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Northwestern has made the big-time but must curb big mistakes

Ohio State v Northwestern

Ohio State v Northwestern

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Updated: November 8, 2013 6:25AM



The litany of mistakes Northwestern made Saturday in its 40-30 loss to Ohio State would have crippled Wildcats teams of the past.

NU’s ability to overcome those miscues and stay in the game shows how coach Pat Fitzgerald and his staff have closed the once-vast talent gap between the Wildcats and the country’s elite.

But talent aside, in order to be in the same class as Ohio State, NU will need to learn how to win a big game like Saturday’s. That means limiting mistakes in the most crucial moments.

‘‘We’ve got to coach our guys to execute better; we’ve got to do a better job of taking care of the football; we’ve got to do a better job of tackling and getting off blocks,’’ Fitzgerald said. ‘‘Kind of the ABC’s and 1-2-3’s of football.

‘‘I think that talent-wise, we’re right there knocking on the door. Our coaching staff has done a terrific job of recruiting.’’

Ohio State cornerback Bradley Roby blocked a punt in the NU end zone in the first quarter and recovered to put the Buckeyes ahead 10-7.

With NU leading 23-13 in the third quarter, C.J. Bryant was flagged for kick-catching interference. That allowed Ohio State to start its drive on the NU 36-yard line. The drive ended with a touchdown run by Carlos Hyde, the catalyst to Ohio State’s comeback.

The Wildcats’ most crucial mistake came from arguably their best player. With NU trailing 34-30 with just under three minutes to play at the Ohio State 34, quarterback Kain Colter fumbled the snap from under center and was unable to convert a fourth-and-one.

‘‘We had the opportunity to capitalize on the plays that really would have swung the game in a different favor for us here,’’ linebacker Damien Proby said.

In the final 20 minutes of their last four Big Ten losses dating to last season, the Wildcats have been outscored 92-21.

Saturday was the most glaring example of their ­failings in big moments.

‘‘Definitely we’re going to have to regroup,’’ defensive end Tyler Scott said. ‘‘There were definitely plays down the stretch that we could have made, and it could have been a different outcome.’’

Email: sgruen@suntimes.com

Twitter: @SethGruen



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