Paschall: Fitzgerald has all the tools to break the curse

John Paschall

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He’s the man who says all the right things.

He’s the man who the players love to play for.

He’s also probably your Facebook friend.

Coach Pat Fitzgerald has enjoyed the praise and support from Wildcats nation over the past seven years as head coach. And deservedly so. He has taken the Cats to five consecutive seasons of bowl eligibility and has produced exciting upset wins over ranked teams such as Nebraska last year and Iowa the previous year.

But we have to put on the blinders and look at what we have been waiting for since 1949 – a bowl win.

I’m not asking for a Rose Bowl win (although I wouldn’t say no to it either). I’m just asking for something positive we can take into the off-season. I’m tired of trying to find moral victories out of a solid season with a sour ending. It’s not fun trying to explain to your friends how 7-5 is a good season and that next year you will for sure be much better.

But Fitzgerald may have his best work just in front of him this fall. He has the talent on both sides of the ball, and it all starts with the signal caller.

Enter rising junior Kain Colter: the Swiss Army Knife of the offense. He could literally do it all last year. But he wasn’t quite as polished a passer as we needed him to be when Dan Persa wasn’t healthy enough to start.

After watching him in the first spring scrimmage, it seems he has the potential to now make all the throws we need him to. Last year was a huge help for Colter. Sure, he wasn’t putting up incredible passing numbers. Still, it was critical in that we don’t need to use 2012 as a growing year for Colter. He went through the bumps and bruises last year. Also, since he spent time at receiver, he now knows the offense inside-out from every angle of it.

With the quick and shifty redshirt sophomore Tony Jones returning to an already tall and impressive receiving core, the offense should be a handful to defensive coordinators in the Big Ten. Oh, and did I mention there’s a certain 6-foot-5-inch monster of a receiver who could potentially be catching touchdowns on Ryan Field as soon as this fall? (Hint: You should purchase your No. 21 jersey now before the prices skyrocket). Last Saturday that man among boys, a junior transfer from Southern California named Kyle Prater, was spotted plucking passes out of the air with one hand in individual drills over cornerbacks that looked about half his size. Even with the transfer of Adonis Smith, look for the running game to still be strong with Colter and the trio of rising sophomore Treyvon Green, rising junior Mike Trumpy and rising senior Tyris Jones.

Even with the defense losing talented starters such as safety Brian Peters, cornerback Jordan Mabin and defensive lineman Vince Browne, there are new leaders that have already emerged and are prepared to take over. There’s rising senior linebacker David Nwabuisi and rising junior defensive end Tyler Scott, a stud whose future is only getting brighter. But the real wildcard in all of this is freshman Ifeadi Odenigbo. If you watched an NU game last year, you’d notice that the opposing quarterback had enough time in the pocket to make himself a sandwich, eat it and then complete a pass for a first down. A pass rush is something that is vital to success in football at any level (see the Super Bowl champion New York Giants). Obviously, it’s a bit much to expect a freshman to step right in and make a huge impact. But Odenigbo is a top prospect (ranked No. 51 nationally and No. 1 in Ohio by ESPN) and if he adds more weight to his 6-foot-3-inch frame, he could be a force coming off the edge that could make quarterbacks always want to know where he is.

So with all the pieces in place, the burden is on our beloved coach to perform his best coaching job to date in order to throw off the 64-year-old gorilla on our backs.

John Paschall is a Communication sophomore. He can be reached at johnpaschall2014@u.northwestern.edu.

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