Nadkarni: Fitzgerald, coaches deserve majority of blame for embarrassing performance

Nadkarni: Fitzgerald, coaches deserve majority of blame for embarrassing performance

Rohan Nadkarni, Columnist

If Northwestern’s 2013 season was a disaster, what words do we have left for this one?

The Wildcats’ performance against Michigan on Saturday went beyond embarrassing. It was unacceptable. And now it’s time to demand accountability.

First, we start at the quarterback position. Senior Trevor Siemian is a good kid, and doesn’t deserve at this age to be picked apart every single day. But he shouldn’t be on the field. It’s a disservice to him and his teammates. If he’s hurt, then it makes absolutely no sense why NU has not gone to its backup at quarterback.

The Wildcats’ offense looks pitiful. It’s boring, inept and incapable of achieving any sort of rhythm. What evidence have we seen this entire season that the offense has the potential to win a game for this team?

The special teams, outside of a baffling ability to block field goals, are their own comedy of errors. NU has two punters who can barely punt 25 yards, an untrustworthy field goal kicker and no one who is a threat in the return game. It’s even more frustrating because the defense, outside of last week, keeps the Cats close in just about every game.

Most of the scorn, however, is reserved for the coaching staff. And it starts at the top, with Pat Fitzgerald. The Cats are shockingly ill-prepared every week. Fitzgerald is begged to mix things up — go for it on fourth down, play redshirt freshman Matt Alviti or just return a punt every once in a while.

Of course, whenever NU tries these things, they somehow lead to even more miscues. This doesn’t validate Fitzgerald for refusing to take risks. Instead, it just reinforces his inability to consistently prepare for victory, which is supposed to be one of his main goals. It’s one issue for the Cats to lack big plays or transcendent stars, but there is no excuse for not being able to execute the little things.

The kind of performance the Cats had on Saturday is defining, in some way. Either this team is held to a higher standard, or we accept that the recent renaissance was nothing but a blip in this team’s long-standing ignominious history. President Morton Schapiro, athletic director Jim Phillips and Fitzgerald have all promised more than what we saw Saturday, and they’re currently failing, miserably.

Perhaps nothing is more representative of how infuriating watching this team is than what happened with around eight minutes to go in the fourth quarter Saturday.

After an 18-play, 90-yard drive, NU faced a third-and-goal around the 10-yard line, losing 7-0. A short pass on third down gave the impression the Cats’ offense would come back out on fourth down and try to tie the game.

Inexplicably, Fitzgerald opted for a field goal. After a 19-play, 95-yard drive, Fitzgerald chose to kick. It made absolutely no sense at the time, and I’m still struggling to grasp the logic behind that decision. That drive was the only time all afternoon NU showed anything on offense, but it ended in a measly field goal. How could he trust the offense to march down the field again for a touchdown?

But everyone watching the game felt the same way: not surprised. Not surprised NU made the wrong decision. Not surprised Fitzgerald folded again in an important situation. Not surprised the Cats chose the losing play.

Somehow, Fitzgerald had an opportunity to redeem himself. He made another crazy decision by deciding to go for two at the end of the game. Siemian dropped back, rolled right … and fell down. Game over. No one was surprised.

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