Nov. 20, 2013
Even in the face of adversity, Northwestern has proven its ability to respond with gusto and prepare with great enthusiasm for each week's test. Skip Myslenski talked to several Wildcats veterans about that very trait in advance of NU's Senior Day showdown with Michigan State (Saturday, 11 a.m., ESPN) for his Wednesday Report.
NO "NO MAS:" It does not alter a stark reality that includes a six-game losing streak and a 4-6 record. Nor does it resurrect and reconstruct those dreams they held and heralded back at season's start. Yet it is still fair to say this about the `Cats. Even as one most-improbable defeat has been followed by another even more surreal, they have endured, have carried on, have remained unflagging in their efforts. They have, in starkest terms, not taken the easy way out and quit.
"Playing for each other," defensive end Tyler Scott will say when asked what has kept them going. "Playing for our great coaches and knowing that we have great people here. The character of this team's awesome. It's been a tough road this year. But week in and week out we keep fighting, and we keep showing up. Things haven't turned out right. We've needed to make a couple plays here and there. But it shows the character of this team and how we'll fight to the very end. Even if we come across adversity and things get tough, we're going to be there to the end."
"You've got to keep fighting. That's all you can do," echoed quarterback Kain Colter
. "I think we're going to put pressure on the guys, for the seniors who are about to (play their last game at Ryan Field on Saturday and) leave, just keep fighting for them. You've got two games left and you can't pout now. When the season's over, if you want to look back and reflect on it, do that after the season. But right now you've got to keep fighting, keep swinging. We're really close. It's not like we're getting blown out every game. We're really close. We're right there. We've just got to get over the hump and try and get these last two wins."
THE EERIE FACTOR: Last Saturday, in the immediate wake of the `Cats last you've-got-to-be-kiddin'-me defeat, quarterback Trevor Siemian mentioned, "We were talking in the locker room. Somebody did something because we don't have very good karma right now."
"It crosses your mind when you lose a game like that," Scott will finally say when those notions are raised. "But when you come back in on Sunday and you watch the film and we're dropping picks on that last drive where we could have ended the game, and just making simple mistakes in things that we do every day, whether that's catching the ball or not falling on a fumble or being out of our gaps. As you go back and watch the film, it's not a karma thing and it's not a curse. It's we needed to make a play here-and-there, and it's something that we do everyday, and it didn't happen."
REALITY: Fitzgerald himself has never invoked voodoo or Buddhist philosophy when considering the fate that has befallen his team. But this week he has echoed Scott's observations, both parsing Michigan's last drive in regulation and praising his `Cats resiliency. "Our defense is playing really well," he said at one point. "Unfortunately, on the last drive, we had four, you could even argue five, plays there for us to make. When you go 0-for-five, that's tough. That's a tough pill to swallow. That's what I told the guys after the game. Your'e going to watch this tape and there's going to b some tough pills to swallow. But that's part of this whole deal. Sometimes you go through stuff like this, and we are. What I'm probably most proud of the guys, they've stuck together. We're in a tough storm right now, but they're fighting through it."
Than, on another day, he said: "Like I said after the game, I feel the same way after watching the tape three times, it was a game of missed opportunities. "We've just got to help the guys continue to trust the in the plays they've made a million times. You look at some of the things we didn't make (most notably, potential easy interceptions that were dropped) and we've made them a million times in practice, we've made them a bunch of times in games.
"I think when you're at this point, it's been tough on the guys and I think they're trying to do too much. That's what we talked to them about. Quit trying to do too much and just do your job. I think when they settle down, which hopefully they will this week, they'll make those plays. I believe that and I trust that they will."
Defensive tackle Sean McEvilly, a starter in the season opener who has battled a foot injury for two months, is officially done for the year and scheduled for surgery. He is expected to be fully recovered by the time practice begins next fall, but his status for spring ball is uncertain. "We tried to give him rest and it just hasn't recovered to the point where we projected it going to," explained Fitzgerald. "So we're going to take a little bit more proactive approach to try and get things healed up for the long term."
Redshirt freshman Malin Jones, most recently the number two superback behind Dan Vitale, has been suspended indefinitely. "He won't be playing for us the remainder of the year for a violation of team policy. Out of respect to his privacy, I'll leave it at that. But he's done for the year," said Fitzgerald. Asked if Jones will be back for spring ball, he said, "I fully anticipate that."
Safety Traveon Henry and offensive guard Geoff Mogus, who were dinged up in the `Cats loss to Michigan, are day-to-day for their Saturday date with Michigan State at Ryan Field.
The Hail Mary play that doomed the 'Cats at Nebraska was snapped with four seconds remaining and the miraculous-field-goal play that sent the Wolverine game into overtime was snapped with just a tick on the clock. Proving that his sense of humor still in place, Fitzgerald wryly noted, "We went from four seconds away to one second away. So I guess we're getting better. Trying to draw a positive there."
AND FINALLY: Colter, on the `Cats unlikely string of defeats: "That's the game of football. Football's not fair. Football's tough at some points. You're going to lose some games and go through some rough stretches. That's what we're going through right now. You've just got to keep battling and keep working. That's all you can do."
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