Oct. 9, 2013
Skip Myslenski delivers his Wednesday report from a Northwestern program hungry to get back to the competitive arena Saturday:
WE ARE FAM-I-LY (as Sister Sledge sang): It is not uncommon, on the Sunday after a game, for any number of 'Cats to gather for a film session. The offensive line will do this together, and the offensive playmakers will do it with the quarterbacks, and various defenders will do it at well. "That's something we as the Leadership Council do a lot, bringing guys together on a random Sunday," explains linebacker Damien Proby, who is both a Council member and a team captain.
"But this past week it was really important after a tough loss like that, to make sure the guys knew, `Hey, we're still a unit here. We don't have any individuals here who are going to stand apart from the team because we had tough loss. We're still a very good unit and we need to be prepared for the rest of the season.' It's huge getting back to, `This is a family. It's much bigger than the game of football. This is a brotherhood that you're going to have the rest of your life.' That's something that has to be reminded in both the good times and also in the bad."
That is why, some 18 hours after their loss to Ohio State, Proby and members of his unit were in their team meeting room, where they watched not only the tape of their Buckeye game. They also watched tape on Wisconsin, whom they face Saturday. "It's essentially trying to get the coaching done before the coaches get here," says Proby. `What do you, the person in front of me, the person behind me, what do you see here? What can we do to improve on that given play?` It gives you an alternate look you may need as a player on the field."
While watching the Buckeye tape, we wonder, did he get upset, mad, at an opportunity missed?
"As a competitive athlete, you get frustrated with things you wish you could go back and change," he admits. "But, if anything, you've really got to use those opportunities to really capitalize. 'I'm not going to let that happen to me again, man.' You look at it, you see it, you remember it, then you flush it. That's something our coach (Pat Fitzgerald) really emphasizes. You get frustrated as a competitor. You want to win every play and when that doesn't happen you do get mad at yourself on that given play for letting down your teammates. Then you work for that to never happen again."
FLASHBACK: Late Saturday night, shortly after the 'Cats' loss, Proby said, "We wanted to prove something to ourselves. That's something we still need to do, but we definitely took a step in the right direction."
What exactly did he mean, we ask now.
"We know we can play with anyone on the field at any given point," he says. "It's more going out there and really executing our game plan, executing the things our coaches told us. It's going back to our fundamentals, knowing what we believe in, seeing all the blood, sweat and tears we had all summer, getting to that point where we can compete with any team in this nation. That's something we need to show on the field by getting a win. But we definitely went out there and took a right step, like I said Saturday.
"If that team is the best in our conference, and we know that we played stride for stride with them, where a ball here, a ball there changed the game, we know we're an upper tier team in our conference, not one on the lower tier or even the middle tier anymore. That's a big step in our program as a whole that we see across the board."
MOOD CHECK I: There was this from center Brandon Vitabile: "I know I'm confident in the way I played and the way the guys next to me played and the way the O Line played (against Ohio State). We turned the ball over when we really couldn't afford to do that. But we definitely played well as a team. It's just come along, two more steps here, two more steps there, one more big play. Everyone says we proved to the nation that we belong here. We already knew that we belong here. So, we're confident, we know. Now it's going off that, not being satisfied with what we think we've done, with people saying, `OK, they can play.' We have to win now."
MOOD CHECK II: And this from Fitzgerald: "I think we're a very confident football team. I also think we're a very ticked-off football team right now. We're mad at ourselves. We're mad at the way we coached our guys. We're mad at the way we executed when we had an opportunity to win a football game. I think that shows a lot of confidence. I know the guys came out here to work to do something about it in the long run. You've just got to keep finding a way to win. You've just got to keep finding a way to win. That's what's important."
Does their confidence give his 'Cats a better chance of finding a way?
"I hope so. Time will tell. In the past, I think it has. A confident team executes pretty well. So I think so."
Redshirt freshman Dwight Wright opened at one corner against the Buckeyes, but also seeing time opposite the entrenched Nick VanHoose was true freshman Matthew Harris. "I don't think it's an open competition," Fitzgerald said when asked about that position. "I just think we've got three really good corners, so I think those guys are going to play a lot of football."
The Buckeyes gashed the `Cats D for 248 net rushing yards and now it must go up against Wisconsin, which leads the nation in rushing. Asked what it must do to stop the Badgers, Fitzgerald said, "Get off blocks. Tackle. Get population to the ball. Run our feet when we're there. Take one more step. We've been pretty good against the run."
At their Monday team meeting, Fitzgerald had all the `Cats who had just played in their first Big Ten game stand up. "Don't quote me exactly, but I think it was like 14 guys," he recalled. "That's a lot that played in their first Big Ten environment on Saturday, and I thought they played their fannies off. Can they play better? Yeah. Can we coach them to play better? Yeah. But just looking at the look in that group's eyes, they'll be a lot better this Saturday. They'll be a lot better this Saturday after playing in that kind of environment and that kind of street fight. That to me is probably what's most encouraging, the amount of youth we've got performing at the level they're performing at."
AND FINALLY: Fitzgerald, looking both back and ahead: "I thought the guys really played physical on Saturday night. Probably the most physical game we've played from the standpoint of the way we played in maybe the last four years. We're going to need to bring that again."
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