Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Of All The Annoying Losses I've Experienced This Is The Most Annoying

See everyone, the wording here is key. Annoying doesn't necessarily imply heartbreak or devastation, because as I watched Northwestern's 41-31 loss to Iowa Saturday night, I wasn't heartbroken or devastated or even surprised really.

But I was annoyed.

The reason for this is that this was not a game where Northwestern ever held a lead, nor was it a game where you ever got the feeling they were going to win or on the brink of doing so, unlike last week's loss by the Giants to the Seahawks. No this was a loss of a different sort, because in general the Wildcats never looked like they were going to pull it out. I never convinced myself that it was the case and I never felt overly confident that it would happen.

But holy lord it should have. And here's why.

Yes kids, that's the boxscore for the game, and I don't really expect you all to look through it like I have because it's an irritating and tedious process, but if you actually bother to take the time you'll notice some pretty remarkable discrepancies, and said discrepancies will leave you with the remarkable impression that Northwestern actually didn't just play better than Iowa, but the Wildcats pretty much dominated the Hawkeyes in nearly every metric you can find.

To wit: Northwestern had nearly doubled up Iowa in the following categories by the time the game ended: first downs (29-17), total offensive plays (92-50), and time of possession (38:23-21:37). NU outgained Iowa by 116 yards, had 15 more pass completions than Iowa had passing attempts, converted 16 third downs to Iowa's one third-down conversion and had more scoring opportunities in the red zone. By just about any way you want to look at it, Northwestern had the advantage in just about every facet.

So, uh, how the hell did the Cats lose?

Well, that's a complicated combination of factors, by which I mean, there are really just two factors period. One a fluky mistake and the other utter ineptitude. The first, and probably most impactful event that happened during the course of the game is almost certainly a 98-yard pick six that came at just about the most inopportune time. With Iowa leading 3-0 in the first quarter, Northwestern was driving through the Iowa defense like it was swiss cheese before Dan Persa threw an ill-advised pass which was picked off and brought 98 yards the other way to make the score 10-0.

Granted, this did not make the lead insurmountable, and in fact Northwestern did rally from a 17-0 deficit to tie the game in the third quarter before falling behind again, but the game's complexion was undoubtedly changed from a potential dogfight -- one where the Cats would have the upper hand -- to a 60-minute version of Catch-Up in which NU would never get the upper hand once. Of course, that one play's influence probably could have been obviated if Northwestern didn't have one of the worst pass defenses in all of Division I college football.

See, that can hinder a team, even if its offense is averaging a nice 28-plus points per game. Now, as annoying as this game was I suppose one could argue that Northwestern was due for a flop in Iowa City considering the Cats hadn't lost at Kinnick Stadium in nine years and have had numerous exciting, dramatic wins over the Hawkeyes in the past decade dating from when I was in college all the way to last year's upset of the heavily favored Hawkeyes that cost Persa his Achilles tendon.

But did it have to happen now? When Northwestern has blown double-digit leads in each of its first two Big Ten games and suffered an embarrassing flop against an Army team they should have beaten by about a bajillion points considering the Black Knights had a grand total of one completed pass all day? I never in my life thought I could see a team catch nearly every bad break available and wind up 2-4 and all but done in the conference title race when, just as easily, that team could be 6-0. In many ways, it's remarkable, and probably a plight I know all too well having watched both this team, the Giants and the Mets for all my life. More than anything though, this whole season is starting to feel kind of like this week's game was. Annoying.

Seriously. This game was really, really annoying.

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