Nov. 25, 2013
Although there is not as much riding on Northwestern's season-ender at Illinois as the 'Cats originally may have hoped, Pat Fitzgerald's squad will be prepared as ever to compete for the Land of Lincoln Trophy on Saturday, Skip Myslenski reports:
UPDATE: Quarterback Kain Colter, who was knocked out of the Michigan State game on the 'Cats second offensive series, is day-to-day for their Saturday date at Illinois. "If we had practice today, he wouldn't practice," Pat Fitzgerald announced at his regular Monday press briefing. "I doubt you'll see a lot of him tomorrow. Then we'll make an assessment on where he's at on Wednesday and we'll limit him as needed. But as you would expect after taking a (head-to-head) hit like that, he's pretty sore, pretty banged up."
Then later, when asked if Colter would be healthy enough to participate in the Senior Bowl (where he's slated to play wide receiver) and other post-season activities, he added: "I hope he's ready for Saturday. I anticipate him being ready for Saturday. The later-on stuff, absolutely, unless something I don't know about right now happens. But, yeah, absolutely."
Throughout the season, a good portion of these Monday briefings were given over to parsing the previous Saturday's game. But here, on the Monday before the last game of a disappointing season, that was not the case. There was, in fact, just one question about the `Cats 24-point loss to the Spartans, and to it Fitzgerald said, "When you look at the game, for the first 20, 23 minutes, there's no doubt we came prepared. I thought the guys came to play. But then we had something unfortunate happen to us, giving up an explosion pass play. Then, obviously, the third quarter we didn't play very well, so the fourth quarter didn't matter. So we've got to look at the things we didn't do very well in the third quarter. We showed those to the guys and moved on. There's no need to belabor it, especially at this point in the season."
LOOKING AHEAD I: The discussion on this Monday focused instead not only on the rivalry game with the Illini. It also touched down on the future beyond it, which was evidenced most-pointedly when Fitzgerald was asked if he foresaw any changes to his coaching staff. "I make the choices and decisions on all things macro after the season," he said here. "Schematically, what we're doing? Fundamentally, what did we do, what do we need to improve, what do we need to study, what things did we like, not like? All those things, and the staff would be included (in that).
"But I will say this. I don't think there's a staff that's done a better job in the country keeping a team together through what we've been through and we collectively, as a group, have won a lot of football games. At the end of the day, the responsibility for the way that we perform is on my shoulders. I've got 100 percent confidence in our staff, each and every guy. If I had to make a decision today, I would fully anticipate our entire group being back next year."
LOOKING AHEAD II: Colter, of course, is a fourth-year senior and so will not be part of that future. But his 1B, Trevor Siemian, will be back to play quarterback, and in the wings too are redshirt sophomore Zack Oliver and redshirt freshman Mark Alviti. The last has some hops and some maneuverability and some nimbleness, and so he is the curiosity question here.
"Matt's done a nice job (with the scout team)," Fitzgerald said when asked is he had a chance to compete for a starting spot next season. "All these redshirt freshman guys who play on the scout team look great because there's no responsibility on what they're doing.
"So Matt, like a lot of those guys, they've done a really good job. They've given great effort. They've had a great attitude. They've competed. They've worked on the fundamentals of their position and improved. But will he be ready to compete? Let's see how he does in spring ball. I'd like to think that he'll come ready mentally. I think he'll come ready physically. I know he'll be ready to go and compete from a standpoint of what his attitude has always been. But I also believe Trevor and Zack are going to do everything in their power to do the same thing. So it should be a great offseason of competition."
BUT THIS ONE AIN'T OVER YET: Their hopes have been dashed and their aspirations are now unattainable and their backs are saddled by a seven-game losing streak. Yet the `Cats must still face Illinois, which could well be enough to stir them and propel them to a productive effort. "I'm just excited to be with the seniors one more time," Fitzgerald would say when asked if having a rivalry game was good thing for his battered team. "I've got a ton of respect for (Illini) Coach (Tim) Beckman and their program. But, again, to finish with a rivalry, I think that's what's great about college football.
"Everybody across the country's playing their rivalry game and you can throw the records out in all these games. It's arguably the best weekend in sports. It's in the discussion. It's really a fun, fun week of college football. You guys know how I feel. I wish it was last week. I really wish we could go back to the Big Ten tradition of having Thanksgiving week off. I don't believe we need two bye weeks. I'd like to see the Big Ten go back to that. Now, I doubt we will. I understand what drives everything. I get it. I'm not going to get in a fight with the Big Ten. It's one of those situations where it is what it is. I can keep saying it though."
THE PLAN: The 'Cats will work as usual through Thursday morning's practice and then those players who live within three hours of school are free to go home. "And a good majority of those guys are taking advantage of that," said Fitzgerald. "Then the neat thing about the family that we have here, a lot of the young men's families are opening up their homes for (teammates from further away) to go have Thanksgiving dinner with them."
Those 'Cats not on the traveling squad are then free to stay home until they must return for class on Monday. The others will regroup Friday morning for their bus trip down to Champaign. And, said Fitzgerald, "Our guys will be excited to play. There's no question about that."
AND FINALLY, FITZGERALD, on his Monday morning message to his team: "This, for some, is their last opportunity for sure to play (football). There's a handful of guys who'll get a shot to play in the NFL. But still this is all their last time to play for the Wildcats and to put on the purple-and-white. So just enjoy the week. Embrace it, enjoy it and have fun."
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