Dec. 20, 2010
By Skip Myslenski
NUsports.com Special Contributor
It was Getaway Monday and so, after their 11th practice for their Jan. 1 date with Texas Tech, the 'Cats scattered for the holidays. But before he headed home, Pat Fitzgerald, who doesn't have far to go, stopped to reflect in a two-minute drill:
On what he was looking to accomplish in the practices that followed the big losses to Illinois and Wisconsin: "Number one, we wanted to fundamentally improve. We wanted to get better at the ABCs of football, blocking, tackling, throwing, catching. I think we did that. We accomplished that goal. Number two, we wanted to get healthy and we walk out of these 11 practices healthier than we walked in. So the second goal was accomplished. Then, third, was to regain that chemistry and that momentum we had, and I think we leave here feeling good about that. Now let's see how we regain it when we come back after a little bit of a break. So we aimed at those three things in order, and (if) we improve fundamentally and we get healthier and we get our swagger back, I think we have a chance to be prepared for the game."
On whether that swagger, a sense of confidence, had been lost: "When you give up the amount of yards you do and points, I don't know how confident you can be. So. I don't know if it was gone. I think we needed to regain what we had and I feel like the guys have been able to do that."
On whether he needed to do any mental massaging coming off that pair of big losses: "Not really. At the end of the day, we know why we didn't play very well and we just need to go out and fix those things. They were two games. If you go back three weeks ago (to, actually, the Monday after the Iowa game), we're in the Top 25 in the country. That's how close we are, but we're not there for a reason. So what are we going to do? That's what we tried to work on in these 11 practices."
On whether, before the practices, he was concerned the players' tails would be dragging after those losses: "No, not at all. If they did, I'm not going to play them. We coach attitude every day and we talk about it. It's a choice. Yeah. We didn't play the way we wanted to. We didn't play the way we're capable of and we didn't coach that way. But, at the end of the day, we can do something about it and that's what we worked hard to do and I think we accomplished it."
On whether he senses that, going into the Tech game, the players want to show the world what this team is truly all about, that it wasn't really what they showed in those losses: "I don't know if we're worried about what other people think of us. We never focus on that. I think more importantly the guys want to play the way they're capable of. We've got a prideful group on both sides and in the kicking game and nobody around here was pleased with our performances in those two games. Now as bad as we played our 11th game, we still had a chance to win going into the fourth quarter. The one afterwards, you can't turn the ball over, it's Wisconsin. So there are things that are tangible that you can fix, and if you fix those things, you've got a chance to play the way you're capable of. More of our focus is to do that than to prove anything to anybody. We don't have anything to prove. We've been to three straight bowl games. We've won a lot of football games here the last three years. I think more importantly we have to prove to ourselves that we can play the way we're capable of and that we can go out and win a football game. If we do that, I think we'll go home satisfied."
On what winning that game with Texas Tech would mean: "First of all, I'd be ecstatic for our seniors. We have 13 guys who'll never have the chance to put on the helmet again and be in the locker room. To me, that's what this game is all about. Their last opportunity to be part of our family in the locker room. And a win is significant. It gives them the chance to be the all-time winningest group. It gives them the chance to go out the right way. And then I think, more importantly, it gives them the chance to create a legacy of success in the post-season. I think that's why this game could be significant. It's a chance to take a significant step forward and win a post-season game against a good team in basically a road environment. So it's going to be a fun challenge, no doubt."
On whether recruiting might be helped by their performance in this bowl game: "If we play well, yeah. I thought last year, because we played well, it did. But, again, it's one game. I'd love if it was for the BCS National Championship. Maybe then it'd be a little bit different. But we're not quite there yet."
On what he expects from his players between this Monday and next Sunday, when they reconvene in Evanston: "They've got a workout plan that we'd like them to follow flexibility wise, cardio wise and strength-and-conditioning wise. Then we'll go through a pretty extensive, dynamic warm-up that night we get back. They understand the environment we're going into. . .(and) they'll do the things they need to do to be physically ready."
On whether he will step away in the days ahead: "When I can, yeah. . . We've got some holiday plans around Christmas down on the South Side and here, and we'll do some things fun here in Chicago as a family. But then, after I put the boys (he has three) to bed, I'll watch some tape, some specific situations. Coming on two minutes. Third down. Trick plays. All those things to keep them fresh in my mind. But I'll definitely step away for a while. As much as I can."
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