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October 14, 2013

Under attack

EVANSTON-After getting mauled by Wisconsin on Saturday, the Wildcats found themselves under siege once again on Monday morning.

This attack, though, was much more light-hearted.

As Northwestern's morning meeting came to a close, coaches and staffers appeared with coolers full of water balloons and began to pelt the team. The players never really had a chance.

"It was very much of a surprise," Chance Carter said.

For this team, which has lost two games in a row despite high expectations for the season, the barrage gave them a chance to relax and have fun. As his team heads into a must-win game against Minnesota, Pat Fitzgerald said he thinks enjoying the moment and getting back to the basics will help his team be successful.

So, despite the 35-6 drubbing the Cats took on Saturday, Fitzgerald chose not to chew out his team. He's got other methods of motivating the team.

"You pelt 'em with water balloons, man," Fitzgerald said. "We've got a darn good football team. That's what you do, you just get back going at what you do."

Though the Cats sit at 0-2 in conference play, Michigan's loss to Penn State means Northwestern is still very much alive. Though the team will likely need to win out to get to Indianapolis, the possibility of a title game appearance still exists.

For now, however, the team will focus internally.

"We don't talk about those things until they matter," Fitzgerald said. "We're right in the heart of the grind here in October."

And, at least in Fitzgerald's mind, water balloons are the way to minimize the pressure.

At the very least, it's a good thing he chose to soak the players. He said the media was on his mind, as well.


What went wrong: It might almost be easier to write about what didn't go wrong on Saturday, but Fitzgerald said it was mainly a lack of execution and being on the wrong side of momentum plays. He said the game "really swung at the end of the second quarter," when Northwestern was unable to put points on the board and then allowed Wisconsin to go up 21-3. And while he said the defense "for the most part … gave us the chance to win," the offense was just never quite in sync. Either the quarterback, line or receivers messed up on almost every single play, he said. In all, he said, the game felt a lot like the 2011 loss to Army.


Pressure is on:With two losses already, Northwestern has very little breathing room if the team wants to make it to Indianapolis. With all five games against division opponents remaining, the feat is certainly possible, and it was aided by a Michigan loss to Penn State. Brandon Vitabile said the team was following that game on the way back to Evanston on Saturday, and the result gave them a bit of relief. Still, Dan Vitale said the focus of the team has little to do with its Legends counterparts. "It's time to get down to it," Vitale said. "We gotta take care of our business.


Quick hits: Fitz said he wished Kain Colter and Trevor Siemian would throw the ball away more often, but that he wasn't going to fault them for trying to make plays.

The sacks allowed on Saturday were a bit misleading, Fitzgerald said, as several of them came outside of the pocket. He only attributed two sacks to offensive line miscues.

Both Colter and Venric Mark are listed as "day-to-day." Fitz hopes to get them back as the week progresses.

Northwestern donated its allocated amount of Penn State's bowl revenues to several different charities.



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