Saturday, November 21, 2009

UW-Northwestern thoughts

Any time the Badgers lose to Northwestern, in any sport, it really stings. Why? Because the school does not care about athletics. The students, faculty, alumni, surrounding area -- no one cares. Clearly.

They are the Big Ten's premier academic institution, and for that they should be lauded. That's what universities should strive for. But their facilities are laughable, their athletes less talented, their paying fans far fewer in numbers than most of the conference.

And yet, our football team never seems to win in Evanston. Much to the delight of the several thousand polite people wearing purple, whose individual cheers were audible during the broadcast. Their students rushed the field after this game, which made them 5-3, 8-4 and likely gave them an Alamo Bowl berth. Really? I thought these kids were smart.

The final margin was two points, but it wasn't that close. We were outplayed from start to finish. Winning that game would have been highway robbery. I would have taken that, of course, but it it would not have been deserved. Northwestern took it to us and got the result they deserved.

At some point in the fourth quarter Charissa Thompson remarked that the Badgers' sideline was quiet, and had been all game, while Northwestern's was enthusiastic and lively. That showed on the field. Our guys had their moments, but it felt like they were going through the motions. Northwestern played with enthusiasm and heart.

Overall, I'm still really happy with the way this season has played out, and will elaborate more on that later, but today sucked.

-I hate harping on individual guys, they're amateurs giving it their best, but Isaac Anderson had the worst game by an individual Badger in recent years that I can remember. First offensive play of the game he drops a touchdown pass. Then he muffs the kickoff return and gives us awful field position. Then his holding call wipes out a first down catch and run by Nick Toon (who had another nice game). Then he's penalized for running forward before the snap on a play in which he caught a touchdown pass. Ike's had a nice year for us, but he really struggled today.

-Thought Scott Tolzien played a nice game. He generally found open guys, although he wasn't able to avoid the pass rush at key times.

-Awesome game for Garrett Graham, who sewed up all-conference honors today. They could not hang with him.

-During the game I was writing a post on John Clay's NFL draft prospects, and remarked that his ball security has been much better since he had his problems early this year. Then he coughs it up on not much of a hit when we're driving in for the go-ahead score. In my mind he's still clearly the Big Ten's offensive player of the year, but today was not one of his better days.

-There will probably be some praise for Mike Hankwitz in the aftermath of this one, but we still scored 31 points, so their defense wasn't that good. There's a good chance we might end up leading the conference in scoring this year.

-The secondary did not have its best day today, but a lackluster pass rush had a lot to do with their struggles. Mike Kafka had plenty of time to throw, and when we did get close to him we generally weren't able to bring him down. Decent player.

-Defense made it the entire year without allowing 100 yards rushing to a Big Ten opponent. Sort of unbelievable, no?

-Can't think of a single defensive player who stood out as playing well individually today.

-I've been tough on David Gilreath for his returns this season, but that punt return for a touchdown today was really nice. Not spectacular, but excellent execution between the returner and his blockers was textbook.

-Despite the general lack of interest surrounding Northwestern sports, they still wind up having good teams from time to time because of the sheer will of leaders like Pat Fitzgerald. That guy is a hell of a coach, and as long as they hold on to him -- which should be a long time -- they will be competitive.

Boy am I glad I didn't make the trip to Evanston today!


Mr.Man said...

Scott, I feared this kind of a result, and, partly because we had errands to run today, tivo'd the game and have yet to watch it. Is it worth watching? Or will I just get too pissed off?

Emily said...

If you think this school doesn't care, you're blind. As a Northwestern Senior who has never missed a football game, I can say that we care and we care hard. Yeah, we're a small school, but just because we're smaller than the State schools doesn't mean we don't have spirit.

Yeah, we rushed the field. It's our field, so what's your problem? We beat a ranked team, we had a rather awesome season for what NU is used to, and it was Senior Day.

In any case, it was a very good game and your team played really well. I just don't think you're giving my Cats the credit they deserve.

Scott Tappa said...

Man - Depends on if you want to see the good with the bad. As stated in the post, Tolzien, Graham and Toon were excellent today, and Gilreath's return was fun. On the other hand, Kafka carved up the defense, and Clay's fumble made me throw a magazine against the wall. If your disappointment threshold is high, gor right ahead.

Scott Tappa said...

Thank you for stopping by Emily, appreciate you reading. You're probably not a regular reader, but I'm not always the most gracious loser! Character flaw.

The thing is, yeah, you're a small school, but you play in a small stadium and still don't sell out. If the opponents' fans didn't show up en masse, the stadium would be half full. That's no reflection on your devotion or those of the people sitting around you cheering the team on, but the fact is there aren't a ton more like you.

As for rushing the field, we take it as a complement. Used to be it was our fans rushing the field even if the outcome didn't yield a conference title. It's nice to have reached the point where beating Wisconsin means that much to other fans.

Your team was clearly the better one today, and as I've said many times I have the utmost respect for Fitz and his staff. Our series will always be tight and we'll always be challenged to win in Evanston.

Best of luck in your bowl game!

Anonymous said...

I'm with Emily!
NU's "small" stadium is half the size of other BT schools. However, our student body is far less than one-half the size of the others. Plus, our alums are much more scattered than a typical state schools. We rushed the field because it was a fine season under tough circumstances...lots of injuries, tough early losses. Plus, these seniors have come a long way from the death of Randy Walker.
I like UW fans and hope the Badgers win their bowl game. Like NU, Wisconsin traditionally outperforms expectations.

Edward said...

Here is a game report

Well the only cool thing that happened today is that when we walked to the willcall window to pick up the tickets, the Badger buses arrived. And since there was only about 15 fans there, I was able to give John Clay a high five as he walked into the stadium.

I can only assume that high-five jinxed his hands.

We walked for half a mile until we found a single solitary bar, which of course was packed with Badger fans. What a boring campus.

50% of the stadium was Badger fans

Our team was outplayed the entire game. #10 may have a nice career ahead of him, but he was scorched most of the game. And what can you say about Isaac Anderson? Worst game I have ever seen for a receiver.

I gave a Northwestern fan some guff for the students rushing the field. "We have low standards" he said. And that is the team the Badgers lost to.

It will be a decade before I go back. This one really hurt.

Anonymous said...

If all things were equal, assuming 2 teams go to BCS bowls, NU would have clinched the Outback Bowl. You can point out that the Outback has historically bent over backwards to avoid hosting NU, and I'd agree. Still, outright declaring them Alamo Bowl-bound seems a bit premature. (Granted, I think Wisconsin would have to lose to Hawaii to miss out on the Outback and force their hand, but...)

Scott Tappa said...

Second Anonymous -- in all honesty, I still don't have a great grasp on the Big Ten bowl shake-out, or when it's going to happen. As I told my wife while we were painting our laundry room post-loss, at the moment I now think we're headed to the Alamo Bowl, a game which we might attend.

Scott Tappa said...

Edward - Sorry it didn't turn out for you. The last football game I attended in Evanston was in 1997, which we stole on a late Matt Davenport field goal.

Don't let this loss hurt too much. Had Michigan somehow beaten Ohio State earlier in the day, and this loss had denied us a share of the conference title, that would hurt bad. This one is just disappointing.