In this post I’m going to share some quick thoughts on a series of current NU athletics issues. NU sports have certainly made the news more often in the last couple days than usual. Unfortunately, a rather depressing percentage of that press hasn’t been positive.
ISSUE 1: Kevin Coble
I admire the fact that Bill Carmody is keeping his mouth shut on this. I wish Kevin Coble would do the same, though, I must say that based on today’s Tribune article it sure sounds like SI.com goaded Coble into making his comment by sending him what very well might have been just part of a Carmody quote that made Kevin look bad. Of course, Coble probably should know better than to trust quotes from a reporter. Also, as far as I can tell Kevin probably acted somewhat selfishly in wanting not to go to Italy with the rest of his team and instead choosing to do his rehab his way. I’d also really like to know the exact dates of Kevin’s Hawaii trip. I’m not saying he shouldn’t have gone to Italy with the team—he should have. However, to really get a sense of this issue I’d like to know where exactly Kevin was when the rest of the team was in Italy. Of course, whether he was in Hawaii, Evanston, or Alaska, the fact he basically said I don’t want to go on the trip because I’m hurt and Jeff Ryan, who was actually going to be in rehab longer than Coble, did go on the trip makes Coble look bad. Still, it seems like we’re not getting the whole story and I’d prefer to have it before making a lot more judgments.
The worst part of this whole thing is that it sounds like a point in time existed where despite everything Kevin wanted to play again and Carmody wanted him to play, but somehow something got in the way. I’d guess that something had to do a lot with streaks of selfishness from Coble (and his family) and probably some stubbornness from Carmody (NOTE: a coach being stubborn about rules and expectations is to me WAY MORE acceptable than a selfish player), but also, sadly, with miscommunication. I think that’s just really unfortunate because I bet Kevin is going to miss playing basketball and I bet NU misses him. It’s also sad to me because I have nagging suspicion that both sides reacted in anger when they should have sat down and tried to work something out and now both Kevin—who I’m very sure will never get a look from a good professional team given that he hasn’t played an organized game in over a year—and NU—who very well may be one more scorer short of being an NCAA Tournament team—might both pay the price. And even if Kevin does make it in the pros and NU does make the NCAA tournament this odd story will follow both the kid and the program for some time.
ISSUE 2: Wrigley Field
I had seats on the scoring side of the stadium so I can’t comment on how it looked from the east side, but I do have a lot of sympathy for those who did. It doesn’t seem fair that those fans didn’t get the product they expected to get. I will say that the pregame build up to the contest was fantastic. I really enjoyed walking around both inside and outside the stadium before the game. However, once the game started all that joy disappeared quickly. Some say the event was so great that the loss didn’t diminish it. I’m jealous of those who feel that way because as far as I’m concerned if I never see Wrigley Field again it will be far too soon. For the record, I'm not even saying NU needed to win for me to have fun (the Outback Bowl was fun despite the loss), but with everything NU put into making the game the keystone event of the while Chicago's Big Ten Team and such to lose like it was 1981 and not like it was Jan. 1st 2010 was what made me some sad about the whole event. The story went from NU as Chicago's team to how fired up Illinois was to prove they were Chicago's team and they did a pretty darn good job. Kudos to them.
ISSUE 3: Kain Colter, Evan Watkins, NU’s Football Coaching Staff, and the future of the this season
So one source on the message boards has Colter upset because he got less plays than he was promised. Another says he should start because Watkins gives NU no chance to win. For all I know both facts could be true, but these essentially anonymous statements do teach us the dangers of message boards. Do we really know Colter is upset? No. Do the people who think Watkins doesn’t give NU a chance to win know how much difference a full game and another week of practice makes? Probably not. I will say this, though, I think NU should have used Colter more. NU was twice inside the ten against Illinois and settled for field goals. I think using more Colter close to the goal line might have helped the ‘Cats punch in a couple more scores. I’ll also say that I do sincerely hope we see a jump in play from Evan Watkins because on Saturday I saw a player who needs a lot of work. That said, I don’t think he got much help from his coaches. To be honest, I think it’s amazing how Bill Carmody can be criticized for what he likes to drink and NU’s football coaches totally bungle basic football strategy and many fans give them a pass.
I’ll give one simple example. After Mike Trumpy’s 80 yard TD run every time he got the ball Illinois’s defense swarmed him with basically all 11 guys coming up to tackle him. The basic play on an over aggressive defense is to run a reverse; however, NU didn’t seem to consider such a play. In fact, if you throw out flanker sweeps to Venric Mark, which aren’t reverses, I can only think of one reverse NU has run all season that was with Charles Brown vs Central Michigan. It is just bizarre to me how easy NU’s run offense is to defend and it got a lot easier without Dan Persa. I’m not a football coach and don’t know the talents of all NU’s players, but to not try some misdirection when the defense was flying at Trumpy was really stupid as far as I’m concerned. I’m pretty sure Jeremy Ebert would be fast enough to take a reverse flip from Trumpy and make yards.
Instead, NU simply found itself in long yardage situations trying to force Evan Watkins to convert them by throwing deep passes. Shorter yardage to go also might have given Watkins some shorter throws which he did seem more comfortable with the few times he got to throw them. Plus, those involve the reliable Ebert while downfield Watkins was forced to work to less experienced receivers.
Better defense may give NU a shot this week at Wisconsin, but what I’m most thankful for is that NU is for sure in a bowl and that Watkins has (counting this week) five more weeks to get ready for that game. As far as I’m concerned the bowl is the only game that matters at this point. Wisconsin can beat the ‘Cats by 80 and as long as Watkins uses the experience to get ready to lead the offense to a bowl win then I don’t care. Of course, his odds of doing that would be better if a game plan were created to actually help the kid by successful and which didn’t try to force him to make throws which while mastered by Tom Brady and Peyton Manning are awfully tough for redshirt freshmen.