"Let's lake these posts, and then celebrate our victory with a good book!"
Iowa. Northwestern. BHGP. LTP. Go.
BHGP: We are completely convinced Northwestern is the worst 4-0 team in the history of football. Ball State would beat the 'Cats by 2 touchdowns (and would bring more fans to Ryan Field than NU). Are we wrong and, if so, why?
LTP: Yes. But for reasons, not even we can explain. Any true Cat fan has been playing "which non-conference game will we lose this year" roulette all off-season. There are a few remnants of the "last time Northwestern..." and the clean sweep of non-conference opponents (3 game minimum) hadn't happened since 1962. So, we don't really care how we got them, but THAT we got them. We are living in surreal-ville right now. Our offense has completely stalled, our placekicking game went from bad to perfect and our "D", thanks to fan favorite Mike Hankwitz, has made strides in four games we expected to take four years. Essentially, nothing has played out the way we thought it would. Even the fact that we are a perfect 16-16 in redzone scoring disguises the fact we have the same problem of not converting TDs (9 TDs, 7FGs) we had last year - something we thought would be remedied by our new OC and a senior-laden team at the skill positions.
Agreed, our schedule is soft, but Duke will be a 5 or 6 win team this year, Southern Illinois is a "why the hell would you schedule a perennial top ten FCS team"? game and Ohio, well the best 0-4 team in the country (see Ohio State game). Syracuse is the worst team in America. By far. In retrospect our offensive problems are becoming more glaring based on that game (30-10 win with 9 points scored by the "D"). But haven't you learned not to throw stones? Maine and Florida International?
I believe Fitz is quickly getting Cats fans to a level where we have officially raised the bar. The 4-0 mark is great, but most of us expected high-scoring wins. The fact our offense has been so conservative and at times, awful (see Ohio second half when we lost Sutton), has all of us on edge. We don't know how to deal with relying on defense for wins - at least not since Fitz was actually in pads.
BHGP: Last season, I was sitting in the stands as Iowa tied Northwestern in the second half. I told my dad, "Here come the Bacher interceptions...." Sure enough, Bacher forgot what team he was playing for and tossed three picks down the stretch that ended any chance of a Northwestern upset. Is there any reason why I should expect anything different this weekend? Has Bacher shown any sort of improvement in the first four weeks?
LTP: It has been downright eerie. CJ injured his fingers in the first quarter last week and as evidenced by his inability to throw the ball within 3 feet of any receiver after that, his 4 INTs were a complete aberration. Last year he thought he was Brett Favre and would chuck and duck, this year new OC Mick McCall has him as Mr. Game Manager. Prior to this season, CJ had only one career start where he had less than 200 yards passing. He's now done it two years in a row. He went essentially 3 games without a pick and had a 3TD, 1 INT mark before he wrecked his fingers on some Ohio defender's helmet last week. To your question, he HAD shown remarkable improvment in decision making and the question mark O-line has been above expectations and given him solid protection. We've completely ditched the long ball and many are wondering if we've been just holding the cards close to the vest for Big Ten season. We're regularly hitting 10 different receivers in games, but the flow hasn't been there. Our three speed no-huddle approach has been spotty, and even when it's on, we don't always finish with TDs. Our offense is too predicated on Tyrell as he is an amazing receiver and is simply amazing on YACs, yet we don't get him enough touches. He's never had a 21-carry game without getting 100 yards, yet we're not getting him the carries. As you know we're all holding our breath as he nurses an injured leg (AGAIN!) but Fitz says he's playing Saturday. If we don't have him at full strength, we're dead.
BHGP: You've been touting the Northwestern defense, now ranked #32 in the nation. Those numbers, however, are against Syracuse (#104 nationally in total offense), Duke (#43), Southern Illinois (1-AA), and Ohio (#91). Why should I think this isn't merely a function of the lack of opposition thusfar? Who should I be watching when Northwestern is on defense?
LTP: It may be part of it, but after nearly the entire decade with former (read: fired) DC, Greg Colby, we're stunned to see what it looks like to see an aggressive "D" in action. We have a pass rush. We use this neat thing called corner blitz (Never heard of it. -- HS). We've even been introduced to this other thing called a stunt. Our DEs are attacking and our LBs, which were a pre-season "?" are getting into the backfield for regular TFLs. It's like Fibonacci, but without the bunnies, our "D" gets exponentially better each week. I think fans have already switched the viewing mentality from "will we get 500 yards of offense" to "how will we do against a Big Ten team".
Vince Browne was a message board monster, and now the NON-STARTING redshirt freshman earned Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week honors (Karl Klug puts thumbs in ears, sticks tongue out, says "I did it first, neener neener neener" -- HS). He is a manchild. Corey Wooton, the 6-7 junior DE who has been plagued with the "potential" tag for his first two years is actually coming in to his own and one of the top sack men in the nation. Sherrick McManis our most athletic player, has been lockdown at the CB spot and is cutting the field in half like no one since Chris Martin in 1995. John Gill, our DT got all the preseason love and had his best game last week. We're green at the other CB spot and we've got one great safety and one that will be tested by the Big Ten. I've been pleasantly surprised by our LB trio of Davie, Kwateng and Arrington. They are the ones I'll be watching closely on Saturday.
BHGP: I picked up two seats in the second row - right behind the Northwestern bench and across the aisle from the Northwestern visitor's section - for Saturday. Any messages you want me to relay to the team?
LTP: Yes. Just repeat what you said to me about the lack of respect. Do it over and over. And when you drop to 5-7 against Northwestern since we became a real team again in 1995 (It's like when Peter Pan became a man... -- HS), we'll invite you back to Evanston so you can play in a pink lockerroom. Oh, and speaking of Hayden, the aforementioned LTP mancrush, is he considering changing the uniforms again? I saw the way you played against Pitt last week in the home of the Steelers, the team for which he modeled the current bumble-bee unis. Perhaps you're going to now model the threads after, say, Temple? Herky always kind of had that red-headed Owl stepchild look anyway.
This is far from over. Far, far from over.