Weekly Wildcat Watch

A look at Fitz's use of Facebook, some preseason basketball chatter and a handful of recaps that pounce on Northwestern's second half digression against MSU. Articles come from the Detroit Free Press, the Tribune, NBC Sports and many more.

In case you missed it…

This article dealt with an unwelcome trend: Northwestern's lack of attendance so far this season.

From the article:

The attendance woes started at the start of the season, with Towson's visit to Evanston. Now, obviously Towson is not a big draw.* Plus, classes hadn't started yet, so there was a dearth of students on campus, and thus a dearth of students in the stands. Granted. But nonetheless, with an announced attendance of 17,857, it was only the second time in the last 10 years that there were less than 20,000 fans to witness the home-opener. The other was back in 2007 when 16,199 people witnessed the season-opener against Northeastern. Of course, in 2007, NU was coming off of a forgettable 4-8 campaign. Thus, that one is a little easier to rationalize.

* While Towson has zero name value, this isn't the first time that NU has opened the home slate with a patsy. Of course there was Northeastern, but in 2006 it was New Hampshire, and in 2005 it was Ohio. Each of those game drew more than 20,000.

It wasn't, however, just the home-opener. This season was also the first in more than a decade that there were fewer than 22,100 people who witnessed the conference home-opener. When one-loss Minnesota came to Evanston in mid-September, only 22,091 people were there. The previous low, also against Minnesota, was back in 2003, when the attendance was 23,539, about 1,500 more, despite NU being just 2-3 going into that '03 contest.

The previous average for conference home-openers was 37,066. Now, some of those games featured Ohio State and Michigan when those teams were in the Top 10. So getting 37,000 for Minnesota may be an unreasonable expectation. But even Minnesota generally draws better than 22,091. In fact, it's the first time (in the last 11 years) that a Minnesota game has drawn fewer than 23,000, let alone a conference home-opener….

Also, last season, which was the most successful in terms of wins in a long time, ranked just sixth in attendance out of the past 10 years. An average of 28,590 fans – 25,500 if you don't include Ohio State – went to the 2008 games. But contrast, better than 30,000 attended games in 1999, when the team went 3-8 and 2-4 at home…

The conclusion was two-, maybe even three-fold. Of course, this season has probably disappointed some NU fans. At 4-3, the team has already lost as many regular season games as it did last season. So there's that. But there are two more things that Purple Reign hypothesizes are even more important. First off, the economy. People have less expendable dough than at any point in recent history. And for most people, Northwestern football games – especially ones against Towson and Miami – are not essentials. So people are likely more reluctant to drop money on football tickets than they have been in years. Probably decades.

Also, the advent and evolution of the Big Ten Network, as well as hi-def TVs, has made the home-viewing experience easier and more enjoyable. A few years ago, it may have been tricky to get all of Northwestern's games on TV. And if you did get the game on the telly, it certainly didn't look as sharp as it does now with big-screens and HD quality. It's impossible to tell exactly what sort of impact the TV and broadcast changes have had on NU's home attendance; same goes for the slumping economy. But PR suspects that both things have been variables to NU's lagging attendance.

Other noteworthy articles: This one, which was an email exchange with the Detroit Free Press' Shannon Shelton. And then there was this one, which detailed how NU was the first to offer Grand Blanc (Mich.) running back Justice Hayes.


Let's start with basketball, shall we? Football was a bit distressing this weekend, plus hoops just kicked off (tipped off?) with the start of practices.

First is this article by NBC Sports' Mike Miller, who ticks off 13 coaches who are on the hot seat. He described Northwestern's Bill Carmody's seat as "toasty," going on to say:

In 10 seasons at Northwestern, Carmody's finished higher than 7th in the Big Ten once – and that was an 8-8 seasons. He's had two winning seasons. Last year's NIT berth was the first postseason tourney during his tenure. Northwestern's usually not worried about hoops (it's never been to the Big Dance), but that kind of record is ridiculous, even for the most casually concerned hoops school.

Anytime the word "ridiculous" gets busted out, it's pretty scathing. (One could argue that, for a team that has never been to the Tourney, it's ridiculous to expect too much success. Still, the numbers that Miller cites are pretty indicting.)

Miller also linked to the Web site "Fire Bill Carmody," which can be found at firebillcarmody.blogspot.com. The site has been getting some pub...and now a little bit more. A trip to the Big Dance would likely silence the dissenters.

This is a preview from the USA Today, which took a gander at every BCS Conference hoops team (and then some). Of Northwestern, they said:

Since Northwestern never has qualified for the NCAA Tournament, the program's success usually has been calculated with inchworms rather than yardsticks. But after last year's grand achievements, the Wildcats are ready to start using the same measuring system as the rest of the nation's major-college teams.

Northwestern tied the school record for regular-season wins (17). It earned the program's first NIT bid since 1999. It knocked off three Top 25 teams, which included road-warrior wins at NCAA runnerup Michigan State and Sweet Sixteen participant Purdue….

The Wildcats never have played in the NCAA Tournament, but this team has more preseason hopes than any NU team in a generation or two.

As you can see, there is a tone of anticipation in this preseason speculation. It's good that the program is at a point where people expect the Big Dance. But it's a double-edged sword – with expectations comes the need to execute.

This cursory look at local schools from the Daily Herald doesn't warrant much discussion. But there's the link.

Now, moving to the football field and Northwestern's defeat of Michigan State.

Kidding, kidding. That's the other football – you know, futbol. There was no win for the Wildcats on the real football field. But there were numerous recaps from the game.

Like this one, from the Livingston Daily. PR thought this was an interesting quote from MSU linebacker Eric Gordon. The first part is probably inadvertently describing how some Wildcat fans feel about the passing game:

"The dinking and dunking, it gets kind of old," said linebacker Eric Gordon, who led the Spartans with 15 tackles, including a sack, "but it's a great thing for an offense to do. It wears down a defense. We just hung in there and kept on playing."

Once again, there was a theme to the various recaps from NU's game. After the Minnesota loss, there was the "awful tackling" theme, which acted as the lead in a handful of gamers. And after the Purdue game, it was all "Northwestern's defense finally stepped up" (even though, as PR wrote the other week, the defense had already been stepping up).

This week, after the MSU loss, it was the first-half/second-half dichotomy.

From MSU's Web site:

The second half was a different story altogether, and it may have started with a single play.

From the Chicago Sun-Times, in an article titled "Cats Fall Apart in 2nd Half":

"It was a tale of two halves," Wildcats coach Pat Fitzgerald said. "Our guys kept on battling, but we could not find a way to win the game."

From the Chicago Tribune:

If Northwestern had big-time playmakers, its two second-half fumbles would have been nuisances, rather than daggers.

From the Detroit Free Press:

The offense didn't jell immediately, and Cousins admitted he was "off" in the first half, a status Dantonio attributed to his one-week absence. But once Cousins found White a few times in the second half, the Spartans began to click.

Another article from the Detroit Free Press was titled, "Spartans come alive in second half, beat Wildcats." And from the Detroit News, "Big second half powers Spartans to victory."

The lead:

The homecoming crowd didn't appear into it and neither did Michigan State during a lackluster first half Saturday against Northwestern.

Again, there seems always to be a theme to recaps. This week it was the second-half digression. Next week it will be NU inching closer to bowl eligibility...or at least that's what PR hopes.

This article from North by Northwestern talks about Fitz's Facebook page. Fitz has used Facebook – and also Twitter – to his advantage, sending players messages and advertising the programs with a business man's savvy. (Several recruits have told PR that Fitz's youth and energy are a reason they chose/are considering NU. And being on Facebook and Twitter can't hurt that youthful impression.)

While that last article is about Fitz's youthful communication strategies, this one is about how all of NU's close games are making him feel old:

"Trust me I'd prefer not to," Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said of coaching in so many close games. "I'm not really pleased I'm going gray at the age of 34 but it just seems that's the way we are around here."

This article and this article are a little untimely now, but they both take a look at how MSU was gearing up all week to stop NU's spread. Even though Mike Kafka was an uber-efficient 34-of-47, he only had 291 yards and two TDs; NU only had 14 points. Looks like the extra work paid off.

From the second of those two links, which comes via the Detroit Free Press:

In 2007, the last time Michigan State played Northwestern at Spartan Stadium, the Wildcats torched the Spartans for 520 passing yards and confused the defense in a 48-41 overtime victory….

"We try and simulate things, and the more you play against it, the better you become against it," Dantonio said. "Michigan, Illinois they did the same thing with the no-huddles. We've had two weeks of that. We've practiced for two weeks of that tempo. This tempo may be even a little bit faster -- we'll see."

That wraps it up. As always, feel free to contact Purple Reign at northwestern.scout@gmail.com.

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