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    BLOG: Thanksgiving Week Ruminations

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    * His team had won, his offense had put up 28 points and he himself had posted above-average numbers, completing 22 of his 31 pass attempts for 216 yards and a pair of touchdowns. A less-driven performer would have been content with that package, but here is what makes 'Cat quarterback Dan Persa special. Not only was he not content with his work last Saturday against Minnesota. He was unhappy. "I don't think I played very well and I think some of the other guys (on his offense) were upset the way they played," he explained Wednesday morning. "We're just looking forward to changing that on Saturday (against eleventh-ranked Michigan State.)"

    What in particular displeased him?

    "I just wasn't as sharp as I wanted to be. I missed some throws I usually don't miss. I still had decent stats. But it wasn't where I needed to be. I left some stuff out there I should have hit."

    Is a game like that fuel for the next one?

    "Definitely. Definitely. The past few games there's a couple of things I wanted to have back. To get another opportunity Saturday against a great team, I'm really looking forward to it."

    Was it true, as Pat Fitzgerald suggested earlier this week, that he was ready to play that game on Monday?

    "Yeah. Anytime you have a win but you don't think you played as well as you can, you're raring to go the next day."

    * Persa's journey, this year, has been a vertiginous voyage, a meandering ride riddled with highs and lows. There was the long rehab from the Achilles injury he suffered last November and, during the summer, incidents that delayed both his recovery and his ability to appear in a game. There was a flareup of that injury even after he returned and then, on his way to his last regular season game as a 'Cat, both a turf toe and a shoulder injury. Still, through all that, he has completed a remarkable 74.6 percent of his passes (170-of-228); thrown for 15 touchdowns against just seven interceptions; and run up a pass efficiency rating of 160.79.

    All of that led us to wonder if he ever thinks about just how, well, screwy his year has been. "Yeah, yeah. A lot of times," he admitted. "There's been a lot of what ifs. There's a couple things that happened back in the off-season that weren't too great and effected this year. But I'm still glad I got the opportunity to play. I had to battle through a lot of stuff, but it is what it is. I can't change it now. The only thing I can focus on is how I respond to it and what I do after it."

    * No wonder, then, that he said this when considering the importance of Saturday's date with Sparty and the date awaiting the 'Cats in the post-season: "That's what we (his senior class) want to be remembered for, winning big games and hopefully a bowl."

    * The 'Cats, on Saturday, will confront multifarious challenges. The Spartans are the biggest and most-obvious one. Next are the roiling emotions that come with Senior Day and with the presence of parents and family and friends in the stands. Finally there is the exhaustive bowl speculation, which is more rife now than the attention continually afforded both Paris Hilton and the Kardashian sisters combined. When asked about that last reality, Fitzgerald was unmoved. "What we control is how we prepare and how we play this week. Everything else is out of our control," he said phlegmatically. "Typically it's young guys who don't play and don't have a role that think about things that. The guys who are in the arena, especially the seniors, are focused on the task at hand. You've got a chance to build your own resume and play a Top 10 team (in the coach's poll). It's going to be a great challenge, but what a great opportunity."

    "In no way do we feel six wins is good enough," Jack DiNardo, one of those seniors, agreed. "Guys in my class as true freshmen, we remember going six-and-six and going home for the holidays. So there's definitely a sense of urgency to get that seventh win. . . Sure, people (players) look at it (the bowl possibilities). But you definitely have to keep your focus on Saturday, keep your focus on Michigan State. Every year the projections come out and they're hard not to notice. But you're not going to know where you're going until the selections are actually made. . . So as a player there really is no reason to look at them. Projections are all over the place. We'll know when we need to know. I know fans love that stuff. But for us there's really no point looking at it."

    * The 'Cats will practice Thanksgiving morning and then be off until a team lunch on Friday. Those who live within 100 miles of campus are free to go home and take any of their teammates with them. Those left behind, if they choose, can have their holiday meal with their position coaches. (Fitzgerald, in this hierarchy, is considered the special teams' coach, and last year place kicker Stefan Demos ate with him and his family. "He stayed way too late," joked Fitzgerald, but he will not have that problem this year. All the specialists have other plans.)

    He himself will watch some video after practice and then, at one, attend a staff meeting to discuss recruiting. Then he too will head home for a gathering that will include both his clan and the clan of his wife Stacey. And will he catch some of the games on TV that day? "Sure, sure," he said, and then explained why he has that luxury. "By Thursday, especially without an upcoming opponent (10 days later) to prepare for, by Monday evening I'd watched every (Michigan State) game, both sides and the kicking game, and gone back and done a four-year study of what they've done against us. I mean, I went home after the (Minnesota) game Saturday and went to work on those guys."

    * This talk of Thanksgiving agendas sparked a bit of nostalgia in Fitzgerald, who fondly remembers those not-so-long ago days when the Big Ten traditionally wrapped up its regular season before Thanksgiving. "It's one of the traditions, frankly, I wish we still had," he would say. "When I was a student-athlete, I thought it was spectacular when all the other students got to go home and have a little break before finals, we were done playing and could go home and enjoy Thanksgiving with family. I was one of the coaches who did not vote for playing on this weekend. I would prefer to have the Thanksgiving weekend off. Again. I thought, as a student-athlete, it was one of the best traditions that we were able to participate in by having Thanksgiving off."

    So, if he were czar of scheduling, the Big Ten would have wrapped up its regular season last Saturday, taken a week off and then played its conference championship game as scheduled?

    "Absolutely. Why not? You think about it. Who cares if we play that last week in August? I'm not sure why it matters. We go to training camp for x amount of days. so move it up. I know we're done with summer school. Most schools are. I know not all are completed by that time, but those coaches know how to manage that in the summer time. I don't think it's a summer issue. Again. You think about it. Our guys have been here in camp, even the freshmen, the 13 guys we had come up, have been here since June. You ought to be able to give them a little bit of a break with no school responsibilities for just a weekend. It just makes too much sense to me. Then give the teams that have earned the right to play in the championship game a couple days to practice this week, let their guys go home, get 10 days of practice for that championship game. It'd probably make the product in the arena a little bit better."

    * And finally, Fitzgerald, on the Michigan State game: "I think the guys are really hungry. We understand what a great football team we're playing on Saturday and obviously what's at stake for all of us. It should be a fun game. It should be a great challenge. It should be a lot of fun."

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