Football: After bye week, Wildcats ready to take on Hawkeyes

Bobby Pillote, Reporter


After Northwestern’s second and final bye week of the season, coach Pat Fitzgerald has the team set to continue its schedule with five games remaining this year.

“Great to be back in the game week,” Fitzgerald said at his weekly press conference Monday. “We used the (bye) productively.”

Fitzgerald elaborated that the roster was able to regain much of its health with the extra week off, but several key Wildcats are still nursing injuries.

That includes senior linebacker Collin Ellis, who has already been ruled out for the game against Iowa this Saturday. Ellis is still recovering from his second concussion of the season and will be replaced in the lineup by redshirt freshman Anthony Walker. 

Senior safety Ibraheim Campbell is still day-to-day in practice after missing the previous three games, and receivers junior Miles Shuler and senior Kyle Prater along with junior superback Dan Vitale are all still dealing with various ailments. Fitzgerald did not comment specifically on which players he expected would be available for Saturday.

But Fitzgerald said maligned senior quarterback Trevor Siemian is feeling much better after dealing with an apparent ankle injury the past few weeks.

“Trevor is healthier than he’s been,” Fitzgerald said, “which helps.”

Halting the Hawkeyes

In Iowa, NU is taking on a team that will feel familiar to past Big Ten opponents.

“Iowa is a throwback,” Fitzgerald said. “They’re physical and downhill, a lot like Wisconsin, a lot like Minnesota.”

The focus of the game plan seems to be righting mental mistakes that led to a second-half collapse in the Cats’ last game against Nebraska. NU held a 17-14 lead at halftime but did not score in the second half, ultimately losing 38-17.

“We had to get some things cleaned up from a schematic standpoint as coaches,” Fitzgerald said of the team’s bye week practices, “and we just had to get back to fundamentals.”

Prater, the perpetrator of a key drop at the end of the game against Minnesota, echoed his coach’s thoughts.

“We just have to execute,” he said. “I think these past few weeks, we got away from having fun.”

The offense will once again revolve around freshman running back Justin Jackson, who has been the saving grace of a stagnant unit that is averaging just 4.6 yards per play. With 630 yards so far this season, the shifty Jackson is on pace to have over 1,000 by year’s end.

“It seems like the only person making people consistently miss is Jackson,” Fitzgerald said of the budding star. “So far, so good, but he’s going to play a great defense this week.”

On the other side of the ball, the focus will again be on getting around a physical and imposing offensive line. Iowa lacks a dominant talent on offense, but the team has managed to rank eighth in the conference in yards per game with 388.7 by utilizing a balanced and conservative approach.

With injuries thinning the secondary and linebacker corps, the spotlight is still shining brightly on the defensive line.

“It’s going to be like every other Big Ten football game,” sophomore defensive tackle Greg Kuhar said. “(The Hawkeyes) can throw the ball when they need to, but I know they rely on running the ball as well.”

Fitzgerald said the team is excited to write the next chapter in what he views as a growing rivalry between NU and Iowa. In the past four seasons, the teams have split the series with two wins each.

Other notes

The retirement of sophomore cornerback Dwight White seems to have been as much of a surprise to Cats players as it was to fans.

“I didn’t know about it until it actually happened,” Kuhar said. “I realized he wasn’t practicing as much at a point, and then I actually read the story online. That’s when I found out.”

Fitzgerald declined to further comment on the status of redshirt freshman linebacker Brett Walsh, deferring to the statement he released Sunday. Walsh, 19, was indefinitely suspended from the team after it was discovered he was arrested early Sunday morning in connection with underage intoxication.

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