Head games? Maybe. Brutal honesty? Perhaps. Combination of all of the above? Likely.
It’s Tuesday of game week and thanks to the below video from PurpleWildcats.com, you can watch for yourself as Fitz blasts the play of the 2-0 ‘Cats, even taking on the defense after perhaps their best collective showing in two seasons. Earlier today both of Chicago’s major sports sections ran with the following theme – Venric Mark is the only guy who Fitz is saying is playing at a championship level and the rest of the team is getting called out.
Neil Hayes, the new ‘Cats beat writer in 2012 for the Chicago Sun-Times bought the “brutally honest” approach. He quoted Fitz from Monday’s presser as saying
‘‘We obviously didn’t bring our big boy pads in some areas on Saturday. ‘‘We’ve got a lot of work to do on both sides of the ball.’’
Hayes himself offered this perspective:
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.
Meanwhile, Teddy Greenstein cranked out yet another glowing piece on Venric Mark, but also was sure to include the surprising tact by Fitz. Greenstein pointed out the question many of us wondered - “So NU’s defense finally performs well, holding Vandy tailback Zac Stacy to 36 yards on 13 carries, and Fitzgerald rips into the unit?”. Fitz’s response, according to Teddy’s article? “I’m being honest.”
I’m inferring that Teddy G. will take the “head games” answer I posed for 200. I’ll tell you that I harped on the poor play of the WRs on Saturday night and many of you jumped on me for it citing poor passing by Kain. Well, playing WR involves more than catching the rock, and we had a few balls that should’ve been caught, and yes, in fairness, several that were poorly thrown. However, the blocking by the WRs, especially on the screens and quick strikes was particularly poor in the first half. Fitz has taken the WR corps to task. I almost couldn’t believe this quote as it seemed out of character, but Fitz said “I reminded them that it’s a $60,000 scholarship. Catch the ball.” Whoa. All you need to do is rewatch Fitz at halftime to BTN sideline reporter (and Wildcat alum) Lisa Byington and you know he might have added a few unrepeatable adjectives around that statement in the lockerroom.
Whether or not these are motivational tactics, authentic feelings or some other coach strategy, I don’t really care. I like it when Fitz is a little more raw. I have no problem when he hits a button, like he clearly did with Trevor Siemian’s favorite target and former high school teammate, Rashad Lawrence. When you read this, as Neil Hayes printed:
‘‘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.’’
You just get the sense, the unit will be bringing it’s “A-game” on Saturday. You get the sense Fitz has been in downplay mode on this unit since Yahoos like me have been pumping them up to opposing fan bases at every chance. I can’t WAIT to see how the WRs respond on Saturday.
Fitz is hopeful Nick VanHoose will play on Saturday, which would be a huge boost to the defense.
South Dakota Start Time
Let the tailgate great times roll. A great move by Jim Phillips and team to get the 2:30 start time for next week’s home date with South Dakota. I’m convinced it will have a 5k-7k impact on attendance. The game will be televised by BTN.
Fitz Is The Judge
Chi Chi Ariguzo may have been Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week, but he didn’t even beat out his own teammates for the NU honor of best defensive performance. That honor went to junior TE, Tyler Scott who had a pair of TFLs, a sack and a fumble inducing hit that led to our game-winning/clinching score.