Football: Cats striving to play a complete game

Matt Baker

It’s been written and talked about so much that it’s become a cliche, but it holds true nonetheless.

Northwestern’s only consistency in a 5-5 season has been its inconsistency.

And as the Wildcats prepare for a chance to become bowl-eligible with a win Saturday against Indiana, NU is emphasizing the importance of playing a full 60 minutes for the first time this year.

“There might be a lot of people outside this program who have jumped off the boat, but within our program I know there’s nothing but positive thinking and positive thoughts,” senior wide receiver Tonjua Jones said. “What it comes down to is just throughout this week, taking care of the little things. If we do that, we’re fine.”

Those little things have been the Cats’ Achilles heel the past two weeks. After racking up 196 yards of offense in the first quarter against Iowa, NU totaled 197 the rest of the game. And after gaining 289 yards through three quarters against Purdue, NU mustered only four yards in the fourth quarter.

Linebacker Adam Kadela and center Trevor Rees attributed these collapses to individual mental breakdowns. One man misses a block or blows a tackle, and the opponent capitalizes on NU’s mistake.

“If we’re not executing, then the other team has good athletes, too,” senior safety Reggie McPherson said. “Nothing’s a fluke. We get what we deserve.”

Coach Pat Fitzgerald said much of the team’s breakdowns come from players trying to take too much responsibility and attempting to overcome a lead in one play.

“We’ve been pretty consistent for about three (quarters), the last really month and a half of the season. Now we’ve got to put it together for four quarters,” Fitzgerald said. “What that means is in the fourth quarter you don’t all of a sudden feel like you have to make every play. You just continue to play and do the plays that we do well, and it’ll happen for you.”

CONTEH QUESTIONABLE

After sitting out NU’s 28-17 loss to Iowa, junior running back Omar Conteh’s return is questionable for Saturday’s game against the Hoosiers.

Conteh sprained his ankle in a hit against Purdue on Oct. 27 and did not dress against the Hawkeyes.

The Cats’ leading rusher ran in the pool Sunday and worked out before Tuesday’s practice but did not participate in team or contact drills.

Fitzgerald said he would know more about Conteh’s status later in the week but noted that “things are progressing very positively.”

KICKOFF BATTLE

Fitzgerald said NU will continue to tinker with special teams to improve a coverage unit ranked 106th nationally out of 119 teams.

He said kickoff duties will likely fall to one of the players wearing No. 96: junior Amado Villarreal or senior Justin Pines.

Villarreal, the starting place kicker, replaced punter Stefan Demos as the kickoff man against Purdue, averaging 45.2 yards in four kickoffs. But Pines, who is also a goalie on the soccer team, took over the responsibility against Iowa and averaged 55 yards in four kicks.

“I like what Justin did on Saturday, ” Fitzgerald said. “I would have liked him to kick the ball a little deeper. He got under a few, but his hang time was really good and gave us an opportunity to get down there and cover against Iowa.”

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