His team had opened its season with a victory, but 'Cat coach Pat Fitzgerald picked numerous nits after viewing the tape and talking with his staff. One of them, you might recall, was its lack of passion, which days later led to him offering this. "I'd be lying to you if I didn't say that it's happened every year where we get to that first game, the guys are sick-and-tired of practicing. It's just hard to keep that energy level up," he said. "I don't know. I'll look at some things maybe for next year. We had the same kind of game against Vanderbilt (in last year's season opener) that we had against Boston College (last Saturday in this season's). It kind of took us the first half to get our emotion to the level it needs to be at to start the game. So it's nice to be in normal game week."
Are you saying that playing a game revived the emotion?
"Yeah. No question. I don't know. I don't know. I got to look at camp next year. But, shoot. We're undefeated in openers (in his head coaching career), so I'm not going to be that knee-jerk reactive. But we've got to play better in the opener. The last two years we've had some pretty darn good opponents to start it off and we just haven't had that emotional passion, spark that we usually have. So I'll look at some things critically."
FOUND THIS INTERESTING AS WELL:
Here is what he said when asked if recruits take notice of a win like the one the Cats' got at BC: "Absolutely. There's no doubt. That's why we're scheduling those kinds of games. You know who we're scheduling down the road and it's by design. (Syracuse, Vanderbilt and BC next season; California, Syracuse and Vanderbilt in 2013.) This was the first chance, kind of moving forward, that we had to set the schedule. Before this year, all those games were pretty much set. So I think you get where we're going with things. We want to play academic comparables, we want to play recruiting comparables. If you want to win on the recruiting front, you've got to win on the battlefield, you've got to win between the white lines."
He had long been a special teams' terror and, during his time as a 'Cat, had also played some as a running back and a wide receiver. But not until last Saturday had senior corner Jeravin Matthews started a game, which meant he got some on-the-job training out in Chestnut Hills. "You've got to trust your fundamentals and technique," Fitzgerald would say when asked about Matthews' uneven performance against BC. "When he was fundamentally sound, I thought he was really good. He was lights out. When he got away from what we'd fundamentally and technically like him to do, he got himself in trouble."
So it was learning experience?
"Oh, yeah. A big one," said Matthews himself. "I don't think they were necessarily attacking me on Saturday. They threw a lot of balls in every direction. But definitely a huge learning experience. To get in there and get that first game in (as a starter), I think I learned a lot."
"Just how to transition from a practice into a game. I played special teams the last couple of years, but going in and starting a game, bringing that certain intensity not only to special teams but the defense as well, I talked to my mom after the game and the only way I could describe the game to here from practice was, 'It was different.' There's a certain edge, a certain attitude you have to take into a game that you don't necessarily have all week in practice. It has to kind of build up inside of you."
Do you agree with what Fitz said about getting away from fundamentals and technique?
And that means what?
"What it means, I think, is sometimes in the game I kind of let my mind get away from me. You know we have the 'Trust Yourself' board that we touch before every game. That comes down to me just trusting what I've learned and not getting away from that, not letting what's happened in the game affect my confidence and affect my ability to trust the techniques I've been taught."
THIS WEEK'S CHALLENGE:
The 'Cats play their home opener Saturday against Eastern Illinois, which is guided by sophomore quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo. He's from Arlington Heights and a former standout at Rolling Meadows, and last week he was an impressive 25-of-34 (73.5 percent) for 304 yards and three touchdowns in the Panthers' win over Illinois State. "Jimmy was at our camp," Fitzgerald says of him. "We really liked Jimmy, we liked him a lot. It just didn't work itself out. I'm shocked the MAC didn't offer him, to be quite honest with you because we really liked him, we were really close. Not only is he a really solid quarterback, he's a great athlete and a great kid."
Garoppolo's leading receiver last week was senior Lorence Ricks, who is from Ft. Lauderdale. Another of his top receivers was junior Chris Wright, who is from Miami Shores. That got us to wondering if Fitzgerald knew why Charleston was a destination point for kids from Florida. "I have no idea. I have no idea," he said. "I would assume they have a philosophy as a program and they have relationships and connections that have happened over time."
The Panthers are coached by Bob Spoo, who's in his 25th and final season at the school. He's a Chicago native who played at St.Rita, coached at Fenwick and Loyola and is in the Catholic League Hall of Fame. "One of the giants in the coaching profession," Fitzgerald says of him. . . Surprising, then, that this will be EIU's first game in Chicago since 1972, the year it beat Illinois-Chicago at Soldier Field. . . Sidebar: Back in 1957, Spoo succeeded NFL Hall-of-Famer Len Dawson as the starting quarterback at Purdue and guided the Boilermakers to an 11-5 record in his two seasons as their choreographer. . . Spoo will not be the only one making a homecoming appearance on Saturday. Twenty-seven of his players are also from Chicago or the Chicagoland area. . . Ricks, the Floridian, not only caught seven passes for 114 yards against Illinois State. He also totaled 141 yards on kick returns. . . EIU netted just 63 rushing yards on 35 attempts (1.8 ypc) in that game. But, says Fitzgerald, "They were down for a little bit in that game and that dictated it. When they wanted to run the ball in the fourth quarter, they ran it pretty well. . . Watch for Pat Hickey, the long snapper, to lead the 'Cats onto the field Saturday. That honor now goes to their Special Teams Player of the Week, an honor he earned at BC. "We're starting a new tradition," explains Fitzgerald.
Fitzgerald, on EIU: "Huge win for them last week. It was a rivalry game. They were fast, they executed, they played very passionate football. That's what jumped out to us. If we don't match their passion, it's going to be a long day for us."