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    The Skip Report: A Surprise, and a Tone Set

    Brandon Vitabile, Northwestern's active leader in career starts, will be looking to help the Wildcats to a fast start vs. Minnesota.

    Brandon Vitabile, Northwestern's active leader in career starts, will be looking to help the Wildcats to a fast start vs. Minnesota.

    Oct. 14, 2013

    Skip Myslenski provides this update from Northwestern's weekly press conference as the Wildcats aim to identify what went wrong Saturday so as not to repeat history:

    The attack was launched shortly before ten on Monday morning. It was then, as the 'Cats team meeting was drawing to its close, that the coaching staff began strafing the players with a fusillade of water balloons from the back of the room. "It was very much of a surprise," defensive tackle Chance Carter would later recall. "Usually, when we have a water balloon fight, it's during Kenosha. So we were waiting for it in Kenosha, it never came, so we're still waiting for it and it came today. We didn't know it was coming."

    Brandon Vitabile, the center, was in the front row of that room and here he dropped to the floor and hid behind his seat. "I thought I had a plan," he would say.

    "But you couldn't get out without getting soaked," said superback Dan Vitale.

    "To lighten the mood," Vitabile will say later when asked why he thought the attack was launched this day. "Everyone, we're still upset about the (Wisconsin) game. There's the 24-hour rule. But we're still getting over it. That was to get us passed (it), get some smiles on our faces and get a little pep in our step.



    "It just gets you going and changes your attitude for the rest of the day. Still, after all the bad that happened, you have to have fun. That's what it boils down to. That's what Coach (Mick) McCall (the offensive coordinator) stressed at our offensive meeting this morning. Still have fun. We weren't having fun. He said, 'Did anyone have fun (Saturday)?' One person raised his hand and said, 'I was playing football. That's why I had fun.' I certainly didn't have fun and that's got to change. But it's easy to have fun when you're winning and it's not very easy when you're losing."

    But you play better when you're having fun, we note.

    "This is true," he says. "That's the goal. You're more loose. You're enjoying it. You're locked in. You're really into what's going on."


    Pat Fitzgerald, on Monday, parsed parts of the 'Cats' loss at Wisconsin. He talked of the sacks. He talked of the dropped passes. He talked of the explosion plays surrendered and the lack of offensive execution. He also, more than once, used the word anomaly when reviewing his team's performance.

    That word certainly fit their offensive approach in the game, which they entered with 231 rushing attempts and 137 passes. For in Madison they would throw 39 times and run just 25.

    "We've got to have better balance, but we've got to put ourselves in position to have better balance," he would say. "And we've been pretty balanced. So I'm going to look at it as an anomaly."

    It was also appropriate when considering the `Cats receivers, a group rightly acclaimed for its skills. For here it would too often drop balls that were eminently catchable. How many?

    "Too many. I stopped counting," Fitzgerald said. At what number? "One. Honestly. I watched the game and it was just so uncharacteristic of what we do typically. So uncharacteristic."

    But most surprisingly that description even fit his team's demeanor, which normally reflects the passion of their most-passionate coach. For here, well, just consider what Carter said when asked about the Badgers rolling up 286 rushing yards against the defense.

    "This past game I know for sure we weren't really communicating, we weren't really working the fundamentals right. That's why you saw some big runs happen against us," he began. "There were some plays where we got outflanked and that was because of communication. What it comes down to for us is communication and playing with more energy. As a team we were really flat Saturday and that carried over to our communication and fundamentals."

    Why were they flat?

    "I couldn't really tell you," he said. "On defense, we made some big plays out there and there was really nobody getting on peoples' hats. I couldn't really tell you why we were flat Saturday. It was really weird."

    So could they see the performance coming?

    "We had a good vibe," Vitabile demurred. "The past weeks have been our two best weeks of practice. I think the coaches said that and that's what we feel on offense at least. Everyone practicing hard, physical, not a lot of mistakes even on Tuesday when we're just putting the (game) plan in. It wasn't super tight in the hotel Friday or Saturday. I can't put my finger on it. I don't know if anyone can. So no one saw it coming. I did not think that would be the result at all."

    "We've got to be more excited and fired up. That's something I didn't think we had in the game last Saturday," Vitale would later add. "Being focused is real important. We've got to execute. But we've got to have the energy back that we had before."

    Is it possible that, as the phrase goes, Ohio State beat them twice?

    "I wouldn't say that," said Vitale. "We had a great week of practice. Like (Carter) said, I'm not quite sure why we came out so flat or why we finished so flat. But the water balloon fight was a good spark of energy for us."

    Which, of course, was the point, as Fitzgerald finally made clear. "Every once in awhile," he explained here, "you've got to wake the guys up. So we doused `em. You know, you've got to have fun when you're doing this. Obviously no one enjoys not being successful. But I think the hallmark of this squad has been its character and the way we've responded. I talked to them (before the attack) about the glue that keeps everything together is having fun and enjoying the moment and the opportunities.

    "We've got half our season left. We've put ourselves in position to achieve our goals. We've got to execute better. But we've also got to continue to have more fun. I didn't like our attitude at times on Saturday. I thought we let one bad play be a roller coaster ride. That's typically not who we've been. So every once in awhile you've just got to shake them up a little bit."


    And finally, Fitzgerald, when asked about Kain Colter and Venric Mark, who both sat out part of Saturday's game due to injury: "I think both guys'll be day-to-day. We got pretty positive news on the injury front (Sunday). So we'll list them as day-to-day. Like always, we'll limit guys early in the week. But we hope to have those guys going later in the week."


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