Rosenblum: Northwestern suffering from momentum sickness disease

Jonah Rosenblum

IOWA CITY, Iowa – Thank God sports journalists aren’t doctors.

The fact is that the sports media, including myself, has misdiagnosed the disease currently afflicting Northwestern’s football team many times.

First, it was a horrid rush defense and a lack of senior quarterback Dan Persa against Army. Then, it was a hole-ridden pass defense against Illinois. The next week, it was an inconsistent offense and an inability to hold the lead against Michigan. And then that poor secondary resurfaced against Iowa, as did that mess of an offense.

It’s been four different cities – West Point, Champaign, Evanston and Iowa City – and four different losses. It’s been four different set of excuses and four different lists of causes.

But the poor secondary, shaky offense and inability to hold leads are merely symptoms. The larger disease is an inability to play with momentum. For whatever reason, the Wildcats seem entirely unwilling or unable to comprehend, play with and thrive off of momentum.

On Saturday, NU was riding high after rallying from a 17-0 deficit at Iowa. Everything was going right. The offense was unstoppable, as the option worked over and over again. Iowa lay helpless at the feet of Persa and general athletic stud Kain Colter. The defense was playing unusually well, as the Wildcats not only held the Hawkeyes – they stuffed them with multiple three-and-outs. Even the shaky special teams unit was finally whirring, as Jeff Budzien nailed a 47-yard field goal to tie the game at 17.

Kinnick Stadium was silent. The game was in the Wildcats’ paws, and sure enough, they dropped it. No one ever said life was easy without opposable thumbs.

Seriously, though, NU had the game in hand, and then let it slip away. Suddenly, the offensive line was caving in as quarterback Dan Persa contended with ever-increasing pressure. As suddenly as Kinnick Stadium was blanketed by nightfall, the usually pinpoint quarterback began whizzing passes well out of his receivers’ reach. In a heartbeat, the defense which had looked shockingly good in holding Iowa scoreless for nearly two quarters was getting dragged around the field, as Hawkeyes quarterback James Vandenberg locked in on open wide receivers and running back Marcus Coker found holes as open as the cornfields that surround Iowa City.

In that sense, it was hardly different from the catastrophes in Evanston or Champaign. For the early portions of those games, Persa found every open wide receiver, the defense bent but didn’t break and the Wildcats ran up early leads against favored opponents. In both of those contests, it all changed in a flash. A team that can run like a cheetah apparently can get stuck in quicksand just as easily.

So, where does NU find itself? Quite bluntly, the team finds itself at 2-4. The team is loaded with a mess of talent. Dan Persa, Kain Colter, Jeremy Ebert and Vernric Mark might be the four most talented athletes the school has ever had, but the offense continues to start and sputter, at times in sync, at other times in chaos. The defense, of course, is even messier.

But the shaky offense and poor secondary is ultimately not what I took home from Iowa City. The most difficult questions on my mind are why does this team always sink when it’s riding the crest of the wave? Why does this team always lose under the lights? Why does this team blow so many leads? And ultimately, what is the antidote to NU’s momentum sickness disease?

Sports editor Jonah Rosenblum is a Medill senior.

He can be reached at [email protected]