* The 'Cats, after a bye, return to the arena Saturday at Michigan, and so Monday Pat Fitzgerald held his regular, weekly press conference. "The week off was one that was needed by us," he would say in his opening statement. "We needed to get healthy, needed to work on some things in areas where we've not been consistent enough in. And then, at the same time, continue to accentuate the areas where we've been playing very well."
That led us to later ask if he would enumerate those areas in which his 'Cats had been inconsistent.
"Do I have to? I'd really prefer not to," he said with both a smile and soft chuckle. "You know we self scout each week. But then, as you get to the bye week, last week, Monday, Tuesday, I went on the road (recruiting) along with the majority of our coaches. But our coordinators stayed back. I kinda gave them a couple of things that I wanted them to do, along with our support guys. We wanted to critically look at ourselves first. We then wanted to obviously look at our upcoming opponent. So. There's some things that, without -- quite frankly -- talking about them, that we need to improve on and hopefully we'll play better in those areas as we move forward."
* One area where the 'Cats have not been inconsistent is running the football. They have, in fact, excelled here, rushing for an average of 237.6 yards per-game (third best in the Big Ten, behind only Nebraska and Ohio State). But along with that success there has been, not surprisingly, a dip in their passing production. In this area, in fact, they are averaging just 162.9 yards per-game, which is the worst in their conference. That last stat is why wide receiver Christian Jones, one of the players who followed Fitzgerald on the stage, was asked what was holding back the passing attack.
"I wouldn't say anything's really holding us back," he replied. "I'd say we've really established ourselves running. We've done really well running and if it's not broke, don't fix it. We've really taken on the mindset of blocking and doing what it takes to help the team win. Yeah. We haven't thrown the ball around much. But we've taken on a new role and we've taken on the mindset that we're going to do what it takes to help win these games. If that's blocking, that's what we're going to do. If that's being last in passing, it's being last in passing."
* Let us return here to that moment at last summer's Media Day when Fitzgerald was asked about his highly-acclaimed group of receivers. "The guys who block are the guys who're going to play," he said then. Now let us remember that August morning up in Camp Kenosha when Fitzgerald informed that superback coach Bob Heffner, once an offensive line coach, occasionally leads the receivers through blocking drills. Let us finally recall our conversation that same morning with Jones, who way back then noted, "You have to know that, to truly be on the field as much as possible, you have to be good at both aspects of the game, and that's receiving and blocking. Most receivers don't want to get their hands dirty blocking. But I think that's what separates you from other receivers. When you're able to block. Now I'd say everybody in our room wants to block, wants to get their hands dirty. Plus our coaches, we do a little thing, if we block well, we get a little candy bar or something. It's just a little emphasis on getting blocks finished."
Yes, Jones will now say on Monday, Heffner still works with the receivers once or twice a week. Yes, he will also say, the receivers still spend a portion of every practice working on blocking drills. "We haven't changed our philosophy one bit," he will finally say. "We still emphasize blocking just as much as we emphasize running the right routes and running them the right way and stuff like that."
With all the early emphasis on blocking, we then wonder, did the receivers anticipate the 'Cats current emphasis on the run?
"Not really," he will finally say. "You never really know what's going to happen in a season. You never really know what's going to happen next. But, as the weeks went on, we continue to want to block well and continue to help the team win any way we can. We still focus on the passing game very much. . . But you've got to realize that it's not all about passing the ball. You can't pass the ball every play of the game, just like you can't run the ball every play of the game. The stats, they're important to other people. But if the record shows that you're winning games, I don't think they really matter much. We still get just as much pleasure helping other guys score touchdowns as if we were scoring touchdowns."
* QUICKLY NOTED: Asked Monday about corners Nick VanHoose and Quinn Evans, who missed the Iowa game after being injured against Nebraska, Fitzgerald said, "I talked to both Nick and Quinn (earlier). I said, 'The No. 1 question I'm going to be asked is about both you knuckle sandwiches. So are you going to play or not?' They said, 'Yeah. Yeah. We're going to play.' But the depth chart's fluid, as you guys know. So we'll see how the week goes and how they progress in practice. We've got competition. We have not been as consistent as we want back there. We need to play better. No question about it."
* Defensive end Quentin Williams, who followed Fitzgerald along with Jones, spent his Saturday watching football. But, said Jones, "I really caught up on my sleep. I didn't watch a lot of games."
* Here's another Monday nugget from Fitzgerald: "I said to the guys this morning, 'What did you learn watching football on Saturday?' They made fun of me. 'Just like you said. It comes down to five or six plays. It comes down to the fourth quarter.' Maybe now that they've seen it, they'll believe me a little bit more. Almost every Big Ten game about came down to the wire."
* After nine consecutive Saturdays in the arena, it was a welcome weekend off for the players. "For everybody it's really been huge, but especially for the guys who've been out there in the trenches week in, week out," explained Williams. "Those nicks and bruises, we had a week to take a step back and get our legs back. It's been great for me, for sure, and there are definitely some guys who are more banged up (than him) that really appreciated the time off."
AND FINALLY: Fitzgerald, who himself spent much of Saturday surfing games on the television: "It was terrific. This college football thing is pretty cool. That's what I told Stace (his wife). I can see why people are so passionate about it."