandedly got Jenkins drafted; it constituted 23% of his entire yardage haul last year. 23%?!

/Double-checks his math

/Steps away from computer

/Violently vomits

Ok, I’m back. Persa finished 10/14 with 4 TD and 123 yards before removing himself due to injury. If you want to relive the horror, here’s the game recap.

2010: Wrigley Field

Let’s start with the positives, shall we? College Gameday was there. The atmosphere was electric. They painted the marquee purple! This was a big deal. A lot of buzz for the Northwestern football program. Also it was my senior year. Senior year was a good year for Roche.

Wrigley Gettin’ Purple’d Out (AP Images)

But then the game started. Dan Persa’s Junior season had ended the week before against Iowa with an Achilles injury. Mike Trumpy broke his hand during the game. Evan Watkins wasn’t yet taking his talents to the superback position. Mikel Leshoure happened. 33 carries, 330 yards (speaking of games that get players singlehandedly drafted). I’m going to stop doing this to myself. 48-27, Illini win. For the masochists out there, here’s the game recap.

2009: In Which Northwestern Almost Squanders an 18 Point 4th Quarter Lead

The week before the Wisconsin win that sent us to the Outback Bowl and the week after handing jIowa its first loss in Iowa City, the ‘Cats went south. Illinois was having a rough go of things, and Northwestern was surging after suffering early season losses against Syracuse and Minnesota. Here’s what I remember mostly about this game: it wasn’t on TV. I had to watch it on ESPN3. Back in 2009, the program wasn’t close to what it was now. It was choppy. I can’t imagine this game not being televised on at least BTN ever again. So dry your years, 2009 Roche, HD will be forever in your future. Mike Kafka (new Steelers backup?) threw for 307/1 TD, and both he and Arby Fields (throwback!) rushed for a touchdown as well. After opening up an insurmountable a 21-3 lead in the 4th, the #B1GCats saw the lead evaporate before intercepting the Illini late in the 4th to seal the victory. Game Recap? Game Recap

2008: In Which the ‘Cats Doesn’t Squander a 17 Point 4th Quarter Lead

The last time the ‘Cats got to 9 wins was the 2008 season. CJ Bacher led Northwestern to a 27-10 win on Senior Day. He threw for 230 yards and 2 TD, Stephen Simmons added another on the ground and Amado Villarreal contributed two FG’s. The Illini came in at 5-6 and were a far cry from the team that made it to the Rose Bowl the year before. Not having Rashard Mendenhall will do that to you. Illinois pulled within 6 points on a 4th quarter Matt Eller FG, but the ‘Cats answered immediately, and the game was pretty much over after that Eric Peterman TD. Game recap is here.

Roger’s Ramblings – BC-YES!

The Game: The ‘Cats did it! They finally held on to a late lead. Some say they exorcised their late game demons, but I’m not convinced of that and won’t be until we hold off a legitimate offense in a late game situation. Nonetheless, it was a well played game by the ‘Cats, particularly the defense. With both Colter and Mark forced to the sideline due to injuries, the rest of the team stepped up and made plays when they had to.

Seeing how others (Roche) have already provided a comprehensive analysis of the game, I’ll move on to my ramblings….

The Rambling: I’ve been hearing it since 1998. You hate the BCS. Not only do you hate the BCS, but your school’s head coach hates the BCS. So does your school’s Athletic Director. Hell, your grandma hates the BCS. I get it. Well, actually, I get that you hate it because you’ve told me enough. But, I don’t get why you hate it (aside from the part where Notre Dame gets preferential treatment. Obviously, everyone hates that). Has there been a season since the BCS’s inception where the most deserving team wasn’t playing for the national championship? No. And it’s likely that would never be an issue. In a sport where all hell breaks loose on a weekly basis, are we really that worried about half a dozen teams ending the season undefeated?

What happened last night around the college football landscape was some riveting shit. I was on the edge of my seat and you were too. It was probably the most exciting day of college football since December of 2007. But you know what? It wouldn’t have meant a damn thing had this same scenario played out in 2014. Both Oregon and Kansas State saw their BCS title hopes go up in smoke last night. In 2014? Well, Oregon would still be sitting pretty at #4. Better yet, they probably would back their way into the playoff without having to play a Pac12 title game. Kansas State? Yea, they’d be alive and well too. The annual de facto championship play-in game that is the SEC Championship would knock one of Georgia or Alabama behind Kansas State and there they’d be – right back in the playoff. One week after getting humiliated by a sub .500 Baylor team.

You know that saying in college football: “Every game matters”? Well let’s keep it that way. What we have right now is perfect, so let’s stop searching for something better.

Rooting Interests: We all thought the bowl situation would be clear with a win at MSU yesterday. Oh, quite the contrary. It now appears as though the ‘Cats could work their way up the B1G bowl pecking order with some outside help.

First and foremost, we want Wisconsin to lose, lose and lose some more. With a loss at PSU and a loss to (in all likelihood) Nebraska in the B1G title game, Wisconsin would be relegated behind NU for a spot in the Outback Bowl. The Outback Bowl is contractually bound to not pick a team with 2 or fewer wins or 2 or fewer losses than another available team. If you’re wondering, the ‘Cats could benefit from that rule even if Wisconsin wins this weekend and loses against Nebraska (assuming NU beats Illinois).

So, it’s now looking more and more possible that the ‘Cats could end up in the Outback Bowl. But don’t rule out the Capital One Bowl just yet. The ‘Cats have virtually no chance of jumping Michigan for a bowl bid, but they may not need to in order to secure a spot in the Capital One Bowl if everything plays out to our liking. The SEC has created a major log jam in the Top 10 of the BCS. Ordinarily, I would hate that and try to gauge my eyes out, but in this case it may actually benefit the ‘Cats. Only two SEC teams can make a BCS game. That means that 4 of the current Top 10 in the BCS won’t be eligible for a BCS bowl game. Enter Michigan. As improbably as it seems, if Michigan manages to somehow beat Ohio State this weekend (which I don’t think is going to happen anyways), they would essentially be fighting with Oklahoma (vs. Oklahoma State on Saturday), Clemson (vs. South Carolina on Saturday) and Texas (vs. Kansas State on Saturday) for the final at-large BCS bid. In order to be eligible for an at-large bid a team must be ranked in the Top 14. With all of the ranked match ups occurring in the next 2 weeks it’s very likely that Michigan would crack the Top 14 with a win against Ohio State. But, even if they don’t, the BCS may have to ignore that Top 14 rule this year because of the SEC presence cluttering the Top 10.

In short, it’s a long shot, but the Capital One Bowl is still in play for the ‘Cats.

FYI, for those putting 2 and 2 together, the Michigan to the BCS scenario makes last week that much more painful because that scenario could just as easily be a ‘Cats to the BCS scenario.

Roche’s Reaction NU 23 – MSU 20

Of course it was going to be close the entire way. Sparty had a nasty habit of losing close games, and the ‘Cats kept giving up late leads – something had to give. The ‘Cats picked up a big road win, giving them a 3-2 road record this year and get the Sparty monkey off their back. (Northwestern looks to get the other monkey off their back on January 1st).

Highlights
The defense – In a game where the offense left their ‘A’ game in Evanston, the defense came up big, bending but not breaking. The stats aren’t pretty (cue the Fitz “stats are for losers” sound byte), as Andrew Maxwell threw for nearly 300 yards. Likewise Le’Veon Bell rattled off 4-8 yard runs seemingly easily. When the defense needed to come up with big stops (4th and goal), it did. Four turnovers (two fumbles, two INTs) at opportune times. The defense isn’t going to over-power many teams this year. It won’t need to if it can get turnovers like this.

Jared Carpenter – With Nick VanHoose out again, we knew Sparty would go to the air early and often. It did. Jared Carpenter made big plays when he needed to, most notably his late interception of Andrew Maxwell.

David Nwabusi’s pick six – I was close! I called for a Dugar pick six. But instead of #22 taking one to the house, we saw #33 bring one in for the score. The offense was having trouble scoring, and the interception early in the second half was a momentum builder for the ‘Cats.

Trevor Siemian – Trevor went 13-23 this week and seemed to pick up where he left off in Ann Arbor. When the option offense stalled, #13 stepped up and hit high percentage pass after pass, effectively moving the ball. Northwestern’s only offensive touchdown was a result of Trevor driving the team down to the goal line before Kain came in for the score.

Dan Vitale – Trevor Siemian found a favorite target yesterday. The freshman superback had over 100 yards receiving, and seemed to come up with every huge completion. Expect to see more throws go his way against Illinois after his huge performance yesterday.

Play Calling – I said it last week: if the option offense is going to be effective, Colter is going to have to pass more often. Ask and you shall receive. The first drive saw Colter complete several high percentage passes in a drive that ended with a Budzein FG. The play calling was also aggressive at the end of the game. Rather than running the ball three times and punting it back to Sparty, the ‘Cats dialed up a pass. Aggressive. Late in the game. Mick McCall, you crazy sumbitch. Your stock is rising, fella.

Lowlights
Punting – Woof. It looked like Williams had the yips this week after his final punt-gone-wrong against Michigan. Low, wobbly punts all game gave MSU better field position than it should have had. I personally think he was in his own head, and don’t see it as a recurring problem. But it was concerning nonetheless.

The Offense – 57 yards rushing for this team usually would spell disaster for this team. The lack of Venric Mark certainly hurt the option offense. That said, not a lot went right overall for the offense after the first drive. Three and outs. A few drops. Not a day for the offense to hang its hat on. But the offense did justenough to win. (Side note: I get a weird sense of satisfaction having the ‘Cats defense bail out the offense. Something you don’t see every day).

Injuries – Venric Mark saw only six rushes before leaving for the rest of the game with an upper body injury. Tyler Scott got slammed to the turf and got hurt. Tyler would eventually return, but I haven’t heard any updates on Ricky Football’s (as Andy calls him) status for next week. I hope the ‘Cats can beat the Illini even without Ricky Football, but he needs to be healthy for the bowl game.

Officiating – Awful on both sides. Tyler Scott getting thrown to the turf (holding plz?). Dugar had a PI on Sparty’s last drive that went uncalled. Phantom PI extended another ‘Cats drive earlier in the game. It was bad. But I think Sparty got the short end of the stick on Saturday.

ESPN2’s Team – They were bad. It took them nearly two quarters to say Ricky Football (I’m trying to make that a thing, Andy) was out. Two quarters to say the most important offensive player wouldn’t return? Come on guys, do your job. Not that it really mattered anyway. We read it on twitter long before they reported it. That said, a matchup of two unranked teams in a down year for the B1G isn’t exactly going to demand Musberger/Herbstreit.

Moving Forward
As bad as the offense was, I think it’s a good sign. In years past, the ‘Cats would have had to bring their offensive ‘A’ game on the road to win like that. They did not (obvi). Instead, they played one of the poorer offensive games this year and still won. I don’t expect them to play as poorly as they did yesterday for the rest of the year, bowl game included. A 10 win season is still a real possibility.

What I want to see next week is for Northwestern to stomp Illinois, Champaign’s Big Ten Team. I know Illinois is bad this year, but I’m scared this matchup has ‘Trap Game’ written all over it. Don’t look past these guys. Don’t get cute. Don’t ease off tje throttle in the 3rd. Roll ’em, Fitz. A win would tie him with Pappy Waldorf for most wins all time at Northwestern (49).

The ‘Cats look like they’re celebrating New Year’s somewhere in Florida (unless you’re Jerry Palm, who is insistent that Northwestern is going to the BWW Bowl). The Gator Bowl seems the likely destination. However, if Wisconsin loses out (PSU, Nebraska), they’ll be limping home with a 7-6 record. The Outback Bowl would come calling a 9-3 NU team over a 7-6 Bucky.

Around CFB
Sports, please don’t ever change. Yesterday was an incredible day of upsets. Down go the Ducks and the (other) purple Wildcats. After the dust settled, it looks like That School From South Bend will be your #1 team in the country tonight [checks calendar to make sure it’s not 1987. Checks again because still in disbelief]. Let that sink in for a minute. I come from a family of Domers (which explains my enmity for the Fighting Irish). So to Grandma, John, Colleen, Jake, Kristin, Aunt Marijo, Uncle Kevin, Uncle Steve and Uncle Walt: I’m happy for you. I know how much football means to you and the rest of the Alumni. Enjoy it while you can, though, because I just can’t see any scenario in which TSFSB wouldn’t get absolutely rolled by ‘Bama. However, if the only thing in the way of another SEC-SEC title game is the Irish, then (sigh), GO IRISH.

ACHIEVEMENT UNLOCKED – Write Entire Post In Flight On Your Phone (+6.25 EXP, +1 Thumb Dexterity, -1 Autocorrect Errors)