Late Saturday night, after his team's victory over Vanderbilt, Pat Fitzgerald lamented his 'Cats offensive inconsistency in that game. On Monday, after viewing the film, he was more specific in his critique.
"We've got to be more accurate throwing the football. One of our hallmarks here, one of our trademarks is our completion percentage. I'd say we were very average in that area Saturday night. . .," he would say at one point. "That's part on the (quarterback) and part on the guys trying to catch the football. We've got to catch the football. I don't care where the ball's thrown. That's what we put them on scholarship for. I reminded them, 'It's a $60,000 scholarship. OK. Catch the ball.'"
"I think in the run game," he would say at another, "there were some areas that we targeted that we were pretty efficient at. Then there were other areas that we weren't very good at the point of attack, especially with our blocking on the perimeter. That was an area I was very disappointed in overall in the game."
"We've got to improve our passing game, no question about that, and then we can be better in the run game," he would say at a third. "We're leaving a lot of yards out there from little things. If it's fundamentals. If it's targeting and blocking properly at the point of attack. If it's finishing properly. We are not finishing very well."
And what does he mean by that?
"If you watch us critically, if you watch the coach's tape, we've got guys that are in a position to finish blocks and aren't being relentless enough. We've got guys that are choosing that. To me, finishing is attitude and a choice. We talk about playing the Wildcat Way, going as hard as you can for as long as you can. But finish is the most critical aspect of that. You may not be perfect at the start, but at the finish you've got a choice to make. We kind of started doing that a little bit in the fourth quarter Saturday. But that's too late. Way too late."
"Today, as a whole, we got together as an offense and said we're not happy with our performance on Saturday," offensive guard Chuck Porcelli would say when told of that last critique. "We know we're capable of much more than that. We just said to each other, 'Let's push each other to finish.' That just comes down to an attitude, I'd say. A collective attitude, not individual efforts. Just trying to be the meanest guys out there."
"Anytime someone's calling you out, that pride that you have makes you want to go out and step it up," wide receiver Rashad Lawrence then concluded. "I feel we went out there, we didn't show the best that we can play. We didn't play to the best of our abilities both on the perimeter as far as blocking or catching the ball. We've got a lot to improve, a lot to work on. Coach taking shots at us, we feel he's calling us out. So we're going to step up and make it happen."
* On Saturday, for the second game in a row, quarterback Trevor Siemian made it happen in the fourth quarter. He did that by guiding the 'Cats to the touchdown that gave them their first lead of the night and then, after Vandy came back to tie, by choreographing the drive that gave them the lead for good.
That is why we asked Lawrence, a high school teammate, if Siemian had always show such grace under fire. "Trevor always wanted to take the bull by the horns. Whenever we needed a play, he definitely wanted to step up," he said. "We joke around about it. When it comes down to the tough situation, to the two-minute drill, we joke around. We've been joking around about it for awhile now. I'll say, 'Hey, man. It's the two-minute drill. It's kind of your thing, isn't it?' He'll say, 'No big deal. It's kind of my time.'"
* Siemian was not the only one caught in Saturday's fourth-quarter spotlight. The same was true of Lawrence, who streaked down the left sideline, corralled a third-down pass through the raindrops and maintained possession long enough to stand up to an official review. That helped set up the winning points, a Jeff Budzien field goal, and so it was natural that Fitzgerald was asked Monday about recruiting the pair out of Orlando's Olympia High School.
"It was totally independent," he said. "We really liked Rashad. He was a good player on tape. Skinny. But room for growth. Great length, great speed, great route runner, terrific hands. Very impressed by both guys. It was great recruiting both guys. It was fun. Just both guys' personalities. They're both really gregarious. I think Trevor gives this very stoic approach with you guys, so I don't know if you pick up his little dry sense of humor. Then I think Rashad's life is a 24/7 party. He has got one of the best attitudes I've ever seen from a young man. He's always smiling, he's always gregarious, he's a lot of fun to be around."
"What he means by that is I keep a positive attitude at all times," Lawrence will say when advised of his coach's comment. "That's one thing I really try to do, whether it's on the field or off the field. I can't walk around with my head hung low. You've got to be able to respond to both good and bad. I think life should be a party for everyone."
* There is a reason for Lawrence's approach to life, and the story attached to it is not a happy one. For it centers on his late mother Kenya, who died two days after giving birth to his now eight-year old sister Jaida. He himself was then just 11, but, he would say Monday, "From that point on, I figured I could go around with my head hung low, or I could pick up and just keep moving. That's what I did. I picked up and kept moving, tried to keep a positive attitude, picked up a sport, football, and here I am today."
Yes, he went on, he had help along the way. Some came from (as he calls her) Gannie, his Grandma Gaynell, his mom's mom, the woman who then raised him. More came from an uncle, his mom's brother. "I had a lot of positive role models out there keeping my head steady, keeping my head positive, reminding me that life isn't over," he now continued. "Life doesn't have to be horrible. Destiny is in your hands. That's why I keep that party mindset when it comes to my personal life."
Does that experience give him a better perspective on the field?
"Definitely. Definitely. It's all about responding," he finally said. "Good and bad on the field, you've got to be able to respond to that. If there's something bad on the field, you can't beat yourself up about that. One, it's a game. And two, you're going to get another chance. Of course you want to take (advantage of) that (first) chance you have. But you've got to trust you're going to get that next chance to make it up and you've got to be ready for that next chance. So you can't be in a slump. If you are, when that next chance comes, you're not going to be ready for it."
* Quickly noted: No changes on the depth chart for Saturday's game with Boston College at Ryan Field. . . Corner Nick VanHoose, hurt early against Vandy, was up-and-about on Monday. "I asked Nick how he was feeling this morning," reported Fitzgerald. "He said he just felt a little stiff, but he felt great. We're hopeful that he's going to play on Saturday.". . . Quinn Evans, who took over for VanHoose against the Commodores, is a grad school transfer from Stanford, where he was the teammate of current Colts' quarterback Andrew Luck. So we had to wonder who he was rooting for Sunday when his old buddy faced off against the Bears. "I definitely had to go with the Colts," he said with a smile. . . Linebacker Chi Chi Ariguzo was named the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week for his work against Vandy. But the 'Cat coaches gave their weekly honor in that category to end Tyler Scott. "That's terrific for Chi Chi. He's very well deserving of the award," Fitzgerald would say. "I thought Tyler Scott played very well. I thought Quentin Williams (the other end) played well. (Tackle) Brian Arnfelt played well. I think (linebacker) David Nwabuisi made a lot of big plays. But there's a lot of names I just didn't mention. That's kind of where we're at right now. We had some big plays on Saturday, caused two turnovers. We had a chance to have seven. If we want to be the defense we're capable of, out of those other five, we have to get at least half of those. So we've got a lot of work to do. A lot of work."
* And finally, Lawrence, on Fitzgerald's comment that it was fun recruiting both him and Siemian: "People see us, we're kind of easy going. We're able to keep a cool head in tough situations. We're able to respond. I feel like that helps both on and off the field."