He beat himself up the last time he spoke into tape recorders. That was after the 'Cats fell to Army and quarterback Kain Colter said blame him for the defeat. "We got together the Sunday after the game," Pat Fitzgerald said when asked about that. "I read his comments and I said, 'At the end of the day, the reason we're in a position to win every game is because of you. I don't mind you being hard on yourself, but there's also a point of being overly critical.'
Still, when we bumped into Colter after Tuesday's practice, we had to wonder if he was over those feelings he had expressed 11 days earlier.
"Definitely. It's the 24-hour rule," he said. "After the game, you don't really get to see the film, you're emotional and all these things, and I said some things I regret. I did some good things on (that) Saturday. I missed some throws, it's going to happen. But you're always going to be hard on yourself. Then you look at a guy like (Cowboy quarterback) Tony Romo. He had a bad game the first game (in his team's loss to the Jets) and everybody's saying how bad he is and how he shouldn't be playing quarterback and blah-blah-blah. Then he comes back and responds (in two straight wins despite being injured). That's what I'm going to try to do. I'm confident in myself and confident in me playing quarterback, and I'm just going to go out there and try to prove myself."
* THE CONUNDRUM:
As much as Colter would like to do just that, Dan Persa is now healthy and apparently set to start Saturday when the 'Cats open their Big Ten season at Illinois. Which leaves him? "I've been playing quarterback my whole life. So I'd love to be out there playing quarterback," Colter said. "But, unlike most positions, there's only one guy out on the field. There can only be one quarterback. So. I hope Dan's out there, I hope he has a great senior year, and maybe it's my time to sit down and learn some things from him."
* BUT DON'T GET TOO COMFORTABLE IN THAT SEAT:
Fitzgerald, while understandably offering up no specifics, made it clear in the past that he did not intend to simply shut Colter down after Persa's return. Then, on Tuesday, he reiterated, "He's a dynamic playmaker. I think I said it the last couple weeks of a year ago and also from the standpoint of what we talked about once we got Danny back, we're gonna find ways to get him involved. He's a quarterback, though. He's going to be a quarterback, go that route. But it's good to have that kind of athlete in the program. He's very dynamic, can do a lot of things."
That was why, minutes after his coach spoke, Colter was asked which position he preferred if he couldn't play quarterback, running back or wide receiver.
"Oh, man. That's tough," he said with a smile. "I'd probably say running back. I love running the ball, making plays. Catching the ball and things like that are kind of new for me. I've never done that my entire life. . . It's tough, it's tough. But I'm confident in my athleticism and, really, it comes back to just playing football in the backyard, catching the ball, doing all those things. I'm confident in my hands, in running a route. Being a quarterback, you have that quarterback mind. So when you're running routes and you see things on defense, you can react a lot easier."
* SO THE GUESS IS HE WON'T BE SLIDING:
Any concerns that Colter might get hurt if he's flying around out there as a receiver or running back? "Nah," said Fitzgerald. "It's football. If you worry about injuries, you shouldn't play."
* WELCOME BACK:
Defensive tackle Jack DiNardo, who sat out the last two games after pulling a groin on the second play of the season opener at Boston College, is a fifth-year senior. That is why, on a strictly personal level, he's pumped to be back and set to face the Illini. "It feels great," he says. "You never want to miss any time, especially senior year. I really didn't anticipate missing any time. So I'm happy to be back, I wish it could have been sooner, but it is what it is. I feel great now."
Will Hampton and Chance Carter, the pair who stepped in for him against Eastern Illinois and Army, are (respectively) a true sophomore and a redshirt freshman. That is why, on the more-prosaic-and-tactical level, the 'Cat defense should be buoyed by the return of DiNardo, who is more experienced, in his second season as a starter and a veteran of that 21-point loss the Illini hung on them last year at Wrigley Field. That last fact is why we asked him about Fitzgerald's recent comment, the one where his coach opined that he won't have to say much to get his players motivated for Saturday's game.
"That's true," DiNardo said. "Our coaches have a great game play for us. I can just speak for the defense. But it's really not going to take much game planning. We really just got to get out there and get our pride back, get our respect back, and get back to the football we're used to playing around here."
Despite the 24-hour rule, is that game still in the back of his mind?
"Well certainly you want to improve on that. We never anticipated, you never anticipate losing a game. Still. Being able to come back this week and put the product on the field that we expect to week in, week out (is what we have to do). If we play our best football, we feel we can play with anybody in the country. That's what we have to come out and do this week."
What about the atmosphere in Champaign?
"It's a great atmosphere. There's a lot of great atmospheres in the Big Ten. That's one of the reasons why a lot of us chose to come here. So we're looking forward to getting down there, getting ready, getting back to playing Wildcat football and just flying around."
Does the intensity, as we always hear, really go up when conference play begins?
"It definitely does. Big Ten, week in, week out, you're playing premier teams, talented teams. As you've seen in years past, any team is beatable, any team can beat any team on any given Saturday. If you don't have that mindset, that's when a team gets in trouble. So there's definitely a step up this week to play Illinois. Not just because they're our rival, but because it's any Big Ten team. It's back to conference play. In our room our goal is to win the Legends Division and win the Big Ten. That's still available and that starts really this Saturday."
* AND FINALLY, THE PROOF:
After Tuesday's practice Fitzgerald noted, "It's obvious it's Big Ten time. The guys are excited. That's across the board, 12 teams. We finished 15 minutes early today. That will show you the tempo we went at. We practiced fast. It was good, good tempo."