Football: Northwestern to focus on preparation, fundamentals for game against Nebraska


Daniel Tian/Daily Senior Staffer

Iowa running back Akrum Wadley sprints away from the NU defense. With Nebraska up next, the Cats are trying to fix the little mistakes that contributed to their two consecutive defeats.

Claire Hansen, Reporter


The Wildcats know that they have something to prove this Saturday.

After falling out of the top 25 following crushing losses to then-No. 18 Michigan and then-No. 17 Iowa, Northwestern (5-2, 1-2 Big Ten) will need to focus on preparation and fundamentals in order to get a win against Nebraska (3-4, 1-2) on Saturday.

“We’re going to need to have a great week, put it together and go out and play consistently,” coach Pat Fitzgerald said in a news conference Monday. “When we’ve done it, we’ve won five games; when we haven’t, we’ve been on the short end.”

At first glance, Nebraska seems like an easily conquerable opponent, dropping games to unranked opponents like Brigham Young and Miami (FL). Yet, in their two losses to Big Ten opponents, Illinois and Wisconsin, the Cornhuskers have fallen short by a combined 3 points. And last week, they beat what Fitzgerald labeled a “very good” Minnesota team by a sizeable 23 points.

Fitzgerald said he chalks Nebraska’s close losses up to a coaching transition this past offseason, reiterating that this is, indeed, a very competitive team.

“They’ve had some heartbreaking losses, and I know how that feels, so I feel for them,” Fitzgerald said. “They’ve got playmakers all over the place offensively. Defensively…they’re very stout up front, they suffocate the run up front.”

Though the team is attempting to look forward instead of backward, senior superback Dan Vitale said it’s imperative that the Cats avoid the mistakes they made against Iowa last week.

Vitale stressed the importance of offensive consistency and efficiency.

“I think the last two games have been a lot of self-inflicted wounds — penalties, turnovers, dropped balls,” Vitale said. “We can’t expect the defense to bail us out.”

Turnovers will be a large focus of not only the matchup with Nebraska, but also for the rest of the season, Fitzgerald said. NU recorded two fumbles and an interception against Iowa, as well as an interception against Michigan.

By comparison, the Cats have only forced one turnover in the past two games — an interception in the Iowa game.

The turnovers proved especially deadly against Iowa as the Hawkeyes were able to score on all three.

“We’ve got to play cleaner together, we’ve got to take care of the ball better, and we’ve got to get the ball back,” Fitzgerald said. “The turnover ratio, we’ve got to get that fixed — real fast.”

Senior defensive lineman Max Chapman, who also spoke at the news conference Monday, attributed the past two losses to a lack of fundamentals — fundamentals that will be key against Nebraska’s big playmakers and “stout” defense.

“I don’t think we have to do anything extraordinary, we just need to do our fundamentals well,” Chapman said. “The coaches give us a great game plan, we just need to execute better.”

Execution is something that has historically slipped for Northwestern in the month of October, particularly due to the barrage of midterms and papers that come for NU students in the middle of the month.

Though Vitale pointed out that this historic slump coincides with the start of more competitive Big Ten play, and is therefore somewhat explainable, he also said that the team is both mentally and physically tired. Getting over that hump will dictate the outcome of the rest of the season.

“We’ve got to regroup, refocus and recommit,” Vitale said.

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Twitter: @clairechansen