On Monday morning, the Northwestern coaching staff walked into the meeting room and doused players with 300 water balloons.
“[It] was to kick their ass,” Pat Fitzgerald said. “At the end of the day, what we did on Saturday is completely and totally unacceptable. So it was a wake-up statement to say: ‘have some frickin’ fun.’”
By kickoff against Wisconsin–or maybe sometime during the second quarter–something imperceptible changed on the NU sidelines. The Wildcats collapsed en route to a 29-point loss, a shocking margin considering the hopes that surrounded Fitz’s team.
Senior defensive end Tyler Scott tried to explain it. He and NU’s famed Leadership Council faced questions from Fitzgerald—who described himself as “mad” with the group following a lackluster game.
“We didn’t come out with the right passion,” he said. “We were flat the entire game; I couldn’t tell you what it was. Attitude’s a choice. It wasn’t who we were, and after today’s practice, we have a sense of urgency once again.”
Now at 0-2 in conference play, the Wildcats basically need six consecutive wins to preserve their Big Ten Championship hopes. (They broke the huddle by yelling, “Big Ten Champs,” which is ambitious.)
The balloons sent another message: time flies. Fitzgerald wants his team to embrace every one of the season’s final six or seven games.
“It’s going real fast,” he said. “As I told the guys today, for the seniors, they have five Tuesday practices left in the year [that are] guaranteed. When you put it in that perspective, it hits a big sense of reality.”
Perhaps NU practiced with more energy than usual on Tuesday. Like Saturday’s game, we don’t have any clear answers.
When the players take the field this week against Minnesota, they want to rediscover that passion—something that was so obviously missing in Madison.
“Sense of urgency” and “Big Ten Champs” are inseparable comments. Down, but not out, the Wildcats look set to rediscover the mentality that got them here.
And later, they can soak up the success.