Pat Fitzgerald says Northwestern ‘will be back’
BY HERB GOULD For Sun-Times Media November 30, 2013 9:22PM
Northwestern 10 10 3 14 — 37
Illinois 0 17 10 7 — 34
NU—FG Budzien 19, 10:49.
NU—C.Jones 27 pass from Siemian (Budzien kick), 7:27.
Ill—Hull 25 pass from Scheelhaase (Zalewski kick), 13:36.
Ill—Ferguson 1 run (Zalewski kick), 11:08.
NU—Vitale 11 pass from Siemian (Budzien kick), 7:12.
Ill—FG Zalewski 51, 5:13.
NU—FG Budzien 26, :00.
Ill—Ferguson 55 run (Zalewski kick), 14:33.
NU—FG Budzien 42, 11:38.
Ill—FG Zalewski 37, 8:49.
NU—Lawrence 23 pass from Siemian (Budzien kick), 14:55.
NU—C.Jones 7 pass from Siemian (Budzien kick), 8:07.
Ill—Osei 11 pass from Scheelhaase (Zalewski kick), 2:23.
TEAM STATISTICS NU Ill
First downs 31 29
Rushes-yards 51-146 32-185
Passing 414 307
Comp-Att-Int 31-45-0 31-45-1
Return Yards 26 9
Punts-Avg. 5-35.4 5-46.2
Fumbles-Lost 0-0 0-0
Penalties-Yards 2-5 4-21
Time of Possession 36:23 23:37
RUSHING—Northwestern, Green 21-69, Trumpy 18-41, Long 6-20, Siemian 5-19, Team 1-(minus 3). Illinois, Ferguson 14-110, Scheelhaase 13-55, Young 5-20.
PASSING—Northwestern, Siemian 31-44-0-414, B.Williams 0-1-0-0. Illinois, Scheelhaase 31-45-1-307.
RECEIVING—Northwestern, C.Jones 13-182, Lawrence 5-112, T.Jones 5-44, Trumpy 3-31, Vitale 2-20, Green 2-13, Jensen 1-12. Illinois, Hull 13-155, Osei 8-93, Ferguson 3-26, Harris 3-13, Young 2-8, Hardee 1-8, Davis 1-4.
Updated: January 2, 2014 6:52AM
CHAMPAIGN — This was supposed to be the best of teams for Pat Fitzgerald. A season that started with so much promise wound up mired in a series of worst-case scenarios for Northwestern.
Groundhog Day-like, Northwestern’s high hopes were dashed by one fourth-quarter disaster after another.
But after salvaging a season-ending 37-34 victory against Illinois on Saturday, to halt their seven-game losing streak, Cats coach Fitzgerald sounded the famous words of Gen. Douglas MacArthur after the fall of the Philippines.
“I’m not sure our confidence ever wavered,’’ Fitzgerald said. “No team in the country got socked in the gut more than this team. They kept getting up. These guys played their hearts out all year long.
“We’ll be back. We’ve earned and deserve any and all criticism that comes with not being where we belong. We will be back. I promise you that.’’
Even with this final win, the Wildcats (5-7, 1-7 Big Ten) will have to prove themselves next year. Not only is a string of five bowl trips over. An expectation that Northwestern is on a steady upward climb also has been undercut.
This was a team that was going toe-to-toe with Ohio State late in the fourth quarter before it lost 40-30 on Oct. 5. Even a blowout 35-6 loss at Wisconsin the following week didn’t seem to rule out some important achievements.
But the losses snowballed. A blah performance vs. Minnesota. An overtime loss at Iowa. A heart-wrenching loss on a Hail Mary at Nebraska. A brutal overtime loss to Michigan, which needed a miracle field goal to force overtime.
There’s no denying the schedule was unkind. The 1-2 punch of the Buckeyes and Badgers left NU beat up as well as 0-2 in the league after its 4-0 nonconference start.
But the Cats know they’ll need to re-establish themselves in 2014.
“We’ve got a ton of work to do,’’ Fitzgerald said. “We’ll look at what we’ve done schematically, what we’ve done fundamentally, teaching-wise. And they’re going to listen to us a little clearer when they get into the weight room this year. It’s not their fault, I was that same guy. That’s why I’m really encouraged for the future. The tough times and adversity brought us together.’’
Making his third career start, quarterback Trevor Siemian threw four touchdown passes against Illinois, going 31-for-44 for 414 yards, the 10th-highest total single-game passing total in NU history.
“He’s probably as healthy as he’s been,’’ Fitzgerald said. “He played like the Trevor everyone expected to see. He got thrown into a tough situation. [Siemian] couldn’t walk out to practice the Tuesday after the Wisconsin game. He kept persevering. There’s only so much you can do on one leg.
I’m very proud of him.’’
Siemian agreed with Fitz’ assertion that NU will benefit from this tough season when it goes about picking up the pieces next fall.
“Going through a year like this is tough,’’ Siemian said. “But it’s good for us. You only appreciate the highs when you go through the lows. The future looks really bright.’’