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    Let the Games Begin

    Brian Arnfelt, one of NU's 2012 co-captains, will look to make his presence known from his spot on the D-Line Saturday afternoon at Syracuse.

    Brian Arnfelt, one of NU's 2012 co-captains, will look to make his presence known from his spot on the D-Line Saturday afternoon at Syracuse.

    Aug. 31, 2012

    * This is one thing Pat Fitzgerald said as his 'Cats prepared for their Saturday season opener at Syracuse. "As in any opener, you've got to expect the unexpected," he said. "That's what we'll try to prepare our guys for."

    * But, even with that said, there is also this reality. Fitzgerald and his staff have had extra time to get ready for the Orange, which can be a dangerous temptation that results in over-preparation. So, notably, he also said, "The first week is on us as coaches. . .to not do too much, and make sure the guys have the excitement level of game week."

    * Which, finally, led us to wonder if he had to be careful not to overload his players as they prepared for the Orange, which could lead to that dreaded disease paralysis-by-analysis. "Just like a bowl game. Absolutely," he said. "I am a believer that sometimes there is too much time for us. Yeah. From personal experience. I love Ron Vanderlinden (his position coach when he was the `Cat linebacker) like a third father. But I remember times, he'd come to me on a Saturday morning and he's like, `Hey, if they do this, we're gonna do that. If they do that, we're gonna do this.' I'm like, `Chill out, man. Let's just go play. Leave me alone.' From that personal experience to now, in my role leading and managing, less is best. It's all about execution."



    * These are some other realities about a season opener. Neither team has worked out possible kinks in an exhibition game or two. Neither team has recently lined up against an opponent who has come at it in high dudgeon. Neither team, most simply, is quite sure who or what is. This is why, on Monday, Fitzgerald compared this game to a baby's birth, and why later in the week he would say, "We'll be able to see where we're at, who we are, what our game personality is (against Syracuse). I'd say our practice personality, I like it a lot. I like it a lot. I've been around a lot of successful teams here and this team's personality right now, in practice, is in a good place. But somebody's going to punch back on Saturday. How are we going to respond to it? What are we going to do about it? Are we going to stick together? All those things."

    * Those are some very important things to watch for on Saturday, but the list hardly ends there. One other spotlight will be on the `Cat defense, which last season managed just 17 sacks and 20 turnovers. "I feel great about the defense. They worked with a chip on their shoulder," Fitzgerald said of it. "I think we improved our depth. We're athletic and can run. Now we've got to go out and execute. We've got to communicate better than we did early last year. Then, obviously, the hallmark of any great defense is playing with relentless effort and tackling. If you do those two things, you're going to create turnovers. So we've worked hard, tried to solve the issues that we had."

    One other spotlight, a companion spotlight, will be on the 'Cat defensive backs, who last year were susceptible to deflating (and often fatal) explosion plays. "I think that group, number one, they have better chemistry," Fitzgerald said of it. "I think back to when we had some pretty good secondaries here, the guys were really on each other's page. It didn't matter what we called. They got us on the same page and we went out and played fast and executed. So far, so good. But now we take on a big challenge on the road in a hostile environment against a very dynamic offense that has had success throwing the football."

    A third spotlight will be on the 'Cat running backs, a quartet comprised of Venric Mark and Mike Trumpy and Treyvon Green and Tyris Jones. "I feel good about that depth," Fitzgerald said of it. "Now, how deep will we go? I don't know. We'll see. We'll see. Whoever gets the hot hand. Again, we'd like to have a guy be the bell cow. Right now, Venric gets the ball first."

    Then, finally and most certainly, there will be a fourth spotlight on 'Cat quarterbacks Kain Colter, the starter, and Trevor Siemian, his accomplished backup. "Both young men we believe we can win with," Fitzgerald said of them. "They're both dynamic enough to run every aspect of our offense. They both have a great grasp of what we do and how we do things. Kain, obviously from a year ago, playing multiple positions, I think gained valuable experience on what it takes to get prepared. And what do I expect from both guys? Number one, take what the defense give them. Don't try to force things. Execute what the design and concept call for. Then have fun.

    "Jack (Fitzgerald, his oldest son) had his first game on Sunday. I missed it. But I got a chance to watch it on Huddle. They're a bunch of little bobble head dolls out there playing as seven-year olds. This is a fun game. So enjoy the moment. Learn from each rep. Trust what they're doing. And hopefully, as the game goes along, we'll continue to play well."

    * Quickly noted: Doug Marrone, who starts his fourth season as the Orange head coach, spent 2006-08 as the offensive coordinator of Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints. So it was no surprise when Fitzgerald noted, "We'll see a lot of formation variations. We'll see a lot of shifting and motion. There's a lot of things from the West Coast offense that we have to prepare for.". . . But there is also this. Spring ball at Syracuse was a closed affair, which means no one is quite sure what Marrone may throw at the `Cats on Saturday. "Obviously they're changing some things or else they would not have close practice," noted Fitzgerald. . . Still, it would be a shock if the `Cats don't see plenty of Orange senior quarterback Ryan Nassib. He is a third-year starter who last season passed for a school record 2,685 yards, 197 more than Donovan McNabb did in his best season at Syracuse. . . 'Cat senior defensive tackle Brian Arnfelt was on the team that lost at Syracuse back in '09. Asked what it was like to play in its Carrier Dome, he said simply, "It's hot." That is one big reason Fitzgerald said, "You'll see a lot of guys play on Saturday. It won't be just the ones. We'll play as many as we can."

    * And finally, on a lighter note: As we've noted earlier in this space, those 'Cat defensive backs who will be tested on Saturday have labeled themselves The Sky Team. "The idea was, we need to control the air to win the game," explained corner Demetrius Dugar, who suggested the name. And how did he come up with it? "It all started on a plane ride," he related. "We (he and safety Davion Fleming) were just acting goofy with the pilots and they were like, `If you guys want, you can take pictures.' Then after we did that it was, `OK. You guys are part of the sky team now.'"


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