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Football: Northwestern hopes to reverse FCS upset trend against Maine

File photo by Brian Lee

Mike Trumpy fakes a rush against Western Michigan last Saturday. The senior running back was happy to return to a regular practice schedule before FCS foe Maine comes to Evanston Saturday at 2:30 p.m.

John Paschall, Assistant Gameday Editor

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Coach Pat Fitzgerald didn’t hold back his praises at Monday’s press conference when asked about the Maine Black Bears, Northwestern’s opponent Saturday.

“It doesn’t take long to watch them on tape to see how well they are coached, how hard they play and how they execute,” Fitzgerald said. “This is a team and a staff that has been together now for a long time. … Maine knows how to win. They’ve won a lot of football games. … It won’t take our guys long to see that.”

Football Championship Subdivision teams beating Football Bowl Subdivision teams became a trend early on in the season across the nation. Throughout the first three weeks of the season, 13 FBS teams lost to FCS teams. The Bears were part of that trend two weeks ago, when they took down the University of Massachusetts Amherst, an FBS team. Fitzgerald said NU can’t take Maine lightly Saturday.

“There’s great parity in all levels of football,” Fitzgerald said. “You just always remind the guys about the game of football. But it’s about us. We (have) to play better.”

After dealing with an early schedule that saw evening practices and three consecutive night games, the Wildcats went back to their normal routine of early morning practices this week. Senior running back Mike Trumpy said the team is happy to be practicing at its regular time as opposed to a fluctuating agenda.

“Each week we had a different schedule depending on when the game kicked off,” Trumpy said. “I think now that we are going back to the morning schedule, it’s easier to just stick with that and know exactly what we are doing when we are coming in.”

One of NU’s most peculiar stats so far this season has been the zero punt returns by the Cats’ special teams unit. Fitzgerald said the reason for that isn’t necessarily his return men, but rather the inconsistent punters NU has faced so far.

“I’d love them to throw the ball to us,” Fitzgerald joked. “We’ve seen three opponents not really kick us the ball. … I guess that’s a sign of respect. … Fundamentally, we were better in week three than we were week one in front of (junior wide receiver) Tony (Jones). That gives him a lot of confidence that we are going to be able to go out and execute.”

In three games, junior running back Treyvon Green — who is coming off a career match against Western Michigan — has led the Cats in rushing with 353 yards and 5 touchdowns. Fitzgerald said he’s taken advantage of his opportunity to start with senior running back Venric Mark injured and has reaped the benefits of a healthy offseason.

“He’s as healthy as he’s been in two years,” Fitzgerald said. “He’s been very hungry, worked very hard and been in great shape.”

Part of the reason for NU’s success on the ground has been the gelling of the new starters on the offensive line. Junior center Brandon Vitabile said though the unit has progressed greatly since training camp, there’s still room to improve.

“I would definitely say that we all know we have to play better,” Vitabile said. “Personally, I know I do. There’s a mindset around the O-line that we have to do better if we want to get to where we want to go.”

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Twitter: @John_Paschall