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October 2012 Archives

Junior running back Venric Mark broke free for an 80 yard touchdown run early in the third quarter for Northwestern, but Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez came back with a short three-yard touchdown run with just over a minute remaining, cutting the Wildcats lead to 21-16.
Nebraska tried for a two-point conversion, but Wildcats sophomore safety Ibraheim Campbell got the tackle to stop the play.
Mark's run came on a hand off from Kain Colter with 12:17 remaining in the third. Colter was under center for that play, but sophomore Trevor Siemian was taking most of the snaps in the game.

The second quarter mirrored the scoring pattern of the first, with Nebraska scoring first on a Taylor Martinez pass to Kenny Bell with 8:25 remaining. The 37 yard pass and extra point gave the Cornhuskers a 10-7 lead.
But the Wildcats came back with 1:25 remaining when Trevor Siemian hit sophomore Tony Jones with a 26 yard pass into the end zone. The scoring drive went 50 yards in eight plays, with Northwestern holding a 14-10 halftime lead. The half ended with Northwestern senior defensive lineman Brian Amfelt sacking Martinez for a nine yard loss.
Nebraska went 65 yards in eight plays early in the first quarter to score a field goal. But the Wildcats came back late in the quarter to when Trevor Siemian found Dan Vitale for a 10-yard touchdown pass, giving Northwestern a 7-3 lead.
The NU scoring drive came after NU cornerback Nick VanHoose recovered a Nebraska fumble on a punt, putting the Wildcats inside the 20 yard line.
Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald was joking Monday when he talked about scheduling "nap time'' for his players before Saturday's 2:30 p.m kickoff against Nebraska. The joke arose after Fitzgerald said he noticed his players seemed sluggish before their 2:30 p.m. start against Boston College last month.

Players told him it was because ``it was nap time,'' which led to Fitzgerald's joke that he would schedule a morning nap time for the Nebraska game.

That's what caught the nation's fancy this week more than the Wildcats' 6-1 record.

On Saturday, The Huffington Post had joined USA Today, ESPN and in writing about nap time.

Pat Fitzgerald doesn't know whether Minnesota senior MarQueis Gray will play quarterback Saturday or backup Max Shortell, so the Northwestern coach has been forced to prepare for both eventualities or a combination of the two while prepping for Saturday's game against the Gophers at TCF Bank Stadium.  

In other words, Minnesota coach Jerry Kill is doing to Fitzgerald what Fitzgerald has done to every opponent the Wildcats have played this season: He's making him defend two quarterbacks with contrasting styles. In this version of the age-old shell game, Kill might even have the upper hand. 

"Everybody knows we're going to play two," Fitzgerald said of his quarterback situation. "We don't know who's going to play [for Minnesota]. That's a whole [different] component."

Gray has been sidelined since spraining his knee and ankle against Western Michigan on Sept. 15. The senior is not at full strength but has been practicing and could return as the starter or in a package that allows him to use his running ability. Shortell is more of a pure passer. He could start and play the entire game for all defensive coordinator Mike Hankwitz knows.

Much like Fitzgerald has done all season, Kill has been purposely vague this week, which means the Wildcats are the ones playing the guessing game.

"We really don't know what quarterback we'll see," senior linebacker David Nwabuisi said. "They bring two different things to the table. We just have to be prepared for whatever they throw at us and adjust."

Fitzgerald has used both Kain Colter and Trevor Siemian in every game this season and will do so again Saturday. It's a balancing act that came crashing down for the first time against Penn State. Finding the right mix of Colter running, throwing and catching while keeping Siemian engaged in the passing game will not only benefit the Wildcats Saturday but against upcoming Big Ten opponents.

In the short-term, keep a program handy. Expect four quarterbacks to play Saturday.

"At the end of the day, they have to do it," linebacker Chi Chi Ariguzo said of the Gophers scheming for Colter and Siemian, "and this week, we have to do it, too."
Demetrius Dugar will not play when Northwestern visits divisional rival Minnesota on Saturday. The senior has started three games at cornerback this season before losing his job to senior transfer Quinn Evans. Dugar did not record a tackle in each of the past two games.

Northwestern does not disclose the nature of players' injuries.

Safeties Hunter Bates and Jimmy Hall have also been ruled "out" for the game.
Coach Pat Fitzgerald said he didn't challenge what appeared to be a bad spot on third-and-1 in the second quarter of Saturday's loss to Penn State because an official was injured on the play, giving Big Ten officials several minutes to review the spot on their own.

"If they had any question they would have buzzed it down," he said. "When they've got that amount of time they typically get it right. I've got to trust in the replay official. In my mind, I have to think they didn't get a clean look and there's not indisputable video evidence to overturn it. I can look at the coaches' copy and have my own opinion but if it doesn't show up on the TV copy the officials see you can't question that."

Coach Pat Fitzgerald confirmed Monday the purple "Northwestern" banner held by staffers the past two games to conceal signs being relayed by coaches to the offense is to prevent opposing teams from stealing signs.

"Absolutely," Fitzgerald said. "We're smarter than we look. We know what's going on. We're getting into Big Ten play now. We know that they know that we know. You've got to have answers. We have answers. When you're playing in the nonconference it's not as big of a concern but when you're playing in league play, like I said, we know that they know that we know."

When asked if opposing coaches would have a difficult time decoding signals from behind, Fitzgerald said, "You'd be surprised."

Kain Colter was such the focus of the offense against Indiana that sometimes it appeared that quarterback Trevor Siemian was locking onto his slot receiver from the moment he left the huddle. 

Colter went on to rush for 161 yards on 14 attempts while also catching nine passes for 131 yards in a win over the Hoosiers.

The opposite was true in Saturday's loss at Penn State. Colter appeared invisible for long stretches while picking up 24 yards on five carries and catching three passes for 17 yards.

Was it great defense by Penn State? Did Northwestern offensive coordinator Mick McCall not call Colter's number frequently enough or did the Northwestern staff, thinking that Penn State would focus their defense on stopping Colter, decide to use him a decoy and get the ball to other playmakers?

That's what I asked coach Pat Fitzgerald. Here is his answer: "There were some things there that we didn't hit," he said. "There were some things there when we were going to go to him and they had good coverage on him. When we ran our base stuff we typically run with him we had some success. We've got to continue to have some balance there, spread the ball out to all our playmakers. If we do that we'll continue to have success. I thought we rallied back and settled down and moved the ball pretty well. We just needed a drive there in the fourth quarter and we didn't put it together. Then our offense didn't get back on the field again until [there was 2:37 left.]"

Colter threw for 135, 42, 144 and 46 yards in the first four games. He completed 1-of-3 passes against Indiana for two yards and did not attempt a pass Saturday, which means the Northwestern offense is becoming predictable. Opponents know to expect the run when Colter is in the game and the pass when Siemian is behind center.

"Absolutely," Fitzgerald said when asked if wanted to continue to use Colter as a passer. 

The Wildcats threw for just 135 yards Saturday, which makes it difficult to win regardless of how effective their running game might be. Siemian completed 21-of-36 passes with a touchdown. His longest completion was 16 yards.

"We had more drops than we had in previous weeks," Fitzgerald said. "When we had some guys open we missed them and then we had some protection issues and there were some calls we'd like to have back. There were a collection of things we can do better. To say it's on Trevor, or it's on Kain or it's on the receivers or the O-line or the superbacks or our offensive staff, it's more a collection of things we can fix."
Pat Fitzgerald credited everyone from assistant coach Dennis Springer to every member of the return team for Venric Mark's 75-yard punt return for a touchdown.

"You could tell they did a lot of film study," Mark said. "They knew we were going to go right and I knew they knew we were going to go right. So, I went left."

Steve Flaherty averaged 57 yards in five kickoffs and Brandon Williams averaged 38.4 yards on eight punts. Northwestern also turned a muffled punt recovered by Nick VanHoose into a touchdown in the first half.

"The one thing I thought we took a step forward today was our kicking game," Fitzgerald said. "I thought our kicking game was good today. It gave us a chance to win a football game on the road. Now we have to get the other two phases going. That's the disappointing thing. We didn't play very good team football today." 

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. --- Earlier in the week, Pat Fitzgerald said he would know where his team stood following Saturday's game. After a 39-28 loss to Penn State at Beaver Stadium on Saturday, the Northwestern coach was asked to assess his team after six games.

"I think we've got a damn good football team," he said. "We didn't get their 'B' game today. We got their 'A' game and we went toe-to-toe and Joe-to-Joe with them all the way to the end."

Fitzgerald said his team's youth showed up in missed tackles and lack of execution. 

"They're not very happy about it right now and I'm really glad their not," Fitzgerald said when asked to summarize the mood of his players. "We've got to play better to win."

For their sake, let's hope folks living by Northwestern's practice fields don't work nights.

The Wildcats are practicing even earlier in the morning now that classes have started and are continuing to blare loud music and other sounds in an attempt to simulate crowd noise.

As they prepare for Saturday's game against Penn State in Beaver Stadium, that means chants of "We are ... Penn State" are echoing through the neighborhood. Penn State students are organizing a "White out" for the game, which means 100,000-plus fans are being encouraged to wear white and may also be given white towels to wave.

Penn State hasn't defeated a ranked opponent at home since 2008. Northwestern is currently ranked 24th.

Coaches are even playing loud music in meetings to force players to concentrate.

"That's why most of the coaches have hoarse voices right now," coach Pat Fitzgerald rasped. "We've been coaching pretty loud in the meetings."

The Wildcats also practiced outside in the rain on their grass practice field Wednesday in an effort to simulate game conditions. Temperatures in the 50s and rain is expected Saturday.

If you were going to pick a defensive MVP for Northwestern after five games, linebacker Chi Chi Ariguzo would be a top vote-getter. The redshirt sophomore is second in the Big Ten with 1.3 tackles for loss per game and is averaging 7.8 tackles per game, which tops for the Wildcats and ninth best in the conference. 

He has has been named the team's defensive big playmaker four times this season and has a sack, an interception and two fumble recoveries, one of which he returned for a touchdown against Syracuse.

"Five games into it I think Chi Chi is playing at an all-Big Ten level," coach Pat Fitzgerald said. "He has made a lot of plays. He has been very active. He has been very fundamentally sound. He's got a great grasp of what we're doing."

The Wildcats will be going up against two Butkus Award finalists in senior linebacker Gerald Hodges and Michael Mauti when they play Penn State at Beaver Stadium on Saturday.

"If he wants to be all-Big Ten he's going to have to outplay the linebackers this week," Fitzgerald said of Ariguzo. "Same thing with [Damien Proby] and [David Nwabuisi]. This is probably the best linebacker corps we've seen yet and arguably is the best in the conference. You want to be the best you have to outplay the best. That's what they have to do this week."

Safety Ibraheim Campbell and receiver Christian Jones left Saturday's win over Indiana with injuries and did not return. Both players practiced Tuesday, however. Jones injured his elbow while it appeared Campbell sustained a shoulder injury.

The ball is in the air and receiver and defensive back make a play. Too often that not, that situation has resulted in a big gain for Northwestern opponents this season, especially against Syracuse in the season opener and again versus Indiana. 

Coach Pat Fitzgerald has come up with a simple solution.

"There's kind of an old philosophy out there in secondary coverage and wide receiver routes: He who jumps first usually catches the ball," Fitzgerald said. "In all those routes we jumped second. So we'll try to jump first this week. It's not a whole lot more complicated than that."

Pat Fitzgerald's eyes drift to the guards and linebackers when he watches football just for fun. He can't help himself. The former two-time Chuck Bednarik Award winner remains a linebacker at heart, which is what allows him to appreciate what Penn State's Michael Mauti has been doing.

The senior was named national defensive player of the week and Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week for the second time in three weeks after intercepting two passes to go along with six tackles and half a sack in a rout over Illinois. He set a new school record when he returned one of the interceptions 99 yards.

The Wildcats take their new No. 24 ranking and their 5-0 record to State College to meet a Nittany Lions team Saturday that has won three in a row in large part because of their ability to force turnovers. Penn State has forced 11 turnovers in the past four games.

"Michael is terrific with his key reads," Fitzgerald said. "He's got great eyes. He's very instinctual. He finds the football. He's physical at the point of attack. He's overcome two major injuries and to me that's the hallmark of what makes him special. I don't get to coach him but as an outsider looking in, the way he has responded from adversity is really, really special."

Mauti tore the ACL in his right knee as a sophomore and tore the ACL on his left knee after starting the first four games of last season. He leads Penn State with 48 tackles. 

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