Oct. 16, 2013
Skip Myslenski's Wednesday practice report is chock full of info beneficial for anyone wondering how the Wildcats plan to put a stop to their brief two-game skid this Saturday against Minnesota.
MESSAGE DELIVERED: This is how it went down after a recent 'Cats practice. We said to Pat Fitzgerald, "After you left (Monday's press conference) the players came in and talked about being flat on Saturday (during their loss at Wisconsin)--"
"Yep. Yep," he forcefully cut in.
Why did that happen?
"I have no frickin' idea because they weren't flat in the locker room, they weren't flat in warmups, they weren't flat as I addressed them. So, I don't know. I couldn't answer that. That's probably why we played like crap, Skip. Probably."
"So the water balloons (the coaches pelted the players with after their Monday morning meeting) were to get them energized?"
"The water balloon was to kick their ass, you know. Because at the end of the day what we did on Saturday from performance-on-the-field is completely and totally unacceptable. And so it was a wake-up statement to say, `Have some frickin' fun.' I mean, you only get so many opportunities to play a game and I was mad at the leadership, which I'm personally responsible for. There were no signs that they were going to do that at all. And to go out there and play that way is totally unacceptable. So we fessed it up and we fixed it up. Today I thought we had a great practice. Now we've got to put a whole week together and I expect that they will."
After his press conference Monday, Fitzgerald met with his ten-member Leadership Council. We later asked defensive end Tyler Scott
, who is both one of those 10 and a team captain, if during it anyone came up with an explanation for the `Cats lethargic performance on Saturday. "I don't think there was a true explanation," he said. "I think we just all came to the consensus that we didn't come out with the right passion. We were just flat. I couldn't tell you what it was. Attitude is a choice. I don't know. It wasn't who we are.
"But after today's practice, we have a sense of urgency once again and know we have to come out and prepare each day and just be ready for every opponent. We can't put out what we put out on the field Saturday and expect to beat anybody in the Big Ten."
SMOKE GETS IN YOUR EYES: The 'Cats did get three turnovers on Saturday, which pushed their season total to 17. That's tops in the Big Ten and fifth nationally. But they were also gashed by a 63-yard touchdown pass and a 71-yard touchdown run. "I'll take turnovers seven-days-a-week and twice on Sunday. That's how you win football games," Fitzgerald said of their takeaway skill, which they work on every practice. "Over time the turnover ratio is the number one correlation to success. We've just got to keep taking them away and obviously limit the explosion plays. The two that happened Saturday should not happen."
And the decisive factor in both cases?
"I think they (the defensive backs and linebackers) do a good job of having really disciplined zone eyes for the most part," said Fitzgerald. "When we're disciplined we end up making big plays, and that's typically why the back seven end up making plays. You've got great eyes. Same way the other side. You give up explosion plays because your eyes are in the wrong spot. You're supposed to be watching the wide receiver, you're stuck in the backfield. I've got a key in the line of scrimmage, I've got `em (the eyes) outside. It's really not rocket science. It's not that hard. It's football. It's really not that complicated. . . It's typically about eyes. It's eye discipline. If your eyes are in the right spot, it's not hard."
"That's true," safety Ibraheim Campbell later said. "When we have good eyes, we take advantage of the opportunities we get. When we have bad eyes, bad things happen. We just have to be more consistent with those good eyes."
CASE IN POINT: The victim on Wisconsin's long touchdown pass was Campbell, who was flat-footed as Badger receiver Jared Abbrederis flew by him on a fly route. The safety only reacted now, but already it was too late and there was no catching Abbrederis before he reached the end zone. "It was just me trying to do too much," Campbell would say when asked about the play. "I wasn't taking care of my job. I was worrying about seeing something that maybe wasn't my job to see and didn't take care of my job."
On the replay it seemed as if your eyes were in the backfield, we said to him.
"A little bit, yeah. Yeah," he said.
NOT SATISFIED: Still, even with that hiccup, it is fair to say that Campbell has had a stellar season. He had a pick in each of the 'Cats first three games, had one more against the Badgers, and now leads the Big Ten with those four interception. "I've taken advantage of opportunities. The defense as a whole has really," he will say when his production is brought up. "We've taken advantage of opportunities better this year than we did last year. That's something we wanted improve on. That's starting to show."
"He's been a big-time playmaker," said Fitzgerald, but then came this pointed codicil. "He's just got to have consistency in his game on an every-down, every-play basis. That's what he's working to do."
"You've said I've had a good season so far. That's not exactly true," Campbell will say when told his coach's comment. "It might seem like that to people who just record interceptions. But I know that I've got work to do. That's what he means. He sees that I'm making plays. But at the same time I need to be more consistent on my job and not try to do too much. Just do my job."
Quarterback Kain Colter and running back Venric Mark, who are listed day-to-day for the 'Cats Saturday game with Minnesota, sat out practice on both Tuesday and Wednesday.
The 'Cats not only lost big on the scoreboard last Saturday. They also lost big when it came to time of possession, where the Badgers held an advantage of better than 16 minutes (38:15 to 21:45). "When you have the discrepancy in the time of possession that we had, you put your defense in a no-win situation," said Fitzgerald. But, Scott later said, "That's something we can't worry about. If we hold Wisconsin to no points, we end up wining the game. That's the mentality we have to have."
AND FINALLY, FITZGERALD, while discussing Scott: "He's been pretty active inside. On Saturday I think we had three guys get their jerseys ripped and we had to change their numbers. But it was amazing. Miraculously, there were no holding calls made against Wisconsin. He was one of those guys who got his jersey ripped off. I don't know. It's unbelievable."
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