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Close, but a Cigar

There's a certain game some college students enjoy playing where you throw little tiny balls into cups. 

Last night, as I was valiantly carrying my team to victory, my teammate was complaining about how he kept getting close. He was hitting the rim, he said. It just wasn't going down.

So, I reminded him of an old adage, one that has been passed down through the generations since I said it a few years ago while being overwhelmingly cocky and playing the same game: there's no such thing as close. Either you hit it, or you miss it. In or out. Black or white. As demonstrated by the Katy Perry song "Hot and Cold", there is frequently no middle ground in such endeavors, and we have to pick which side we're on.

Northwestern's win yesterday disturbed people. For the first time on the year, the Wildcats trailed, and needed a boatload of late game heroics to escape with a one-point victory over a team that has looked really really really good at losing football games, especially against bad schools.

But by the same token that there's no such thing as a close shot, or a good miss, Northwestern fans cannot complain about bad losses. Sometimes you shoot and it rims out. Others your ball spins into a cup you didn't intend it to. But one is in, and one is out. At the end of the day, you have to classify a game by where you file the "1", and today, it was in the "W" column. And that's all that matters.

Hit the jump like it said something about your mother for some actual analysis.

  • Word of advice: if you're around Jeremy Ebert, try not to be holding something in your hands. Because chances are more than likely that he grabs it from you without asking for a touchdown. It's on the short list for best catches in 
  • So, I'm going to pre-empt something and nip it in the bud before it starts - something you guys have been good about thus far but I want to talk about before it becomes a problem: Stefan Demos has been absolutely awful this year. He's been a bad kicker - he's struggled to make extra points, which is inexcusable. And, barring the team benching him, he will in all likelihood continue to do so. But, people, if you're going to make fun of him, make fun of his kicking. I don't want to see personal attacks about any Northwestern players in my comments section - there's no need for that, and I could see it happening really quickly, so, please, don't. 
  • That being said, obvious props to him for his journey on the Stefan Demos road to redemption by nailing the game-winner, his third in two years. The one that wouldn't have been the difference between a win and a loss if he'd, you know, made an extra point - major cojones from Stefan there. THAT being said, I wouldn't mind seeing Jeff Budzien handle extra points until its clear that either Budzien has the same problem as Demos or Demos fixes his problem. Because it almost cost NU the game.
  • Penalties. Dumb penalties. Soooooooooooo many dumb penalties. Ten penalties for 79 yards is inexcusable, so, let's not try to excuse it. The really blatantly silly ones were the facemask by Jared Carpenter on first-and-24 and the two offensive offsides calls on Tony Jones, one of which brought back a first down - he was a true freshman in his first game, so we can get over it - but, damn, that's just the tip of the iceberg.
  • Turnovers. Dumb turnovers. Soooooooooooo many dumb turnovers. Dan Persa and Venric Mark jumped without securing the ball, obviously, those are turnovers. Persa forced the ball into double coverage, obviously, that's a turnover. All three were in enemy territory, and two were in easy field goal range, so we left six points on the board in a game where we won on a late-game field goal. 
  • (considers copy-pasting something I wrote about Dan Persa being great a few weeks ago decides against it because after all he did throw a pick, but, 23-for-30 for 309 yards and two touchdowns still isn't shabby although it isn't as good as my GPA)
  • Also, as if you didn't know, our game is Dan Persa. In addition to the passing, he also picked up a crapload of gutsy first downs on his feet - the one from 3rd-and-17 stands out in particular, but it was just one of many - and nearly gave NU their first 100-yard rushing performance since Tyrell Sutton. And our best rushing plays with running backs were all off the option. Remember week one, when Persa kept putting Arby Fields in situations where it was very easy for defenders to tackle him for a loss, and he had ten carries for -7 yards? Now, Persa is much better at giving it to his running backs in a good position, and the option led to NU's two best running back carries of the day, both by Mike Trumpy. We need to get Persa kicking extra points, and fast.
  • This game reminded me a lot of last year's Minnesota game, in that we had no semblance of a run defense. Disappointing work from a front four that had looked great so far this year. DeLeon Eskridge had 122 yards rushing on 5.1 yards a carry. Uh. No. That is not good. And he only got tackled for a loss on one play. Uhhhhhhhh. No, stop that. Looked like a lot of broken arm tackles and a lot of plays where simply nobody touched him until he was six yards downfield. Ugly stuff.
  • Redshirtapalooza 2010 continues, in a very un-Fitzgeraldian manner. We have now played five true freshmen, removing their possibility of this being a redshirt season for them: Venric Mark, Will Hampton, Rashad Lawrence, and with yesterday's game, Tony Jones and Adonis Smith. Jones paid nearly immediate dividends, scoring on his first play from scrimmage, so, that worked out. But Adonis Smith? One yard on two carries. I don't see the benefit of adding a seventh wheel to the running back by committee scenario, and unless he becomes a major factor in our run game in the next seven weeks, which seems unlikely, methinks we'll regret this in 2015. (Then again, we don't have a star running back graduating, so, no biggie - he might be able to sit out next year.)
  • I convinced myself last year that our wideout corps was a series of interchangeable parts: yeah, we can graduate guys, but there will be someone to replace them, kinda like shark teeth or chips and salsa at Chili's, eatin' good in the neighborhood. I'm starting to think this isn't true. Minnesota has an anemic pass defense, but even after we burned the redshirts of three speedy, relatively talented freshmen, coverage killed NU all day. Dan Persa didn't have the quick outs he normally did to throw to, and was waiting four or five seconds in the pocket for plays to develop, which isn't what we're used to seeing, forcing him to either scramble or check down to his running back on plays that are normally six or seven yard completions. I put this on the receivers: Jeremy Ebert has looked great all season, but the rest of the crew has just been there, nothing special.
  • Charles Brown, with the game of his life. Although that totally wasn't a completion. 
  • With regards to our comical run game: Trumpy has been our best back this year. He's the first guy who played capable of making a guy miss. Schmidt is good in short yardage situations, but, as always, seems a step slow, and it killed him a few times yesterday. Arby Fields, on the other hand, DNP-CD'd. Didn't even get on the field or into the participation report. How the mighty have fallen.
  • That being said, great play by the offensive line giving Persa time and space. Only one sack, Persa consistently was able to hold on to the ball for long enough to have a scrambling lane develop.
  • I expected Justan Vaughn to be a surprise at corner at corner, but he hasn't. The blown coverage on the wheel route that led to an easy pitch-and-catch touchdown appeared to be his fault in making the wrong read of which receiver to pick up.
  • About surprises, David Nwabuisi has been a real contributor to the defense -  his QB hurry on the pivotal fourth-down play at the end of the game is what led to the pick. 
  • Hey, Ben Johnson, some of us had NU vs. the spread. Way to not score the touchdown. (No but seriously getting down was the smart thing to do.)
  • In other late game minutiae, we take our victory formations from the shotgun spread? WE. ARE. NORTHWESTERN.