Oct. 21, 2013
Head coach Pat Fitzgerald and the Wildcats are working diligently to correct the breakdowns that have been present in their three-game skid, but took time to meet with the media Monday at the Nicolet Football Center in Evanston. Skip Myslenski consequently filed this report:
UPDATE: Running back Venric Mark, who sat out last Saturday's loss to Minnesota, is not on the two-deep for the 'Cats Saturday visit to Iowa.
"We anticipate (him) being out this week," explained Pat Fitzgerald. Quarterback Kain Colter, who also missed the Gophers game, is listed as the starter on that two-deep. But, said Fitzgerald, he "is day-to-day and we'll see how that progresses."
ON NOTICE: He did not get specific. Nor did he name names. But twice at his Monday press briefing Fitzgerald did indicate that some lineup changes are possible when the 'Cats meet the Hawkeyes. The topic, on both occasions, was his struggling offense, which was inconsistent against the Gophers and virtually AWOL a week earlier against Wisconsin.
"The last two weeks we beat ourselves. Either from a lack of execution or turning the ball over, our offense has caused us to be in a hole," he said in one case. "The only way we're going to get out of it is to fight and scratch, and I believe those guys will do that. I really do. I believe there's great character in that room. I think there's a group of guys who've been very successful. And I think there's a hunger. That's what I saw today. Those are the conversations we've had.
"But we need to see it in practice. We need to see it in practice, then we need to see it carry over to games. I haven't not seen it in practice, but when guys are in position to do the things we ask them to do fundamentally and they don't, that's a choice. That choice needs to be eradicated in practice and then continued on with great habit in the game. If it's not, we've got to play other guys."
Then, mere minutes later, he reaffirmed that last sentence in even stronger terms. "We've got to have a great sense of urgency with what we're doing offensively. I thought when we did that on Saturday, we moved the ball pretty well," he said here. "Then there are other times, I'm looking at the effort level of some of our guys who've played a lot of football for us here and it's unacceptable. It's not up to the standard that we believe in, and that's a choice. If I've got to coach effort for any guys, then they're not going to play. They're not going to play.
"We talk about playing the Wildcat Way here and when you don't do that at a consistent level, you're not going to play. As I told the team today, I hold the coaches accountable first and then I hold the players accountable next. So the coaches need to get that fixed or I'm not going to let them play guys. It's pretty simple when it comes to that."
CENTER STAGE: The spotlight, quite naturally, often falls first on the quarterback in any dissection of an offense and here its glare falls on Trevor Siemian, who took all of the snaps against the Gophs and the majority of them against the Badgers. In the `Cats' first five games he had gone 60-of-88 (68.2 percent), thrown for six touchdowns, suffered only three picks and been sacked just a half-a-dozen times. But in those last two he went 38-of-80 (47.5 percent), threw for a single touchdown, suffered a pair of picks, lost a fumble and was sacked eight times. "It's like everything. You can point the finger at certain guys and rightfully so, I understand that," Fitzgerald said when asked about him.
"That's part of playing quarterback, right? You make a lot of big plays and you're the hero and everybody loves you. Then some things don't go the way you want it to go and now you're the goat. That's kind of what you sign up for, you know? But I think Trevor's given us a lot of opportunities to win a lot of football games. He just needs to settle down, play his game, not try to do too much."
Does he have conversations with Siemian about that?
"The conversation (offensive coordinator) Mick (McCall's) already had with him is pretty simple," Fitzgerald said. "Just do what the concept asks you to do and that's all. When the time's there for you to get the ball out of your hands get it out of your hands. Like I've said, for however many games he's played, he's done a pretty darn good job of that. So he's just got to get back to being him and doing what he does well."
IT REALLY IS A TEAM GAME: Siemian, of course, is not as fleet afoot as Colter, who's a dynamic threat on both the read and old-fashioned option. "But Trevor can do those things," Fitzgerald would say, and then he referred to a play that unfolded early in the third quarter against the Gophs. On it Siemian rode his running back into the line, kept the ball and rolled right on a called rush. "It's a great call, a great play, and we missed two blocks at the point of attack. I don't have a solution for that," Fitzgerald then went on.
"That has nothing to do with the quarterback. Again, nine-out-of-11 guys executing and two guys at the point of attack who miss blocks. That's when a Picasso looks like puke. Pretty simple. That's a big play that turns into a one-yard gain (actually, it gained nothing) because a Mike linebacker and a Sam linebacker beat our tackle and beat our wide receiver. Those are plays and blocks that they've made, both those guys, continually throughout their career. Those are the types of things we've got to fix. When we do that, all of a sudden, bang, here's an explosive run. But that's where we're at right now."
Starting defensive tackle Sean McEvilly, who last played in the 'Cats Sept. 21 meeting with Western Michigan, is also not on the two deep for Saturday. Asked if he's done for the year, Fitzgerald said, "He'll play at some point."
After corner Dwight White got beat by the Gophs on a 29-yard touchdown pass, he was replaced by true freshman Matthew Harris. "It's an on-going competition," Fitzgerald said of that spot. "Except for one play, I thought Dwight played pretty solid. Same thing. I think Nick (VanHoose, the other corner) made some good plays. But then Nick has to play more consistent and he's got to play more physical."
The `Cats defense was stout last Saturday and gave its team a chance to win. But, tackle Will Hampton said Monday, "We can play better. Little plays here and there, we know we were one player away. And we had some chances for takeaways. We've got to get back on track on that."
AND FINALLY, some last words from Fitzgerald on his offense: "The way we're playing offensively, in my opinion, we've lost two games because of us the last two weeks. That's not to discredit the effort of Wisconsin and Minnesota. They've done good things also, but not enough to stop us. We've stopped ourselves. That's who we are offensively right now and that's what we need to fix."
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