The Wildcats are undefeated in nonconference play for the third time in five years, but don’t try to oversell that accomplishment to the team.
“We are 4-0 but we still have a long way to go,” running back Venric Mark said after the ‘Cats beat South Dakota.
The rest of the team seems to have the same attitude. Defensive lineman Quentin Williams said it was “gratifying” to be undefeated in nonconference play, but also said the team hasn’t reached it’s potential yet.
“It’s obviously gratifying, but I like to have the attitude that I think our team has that this is a clean slate that we have now,” Williams said. “While we did go 4-0 in nonconference, that doesn’t mean much if we don’t do will in conference… We’re in a great place right now, but we have a long way to go and we’re going to work towards that.”
Williams also said the team learned how to deal with success from the Navy SEALs that worked with NU during the offseason. Williams said Chief Robert Stella spoke with the team before this game, and they asked how to deal with their success.
“Everybody knows that you have to go out there and do your best every play, but sometimes that can change, that attitude can chance when things are going very well or very badly,” Williams said. “One thing he said to us was just take it play by play, you have to make the big things small and I think we’ve done a pretty good job so far.”
Quarterback Kain Colter also talked about how the lessons from the SEALs have helped NU prepare this season.
“I think a lot of it just has to go with your expectations,” Colter said. “We expected to be 4-0 and every operation the Navy SEALs go into they expect to be victorious. So you can’t get too high, you can’t get too low, you’ve got to just stay even keel and keep doing and keep doing what you’re doing.”
For Pat Fitzgerald, the 4-0 record likely won’t be a big talking point heading into Big Ten play. Fitz talked about the excitement of playing conference games, and said everyone “goes back to 0-0 when you get into conference play.”
Despite that, Fitzgerald said he does see signs of maturity from his team. For maturity to be fully judged, however, the ‘Cats will have to succeed in the Big Ten.
“I think we’re getting there, I really do,” he said. “And now the challenge obviously changes a little bit in the standpoint of the competition really speaks for itself, playing Big Ten Football. But the on top of it, the week-to-week grind and challenges we face as we move forward, then I’ll be able to evaluate our maturity. You’ve got to be able to put a game to bed and move on and then get ready for the next one.”
When all’s said and done, the Wildcats took care of business in a tough but manageable nonconference schedule. Now, the challenge turns to is to do exactly what Fitzgerald said: put it to bed and prepare for the next one.
“These first four games that we’ve had, we expected to win those games and show the entire nation what Northwestern football is going to bring to the table this season,” Colter said. “As we go into the Big Ten, we expect to win games, expect to win the conference, so we’re not going to get too high when we have success. We’re just going to keep doing what we’ve been doing.”