"We've been on the road for three out of our first four weeks," Fitzgerald said. "It's been a tremendous challenge for us. There's been some good and bad but we're definitely battle tested and ready to get home and play in front of our students."
Adding students to the equation may be the key factor. The last home game, Eastern Illinois, was before most students had moved back to campus. Seeing the student section full will be a definite boost in for the team.
"We're incredibly excited," senior running back Jacob Schmidt said. "To be able to come back home and play in front of our fans and have the whole student body here, especially under the lights, against Michigan, it's exciting. There's going to be a great atmosphere come Saturday afternoon and hopefully we come up and play like it."
Last season, Dan Persa led the team in most offense categories, and had a significant percentage of the team's offense. This season, the run game has been much more successful, and Fitzgerald is preaching a balanced attack.
"We want to have balance. Danny can do both, he can run and throw and so can Kain," Fitzgerald said. "We try to always play to their strengths and put them in a position to be successful. We got to have balance."
The balance is not just at quarterback, however. The running attack takes significant pressure of the quarterback, and the running attack this far has been a significant improvement from previous years.
"I'm shocked that I'm not getting questions about how well we are running the ball," Fitzgerald said. "We're running the ball well, maybe the best that we've run it in years… I liked the way that Treyvon Green ran the football. Jacob Schmidt has been a tough guy and now with Adonis coming on and getting back off of injury-same thing with Tyris (Jones). We've got four guys there that have been involved in a lot of games."
Green has rushed for 141 yards and a touchdown this season, while Schmidt has rushed for 106 yards and two touchdowns. While the loss of leading back Mike Trumpy may hurt the running attack, Northwestern has plenty of bodies to fill the position and keep the offense as balanced as it needs to be.
268. 123. The first number is Illinois' A.J. Jenkins receiving yards from the NU game. The second is Dan Persa's passing totals. And when an opposing receiver outgains the ‘Cats quarterback, it's safe to say the secondary had some issues.
"Communication. We had a lapse of communication," Fitzgerald said. "We had the game in hand and we lost momentum in three plays. We had the breakdown of communication and we give up the touchdown. Two plays later we have a second communication breakdown and we give up a big play."
Redshirt freshman Ibraheim Campbell may have been at fault in those plays, causing some to question his ability at safety. Fitzgerald, however, still has confidence in his starter.
"Right now it's Ibraheim Campbell's job," Fitzgerald said of the safety position.
"Unfortunately, he didn't play well but if you remember back a week ago he was our player of the week. I know everybody has such a short memory, but that's life in the secondary, especially as a first time starter as a red-shirt freshman. Same thing with me, it's part of the experience and you've got to learn from it."
Despite the confidence, Fitzgerald is not putting all his eggs in one basket. As far as the position goes, during his weekly press conference he spoke of Hunter Bates, Davion Fleming, Jared Carpenter, and David Arnold as potential fill-ins. According to Fitz, it's "all hands on deck."
"You've got to learn from it and grow and move on and we'll have guys ready to go if negative play continues," he said.