* At one point, when asked about Persa's availability for his team's game Saturday at Indiana, Fitzgerald said, "He'll be questionable for the game. I'll probably be able to let you know more on Thursday."
But at another point he also said, "We'll operate and expect Dan to play, then we'll adjust accordingly as the week goes along."
* And what about Persa's attitude in the face of this latest injury? "I asked him how he felt as we were leaving the team meeting today," reported Fitzgerald. "He said he felt much better and he said he was going to play. Same old Dan."
* The 'Cat defense this season has often recalled the little girl with the curl whom Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's memorialized in that poem that ends, "When she was good,/She was very good indeed,/But when she was bad she was horrid." This was the split personality that was again on display last Saturday against Penn State when it allowed the Nittany Lions 133 rushing yards and 293 total yards and 27 points in the first half, and then limited them to 56 rushing yards and 88 total yards and seven points in the second.
"It's all attitude," Fitzgerald said when asked the reason behind that about-face. "Instead of waiting around for something to happen they went out and made some plays and made things happen. That's the way we were playing early (in the season) and we got to that better place in the second half. We need to continue to build upon that in practice and bring it with us down to Bloomington."
* There were, on Saturday, five new starters on that defensive unit (one due to injury), and on Monday Fitzgerald expressed a sympathy for those he sat. "I'm frustrated for those young men. They're trying," he said of a group that most notably included defensive end Vince Browne, who has just two sacks. "I don't think it's been a lack of effort on any of their parts. It's more been a lack of consistency fundamentally first, consistency and production. This is a production business and if you're not going to be consistent fundamentally a lot of times what falls behind then is you might press a little bit mentally, you try to do too much, and now you make a choice, you make a decision that can be damaging to our defense and we give up some big plays because of it.
"We're also trying to find different combinations. I mean, stats are for losers. But when you're not winning and you're not getting production, then we've got to try and find different combinations. That's our job. You can write whatever you want. I'm not trying to make this earth-shattering statement here. I'm trying to put guys in a position to make some plays, and you try to diminish their role a little bit maybe on first down and second down trying to get production out of them on third down. That's a decision we've made. Hopefully, those will pay some dividends as we move forward."
* Another in that group on Saturday was middle linebacker David Nwabuisi, whose spot in the starting lineup was turned over to Damien Proby. Proby, on the newest depth chart, is again listed as the starter for the Indiana game, which led us to wonder why this change was made. "Number one, we wanted to try to jump start some things," said Fitzgerald. "Fundamentally, David needed to play better and I thought he did. He went back in the game and, as we talked as a staff, he got nominated for being Player of the Game defensively. So that was very encouraging to see. He played a little more fundamentally sound, he tackled better and he fit better, so that's encouraging."
You're talking about Nwabuisi?
"Yes I am?"
But Proby is listed as the starter.
Why is Proby listed as the starter?
"Cause he's listed as the starter, that's why."
* The 'Cats, in their Big Ten opener at Illinois, sacked Nathan Scheelhaase four times, but managed not even one against either Michigan or Iowa. Defensive tackle Niko Mafuli did get them one against the Nittany Lions, but Fitzgerald insisted Monday there were more there for the taking. "We had guys in the backfield who didn't get home, so we've got to finish the job when we're back there," he said. "I think we had three guys unblocked on Saturday and we went 0-for-3 on those sack opportunities. We've just got to finish those plays. We've got to get more production there." * Nittany Lion coach Joe Paterno oversaw Saturday's affair from the coach's box, which is on the same level as the box used by Fitzgerald's family. That is why, in their pre-game discussion, he said to Paterno, "Hopefully my kids won't bother you."
"So Joe sends to see my three kids at halftime," Fitzgerald recalled Monday. "That's just who he is. That's unbelievable. My three little knuckleheads (sons) won't remember that. But I'll remind them maybe at their wedding. But that just shows you how Coach is. Incredible. Incredible to say the least."
* There was, just two months ago, an aura about this 'Cat team, a confidence that fairly radiated off its members. "We feel we're on the verge of being something special," said one of them, the tackle Al Netter, in a statement that was typical. "We all feel this is the special year. . . I think there is a special buzz and we all feel it."
That is why, on Monday, it was no surprise to find forlorn looks on the faces of Netter and Mafuli and defensive tackle Kevin Watt when they appeared for the players' portion of the weekly Monday presser. Each, in fact, recalled the poignant look of Don Quixote, that battered adventurer known as the Knight of the Sorrowful Countenance. "It's not easy to take. It's not an easy pill to swallow," Mafuli would say of the five-game losing streak, but each of them would man up and discuss their team's current condition.
"Our biggest hurdle is just the frustration because it is something the upperclassmen and even the younger guys haven't faced since we've been here," said Netter. "We've been extremely successful, haven't had this kind of losing streak. That's our biggest hurdle and the best way to overcome it is to keep a great, positive attitude. Everybody's just got to work harder and harder. . . You look at it, we've been up every single game this year, so I don't think it's a question of if we have a talented team. We, honestly, just haven't been able to find a way to win the last five games. . . People, honestly, just need to start playing better and more consistent."
"We're pushing it hard every single week in practice. From the physical standpoint, we're really pushing the envelope," Watt went on. "So physically, I think we're there. But from a mental approach, as Al was saying, we need to stay positive and when things get tough during the game, go back to our fundamentals and be more consistent. There's not much more to say."
"It comes down to, really, execution," Mafuli finally said. "It's little one-man breakdowns here and there that are really killing us. Like Al said, we have to play better. That's all that needs to be said."