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Football: Bye week proves beneficial for Wildcats

Rafi Letzter/Daily Senior Staffer

Kain Colter and the Wildcats have used the bye to get healthy and catch up on sleep. The week off has been especially helpful for cornerbacks Nick VanHoose and Quinn Evans, who both missed the Iowa contest with injuries.

Josh Walfish, Gameday Editor

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There are many benefits to having a bye week, and Northwestern took full advantage of all of them this past week.

With the Wildcats off last week, coach Pat Fitzgerald and most of his coaching staff hit the recruiting trails in the beginning part of the week, while his team rested and did light workouts in Evanston. The extra rest was beneficial for many of the older guys who have played a lot in the first nine weeks of the season.

“We were able to rest some of our veterans who have taken a lot of snaps and then get them back going later in the week,” Fitzgerald said. “I gave the guys the weekend off, and it’s well deserved where we’re at.”

It also benefited two key members of the NU secondary who should return this week to the lineup. Fitzgerald said redshirt freshman cornerback Nick VanHoose and senior cornerback Quinn Evans, both of whom missed NU’s 28-17 win over Iowa, told him they will play Saturday against Michigan. However, the men on the offensive and defensive lines gained the most from the off week. The Cats have done a good job for most of the season at dominating in the trenches on both sides of the ball, and with the work comes the bumps and bruises of a football game.

“For everybody it’s really been huge, but especially for the guys who’ve been out there in the trenches week in, week out,” senior defensive end Quentin Williams said. “Those nicks and bruises, we had a week to take a step back and get our legs back. It’s been great for me, for sure, and there are definitely some guys who are more banged up (than me) that really appreciated the time off.”

Fitzgerald closed the facility Saturday and the NU players used the extra time off in very different ways. Some of the younger players went home for the first time since summer school started in June because they won’t be able to go home for Thanksgiving. Most players and Fitzgerald watched some college football, especially the Michigan-Minnesota game in the morning. Others, like sophomore receiver Christian Jones, used the extra time to catch up on some essentials — most notably sleeping.

This is one of the latest bye weekss NU has had in recent memory, and Fitzgerald said he knows a lot more about his team at this bye than he normally does. He said he views things differently with a bye this late in the season than one that is earlier in the season.

“It came at a great time,” Fitzgerald said. “Earlier in the year, I was shaking my head looking at our schedule the way it was set up with four teams with a bye (before they play us) and the bye being for us so late. We’ve put ourselves in position for a significant November and so as I look at it, it came at an opportune time.”

This November stands in stark contrast to the month NU was facing last year at this time. In 2011, the Cats were fighting to become bowl eligible and make the postseason. This season, NU has already secured bowl eligibility and is now battling for a division crown. Despite the differences, Williams and Jones said the goal of the month is still the same: win every game.

“The mindset is to win the games and to come out of November successful like we did last year,” Jones said.