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Pat Fitzgerald says his reeling NU team will ‘keep swinging’

Northwestern quarterback Trevor Siemian (13) looks pass during first half an NCAA college football game against MinnesotEvanstIll. Saturday Oct. 19

Northwestern quarterback Trevor Siemian (13) looks to a pass during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Minnesota in Evanston, Ill., Saturday, Oct. 19, 2013. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

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Updated: October 21, 2013 11:33AM

The wins haven’t been there lately. But Northwestern’s spirit remains intact, despite its three-game ­losing streak, Pat Fitzgerald said.

“There’s no confidence that’s down in that room,’’ the NU coach said. “There’s just disappointment that we’re not doing a good enough job to win. What do you do? You get up off the mat, and you keep swinging.’’

The 20-17 upset loss Saturday to Minnesota, a double-digit underdog, will leave many Wildcats fans with a sense of foreboding. Next Saturday, Northwestern visits Iowa (11 a.m. BTN), which led 17-10 at halftime at Ohio State on Saturday before losing 34-24.

That’s especially true because the team’s offense has sputtered without quarterback Kain Colter and running back Venric Mark. Both watched from the sideline Saturday with apparent sprained ankles. Colter seems closer to returning, but there’s no guarantee either will play in Iowa City.

With or without them, the Cats will be ready to fight the good fight, if Fitz’s determination is any indication.

“I’m stoked,’’ he said. “I can’t wait to get back to work on Monday. I love [my players] to death. You want it so bad for them, you just want to give it to them. But that’s not the way life works, the way football works. You have to go out and earn it.’’

As is often the case with struggling teams, the party line is that NU, which made three turnovers and came up with none against the Gophers, needs to eliminate mistakes. The trouble is, mistakes tend to happen when players try to exceed their physical ceilings by straining to make plays.

That’s where players such as Colter and Mark, who have exceptional skills, are missed. That puts the challenge on the healthy Wildcats to execute without trying to go beyond their reach.

That’s why NU needs to keep an even keel.

“Fitz has talked to us the same way as when we won games,’’ receiver Christian Jones said. “He’s been highly motivated and focusing on the next week. Nothing’s really changed. We know we have to bounce back and win the next week.’’

The mission for an offense that has scored 23 points in the last two games? ­Rekindle the swagger that saw the Cats average 39 points in their first five games.

The challenge on defense? Park that no-turnover game against the Gophers and get back to the 17 turnovers NU forced in its first six games.

“The energy level was lower at Wisconsin than it was against Ohio State,’’ linebacker Collin Ellis said. “We regained our energy level and focus for [Minnesota]. It comes down to executing, and we didn’t do that. We just have to play better. That’s pretty much how it is.’’

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