Football: Fitzgerald happy with response

Danny Daly

The preseason talk about how Northwestern’s defense would be the backbone of the team has yet to be backed up by results on the field. After all, allowing 37 points to a Syracuse offense that hadn’t scored that many in its first two games combined wasn’t particularly impressive. For the second consecutive game, the Wildcats gave up more points and yards than they did the week before.

Still, NU can take some positives into the start of conference play against Minnesota this weekend. One of the bright spots was battling back from a 17-0 first-quarter deficit with touchdowns on three straight drives to take the lead.

“What I’m really proud of is the way we came back and responded,” coach Pat Fitzgerald said Monday at his press conference in the Nicolet Football Center. “A team of lesser character would have folded up the tent, but our guys kept on fighting.”

The Orange had possession for more than 18 minutes in the first half, which helped wear down the Cats’ defense. But coordinator Mike Hankwitz’s unit was able to get off the field when it had the chance – Syracuse converted just 2-of-12 third downs.

“We played better as the game went along, we settled down,” Fitzgerald said. “Guys were playing outstanding on third down – we just have to do a better job on first and second down.”

Fitzgerald stressed the need for more big plays out of his defense, though he also pointed out the team’s six takeaways through three games, which is ahead of last year’s pace at this point.

Then, with about three minutes remaining, the defense justified Fitzgerald’s confidence by forcing a crucial three-and-out to give the offense another chance. The Cats had faced a fourth-and-four in Orange territory, but Fitzgerald opted to punt and play for field position.

“I just didn’t want to go for it on fourth down, have something unforeseen happen and give them a short field. We pinned them in deep