"I can't come in here (to the weekly press conference) next Monday and say Army had the ball for over 35 minutes and expect us to be successful," Fitzgerald said to the media last Monday. "That just can't happen. If they're over 40 minutes, we've got an opportunity for a recipe for disaster."
He was right.
Just as Fitzgerald had feared, Army held the football for 40:19, compared to the Wildcats' 19:41 with the football. In addition, the Black Knights ran 82 plays on offense.
Army was able to cash in on their long, sustained drives. On their first possession, the Black Knights found the endzone after an 18-play, 81-yard drive which took eight minutes and 48 seconds off the clock. On the drive, they converted on four of five third-downs—the only unsuccessful third-down conversion would turn into a fourth-down conversion.
When the Wildcats had the football, they struggled to sustain drives—mainly in part to unsuccessful third-down conversion attempts. Northwestern had just two possessions in the first quarter, and both of those drives stalled on third down.
This remained a problem in the third quarter, as the Wildcats went 1-5 on third-down conversion attempts. They did not score in that quarter.
In the long run, the points Northwestern left on the field were part of what cost them the game.
"We knew we weren't going to get a lot of possessions," Northwestern quarterback Kain Colter said after the loss. "They handled the clock very well. We had to have great possessions and put points on the board and we didn't do that. They converted many third downs and we had a lot of three-and-outs, you just can't beat a team like that."
Fitzgerald also emphasized third-down efficiency as a key for Northwestern's offense. More specifically, the key was to keep the ball moving on each drive. The result: 3-12 on third-downs and seven punts by Brandon Williams.
"We thought if we could convert third downs we would be able to possess the ball and obviously we did not do that," Fitzgerald said to the media after the game. "So now our defense is out there way too long."
From a Northwestern perspective, the loss can be attributed to a lack of execution—something which was a point of emphasis throughout the week's preparations. After the game, Fitzgerald took the blame on behalf of the team.
"We just didn't play good team football today," he said. "That's my responsibility. I thought we were ready to play, we just didn't execute very well. We have to coach our guys better next time."