Football: Aggressive coaching leads to two Northwestern touchdowns


Nathan Richards/Daily Senior Staffer

Junior running back Miles Shuler celebrates with teammates after his 16-yard run on a third-quarter reverse play. The play was one of several aggressive calls from coach Pat Fitzgerald and offensive coordinator Mick McCall.

Alex Putterman, Sports Editor

For a season and a half, Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald and offensive coordinator Mick McCall have been criticized for conservative play-calling and decision-making.

Not on Saturday. The Wildcats’ 20-14 victory over No. 17 Wisconsin at Ryan Field was fueled by creativity on offense.

NU’s first touchdown came two plays after a conversion on fourth-and-four from the Wisconsin 16, and the Cats scored in the third quarter on a 16-yard reverse to junior receiver Miles Shuler.

That first touchdown, a five-yard pass to junior superback Dan Vitale, followed two fourth-down conversions.

The second of the two conversions required multi-faceted fourth-down effort to reach the first-down marker.

First, Fitzgerald called for a fake field goal, with the kicking unit rearranging itself before the snap and kicker Jack Mitchell assuming the quarterback position. He praised Wisconsin coach Gary Anderson’s preparedness for the Cats’ trickery after the game.

“We tried a little bit of element of surprise,” Fitzgerald said. “To Gary’s credit he saw it and took a timeout.”

After the timeout, NU quarterback Trevor Siemian returned with the offense and attempted to draw Wisconsin off sides. After that didn’t work, Siemian completed a pass to Shuler for 5 yards and a first down. Fitzgerald explained his decision to forgo a 33-yard field goal by citing the wind at Ryan Field.

“I’ve got great confidence in (sophomore kicker) Jack (Mitchell). That wasn’t it,” the coach said. “The wind was swirling around all day today. We had talked about going into the game if we had anything over 30 yards and it was fourth-and-manageable we were going to attack it.”

The gamble paid off with the first down and Vitale’s subsequent touchdown.

The Cats’ other touchdown was also set up by aggressive coaching.

On NU’s first play from scrimmage after an interception by Jimmy Hall, Siemian handed to freshman running back Justin Jackson, who pitched to Shuler on an end-around. With the Badgers running the wrong way, the speedy Shuler had plenty of open grass on his 16-yard dash to the end zone.

Siemian threw one of the key blocks on the play.

“I got in his way, just enough,” the quarterback said. “I wouldn’t even call it a block.”

The Cats showed an inclination toward trickery earlier, scoring against California with a double pass from redshirt freshman Jayme Taylor to Siemian, and NU has used Shuler creatively all season.

“We haven’t changed any philosophy, we haven’t changed the offense,” Fitzgerald said afterward. “We’re trying to make our plays offensively to match our personnel.”

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