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    BLOG: No Jedi Mind Trick

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    * On Saturday, after the 'Cats had defeated Rice and their defense had put on its best performance of the fall, linebacker David Nwabuisi said, "We used to have a lot more in our game plan early on in the season. But we had a sit down, said everyone needs to loosen up, have fun. . . We just need to do our jobs and go out there and have fun and play hard. That was the message we tried to get through to everybody and it's paid off."

    Now he was asked if that game plan has fewer adjustments in it.

    "We tried to do that a little bit more," he replied. "It's a little bit simpler of a game plan. There's fewer checks and blitzes and coverages. More simplified. Rice didn't have too much motion going on and that helped too. We're just all on the same page these days."

    Naturally enough, at his Monday presser, 'Cat coach Pat Fitzgerald was asked about those comments.

    "I think I said earlier in the year, as we were looking at what we were doing defensively, we put the first responsibility and ownership on us as coaches," he said. "You look, every team's different, every defense is a little bit different and some of the things we were able to be successful with in the past we just weren't able to be successful with this year. So as we were looking inward and taking responsibility for that, we've tried to do things that we think our players do well. So we take responsibility first and foremost for our poor performance in the month of October. But at the end of the day they've got to go out there and make plays too. So have we simplified? I don't know. Maybe it's a Jedi mind trick."

    * The defensive breakdowns that bedeviled the 'Cats earlier this season, you may recall, were regularly blamed on communication, or the lack of communication, or a mixup in communication, or a breakdown in communication. The members of that unit clearly recognized that and, in an attempt to solve their problem, began gathering as an entire group for extra film work and discussion sessions. "We," explains redshirt freshman linebacker Chi Chi Ariguzo, "just want to build more of a chemistry as a defense, know what everyone else is seeing on the field so we're on the same page and can make the right calls and everyone has an idea of what we're going to call. We've seen a lot of improvement just in communicating. We haven't had many miscues in communication (recently)."

    "We've been having more full defensive meetings to correct some of the chemistry that was going on with the defense, and we've been stressing it a lot more in practice," adds another redshirt freshman, the safety Ibraheim Campbell. "We realize we can't afford it, so we've been trying to fix that. You know that, earlier in the season, physical mismatches weren't the reason we were getting beat. It was communication issues. So we knew that was something we needed to get fixed."

    Was there a moment when communication all came together for that defense, which has been stout the last two Saturdays?

    "I wouldn't say that," said Campbell. "It's just that after so many bad things happen to you, you realize what you have fix. It's just experience, there's no replacement for experience, like (defensive backs) Coach (Jerry) Brown always says. You've just got to make the most out of what you experience and learn from it."

    * Campbell's experience this fall testifies to the wisdom of Brown's well-worn, yet inarguably accurate, observation. He opened the season as a starter, got burned too often, lost his starting position, regained that starting position and, on Saturday, had a team-leading nine tackles against the Owls. "The largest difference would just be experience and just learning from the mistakes I made early in the season, which were a lot," he would say by way of explaining his improved play. "Now I'm trying to make the best of the opportunity I have because these games are crucial to accomplish the goals that we want to accomplish. So it was basically just learning and growing as a player."

    What helped him through the tough times?

    "Definitely support from (senior safety) Brian Peters as well as Coach Brown. They both know how much it means to me and how much I put into it, and they just tried to keep me straight in the head as far as dealing with the pressure and things like that."

    * Quickly noted: Asked on Monday about the injury that has slowed him all season, running back Adonis Smith reported, "It's my ankle. I don't even know what it is. It was tweaked really bad. But I'm back to where I feel 100 percent again.". . . Superback Drake Dunsmore is one of the eight finalists for the John Mackey Award, which goes to the nation's top tight end. . . Chi Chi (as in Ariguzo) is short for Ikechi, a Nigerian word that means "God's Power." Asked about his familiar name, he explained, "It's like someone here is named Joseph and he's called Joe for short.". . . Ibraheim (as in Campbell) is of Arabic origin, is a variant of Abraham (Hebrew) and means "Father of Many.". . . Offensive linemen Ben Burkett and Al Netter are each set to make his 50th consecutive career start Saturday when the 'Cats host Minnesota at Ryan Field. . . Quarterback Dan Persa suffered two interceptions in a game for the first time against Rice. But he was so good the rest of that afternoon that his pass efficiency rating for the day was an other-worldly 202. . . Fitzgerald on those interceptions: "I've been here watching some other receivers go up and get the ball against us. So I like Danny being aggressive. But what I want to see is those guys (his receivers) go up and get that football. We didn't even make a play on the ball. That's probably my biggest disappointment on Saturday. As well as we played at receiver at Nebraska, I think we left our big boy pads in Lincoln. Hopefully we'll show up with them on Saturday."

    * And finally, Fitzgerald's final take on the Rice victory: "We felt like we played well enough to win on Saturday, but not great, not our best game in the last three weeks in a couple of areas. We thought we needed to be a little more consistent early running the ball. We had an opportunity for a few more turnovers that we didn't take advantage of that we're going to need as we move forward. I think we can definitely play better in the kicking game, especially our two return units. Then obviously the two turnovers. I like our aggressiveness, but our receivers have got to help Danny out a little bit and go up there and fight for the ball, which we didn't do. So as great as (wide receiver) Jeremy (Ebert) played, we had a couple other guys I'd like to see fight a little more for the football. So I think there's a lot of positives from the last three weeks, but definitely a lot of room for improvement."

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