Random Thoughts: How Things Go Downhill Fast

Coach Roy knows - There's nothing like an injury to a key player to really mess up your gameplan. Get injuries in one quarter to two, then three starters and you can get into the kind of trouble that ruined Northwestern's homecoming Saturday...

I was amazed when I finally got back from my game Saturday morning...
My youth football team had just won a hard fought battle with the team everyone thought would win the league so I was primed for something good from our Wildcats, but a 35-3 lead was unimaginable.

Coach Pat Fitzgerald may point to himself as asking the Cats not to do something dumb, and play conservative football, but in my humble opinion, Nick Roach's injury opened the door to Michigan State and the Drew Stanton engineered comeback.

You see, last year, I had built a suffocating defense - we were 5-0 until one of my linebackers, the guy with two interception touchdowns in 40 seconds, twisted his ankle in practice.

Suddenly teams could pass on us and they did. We lost that last game, ruining what should have been a 6-0 season.

MSU did what every team does when an opposing player goes down - they pick on the replacement. Once they determined that they could pass on the backup, they kept doing it until they tied up the game.

Senior LB Nick Roach was, and is, that big a part of the NU defense.

He was the on the field leader, one of the Cats' top pass rushers, a run stuffer, he led the Cats in tackles for a reason. His play made the defensive ends better, and with him off the field, the options open to the defensive coaches changed radically.

Take him off the field and things can fall apart quickly.

OK, so maybe our offense should have stepped it up and scored - one more TD would have won the game, but without the other guy who limped off the field, center Trevor Rees things got dicey going the other way too.

Suddenly the timing between the center and QB changed. There were a few juggled snaps, where C.J. Bacher had time in the first half to read the entire field, he was getting control of the ball.

Add an injury to Eric Peterman later in the game, and suddenly one of the 3 "hot" receivers was gone, limiting play selection.

Over the past few years, we've seen NU struggle to get 3 Big 10 linebackers on the field. Roach was always a player, but seemed to get dinged up. Soph Mike Dinard is one of the guys who has played in the middle since he got to Evanston, but traditionally, our Linebackers have always shuffled around as some guys played outside, then moved inside. Roach was a guy who always started outside.

If I had to guess, I suspect that Adam Kadela and Demetrius Eaton will move to the outside positions, and Dinard will take over in the middle. Chris Malleo will benefit from more practice time at the Will, but he was very effective as a backup, not as a starter.

One more thing that effected the course of the game was the end zone interception off a ball that was tipped away from Tyrell Sutton. Most tipped interceptions are based on luck. NU should have had one more shot at the end zone, instead of defending against a rejuvenated Spartan offense.

I'm writing this Monday morning, before all the "official" injury reports come out.

If Rees was pulled as a precaution and is able to come back next week, the NU offense should pick up where they left off in the 3rd quarter.

Back after Kustok graduated, we had something similar happen, except it was in the first game - MLB Pat Durr, the only senior starting on defense at the time, was knocked out on the 5 or 6th play. NU had a lot of talent coming up [including our present LB corps], but our run defense was gone with the emergency cart.

NU has 3 or 4 practices to work out any changes due to the injuries. We have some good backups, guys who might have started as frosh a few years ago. Any shuffles on defense will be after watching film and practice this week.

I think we now all have an even better appreciation of Nick Roach's contributions to NU's defense.

But the first guy to figure out Roach's importance to the Northwestern defense was the guy calling the plays for MSU.
-- da Coach

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