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Pat Fitzgerald confident Northwestern can cope with what Vandy throws at it

Jordan Rodgers;Chris Boyd

Jordan Rodgers;Chris Boyd

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Updated: October 7, 2012 8:07AM

If the Vanderbilt coaching staff watched film of the Wildcats’ 42-41 victory against over Syracuse on Saturday — and you know they did — its game plan for the Wildcats’ nationally televised home opener on Saturday night at Ryan Field can be summed up in two words: Bombs away.

After Syracuse racked up 470 passing yards last week, the highest total in college football thus far, Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald expects nothing less.

“Bring it,” Fitzgerald said. “That’s all I’m going to say. Bring it. These guys are going to keep getting better. We believe in them. We’re just going to keep working to get better. That’s all you can do. I expect Vanderbilt to do it. Bring it.”

The next test is against Commodores quarterback Jordan Rodgers — the younger brother of Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers — who set a school record for first-year quarterbacks with 1,523 passing yards in six starts last season.

Receiver Jordan Matthews caught eight passes for 147 yards, including a 78-yard TD catch, in a four-point loss to South Carolina on Saturday. It was the fourth time Matthews has had more than 130 receiving yards in his last four games.

“That’s what you kind of want as a defensive back,” senior cornerback Demetrius Dugar said. “You can’t make plays if they don’t throw the ball. We want them to come out and challenge us. That’s what you practice all week for to come out and show what you got. We look forward to it. We’re always looking to make plays. Even though I had couple strikes against me on Saturday, the mind-set of the secondary is to stay aggressive. Keep yourself in good position and stay physical with receivers.”

Dugar is a full-time starter for the first time. To say his debut didn’t go smoothly is an understatement. He was flagged for pass interference or holding three times. He had good position on Syracuse receivers on two of those occasions but was penalized after making contact.

Give him credit for not losing his aggressiveness or his confidence. When Syracuse went for a two-point conversion late in the game, Dugar broke up the pass with another aggressive play.

“We’re going to see double moves this week,” Fitzgerald said. “We know what we’re going to see. We just have to keep getting better. I thought those guys competed their tails off. They were physical. That’s the one thing that jumped out from our secondary Saturday is we were much more physical in the opener than we were a year ago.”

While Fitzgerald has defended his secondary this week, he has also made it clear that he will make personnel changes to avoid the type of losing streak Northwestern had last season. That’s one reason why 44 players played against Syracuse.

“For five weeks we stunk,” Fitzgerald said of last season. “I look back and early in the year we didn’t give enough guys enough reps to get in game-like situations and be prepared. I was probably too stubborn and loyal. Shame on me.” 

If the secondary doesn’t improve this week, it won’t be because the unit didn’t know what to expect.

“Bring it,” Fitzgerald said. “We know what we’re getting. It’s not surprise to anybody.”

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