Well, if anything confirmed that Indiana is going to be enjoying the Queso Bowl during December, today was probably it. Leading 28-3 in the 2nd quarter, the Indiana Hoosiers somehow managed to let the Northwestern Wildcats wake up and steal this game right out from under them. Indiana currently sits at four wins and with games against Iowa, Wisconsin, Penn State, and Purdue finishing out their schedule, six wins and bowl eligibility is going to be very hard to come by.
Northwestern, of course, isn't in much better shape. They need one more win from the group of Penn State, Iowa, Illinois, and Wisconsin. Given Illinois' horrid play this season, and the stellar play of those other three teams, it's easy to say why today's victory against Indiana was so crucial for Northwestern. If Northwestern can beat Illinois (or, shockingly, upset one of the stronger teams) they can get their six wins and won't be staying home this December.
Of course, a trip to Detroit isn't exactly what I had in mind at the start of this season. 2009 has been quite the dismal and disappointing year for this Wildcat fan. I've been taking a break from my Northwestern writing recently, having focused on Wisconsin and the general Big 10. This was partly due to the fact that I was actually in the Dairy State for the past few Saturdays (and, as such, couldn't see the Wildcats), but the mediocre play of Northwestern also had something to do with it. It gets hard writing about losses, after all.
Indeed, during the first quarter and a half of this game I was attempting to come up with a way to write about another heartbreaking loss at Ryan Field without sounding completely fatalistic. But, thank goodness, that will not be necessary as today I get to write about a vintage Cardiac Cats come from behind win - and I am happy!
This game really did not start out well for Northwestern. A few days ago, we linked to an article on ESPN about the team that got away from the Big 10 - the former founding member - The University of Chicago. Today, it really looked as though my undergrad alma mater Maroons had decided to come up north and take the field in place of the Wildcats. For those who don't know, The University of Chicago is a Division III team.
Yeah, that's how bad it was...
Graham takes a look at the top 11 plays of this season in the Big 10...
A quick summation of the hell that was the start of this game, and my thoughts:
- First play from scrimmage, Indiana has the ball:
Darius Willus rush for 70 yards for a touchdown.
Uh-oh... well... okay, I mean, maybe the Wildcats just had a long night.
- 7-0 Indiana, Northwestern's first series of the day:
So maybe both the offense AND defense had late nights. It's okay. Just a 3 and out. No need to worry yet...
- Halfway through the 1st quarter:
Ray Fisher punt return for 35 yards to Northwestern 28, rush for no gain, Ben Chappell complete pass to Troy Wagner for 13 yards, Northwestern 5 yard penalty, Mitchell Evans 3 yard rush, Tandon Doss 5 yard rush, Mitchell Evans 1 yard rush, Ben Chappell rush for 1 yard for a touchdown.
Okay, can somebody, anybody, PLEASE MAKE A TACKLE? IS IT THAT HARD? REALLY? HOW MUCH TEQUILA DID YOU GUYS DRINK LAST NIGHT?
- Start of 2nd Quarter, 14-0 Indiana, Indiana at the NU 37:
Chappell pass complete to Tandon Doss for 6 yards, Chappell pass complete to Damarlo Belcher for 19 yards, Chappell pass complete to Wagner for 10 yards, Darius Willis rush for 3 yards for a touchdown.
Sigh... I just... yeah... sigh...
- Demos kicks a 28 yard field goal, 21-3 Indiana...:
Stefan Demos kickoff for 63 yards returned by Ray Fisher 93 yards for a touchdown
Oh good god. Why did I get up today? Why?
At this point, Indiana was up 28-3 and it was looking like it might be a good day to go do some laundry during the 2nd half. I held on, however, partly because of irrational hope and partly because I really did not want to start working on my Crim Law outline.
Somehow, though, in the end of the second quarter, Kafka and the combined forces of Andrew Brewer, Zeke Markshausen, Sidney Stewart, and Drake Dunsmore managed to remember how to play football and scored two touchdowns to make it to halftime, trailing by only 11 points.
So, you might ask, if this was a win, when do I get to the part about the winning? Patience. I'll get there. We just have to slog through the rest of this nightmare first.
Very little happened in the third quarter, with the exception of an interception by Mike Kafka, a blocked Indiana punt which turned into a Northwestern safety, and another Kafka interception.
The second interception thrown by Kafka came at midfield and resulted in Indiana having the ball at the Northwestern 23, leading at this point 28-17. Most of the momentum up until this interception had been in Northwestern's favor, but I felt completely deflated after watching Indiana's Austin Thomas haul in the Kafka pass that looked as though it had almost been thrown right to him. Fortunately, I soon regained a certain measure of confidence.
This is because Indiana is bad. Hilariously bad. I mean it. Really, really bad.
Somehow Indiana managed to screw up a 1st and goal at the Northwestern 7. They rushed the ball to the 2 yard line, before getting pushed back by the defense to the 5 yard line. At 3rd and goal on the five, they completed a pass just short of the end zone, leaving them with 4th and goal at the 1 yard line.
Okay, pop-quiz time. You're Bill Lynch, head coach of the Indiana Hoosiers, and it's 4th and goal. You're leading by 11 points and your team is at the one yard line. What DO you do?
A.) Send the field goal unit out onto the field and take the three easy points for a two touchdown lead.
B.) Aggressively go for the touchdown by pounding the ball up the middle with your biggest back.
C.) Put the ball in the hands of your quarterback Ben Chappell (who had three TDs against Illinois) and trust him to complete a pass.
D.) Line up your team in the Wildcat formation with Mitchell Evans under center and attempt to sneakify the ball into the end zone.
Ding ding ding! We have a winner! Those of you who guessed D, congrats, you understand the bizarre psychology of the Indiana coach. The rest of you, see me after class.
Seriously, though, what on earth was Bill Lynch thinking? You're one yard away from a TD that would put you up by 18 points and instead of just conventionally attempting to get into the end zone, you run a Wildcat play for a two yard loss?? My god. Look, I know some other Big 10 coaches have had touchdown success with trick plays this year (Brett Bielema, I'm looking at you) but usually a trick play only works if the defense doesn't see it coming. Not, you know, if they see you're lining up in the Wildcat formation which you've already used at least twice in the game before and know exactly who the ball is going to and when.
The 4th quarter of this game did not end the insanity. The Wildcats were still deep in their own territory after getting the ball on downs from Indiana's failed TD attempt. After marching to midfield, Kafka managed to complete a long pass to Andrew Brewer who chugged his way with an Indiana defender hanging off his helmet for a total of 51 yards and a TD. It was almost as though Brewer felt that if he didn't get that ball into the end zone right then and there, Kafka was likely to deposit it back into an Indiana defender's hands, keeping Northwestern off the board yet again. That touchdown put the Wildcats within two points, down 28-26.
So this must be the point where the drama stops and the winning starts, right? Right?
Well... no, not really.
The defense managed to step up and hold Indiana in their own territory to force a punt. Kafka and the offense back and then he, after only one play, threw yet another interception. Whoops. There goes that comeback drive.
Fortunately the defense didn't seem to resent being hauled back onto the field quicker than they could down a cup of Gatorade and was able to, once again, keep Indiana off the board, despite allowing Indiana to make it all the way to the Northwestern 33 yard line. This was aided by yet another Bizarre Bill decision to throw the ball on 4th and 3 instead of running it or going for the long field goal, thus turning the ball over on downs again when the pass fell incomplete.
At this point, it seemed that the Northwestern coaching staff wised up and realized that they could not trust Kafka to abstain from being intercepted during a crucial drive. So, they put the ball in the hands of Scott Concannon who somehow managed to carve up the stout until then run defense of Indiana. Concannon has missed much of this season due to a concussion, so it was nice to see him get into this game and make an impact on the ground. When the coaches did let Kafka have the ball, they forced him to throw only very short passes or keep it to himself and scramble for downs. Probably a good idea, at this point.
Northwestern made it all the way to the Indiana 2 yard line before failing to score a TD. Stefan Demos kicked a 19 yard field goal to put the 'Cats up by 1 point with under 30 seconds left. I can't lie, at this point I was very, very nervous. I really had hoped for the TD to give the 'Cats some breathing room and I was not at all confident that the defense could keep Indiana out of field goal range.
Luckily, Northwestern was aided by the fact that Indiana was out of timeouts. Yes, that's right, Bill Lynch had somehow managed to use all of Indiana's second half timeouts before the 4th quarter was even halfway over. I don't think I've ever seen poorer clock management on the part of a Big 10 coach, except for maybe Brett Bielema's MSU shenanigans from seasons past.
This turned out to be a difference maker because Indiana simply lacked enough time to run all but one pass play. They were forced to attempt a 59 yard field goal on 2nd down which, while kicked quite far, fell short of the goal posts and ran out the final seconds on the clock, preserving the Northwestern one point lead.
This game really reminded me of the game against Purdue, and it's not just because both teams are from Indiana. Northwestern won today as much because of their own play as because of mistakes and poor play on the part of the opposing team. Against Purdue, it was a large number of turnovers that made the difference, and today it was poor clock management and play calling decisions that doomed Indiana. Now I don't mean to disparage the excellent second half play of this team - the defense really stepped up and players Nate Williams, Ben Johnson, Quentin Davie, and Brian Peters showed what this defense is capable of. But... the reality is that you can't depend on the other team to make mistakes and give you the game on a silver platter. Letting yourself get into a 28-3 hole and then expecting to win is crazy. Lord help us if we actually do make it to a bowl and play like this.
Despite all the disappointments this season has held, I am happy for the win today and am looking forward to the last few games. Perhaps six wins and a bowl await, and then, while I will be considerably let down, I will at least know that we are better than Illinois, which is what really matters, right?
So, until next week...
Go U! NU!