Northwestern likes its position
EVANSTON, Ill. — Pat Fitzgerald sat down and vowed not to give away any inside information in Northwestern's 28-17 win against Iowa on Saturday.
Northwestern ran the ball 49 times for 349 yards against the Hawkeyes with a scheme heavily devised to take advantage of quarterback Kain Colter's athletic ability. The Wildcats previously had rotated Colter, who had 166 yards on 26 carries, with Trevor Siemian but the formula worked with Colter. That's why Siemian played only two snaps.
So, will Northwestern continue with Colter as the primary quarterback for its final three games?
"I’m not going to give you trade secrets," Fitzgerald said. "I’m sorry. I’d hate to tell that to you."
The Wildcats (7-2, 3-2) squandered two double-digit fourth-quarter leads in losses to Nebraska and Penn State. Saturday, Northwestern was threatened but held it together.
Fitzgerald, who has led Northwestern to bowl eligibility six straight years, has felt a little heat for the fourth-quarter collapses. He lashed out at some of the negativity.
"It’s just amazing," Fitzgerald said. "When we win, 'Hey, we find a way to win.' When we lose, it’s like the sky is falling. It’s all I read, it’s all I see, it’s all our kids see. We’ve had great fan support, and they’ve done a great job of not listening. We’re a 7-1 (7-2) football team right now, and I’d like everyone to not forget that. That would be great. The credit goes to the kids."
Northwestern produced in all phases, from offense (349 rushing yards) to defense (three sacks) to special teams. Early in the third quarter and armed with a 14-3 lead, Northwestern's Tyris Jones burst through the middle of Iowa's punt unit and blocked Connor Kornbrath's attempt. The ball sailed to the Iowa 4-yard line where it rolled out of bounds. The Wildcats pounced one play later, and took a commanding 18-point lead just one minute past halftime.
"I think I’ve gone after Iowa either as a head coach or special teams coach for 13 years and we’ve been 0-for-12," Fitzgerald said. "So the law of averages, 1-of-13. We’re just fortunate Tyris going and making a great play and a great job by (special teams coach) Dennis Springer scheming some things up a little bit."
Along with Northwestern's three sacks, the defensive unit pressured Iowa quarterback James Vandenberg for three hurries.
"It seemed like we were having a party in the backfield all day today," Fitzgerald said. "It seemed like we were on James quite a bit. That’s what the guys talk about. There’s a party at the quarterback and everyone’s invited."
The Wildcats now have a week off before finishing the season with road games at Michigan and Michigan State, then the home finale against Illinois. Despite two league losses, Northwestern still has a shot at the Legends Division title."A week ago we were in the driver’s seat of where we want to go, and that’s Indianapolis, and we put ourselves in the back seat," Fitzgerald said. "I think with the win today we moved back up into the front seat. We’re not driving it. The kids say we’re riding shotgun or something like that."