Football: Northwestern prepares big-game atmosphere against Nebraska

Josh Walfish, Gameday Editor

When Northwestern breaks out the black jerseys, it’s a big game for the Wildcats.

Two seasons ago it was the Wrigleyville Classic against Illinois, and last year it was the first of three consecutive night games when NU hosted Michigan at Ryan Field. On Saturday, Legends Division foe Nebraska visits Evanston in a mid-season match-up that could prove crucial in the race for a spot in the Big Ten Championship game Dec. 1 in Indianapolis.

“Every conference game, especially within our division, is a big game,” junior quarterback Kain Colter said. “We put ourselves in a good situation in which we control our own destiny. We’re looking forward to this one. We really need this one and all the ones coming up.”

The game will be broadcast regionally on ABC, which would have been meaningful in the pre-Big Ten Network era. Coach Pat Fitzgerald remembers a time when a televised broadcast was important for the players — a Nov. 4, 1995, win over then-No. 12 Penn State in Evanston. However, playing on national TV does not faze the 2012 squad, Fitzgerald said.

“It’s exciting for the program to have the national TV exposure,” Fitzgerald said. “When I was a player we (got excited), but that’s because it hadn’t happened since coach (Ara) Parseghian was here, so it was a big deal back then. But now? No.”

On Saturday, the Cats start a crucial five-week stretch during which they play the remaining four division opponents with a bye week in between. Colter said the team needs to keep the same mentality it has carried for the first seven games of the season and avoid looking ahead at the more critical upcoming games.

“It’s a big time game, and we’re not going to downplay the importance of it,” Colter said. “But every game coming up is big time and we just got to keep the same mindset that we’re going to take every game as its own little entity and try to go 1-0 every week.”

Colter said the team has done a great job focusing on its own performance and not worrying about its opponents. He maintains that if NU can play the type of game it is capable of playing, it should be able to beat anyone in the Big Ten.

Senior Brian Mulroe said it should not be hard for NU to focus solely on Saturday’s game because only bad things happen when you look too far ahead. The left guard believes the only way for the Cats to continue to keep all of their goals in front of them is for them to focus on Nebraska and not the next four games.

“Once you start looking at the big picture, that’s when somebody’s going to come and hit you in the mouth and you won’t have that opportunity,” Mulroe said. “We’re just going to try to go 1-0 this week and good things are going to come.”

Fitzgerald said it does not matter how big the game is — every contest between now and the end of the season will come down to the same four things: stay consistent, win the turnover battle, win the battle of special teams and make the big plays. However, the ability to adjust will also be a vital aspect of a team winning the contest.

“In big games, it’s he who adjusts quicker,” Fitzgerald said. “He who then with the adjustment doesn’t get paralysis by analysis and fundamentally executes (will win).”