Smart Football on "Most Important Game in Spread Offense History"

Submitted by FL on January 25th, 2012 at 2:26 PM

Just came across Chris Brown's article regarding the 2000 season's infamous 54-51 NU victory over Michigan. I was at the game, and though we lost, it was still one of the most exciting games I've ever seen (and I was at the 1998 Rose Bowl and Under the Lights)!



January 25th, 2012 at 2:37 PM ^

It was a night game in Evanston. Thomas just sort of dropped the ball, as I recall. It was a crushing defeat.

I ended up going to grad school at NU the following fall, and the band would chant that score for years to come following that game. It was definitely a highlight for that generation of NU football fans.


January 25th, 2012 at 2:38 PM ^

I was at that game and saw the fumble with my own eyes.  I can still picture it.

On my way out of the stadium, I was taunted by a female Northwestern fan.  My voice was so hoarse from screaming thoughout the game that I sounded like some kind of Blue Grim Reaper.  So I looked her straight in the face and said, "I can smell your c---." 

Hey, that's what happens when the A-Train fumbles.


January 25th, 2012 at 2:38 PM ^

You mean when A-Train fumbled without being touched as he was switching the ball from one arm to the other because their wasnt a defender in front of him and he was going to basically end the game with a 80 yard touchdown run and cap a monumental victory in a game for the ages?  Is that the game you mean?

No - I barely remember it at all.


January 25th, 2012 at 3:24 PM ^

Everyone always says Thomas simply dropped the ball without being touched.  Just as Thomas was bursting through the hole, a Northwestern player who was engaged with a blocker reached in and got a couple fingers on the ball.  He barely got a hand on it, but it was enough because Thomas wasn't expecting anyone to reach in.  I think Thomas might have been adjusting the ball too as he accelerated into all-out sprint mode.

I was at the game and based on the way the play looked from the south endzone, I thought Thomas must have simply dropped the ball.  When I got home, replays showed otherwise.  I just tried to find a good replay on YouTube but no dice.  I think NU #44 is the guy who got a finger or two on the ball.  Brutal loss.


January 25th, 2012 at 2:45 PM ^

I still don't understand why anyone who saw this game, or even the first half of Michigan/Ohio in 2006, would say that the spread offense "won't work in the Big Ten."  Sadly, I think a lot of the older fans in the conference are due for a major wake-up call this year, because Urban Meyer has a QB who is perfect for it, and Ohio still has plenty of talent.  

I think, though, that the future is a hybrid attack.  Hopefully, Al Borges is one of the main creators.  And hopefully, Urban Meyer is a mirage.


January 25th, 2012 at 2:47 PM ^

I saw that game live as well.  I was in the SE corner endzone, about 6 rows up.  Damien Anderson dropped that 4th down pass for the go ahead TD with around a minute and a half to go right in front of me and I thought we'd escaped with the win.  Then....disaster.

Heading back to downtown on the El, all my buddy could say was, "We gave up 54 points!"


January 25th, 2012 at 3:00 PM ^

That was the first time I've ever watched even a single down from that game. I remember hearing about it at the time and deciding that was one recorded game I never wanted to see.

I remember reading somewhere that it was a seemingly inexplicable fumble by Thomas. If one was not going to use curse words I really can't think of a more accurate description. Looked like he was a quarter step from going all the way and just threw it behind himself.


January 25th, 2012 at 3:04 PM ^

"NU beats #12 Michigan 54-51. With Michigan's defense fresh off back to back shutouts; NU rolled up 654 yards and 54 points."

I watched the game on TV and I recall Gary Danielson (who apparently dislikes the spread now)  say something along the lines of   "at some point you have to credit the scheme of the offense" after NW scored yet another TD.

Michigan's defense wasn't that hot that year, the offense was the dominant unit, IIRC.  But still, NW made Michigan look silly and kept making a lot of teams look silly that year, until they ran into a team of simply superior talent in Nebraska and got crushed.



January 25th, 2012 at 3:27 PM ^

I didn't quite phrase it that way, but I remember thinking exactly of this concept while I watched the game.  Michigan had superior athletes up and down the lineup.  NU had a clear X's and O's advantage.  

I recall thinking "hmmm... thought experiment: what could Michigan do running a spread offense with the level of athletes they're capable of recruiting to Ann Arbor?  Surely the world will never know."

Side question: why wasn't this game considered the all-time nadir of Michigan defense instead of the Illinois 2010 game?  UM's D in that game "only" gave up 45 in regulation, not 54, and had a far inferior group of athletes out there.  


January 25th, 2012 at 3:48 PM ^

thinking "Decided Schematic Advantage" again in the first two games of the 2007 season while watching our opponents' offenses... and then "Decided Schematic Disadvantage" while watching our hybrid/spinner and later 3-3-5ish thingie in the seasons to come.

Actually, my whole lifetime of experience as a Michigan fan tells me that if I'm thinking a lot about scheme during a game, something bad is happening on the field.


January 25th, 2012 at 5:28 PM ^

Or maybe it was because the 2000 defense was actually good, and this game was a complete fluke. We gave up 18.5 ppg that season, and had had back to back shutouts before this game.

Meanwhile, the 2010 Illinois game was the worst performance of the year for a defense that gave up 35 ppg and came on the heels of the 2009 and 2008 defenses which were also downright awful.

Define nadir: The lowest point in the fortunes of a person or organization.

2000 Northwestern was an anomaly, 2010 Illinois was rock bottom. THAT's the difference.

coastal blue

January 25th, 2012 at 6:10 PM ^

...So having a good defense that gives up more points and yards in regulation is somehow not a lower point for a team than having a bad defense that gives up less points and yards in regulation than the good defense did? A game we lost is not lower than a game we won? 

Anyway, even though you're wrong, the Northwestern game isn't even the worst Michigan defensive performance of all time. That title lies solely with Oregon 2007. That was the lowest point in the history of Michigan defense. 


January 25th, 2012 at 6:28 PM ^

2000 Northwestern was a worse defensive performance than '07 Oregon.  That Oregon team had the likely Heisman winner at QB (Dennis Dixon) before he got hurt late in the season, and plenty of other talent.  '00 Northwestern had much more ordinary talent.  Other teams found ways to slow them down.  The 2000 defense wasn't as bad as the RR defenses overall, but I'd consider that the single worst defensive performance in program history. 

FWIW, I don't consider '10 Illinois the worst defensive effort of the RR years.   Giving up 37 points to a .500 FCS team (UMass) was worse.  The '10 Indiana and '08 Purdue games were down there as well.

coastal blue

January 25th, 2012 at 6:54 PM ^

Because we looked utterly helpless in a game in which we had everything to prove. 

They could have scored on every single possession had they wanted too. They had 400 yards of offense at the half. The only possession they didn't score on was a missed field goal. 

Also, it was even more pathetic because we'd gotten a first hand look at a similar offense the week before and looked even more unprepared than we had in the opener. Plus it was at home and all week long the players had talked about putting Appy State behind them and how it wasn't going to affect them going forward...then they went out and literally let Oregon score on every possession in the first half save one and that was only through Oregon's own mishap. 

Dixon and the Ducks could have made the final score 80-7 had they wanted too. 


January 25th, 2012 at 3:32 PM ^

Northwestern used to play that wildcat growl really loud over the PA system every time they got a first down.  I don't know how many times they played it that night, but I think I heard it in my sleep for a couple of weeks.

Wolverine In Iowa

January 25th, 2012 at 4:06 PM ^

I was sick, and all my friends had gone to the bar to watch the game (it was not on regular TV for me at home), and so I listened to the radio broadcast on the internet.  I was so upset when Thomas fumbled that I actually felt better, and I proceeded to download about a six-pack of beer in my dismay.  The radio call (Brandstatter and what's-his-name) was ecstatic as A-Train got the first down, and then boom, fumble.  :(


January 25th, 2012 at 4:39 PM ^

Was at that game as well.  Great seats, surrounded by Michigan fans.


Leaving the game, I was insulated by a bunch of fellow wolverines with whom I could comiserate, so it wasn't as painful as it could have been.


But it was painful enough that I couldn't read the whole article.  I will continue when I can stomach it.


Still have the ticket stub as it was a great roller coaster ride anyhow.  And, as I am sure the article mentioned, it was the highest scoring Big Ten game in history at the time (but was supplanted by RRod's Michigan v Illinois, of course).

The A-Train derailing.  Sigh.  He played for the Chicago Bears as I recall, and didn't do too much there.  I'm thinking Chicago is not Anthony's favorite city in the world.