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Northwestern Potluck #3 - Sleeping through it

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Let’s wake ourselves up and drag our way through another day of Northwestern.

Photo by Nuccio DiNuzzo/Getty Images

So here we are. Potluck #3 for the Wildcats, and I have to admit that this might be the toughest thing I’ve had to write about since trying to be enthusiastic about a Jerry Kill offense. It’s tough enough having to deal with seeing Northwestern once a year, but having to dedicate multiple days in a row to this dreck is downright unfair. If Vox’s union cared about us at all, I’d file some sort of grievance about these working conditions.

Anyway, one signature feature of Northwestern football has been the defense. Even in last year’s pile of kitty puke on a new carpet of a season, the defense was a tolerable 43rd in PPG allowed, T-27th in YPP, and 25th in YPG. Amazingly, they were 41st in PPG, 56th in YPP, and 64th in 2018 when they snuck through the West.

The key difference? 11th nationally in turnovers in 2018, 107th in 2019. Can the Wildcats find a way to be stingier yet while forcing more turnovers? Was it just luck based on a number of young, inexperienced players and staff in the West that helped, or was there something bigger missing from the Northwestern formula? And what was the most frustrating “One missing thing” from your team in the past that drove you nuts?

Stew: From what I’ve read, and believe, interceptions are a skill that can be somewhat replicated with similar players. And jNW is middle of the pack there, and has been for a while, so I don’t think that really changes much. The biggest difference has been on the fumble front. I think there’s some evidence that forcing fumbles can be a bit of a skill, but recovering fumbles is far more erratic and lucky. And sure enough, in 2018 they were one of the top teams in the country at this, simply put it was unsustainable. Last year was a reversion to the mean, not the fluke. They force the same amount of fumbles, but just recovered far fewer.

Past? Really, past, present, and future. The goddamn running game. It’s been mostly awful for about 20 years. The bright spots were early in Ferentz’s tenure when the zone running scheme seemingly befuddled college teams, and later with the Doak Walker winner Shonn Greene, and when Brian Ferentz was the run game coordinator and actually mixed in some counters and power schemes. Those promptly went in the drawer, though, when he became OC.

LPW: I think DC Mike Hankwitz’s crew will get back to normal. Last season was an aberration on this front. I really don’t need to worry about his side of the ball.

pkloa: If Northwestern football is above average in ANY category, the players are punching above their weight class. Accept it without question, love it without conditions, refer to it constantly without self awareness.

Beez: It wasn’t just luck that they did so well in turnovers in 2018, but it was certainly unsustainable. That’s why their defense improved in 2019 but was actually “worse” than the 2018 division champ version. I think the defense can certainly be more solid than middling P5, but I don’t think it’s unfair to say they haven’t been good for a couple seasons now.

The “one missing thing” from Wisconsin for as long as I can remember is the threat that the passing game will score quickly. Sure it happens every now and then, but they haven’t had the combination of good deep threat receivers AND a QB who can throw it far in a long time, at least not consistently. The less obvious answer is a special teams game that’s an actual weapon, rather than something reliable or, more commonly, stress inducing.

MNW: It’s a bit of a cop-out, because, as Stew notes, the fumbles weren’t just hitting the ground and bouncing into Wildcat hands in 2019: they recovered full 65% of fumbles in 2018 against 41.18% in 2019. I hope you worked on that this off-season, Fitz!

But also, the Northwestern defense got stuck on the field more and more while the offense ran, on average, about 5.2 fewer plays per game than 2018. So while the inability to collect fumbles swung badly, Northwestern is not an interception-generating machine, owing to that wonderful bend-don’t-break toughness of Mike Hankwitz. I’m trying not to treat it as a total aberration, but my hope is a more sustained across-the-board pass rush in 2020 (aka “Not Just Joe Gaziano”) will help provide some cover for the secondary.

The most frustrating “one missing thing” since 2016, for me, has been the lack of a big-time kicker for the program. Jack Mitchell wasn’t the most accurate, but he had a leg that I trusted from beyond 40 yards. Has Northwestern attempted a 40-yard field goal since? I’d love special teams not being a complete liability outside of graduate transfer punters.

More on that tomorrow.

BRT: I think it was just luck. :) As for Nebraska’s one missing thing, sometimes I have missed defense. I have also missed offense. To be honest, it’s been quite awhile since Nebraska has just been missing “the one thing.”

WSR: You can’t convince me that Pat Fitzgerald didn’t sacrifice a potato to Bastet or something to pull off their 2018 season. Because cats are fickle and constantly change their mind about what they want, I’m sure that cat deities are the same way and Fitz just hasn’t gotten it right yet. Until he does, the defense will continue to find a way to put up decent but unspectacular numbers and be good enough when compared to the offense.

Minnesota has a long history of being a piece or two away. My favorite one would have to be 2003 team that was just weak enough in terms of the passing game to cause me an ulcer. Goddamn it, Glen. You shouldn’t be allowed to offer expert opinions on BTN until you prove that you learned how to stop a fucking screen.


We at OTE endorse all forms of potentially fatal tourism.
Photo by TANG CHHIN SOTHY/AFP via Getty Images

Non-Football: Northwestern’s defense is the one sunny spot for their program to catnap. Let’s get away from food and talk about napping. Do you have a favorite spot to try to get a quick snooze in? And do you have any superstitions you have to do before taking a nap? Do you spin around a few times before laying down? Stretch all the way out and ease your way into the nap? Whattya got?

LPW: I really don’t need to nap during the day, but when I need to veg out I have a dual-recliner couch that’s absolutely perfect.

Stew: I generally prefer a mid-morning nap to afternoon, though, I’ll gladly take either. With small children around naps aren’t really much of an option, but every once in a while they want to snuggle and watch a movie. And let me tell you, a child laying down on your lap is essentially a weighted blanket, and it will knock me out for a little snooze while they watch one of the Trolls movies for the 219th time.

pkloa: Can’t remember the last time I napped anywhere besides my bed or my couch. I have a very tough time falling asleep on my back, or seated, so that leaves side- or stomach-sleeping. And since I won’t put my face where everyone else’s ass goes, it sure narrows things down.

Beez: Prime naptime for me, the single childless man, is Saturday mornings around 11 a.m. Because it really is true that at some point you get old enough that you just always wake up “early” on weekends, I don’t sleep much past 8. I get up, do a couple outside chores before it gets too hot, then lie down on my couch, which I really need to replace, and maybe snooze for an hour. It’s great.

MNW: About 4 or 5pm, when I’ve finished my writing/research/day-drinking and am waiting for my wife to get home. I’ll head to the guest bedroom, grab whatever book I’m reading, and just pass out across the bed. Usually the cat joins me and naps right next to me. It’s delightful.

BRT: I don’t nap a ton, but it’s usually late afternoon when it happens. However, that’s a bit of a trick, because you have to make sure you’re tired enough that you’ll still be able to sleep at night. I’m a big believer in the benefits of a power nap though. Usually I go sleep in my bed, or sometimes on the couch.

WSR: I wasn’t much of a napper until a couple years ago, but there’s something to be said about a quick afternoon power nap. You know what makes it even better? A quick afternoon powernap in a hammock.

Poll

Explain why Northwestern’s Defense isn’t as good as it was in 2018?

This poll is closed

  • 28%
    Reversion to the mean with fumble luck
    (19 votes)
  • 32%
    Unhappy Cat God
    (22 votes)
  • 38%
    They were never that good.
    (26 votes)
67 votes total Vote Now

Poll

What’s your favorite napping aid?

This poll is closed

  • 38%
    Couch
    (25 votes)
  • 23%
    Bed
    (15 votes)
  • 7%
    Hammock
    (5 votes)
  • 30%
    Northwestern Athletics
    (20 votes)
65 votes total Vote Now