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Northwestern football rested and ready to go after bye week

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Updated: December 7, 2012 6:19AM



Last November was about Northwestern fighting to become bowl-eligible. This November is about the Wildcats building on their resumé for postseason play and contending for the Big Ten Legends Division title.

‘‘Coach [Pat Fitzgerald] says people remember what you do in November,’’ defensive end Quentin Williams said. ‘‘That’s been our mind-set every week. I think this bye week [last week] will help with that, but we just have to take it a week at a time.’’

NU (7-2, 3-2 Big Ten) has three games left in the regular season — on the road Saturday against Michigan, on the road Nov. 17 against Michigan State and at home Nov. 24 against Illinois. The Wildcats trail Nebraska and Michigan — both 4-1 in the conference — by a game in the division.

NU’s chances to win the division were hurt when
Nebraska came back in the final minutes to hand the Wildcats a painful 29-28 loss Oct. 20 at Ryan Field. A homecoming victory Oct. 27 against Iowa got NU back on track before the bye week, one Fitzgerald said provided a timely break for his team.

‘‘The week off was one that was needed for us,’’ he said. ‘‘We need to get healthy. We rested some of our veterans. We gave the guys the week off. I locked the doors on Saturday. The entire program was off.’’

That gave Fitzgerald and the Wildcats a rare weekend to soak in football on TV,
including Michigan’s victory at Minnesota.

‘‘We face a great opponent on the road,’’ Fitzgerald said of the Wolverines, who lead the nation in pass defense (145.4 yards per game.). ‘‘They have two quarterbacks who are dangerous [Denard Robinson and Devin Gardner].’’

Robinson is the go-to player for Michigan, ranking first in school history in career yardage (10,425). With one more passing touchdown, he will become the first player in Big Ten history to have 50 passing touchdowns and 40 rushing touchdowns.

‘‘They’re definitely one of the best teams in the country,’’ Fitzgerald said. ‘‘It’s
going to be a great challenge for us. But our guys are hungry to get back to football.’’

The Wolverines have
allowed 12.1 points per game in their last seven games and have yielded only six touchdowns during that span.

How the week off will
affect NU is a question to be answered on the field. But coming this late in the season might not have been a bad thing, Fitzgerald said.

‘‘Earlier in the year, I looked at the schedule and saw . . . where our bye was, maybe the latest it’s ever been,’’ he said. ‘‘But we’ve put ourselves in position to have a good November.’’

The players think the bye week came at a good time, giving some the chance to go home for the first time this fall and others time to rest.

‘‘I think it’s been huge, especially for a lot of the guys who have been in the trenches,’’ Williams said. ‘‘We’ve had a week to get our legs back. It’s been great for me.’’



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