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One Less Day Till Football Season, Post 4: Superback

What's crazy is that I have so many posts planned (along with the stuff Loretta and Herman write), it's looking like we'll have posts every weekday in here until football season. I HAVE TWO THINGS I WANT TO POST TODAY. IT'S JULY 14TH. The world is a crazy, fast-paced place, filled with slightly less than interesting things to say about Northwestern sports.

I watched 8 Mile last night, so I've decided everything I say today should be done over the beat of "Shook Ones Pt. II", so, if you please, just hit start on the video below and imagine a guy with a very unintimidating voice reading everything below about Northwestern's hybrid tight end/fullback position to you, which, interestingly enough, was a scene which ended up on the cutting room floor after Eminem decided it wouldn't be realistic when someone astutely noted that NU didn't implement the superback position until almost ten years after the movie supposedly took place. 

Days left til football season: 51.

As I wrote about in this post/cocktail napkin extravaganza last yearterminology

Let's say I have a car, a boat, and a plane. "Dude," I tell you, "You have to check my three supervehicles out." 

"Supervehicles? Why do you call them supervehicles?", you'd say very curiously.

"Well," I'd say smugly,  "Using them, I can drive, go out on the lake, and fly."

You'd probably say something like "Jiminy Crickets!" or "Holy f*ck!", because you'd think that I have invented the manbearpig of vehicles, one of those Ducktour things with wings. 

Northwestern calls its superbacks superbacks because hypothetically they can fulfill several positions on the field. It's an interesting concept, perhaps inspired by Chris Cooley-style H-Backs, who can play out of the backfield or catch passes from a tight end spot or even be split out wide, a theme which many NFL teams use to make a defense think about what a player's role is on any certain play and how to defend against it. Instead of bringing out a traditional fullback, whose skills are limited to run blocking and pass protection (and thus allowing a defense's to have a pretty good idea what that player will do), that big guy coming on the field could serve a variety of roles. It keeps the defense on its toes when you bring out a superback type player. 

The reason this is silly is because as long as I've been watching, Northwestern hasn't yet used or try to use any player on the roster in any way, shape, or form. Despite creating an alternate position to showcase the versatility of each of these players, Northwestern has exclusively used each player listed as "superback" in one role and one role only. Now, I don't know if these guys practice being able to fill any variety of the roles, but in terms of their usage on the field, NU has exclusively used each superback in one of three roles: tight end, fullback, or slot receiver. (Last year, I called this position "Whatever the Hell Drake Dunsmore Does" because it seemed to fit his position as a wideout in a tight ends body, but, well, he's a slot receiver.) I'm not sure if at some point NU used each player in each position, but in my three years of watching, they haven't. Perhaps the thinking is that teams will treat Drake Dunsmore as a tight end or Brett Nagel as a potential wide receiver because the roster sheet says "SB". I think this probably goes as far as me asking a girl to come home with me in my supervehicle while beeping the unlock button on a Pontiac Grand Prix keychain, by which I mean I expect opposing defenses to roll their eyes and then go have sex with somebody else in the back seat of an Acura. (I don't own a Pontiac Grand Prix because I'm from New York and we have subways that get places quickly so I don't own a car.)  

When I showed you my pier with a garage and a hangar next to it, you'd probably say something like "hey, Rodger, what was all that about the supervehicle? You just have a car, a boat, and a plane." So I'll do the same thing. I'll talk about NU's tight ends, fullbacks, and our Drake Dunsmore. 

Who did it last year?

Drake Dunsmore: This position, unsurprisingly, was filled by Drake Dunsmore.

No. 9, Drake Dunsmore: 40 rec., 381 yards, five touchdowns

You can actually see where the Best I Ever Had's tight end-ish traits come in: he was an extremely effective target down near the goal line, reeling in four TD grabs from within the ten. For the second straight year, he was essentially NU's third receiver, but his receptions and yardage went down from when Mike Kafka was his QB. Another strong year from Dunsmore, who I swear, to this day, has not yet been one-on-one tackled by an opposing defender. I've seen him get gang-tackled, I've seen him go to the ground himself, I've seen him be forced out of bounds, and I've seen him treat defenders like pedestrians in Grand Theft Auto and mow them mercilessly to the ground, but I've never seen him get one-on-one tackled. 

Tight End: 

No. 89, Josh Rooks, 13 games, one start, five receptions, 24 yards, one TD

I'm a little bit disappointed with how little NU went to Rooks. He had three catches and a touchdown in the season opener against Vanderbilt, but as the team gained more receiving options, he only had two catches the rest of the way. Just on account of how little NU uses tight ends, he never got many touches, even as a very large target. Obviously, his main role is blocking on goal line and short-yardage plays, which is weird, because NU almost never runs to the outside in those scenarios, which is where he sets up.

No. 82, John Plasencia, four games, no stats

Plasencia came in in two-TE sets on a few occasions.


No. 45, Aaron Nagel, 13 games, one reception, six yards

Nagel was there. You didn't notice him, but trust me, he was there, like Mark Woodsum before him, but for some reason less noticeable.

Who's gone?

Rooks is graduating - he played as a true freshman, and actually appeared in a school-record 50 games - 11 games his freshman year, three bowl seasons afterwards - but he's gone. Nagel had a year of eligibility left, but got his degree and moved on, ending the career of the former Notre Dame linebacker.

Who's got next?

Dunsmore: More Dunsmore.

Tight end: You have to assume Plasencia moves over and takes Rooks' spot as the primary guy at this position.

Fullback: Aaron's brother, Brent, who has played in two games in two years at NU, will presumably slide into the spot his big bro has vacated. 

Is that a step up?

More Dunsmore is always good, I think he'll once again be a vital, unstoppable force in the passing game this year. No offense to the work done blocking and opening running lanes in the goalposts' shadows done by Rooks and Nagel, but they were never large enough factors to possibly allow me to wax nostalgic for them. The offense simply doesn't call for much. I presume Plasencia and the younger Nagel will be able to perform their jobs in such a way that I will never end up typing anything negative about them. If you see their names on the site in the season, it either means they've a) become parts of the NU offense in ways their positions haven't been thus far been utilized b) failed horribly c) become viral YouTube sensations with "SUPERBACKS RIDING UNICYCLES", a 23-second long clip featuring a staircase, the eponymous unicycles, and a seven-year-old who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. 

Rodger's three wishes:

1. Drake Dunsmore continues killstreak: Hands down, Drake Dunsmore is responsible for the two most ridiculous to watch plays in the past two years: his re-enactment of the film "Godzilla" in which he played Godzilla and numerous Auburn defenders played frantically fleeing Japanese citizens yelling during the Outback Bowl, and his one-handed touchdown against Penn State last year. His ideas are intriguing to me, and I'd like to subscribe to his newsletter. Jeremy Ebert is NU's best receiver, but I think Dunsmore is the most explosive, the guy with the greatest possibility of unleashing hell on any play. I think he should get the second-most receptions of any NU player this year. I'd also like to see him re-enact more films, such as 10.5 Apocalypse (he's the earthquake) and Scarface (only the last ten minutes of the movie to, oh, about 15 seconds before the end). 

2. Find a way to utilize tight ends: Unless John Plasencia is as slow as the dickens, and dickenses are notably slow, I think a 6-foot-5 target like him who isn't completely inept at catching footballs thrown to him (he isn't) can be a factor in an offense. It won't end the spread. You can put a tight end on a play out of the shotgun. You can have him as the inside receiver in an empty backfield set just to mix things up. If you have talent and say you want to be innovative by calling everybody a superback, use it. (Unless you don't have talent there. Then stick to what works.)

3. Run the play action pass to the fullback in the flat when within the five-yard line: This isn't an actual stratagem, it just works LITERALLY EVERY TIME in any edition of any football game for PS2. Try it. Play a year on dynasty mode. See if Ovie Mughelli doesn't end up as a leading contender for league MVP by ending the season with 32 receptions for 71 yards and 28 touchdowns.