Football: Bye week still hard work for Northwestern

Cornerback Nick VanHoose and the Wildcats are using the bye to heal and “win this week academically.” VanHoose is nursing a shoulder injury that kept him out of the Iowa contest.

Daily file photo by Meghan White

Cornerback Nick VanHoose and the Wildcats are using the bye to heal and “win this week academically.” VanHoose is nursing a shoulder injury that kept him out of the Iowa contest.

Josh Walfish, Gameday Editor

For the first time since Aug. 20, Northwestern players woke up Monday morning knowing they won’t be playing Saturday.

This is the Wildcats’ annual bye week, and although NU doesn’t have a game, the players and coaches are not taking their break lightly. Coach Pat Fitzgerald is on the road recruiting the next batch of Cats. The players are continuing to improve and implement a game plan for their next opponent, Michigan on Nov. 10. Senior defensive tackle Brian Arnfelt said after Saturday’s victory, this will be just another week for NU.

“We’re going to be practicing, it’s not like we’re going to be on the couch eating potato chips,” Arnfelt said. “This team’s really going to embrace the fact that we’re going to improve this upcoming week.”

Venric Mark dispelled any talk about NU taking it easy. The junior running back said after the win over Iowa that the focus this week will be on the Wolverines and getting prepared for the final three games.

“There is no relaxing,” Mark said. “This is a bye week, but at the end of the day we still have to go to Michigan and win that game. We’re going to stay active.”

The only players that may be relaxing are redshirt freshmen cornerback Nick VanHoose and senior corner Quinn Evans, both of whom missed last week’s game with injuries. NU is one of the healthier teams in the country, but the bye week does allow for most players’ minor bumps and bruises to heal. Fitzgerald said in previous weeks he was going to ride his team hard and push them up until the bye week, but after beating Iowa on Saturday, he told the media, the Cats needed the week to rest.

The bye week has extra significance for the players at NU because the school is in the middle of midterm season. Fitzgerald said the break comes at a great time and the team will focus on going 1-0 in a different discipline.

“Our guys have persevered and we’ve battled and now it’s midterm time,” Fitzgerald said. “Time to go win this week academically.”

As midterms arrive for Cats in the classroom, Fitzgerald was asked about how he would grade his team headed into the bye. Though he didn’t give out a specific mark, he shifted the focus to the future and said NU has done a good enough job to make November a crucial month in the season as it battles for a conference title and jockeys for bowl position.

“They forget what you do in September and October and you guys remember what we do in November,” Fitzgerald said. “We could have been better, but we put ourselves in position to be in the postseason and put ourselves in a position to have a significant November …We’re a seven-win football team right now and I would like for everyone not to forget that.”

The Cats may have seven wins, but the players know they were just a couple of plays away from being undefeated after some close losses. Senior linebacker David Nwabuisi said the team should get a B-plus for the first part of the season, but there is still a lot of work for NU to do before it plays in the postseason.

“It’s not a surprise to us where we are right now in terms of the standings,” Nwabuisi said. “We wish we could get a play or two back but as long as we keep learning from our mistakes we’ll be all right and be able to focus on our final (exam) coming up.”