‘Control-alt-delete’: How Northwestern football is turning the page after a 49-point loss


Daily file photo by Alison Albelda

Ohio State celebrates in the end zone after scoring yet another touchdown against the Wildcats last Friday. NU is trying to rebound from its worst loss since 2007.

Benjamin Rosenberg, Web Editor


Pat Fitzgerald has made his disdain for technology quite clear over the past few months. But at Monday’s press conference, Northwestern’s 14th year coach used a computer metaphor to sum up the current state of his program.

“When things aren’t going great, there’s three magic buttons to getting things fixed, and they all have to be pressed at the same time,” Fitzgerald said. “That’s control, alt and delete. You know what that does to your computer? It restarts it. That’s what we talked about this morning, about restarting.”

It’s not like the Wildcats have much of a choice. NU (1-5, 0-4 Big Ten) is coming off its most lopsided loss in 12 years, a 52-3 beatdown at the hands of Ohio State. Junior quarterback Aidan Smith completed just six of 20 passes for 42 yards with an interception, and sophomore Andrew Marty, who replaced him, threw a pick as well. The run defense, normally a strength, allowed three rushes of more than 50 yards.

Even the special teams unit faltered — a botched punt snap in the second quarter set the Buckeyes up at the Cats’ 15-yard line.

Back to the drawing board it is.

“You just hit one (button) at a time, it doesn’t work,” Fitzgerald said. “All three have to be hit at the same time, kind of like offense and defense and special teams. That’s pretty creative. Might be the best T-shirt I’ve ever come up with.”

Off to its worst start since 1992, NU is desperate for anything to go its way. With the quarterbacks showing no signs of productivity, the Cats have tried to find other ways to get their athletic receivers involved. Junior Kyric McGowan received a pair of rushing attempts last Friday, including a 13-yard run on NU’s first offensive play.

But with almost nothing going right, the Cats have been forced to go back to the basics.

“It’s pretty simple,” junior linebacker Chris Bergin said. “You use the 24-hour rule, you flush it and fix it. We watched what we need to fix today in film. We’re going to tip our hats where credit is due. Ohio State, right now, is playing the best football in the country. When you’re playing a team that gifted, that talented, you can’t afford to make any mistakes.”

The good news is that NU still has half the season left, and after Saturday’s Homecoming tilt with No. 20 Iowa (5-2, 2-2), the schedule begins to lighten up. Only one of the Cats’ last five opponents is ranked, so NU still has an outside shot at bowl eligibility.

The bad news is just about everything else. The Cats hardly resemble the team that stood toe-to-toe with the Buckeyes for three quarters last December with a trip to the Rose Bowl on the line, and as Fitzgerald explained, their struggles have forced them to look internally rather than focusing solely on preparing for their next opponent.

“I wish I had time right now, with this year’s team, for me to look a lot at what our opponent is,” Fitzgerald said. “We don’t have that right now, we don’t have that luxury. We’re trying to get our guys to trust what we’re doing during the week and execute, fundamentally first and conceptually second, especially on offense right now. We’ve got half the season left, and we’re going to work relentlessly to get it done in a positive fashion.”

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