Pat Fitzgerald unimpressed with NU’s stuff, especially from receivers
BY NEIL HAYES firstname.lastname@example.org September 10, 2012 10:33PM
EVANSTON, IL - SEPTEMBER 8: Venric Mark #5 of the Northwestern Wildcats runs with the football against the Vanderbilt Commodores at Ryan Field on September 8, 2012 in Evanston, Illinois. Northwestern won 23-13. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
Updated: October 12, 2012 6:19AM
Northwestern is 2-0, but there’s no danger of the Wildcats developing overconfidence or complacency after coach Pat Fitzgerald delivered his weekly state-of-the-program address in a team meeting Monday morning.
Players who might have been expecting a slap in the back received a kick in the pants instead.
‘‘We obviously didn’t bring our big boy pads in some areas on Saturday,’’ Fitzgerald said. ‘‘We’ve got a lot of work to do on both sides of the ball.’’
This wasn’t just another example of a coach playing mind games. With Boston College, South Dakota, Indiana and Penn State ahead, and with Big Ten teams dropping nonconference games left and right, Northwestern could position itself for a memorable season. For that to happen, however, across-the-board improvements must be made.
After the defense turned in one of the best performances of Fitzgerald’s coaching tenure against Vanderbilt, it’s the offense’s turn to take a long look in the mirror.
‘‘We weren’t playing to the best of our abilities, whether it was blocking or catching the ball and making the offense go,’’ junior receiver Rashad Lawrence said. ‘‘We’ve got a lot to work on. The coach is taking shots at us. We feel like he’s calling us out, so we’re going to step up and make it happen.’’
The offense struggled against Vanderbilt until backup quarterback Trevor Siemian entered the game and led the Wildcats on two fourth-quarter drives. Starter Kain Colter played the majority of the game and completed 7 of 15 passes for 42 yards, which Fitzgerald attributed to inaccurate passes and receivers dropping balls. Kolter also had 75 rushing yards on 13 carries.
Receivers also didn’t block well on the perimeter in the running game, leading Fitzgerald to announce that personnel changes could result if improvements aren’t made.
‘‘We’ve got to catch the football,’’ Fitzgerald said. ‘‘I don’t care where the ball is thrown — that’s what we put them on scholarship for, and I reminded them it’s a $60,000 scholarship. Catch the ball.’’
With the exception of the defensive line, the Cats weren’t physical enough on either side of the ball. The offensive line didn’t finish blocks. Outside linebackers and defensive backs let opposing players get outside and behind them — a big no-no. There were protection issues and mental mistakes that must be corrected when Boston College visits Ryan Field on Saturday.
“Right now, the only guy playing at a championship level on offense is Venric Mark,’’ Fitzgerald said of his running back, who is averaging 102.5 yards per game and 5.4 yards per carry. ‘‘We’ve got 10 other guys that need to get it going. That’s 10 plus another seven or eight in the rotation. We’ve got about 21 guys who have to step it up if we want to get better.’’
Despite holding the Commodores to 217 passing yards, Fitzgerald wasn’t satisfied with his defense, either.
He said he wasn’t being critical, just honest. Sometimes the truth hurts.
‘‘We’ve got a lot of room for improvement,” he said. ‘‘That’s my point. We’re in no way, shape or form where we’re capable of being.’’