"Each game is a one-week season, we know the challenge ahead of us this week. We're excited to get out in front of our fans. We're excited to back to work and get better. Our guys believe, and I believe, we've got a darn good football team."
That "darn good football team" apparently only showed up for one half against Michigan. The other half, the team was unfocused, failed to gain any momentum, and surrendered 28 unanswered points.
So what is the true issue? Is it a focus problem?
"Really think we lost focus," Tyler Scott said of the defense. "We had one-man breakdowns and that will kill you when it comes to crunch time. We have to fix those issues and if we do, we'll be a pretty good defense." ?
But focus on defense was not the only issue. The offense was scoreless in the second half, and did help the defense with three and outs and turnovers. In fact, Northwestern had the ball for just 22:03 in the game – just 2:30 in the third quarter.
So are the wrong players on the field?
The main mistakes in the game on offense were turnovers. Big time senior playmakers Drake Dunsmore and Jeremy Ebert – both key cogs in the Northwestern offense – were responsible for the two costly turnovers against the Wolverines. The leadership and ability of players like Dunsmore and Ebert is not replaceable, at least not this season. And they are key players to get NU back on track. So the players on the field are not necessarily the issue.
Is it coaching?
NU preached a balanced attack in the week leading up to Michigan, but Persa threw the ball 44 times and the team ran the ball just 25 times – a misleading statistic considering Persa had -5 yards on 9 carries. Freshman Treyvon Green, who had been steadily improving, had just one carry, though he made the most of it and scored a touchdown. Jacob Schmidt had just five. Adonis Smith had six, but just one in the second half.
That is anything but a balanced attack. In the first half, NU was mixing it up with options, reverses to Adonis Smith, passes to Kain Colter, and all kinds of things in the playbook that were clearly kept secret in preparation for this game. But in the second half, the surprise plays stopped, and Michigan's defense regained it's footing. So while the game plan was solid, perhaps the lack of adjustments led to the issue.
Or maybe it's all of these factors combined, plus a little bad luck. But luck and all other excuses must be thrown out the window. Now, Fitzgerald must look seriously at this team's composition, and make legitimate changes.
"Now as coaches, we've got to look critically at a number of things," Fitzgerald said. "Number one, we've got to look schematically to see how we can help our guys. Number two, make sure we've got the right people in there at the right times."
Easier said than done, especially with the next game on the road against an Iowa team likely hungry for revenge against NU. Whatever happens in practice this week, NU has to be a different team next week, or fear adding another chapter to the increasingly disappointing book that is the 2011 season.