On Monday, as with Saturday, there was no emotional outpouring. Nor
were there knee-jerk reactions.
Northwestern watched a seemingly stable 11-point lead evaporate in yet
another fourth quarter meltdown.
It involved a combination of factors, but the only thing clear in the
wake of defeat is this: there can be no letdown at Minnesota this
week. As the Wildcats still cling to hopes of a Legends Division
title, every win takes on special importance.
Last year, NU’s first loss of the season – a stunner at Army – began a
five-game skid. Senior Brian Arnfelt, part of a defensive front that
struggled last week, thinks this team can avoid falling into an
“I don’t think we necessarily took the right attitude last year,”
Arnfelt said. “But I don’t think with this year’s group that’s going
to be an issue at all.”
After taking much of the blame following the Penn State loss, coach
Pat Fitzgerald maintained a tone of cautious optimism.
Fitzgerald said he would have made several different decisions in the
Penn State game. He pointed to NU’s overall struggles on offense as a
fault of the coaching staff.
To this team, preparation is crucial. Leading up to the Minnesota
contest, the Cats know they need to look forward.
“You can’t let a team beat you twice,” Fitzgerald said. “You’ve just
got to get back to work.”
More questions may be answered as the week progresses – particularly on offense.
NU’s quarterback situation experienced a dramatic shift against
Indiana, when Trevor Siemian took the reins and attempted 32 of the
team’s 35 passes. In that outing, Kain Colter shredded the Hoosiers
defense as a receiving threat, occasionally running zone reads out of
The results were far less successful against Penn State. As Siemian
struggled throughout the night, Colter was reduced to a limited role.
The offensive line struggled at certain junctures, often when trying
to protect Siemian. As the big men up front adjust to the oft-changing
offensive schemes, senior Patrick Ward stressed his unit needs to
concentrate on doing its primary job.
“As far as play calling goes, it’s not something we particularly care
about on the offensive line,” Ward said.
Perhaps most alarming from Saturday’s statistics: the Cats managed
just 135 yards through the air despite using a pass-oriented offense
against the Nittany Lions.
Siemian threw several passes that were nearly intercepted, but Ward
suggested the problems ran deeper than the quarterback play.
“I just think we were harmed by an overall lack of execution,” Ward
said. “Too many times, there was one guy that didn’t execute the
The same was true of the defense, which struggled to slow the Nittany
Lions on third down late in the game.
Arnfelt and sophomore Sean McEvilly agreed that any defensive fatigue
was self-inflicted. The unit had several opportunities to stop Penn
State and quarterback Matt McGloin, but unlike in the first half, they
failed to make plays down the stretch.
Fitzgerald considered the Penn State game “one that got away.” Still,
looking forward, he sees the potential for success. That begins with
taking care of Minnesota.
“There were a lot of things we could have done differently to win the
football game… But if I would have told you in August we’re going to
be in control of our destiny to win the Big Ten Championship, would
you be happy?
“That’s where we sit right now.”