For three quarters, it sure looked like Fitz was about to get that elusive "big win." All the pieces were there - a big-name, highly ranked foe on national TV, a night game, a jacked-up crowd, a pumped-up sideline ...
But then reality set in - and it really goes back to the Kafka injury. I didn't see him limp off the field, so I thought the first Persa series was the normal rotation ... but then it became obvious Kafka was not coming back.
Too bad, because the Cats were playing absolutely inspired football the first half. The D shut down their running game and held them to a FG on what could have been a disastrous fumble the opening series. Kafka was making some nice moves and keeping their defense off balance. At half, we were up small on the scoreboard and big in the stats and clearly winning the game.
The third quarter, we held on through sheer will of the D -- it was just electric to see Fitz leaping 4-5 feet in the air on the sidelines with his fist pumped on defensive series (get that man a helmet!) and that energy was translating over to the players as Wootton and other D leaders were bouncing and pumping each other up during the third to hang on to that lead.
But you could literally see that energy drain a bit each time the offense came on the field for another dreadful 3-and-out. I won't put the blame entirely on Persa (lack of a run game hurt), but he needs to have better pocket presence. Especially after PSU did creep up and crowd the line. I will say that on the one play Persa escaped for a run, he was F-A-S-T BLAZIN' FAST! The crowd was taken aback by how quickly he galloped for those 30 or so yards. So maybe our play calls weren't using his talents enough on offense?
And it wasn't just the offense - our special teams were, to quote Sir Charles, TRRBL, just TRRRRIBL yesterday. The fumbled punts, the weak punts on our end, the blocked field goal, the woeful returns.
You could just see the defense wearing down, knowing they couldn't hold off PSU for much longer without help and when the Nits struck in the fourth, it was quick and deadly. I thought JoePa was piling it on trying that deep bomb up 34-13 with six or so minutes left, but I'll give him the benefit of the doubt.
So we're still looking for that big win for Fitz - it wasn't lack of fire on our coach or defense that cost us Saturday - it was that darn injury bug again, aided by special teams woes and lack of a run game. Sure would have liked to see what that fourth quarter would have been like with Kafka.
About the only other memorable thing was how in an effort to tick off the stadium neighbors even more, we set off their car alarms with a fireworks show after a night game. Invite the Badger Band to do a parade down Central Ave. and that might finally drive 'em to move out and we can expand parking!
Seriously, though, I'm sick of talking attendance. The south end zone was woefully sparse again, but if the people of Evanston and Chicago can't start coming, I'm just about to the point of saying "forget 'em!" NU had extra trick-or-treating at Wildcat Alley, fireworks after the game, a good clash of solid teams in what was a thrilling game for three quarters. What else do they want???
So anyway, good to see the gorgeous fall colors on campus and good to see old friends ... it was all treats for awhile, but ended with the trick being played on us. Losing to PSU is nothing to hang heads over and we know we can compete with them - we just couldn't get Kafka back and came apart on offense and special teams late.
Around the league ...
- * OHIO STATE ... yawn ... but now things pick up with two HUGE games at PSU and against Iowa. Win next week and the Buckeyes play for a trip to a USC-less Rose Bowl in the Shoe against the Hog-eyes, but lose and you send Iowa to Pasadena while also making PSU a strong B(C)S candidate.
- * WISCONSIN is either getting better in a hurry after the bye week or PURDUE is just tired of coming up short. Either way, ouch.
- * Did anyone really think INDIANA was going to win? IOWA is like a spider luring you into their trap. And they are a darn good football team. If they win in the Shoe in two weeks, they deserve consideration for Pasadena - a week after the Rose Bowl.
- * We all knew ILLINOIS had too much talent to go winless the rest of the way ... now we just have to hope it was a one-time deal (or at least for Big Ten games - I'd love to see them wax Cincinnati). As for MICHIGAN, RichRod's starting to see a bowl bid slip away. The Motor City Bowl always dreamed of inviting Sparty ... the Wolverines would be beyond their wildest dreams - until RichRod came!
- * And the nightcap looks like it was wild -- so much for the cold outdoors keeping down scoring. Between RichRod and Dantoni, the state of Michigan leads America in scowls and Dantoni is also watching postseason hopes slip away. Kudos to Minny for rallying while Decker was injured.
- * TITLE: Florida vs. Texas - It's theirs to lose at this point
- * ROSE: Iowa vs. Oregon - Now this is a game I'd pay to see!
- * ORANGE: Penn State vs. Georgia Tech - Probably comes down to the Irish and Nits for this spot and how can you leave 11-1 JoePa and all those fans at home for a team that lost to Michigan?
- * SUGAR: Alabama vs. Cincinnati - Yawn. Just go ahead and start chanting "SEC! SEC! SEC!" now Bama fans so you forget how meaningless that chant was in New Orleans last year.
- * FIESTA: USC vs. Boise State - No one wept more at the Ducks win than the Irish - as they saw their BCS hopes take a hit as the Fiesta jumps at the chance to bring the SC fans over from Cali for a date in the desert with the giant-killers from Boise.
- * CITRUS: Wisconsin vs. Tennessee - Say what you want about Lane, he's a self-promoter and with Ole Miss' slide, the Cotton wants LSU so the Citrus folk invite Rocky Top back to their old stomping grounds.
- * OUTBACK: Ohio State vs. Georgia - Both teams would be a bit disappointed to be in Tampa.
And now we get to Jim's ACC-like cluster of 6-6 teams -- the only one likely to escape is Minnesota, who should finish 7-5 barring upset. So ...
* CHAMPS: Minnesota vs. ACC TBA - Draw straws for their foe, but if the Gophs escape the 6-6 mess, they head here.Gonna get some rest - lots of positives early yesterday, lots of frustration late. But for 2+ quarters, this one had the look of one of those great games of recent years with NU fans and players pumped up, the opposing coach pacing in frustration and concern and upset was in the air for the national TV audience under the lights. Maybe we can shock Iowa while they're looking ahead to the Bucknuts.
* ALAMO: Michigan vs. Nebraska - The most attractive of the 6-win teams is obviously the big name, so San Antonio gets them and matches them against one of the Big XII's big names.
* INSIGHT: Michigan State vs. Kansas - The Motor City folk will beg and plead, but I think Sparty would be chosen ahead of us.
* MOTOR CITY: Northwestern vs. Central Michigan - We gotta beat the Illini.
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