No sympathy for the Wildcats

No good programs should have seasons like this, writes Nick Medline.

I used the word "devastating." Mike Greenberg used "heartbreaking." The reactions and adjectives piled in after Northwestern lost to Michigan, 27-19 in three overtimes.

So Brendan Gibbons launched an improbable, game-tying 44-yard field goal as time expired in the fourth quarter. That seems purely "Northwestern," with crazy occurrences unraveling games and, this time, the season.

It seemed like the continuation of last year's Michigan game, a Hail Mary in Nebraska, the quarterback sneak and controversial spot against Ohio State. The list continues until you notice a pattern.

I'll be the first to praise the Wildcats for effort. Despite losing five consecutive games, the Wildcats marched into Ryan Field motivated and confident — and they played like it until the very end.

But I'm tired of the apologist attitude. I'm done with the word "devastating," because no good program should have a season like this. One brutal GameDay loss turned into five more, and everyone's BCS sleeper will likely miss a bowl game.

Because, no, Northwestern cannot afford this. They're recruiting better, but in a five-year program, the results aren't immediate. They're losing Kain Colter, one of the best athletes in program history. You cannot simply hide this season; there's no proof that this will turn around.

Are we hoping that the luck suddenly turns? Do we want the coaching staff to adjust its conservative game plan? Or are we banking on this team – and this program – finally turning into winners? Well, someone has to say it.

We'll remember this game for Gibbons' field goal. That was the story, and it wasn't the story. Devin Gardner faced fourth down from his own 28-yard line early in the game-tying drive. The tacklers, so precise all day, missed him badly and let the drive continue. Shortly after, Jimmy Hall had a costly pass interference penalty. Then Jeremy Gallon took advantage of a clear coverage breakdown and gained 16 yards down the middle of the field. It was, as Fitz would say, terrible late game execution.

Something like this happens every single game, and it did last season — though we can glorify that one now. Northwestern does not close out teams, it plays jarringly conservative football and has let down expectations from week two forward.

I'm not going to belabor my play calling criticisms, though everyone else on Twitter has joined the activity. Without further comment, I'll mention that Trevor Siemian and Mike Trumpy ran a joint read option on third down. So what's new?

The losing isn't because of some fluke. It extends beyond a Ron Kellogg Hail Mary and a Roy Roundtree catch and Gibbons' field goal. They aren't executing. They're simply not playing much better than any opponent. And there needs to be some explanation – or proof against this – that makes us believe in the program moving forward. No blind faith.

There's too much talent to miss bowl games, to plod through a – frankly – embarrassing 0-6 season. Before the season, Fitzgerald sold everything: his lakefront, his team, and their potential. Now, what is he selling?

Not heartbreak. Not some twist of fate. And certainly not benefit of the doubt.

Not when it becomes a pattern.


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