Presser: Fitzgerald, Chizik readying for game down under

Danny Daly

Leading up to last year’s Alamo Bowl, the Wildcats didn’t have much time to kick back and relax. Because Northwestern squared off against Missouri on Dec. 29, 2008, NU practiced from Thanksgiving until the bowl game without a break. Coach Pat Fitzgerald said the intense schedule might have caused his team to peak too early last year.With a New Year’s Day bowl this year, the coaches were given a chance to alter the agenda.”We’ve allowed (the team) to have a little more fun,” Fitzgerald said. “Last year our practices went right through all the way to the bowl game. This year we had that little five day break (from Dec. 22-Dec. 26), and that allowed them to go home and have a little fun.” NU’s 40-day hiatus between its contest against Wisconsin and its matchup with Auburn is six days longer than last year’s bowl break, but Fitzgerald is pleased with how the Cats have managed to stay focused throughout the layoff.”We’ve had a plan and our guys bought into the plan from a preparation standpoint,” Fitzgerald said after the team’s final practice on Wednesday. “You’re never prepared until you run out on the field and the ball goes up in the air, but our guys have done a nice job to this point of preparing for the opportunity.”Besides the team’s practice schedule, other aspects of the Cats’ bowl preparation stayed the same.”Outside of (the five-day break), we didn’t change a thing,” Fitzgerald said.PARALYSIS BY OVERANALYSIS?It has been more than a month since NU and Auburn played their final regular season games against Wisconsin and Alabama, respectively. Both teams have practiced tirelessly for the Outback Bowl, pouring over hours of film to be ready for anything they might see on Friday.But at a certain point, it’s possible to be overly prepared.”Sometimes the evils of this much time is you have every game (tape), you see everything,” first-year Auburn coach Gene Chizik said. “So if a team does something once in a game or two or three times during the year, but very infrequently, you have to prepare for that.”Since the teams have footage of every play their opponent ran during the season, they can feel obligated to diagram a scheme to stop it – even those that were rarely used. That takes practice time away from perfecting the main formations to make adjustments that would normally be implemented on game day.Chizik acknowledged the “fine line” between analyzing and overanalyzing, which is why his staff has tried to keep the game plan relatively straightforward.”What you do is stick to what you do, try to be simple, let your guys play fast and don’t get paralyzed by knowledge too much,” the Clearwater, Fla. native said.The Cats are taking a similar approach. They already have a strong understanding of the Tigers’ general offensive and defensive philosophies – now they need to focus on refining their own game plan.”It’s a lot less about them and a lot more about the way we’re going to execute,” Fitzgerald said. “In bowl games it comes down to the way you play, the way you execute, how quickly you can get up to game speed, the opportunity to win the field position battle, make plays in the kicking game.”ADJUSTING FOR BOWL CONDITIONSFriday’s game figures to be a fusion of conditions Auburn and NU are used to. Whereas the Tigers have played most of their contests in warm weather, the Cats are familiar with the routine of morning kickoffs.Meanwhile, Auburn competed in eight night games this season. But the Tigers don’t expect the adjustment to be a major one – they prefer the early start.”It doesn’t matter when we play,” Chizik said. “Our players and coaches like it because you don’t have to get up and think about it all day and watch everybody else. You get up, you eat, you go to the stadium and you play.”The Tampa temperature on Friday is predicted to be in the mid-60s, more pleasant than normal for NU. Fitzgerald simulated the weather a few weeks ago in Evanston when he had the Cats practice indoors and amped the thermostat.There’s still a chance of rain for the game, though, and there might be wind gusts in excess of 30 mph. That scenario would play into the Cats’ favor.”We’re born to adjust in Chicago,” Fitzgerald said.[email protected]