* Truth be told, there was very little review of the 'Cats win over MInnesota at Pat Fitzgerald's regular Monday press conference. The focus, instead, was already on Tuesday's practice and the coming week of preparation and Nebraska's Saturday visit to Ryan Field. "Without a doubt," he declared, "tomorrow's practice is the biggest practice of the year. That's what I told the guys this morning. I believe you play like you prepare. We've put together some good practices. We have not put together a great week in all three phases since Indiana. So that's where my focus is right now. I think if we can do that, we'll be prepared for the opportunity on Saturday."
* Fitzgerald, throughout this season, has talked of a raised bar, has talked of expectations that are greater than those of the past, has talked finally of relentlessly pushing toward those goals (a division title, a conference title) still achievable by these 'Cats. But now that they are bowl eligible, now that they are an impressive 6-1, now that they are surrounded by a buzz heading into a game long ago sold out, now what? "The hallmark of any good player or competitor or team is how do you handle success. How do you respond to that," he began, and here again he returned to the theme that would dominate this Monday. "We've been in this situation before and we've handled it well. We've been in this situation before and we've played poorly. I think the common denominator in both the positive and negative is it all comes back to the way that we prepare. That's in our control.
"I'll be a broken record until I get fired or retire -- hopefully, the second one comes first -- but with 17-to-23 year old young men, that's the challenge. We've got distractions all over the place. How we handle that and manage that and handle our business from a time-management standpoint, it's mid-term time around here now -- we've got to handle our business. We've got to prepare. We've got to put together a great week of preparation, and we've got to take that with us on Saturday. All the things that are outside of our control, you've got to manage even more. It's a journey that everybody's on. Everybody's sore in the country. Everybody's banged up in the country. I just challenged our Leadership Council. You know, we talked a lot in the offseason about brotherhood and chemistry and how good we feel. But this is when leadership needs to step up. This is when I need to see that group of guys take that next step collectively."
* Already, on this Monday morning, Fitzgerald had talked to both his full team and to that Leadership Council, which includes the offensive guard Brian Mulroe. "It's the middle of the season, it's a grind right now," he said when asked how he would respond to his coach's challenge. "But you've got to realize you can't be complacent. You can't be sleep walking through a Tuesday. This Tuesday's very important. Like Fitz has been saying, practice is huge for us. If we're consistent in practice, we're going to be consistent on Saturday. So you've got to keep guys going. If you see someone slipping, 'Pick it up. Let's go. Let's grind through this. Focus.' Today's going to be a big film day for us. We've got to really study our opponent well today, know what they're running. Then tomorrow's got to be crisp. We've got to be very physical. Tuesday's the more physical practice, then it starts winding down toward the end of the week. So Tuesday and Wednesday are big."
* Here is an example of just how much detail has already gone into preparing for Saturday's game, which will kick off at 2:30: Against Boston College, which also started at that time, the 'Cats opened slow and Fitzgerald later asked his leaders why. "Coach, that's nap time," he was told, which was true. His players then, as now, got to the football complex by 7 a.m., practiced through much of the morning, lunched, slept (with school not yet in session) and then returned for film or weight work.
As a result, Fitzgerald said, "We're going to get them up early on Saturday, we'll have a full team breakfast, then on their itinerary big and bold it says, 'Team nap. Mandatory.' So we'll be taking a nap at about 9:30 Saturday morning to make sure we get our nap in and are in our comfort zone. I won't be doing that. But 70 guys will."
"We'll go back up to the hotel room and get a little hour or two nap in, come down refreshed and be ready to kick some butt," quarterback Kain Colter later added.
Will he really be able to sleep with a big game so imminent?
"I personally will," he said with a smile. "Those hotel beds are really comfortable. So that shouldn't be a problem for me."
"Kain," Mulroe now cut it, "can sleep anywhere."
* Quickly noted (some review): Fitzgerald was unfazed that Trevor Siemian was a mere 1-of-7 for four yards against the Gophs, noting that two of his misses were catchable balls to Colter, one resulted in a pass interference call against Tony Jones, another was a 50-50 ball to Kyle Prater in the end zone and a fourth was a screen pass. "All those throws we can make," he then said. "So from the standpoint of where Trevor was, I have no problem with where he was. He was in some pretty tough situations when he went in the game. It was a bad deal for him, but I thought he handled it well.". . . The 'Cats' leading tackler against the Gophs was safety Ibraheim Campbell, who had 10. "That's the hallmark of any great safety," said Fitzgerald. "When the ball gets to you, you've got to put the ball on the ground. He tackled very efficiently, very well. And I thought (fellow safeties) Carp (Jared Carpenter) and Traveon (Henry) tackled well too.". . . But the 'Cats' leading tacklers on the season are linebackers Damien Proby (62), Chi Chi Ariguzo (59) and David Nwabuisi (51), which is a testament to a defensive line that is engaging blockers and keeping them off those backers. "They graded out really well," Fitzgerald said of that line's work against the Gophs. "We can still be more consistent in some areas. But for the most part I thought those guys had a solid game, especially at the end. We got to make some plays (with Minnesota on the NU 4-yard line on its penultimate possession), we stuff the run, we get the big fourth-down stop, then we come back, the last series, we get great pressure on all four plays. That was critically important.". . . When asked if his 'Cats could take anything away from winning a game that was not a work of art, Fitzgerald said, "Did anybody have real pretty wins on Saturday? I don't know. I haven't watched all the games yet. But when you get into this time of the year, you get into league play. I watched a little bit of the LSU-South Carolina game. That was nasty. It wasn't real pretty. It is what it is in conference play. You've got to find a way to win. It's 'live to fight another day' at this standpoint.". . . One more example of the greater expectations now surrounding his program came when Fitzgerald noted, "I think our seniors tied being the all-time winningest class on Saturday. I didn't tell them that after the game. We've got a lot of football ahead of us. Those are things you look at at the end of the year. You guys ask me about being bowl eligible. Who cares? Who cares? We've got a lot of football ahead of us."
* And finally: To add to what already promises to be a vibrant atmosphere at Ryan Field, the 'Cats on Saturday will break out their all-black jerseys for the first time.