EVANSTON-Round two won't be any easier.
Northwestern better get over its narrow home loss to Ohio State because it is destined for another bruising matchup this weekend against Wisconsin.
The Cats, who were listed as 10-and-a-half point underdogs on Monday, must travel to Madison to play a Badger team that averages 300.6 rushing yards-per-game, good for sixth in the nation, and gives up only 14.6 points-per-game. Essentially, this one is going to be a slugfest.
Head coach Pat Fitzgerald was impressed with his team's effort on Saturday against Ohio State and thinks his team, especially the young players, will be even better this weekend. In order to improve the run defense, which gave up 248 yards to the Buckeyes, Fitzgerald gave some pretty simple keys.
"Get off blocks," Fitzgerald said. "Tackle."
Fitzgerald noted that the Badgers would use lots of formation variation in order to try to free up running room for their running backs.
The Cats will also face problems from stand-out wide receiver Jared Abbrederis, whom Fitzgerald compared to the Denver Broncos' Eric Decker, and linebacker Chris Borland.
Fitzgerald called Borland one of the most relentless players he's seen this year, adding that he enjoys seeing the young man play football. Through good fundamentals and solid tackling, Borland is one of the best linebackers in the conference.
"That's the way you're supposed to play the position," he said.
The trip to Camp Randall will also mark the most difficult road environment in which the Cats have played this season. Fitzgerald said they will pump in lots of artificial crowd noise during practice this week and that they've "got a routine that we go about."
In all, these factors won't make it easy to pull out the first conference win of the season. Fitzgerald, however, is optimistic about his team's ability to go out and compete.
"We're gaining on where we want to be," Fitzgerald said. "I thought we played our best football game of the year, and we can be better."
Players of the week: On offense, Rashad Lawrence grabbed the honors after hauling in eight catches for 149 yards. Tyler Scott once again earned the defensive player of the week award after recording four tackles, two of which were for a loss, a sack, a forced fumble, a recovered fumble and a quarterback hurry. Paul Jorgensen was awarded the big play award on offense for finishing almost 30 blocks, and Damien Proby got the nod as the defensive POW for his forced fumble. Mike Jensen was named special teams player of the week, and Miles Shuler, Eric Joraskie and Jordan Perkins were the team's most valuable practice players.
Get some rest: Fitzgerald said his team came out after the game "as healthy as we have," but he will take the liberty to rest guys this week in preparation for Wisconsin. He told the media not to read too much into it, though, as he expects every player who was healthy for the game against Ohio State to be ready to go in Madison next weekend. After a game that Fitz called "probably the most physical game that we've played … in four years," that's definitely good news.
The challenging challenge: When Kain Colter was stopped short of a first down late in Saturday's game, Fitzgerald said he assumed the play would be automatically reviewed. The play, however, was going to be allowed to stand without the replay officials taking a second look, putting Fitzgerald in a tough spot. "I got put in a no-win situation," he said. Choose not to challenge, and the defense is forced to make a stop. Use the challenge and fail, and the Cats essentially have 40 fewer seconds with which to work. Ultimately, the latter happened, and the Cats lost an opportunity to run a more conventional late-game offense.
Entering the rotation: After weeks of struggling in practice and in games, cornerback Dwight White finally had a solid performance against OSU. Despite pre-game concerns, the redshirt freshman didn't give up a single deep pass. He did, however, split time with Matthew Harris, who came into the game early, played most of the first half and didn't allow any deep balls, either. On Monday, Fitzgerald wouldn't say that Harris is competing to replace White as the starter. "I don't think it's an open competition," he said. "I think we've got three really good corners."