Well, there's the Mike Kafka I remember. Sort of. Kafka, for the second game in a row, was flinging balls like a mad man out on the gridiron, but he also, for the second game in a row, was at the center of two late game turnovers that stifled any chance of a comeback drive for Northwestern. The throwing yards and completion percentage are welcome surprises this year, but the interceptions and fumbles are most certainly not.
Backing up a bit, today's game was one I saw from a slightly different perspective. That perspective would be the visitor's section. Yes, I was a rock - an island if you will - of Wildcat fandom anchored in a sea of maroon and gold. I met up with a few friends and friends-of-friends today bright and early for a nice round of Big 10 tailgating. We were camped out among other Minnesota cars in a remote parking lot close to the main campus, but about a mile and a half from Ryan Field. It was strange, of course, being one of the only fans of your team at a tailgate happening on your campus, but I had a good time none the less. The beer was cold and the dishes were, yes, hot.
I don't know who these people are, but they sure can tailgate...
After the jump, I wax poetic about the "hot dish" and talk about the actual game. A little bit.
Ah, the hot dish. I have somehow managed to go my few decades of Midwestern life without learning of this Minnesota specialty until today. Apparently, in the rest of the country, it is also known as a casserole. A casserole with tater tots. And it is good. I guess there are some good things that come out of Minnesota...
Graham apparently has no idea what he is doing...
If only they could make one with lutefisk...
Much of the first quarter of today's game was a blur for me - though I distinctly remember the sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach after watching Duane Bennett carry the ball into the end zone for Minnesota's first score. Let me say this as clearly as I can: MINNESOTA DOES NOT HAVE A RUSHING GAME! Prior to today's contest, they had two TDs on the ground through their first 3 games. Today, they had 3. That is just wrong. Perhaps the only thing stinkier than the 'Cats defensive play was Goldy the Gopher. (This one is coming straight from my Minnesota friends, who informed me after they had gone to take a picture with the mascot that his costume could seriously use a dry cleaning.)
The Wildcats actually managed to contain Eric Decker a bit, really only allowing Adam Weber to connect to him for two TDs and less than triple digit receiving yards. Which is, I suppose, better than what I was expecting going in. The theme for today, though, was the same as from the first quarter of the Syracuse game - missed tackles.
Missed tackles make Hilary angry. And apparently Coach Fitz too, as he addressed them directly in his post-game remarks. Well Fitz, please, I implore you, fix this! NOW! I don't know how a defense that was third best in the conference last year can lose hold of its fundamentals so fast, but, if Northwestern wants any chance of a season with more than six wins, they really need to find some way to get the defense back on track. Else, they'll be golfing come January.
If the defense can return to form, things might turn out okay. The Northwestern air game was - with the exception of the late turnovers - very nice today. Kafka broke 300 yards passing again and NU had three receivers with double-digit avg yards (Zeke Markshausen, Andrew Brewer, and Demetrius Fields) and also a spectacular, toe-tapping touchdown catch from Brendan Mitchell. The running game was merely okay. Arby Fields only had 43 yards on 9 carries, but he did have a great 17-yarder followed up immediately by a 2-yard run for a TD. The kid has explosive power and I'd really like to see the coaches get him involved in the game more. At least then I'd have an excuse to wear my "I'm thinking... ARBY" t-shirt a few more times.
This game really seems to have followed the same script that I've seen already this season - good offensive play, poor defense. Once again, we missed tackles. Once again, our secondary was ineffective. Once again, we failed to hold a late lead. The result of all this is that Northwestern has placed themselves in a really tricky position with this loss.
The next four games could all be wins (at Purdue, vs. Miami of Ohio, at the suddenly un-scary Sparty, and vs. Indiana) but beyond that, only Illinois looks like a win, with games against Iowa, Penn State, and Wisconsin all causing my stomach to pre-emptively turn. If they can steal two of those games (or, if all three of those teams can be temporarily disabled due to swine flu) and win out the rest, they can make it to 8 wins, which would make me at least happy after the season. But that's a tall order and with the way the defense played today, they have a loooong way to go.
Until next week, I wearily say:
Go U! NU!