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    BLOG: On Physicality, Fitting and Fitz

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    He had just two catches against Boston College and neither truly dazzled or resulted in a touchdown. But wide receiver Demetrius Fields was selected as one of the 'Cats offensive Big Play Makers of that game. He also had just two catches against the Eagles and together they gained only 10 yards. But superback Drake Dunsmore was the other 'Cat selected as that game's offensive Big Play Maker. "Both those guys," Pat Fitzgerald would say in explanation, "played the most physical game of their careers. It was encouraging to see that."

    Al Netter, the offensive tackle, was blunt during the preseason whenever he discussed the goal of his unit. It wanted, quite simply, to resuscitate and revive a 'Cat running game that had recently struggled. But, Dunsmore sagely notes, "It's not just the o-line blocking. They kick it. That where the run starts. But the receivers, the guys on the perimeter have to do their jobs too if we want to spring any long ones. So it (that attitude) definitely translates."

    "There's no question about it," adds wide receiver coach Dennis Springer, who is in his first year with the 'Cats. "Especially with an offense like ours, as much as we run the ball up inside, we're going to get it on the perimeter as well. When the ball gets on the perimeter, whether it's running it out there or throwing it out there, it's our job to protect the perimeter. So it (again, the attitude) definitely spills over and I think we feed off of Al and the rest of the offensive line and the things they've emphasized. Our ends have bought into it and done a great job."

    "It's a mindset," concludes the wide receiver Jeremy Ebert. "We've kinda been a pass happy offense here the last couple years, but we have to be more physical to help our running game and help us get open. A great running game is going to open more passing lanes for us."

    That said, it is no surprise that Springer says this when asked if getting-more-physical was a point of emphasis in his meeting room during the preseason: "There's no question about it. That was something, coming in and talking to Coach Fitz and Coach (Mick) McCall (the offensive coordinator), we wanted to do a great job not only as receivers and running and catching the ball, but also being physical on the perimeter. Demetrius being over 200 pounds and physically strong, we felt that was an area where we wanted him to step up. I thought he did that on Saturday."

    In each of last season's first nine games, those games when Dan Persa was healthy and choreographing the offense, the 'Cats gained more yards in the air than they did on the ground. So they were then, as Ebert noted, kind of pass happy. But Saturday, even with Kain Colter exhibiting uncommon aplomb in his first collegiate start, they ran for 227 and passed for 197 against BC, which last year led the nation in rushing defense. "I think we have a great plan in place for Boston College. . . We're ready to get after them," Netter had said before that game, and so we now ask Fields if it was the scheme or the new attitude that resulted in his team's rushing success.

    "I can't say it was either one or the other," he answers. "I can say our scheme, in terms of our tempo, had a lot to do with it. I think we caught them in bad positions a lot of times where we'd get the ball, have a good rush, then hurry up and run it again. I don't know if they were ready for our scheme in how fast we run plays. Then it also had a lot to do with our attitude and the change in our approach to the season. I know Al has voiced how disappointed he was in the rushing offense last year, and how they've made it a point to get a lot better than they were last year. It was embodied in how we played Saturday."

    So do the receivers now have an offensive lineman's mentality?

    "I think our coach, Coach Springer's done a good job with that. I think we've done a good job of having a better attitude toward it. I know Ebert, Charles (Brown), all of us have put a lot of muscle on this summer because we know what it takes and we know we have to become better as far as our strength and conditioning. That helped in being better on blocking. There's still a lot of stuff we can get a lot better at and we will. But I think that helped a lot. Then the success in the running encouraged us to want to do better and run block. It definitely gives us a more balanced offense."

    Corner Jordan Mabin was the 'Cats defensive Big Playmaker and the obvious reason for that was his interception. But also, noted Fitzgerald, "That touchdown-saving tackle (he made at the 4-yard line on BC's first offensive play) is the kind of effort we're looking for from our backside corner. It allowed us to make the offense take another snap and we held them to three points. That was a big play in the game.". . . A mistake by redshirt freshman safety Ibraheim Campbell opened the way for BC to spring that big play, a 69-yard run by Andre Williams. But, not insignificantly, on the very-next snap it was Campbell who tackled Williams for a one-yard loss. "Welcome to college football," remembered Fitzgerald. "It's pretty important how you fit, especially when you're at the point of attack. When you go in the A gap when you're supposed to be in the C gap, it can lead to a 69-yard run. But I liked his response." "Things can get a little blurry at times and there's times when you have to exercise patience and times when you can come and close the hole fast," added senior safety Brian Peters. "So it was a learning experience for him and he learned quickly.". . . In their final three games last season, you might recall, the 'Cats surrendered 519 net rushing yards to Illinois, 329 net rushing yards to Wisconsin and 183 net rushing yards to Texas Tech. But take away that 69-yard run and BC netted just 35 yards on 29 carries. "There were a lot of positives, a lot of good things, the d-line making a lot of big plays," middle linebacker David Nwabuisi said of his unit's performance. "We had a lot of young guys out there for the first time, but even when things went bad, they all responded, which is positive. A solid first game, but we've got a lot of work to do. We've got to play better."

    Persa, after Tuesday's practice, had his weekly meet with the press and, well, there really were no surprises. He did not like watching Saturday. He is getting stronger everyday. He is still day-to-day. He is, he said, "Right around the corner. It (his return) can happen tomorrow. It could be a week. It's just tough to tell."

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