Staying The Course

Northwestern has dropped three consecutive games—two of those coming in heartbreaking collapses against Big Ten foes—but don't look for any quit from Pat Fitzgerald's Wildcats. Instead, Fitzgerald is making sure his team keeps their focus, while avoiding outside negativity.

Three consecutive losses have Wildcat fans feeling down, but that "sky is falling" feeling hasn't reached the Northwestern football team.

The Wildcats entered the season with high potential as a team that can compete for the Big Ten title. Those hopes appear bleak with the team sitting at 0-2 in the conference and 2-3 overall. Despite the struggles, NU head coach Pat Fitzgerald is doing his best to keep spirits high with his football team.

"I talk to them all the time, I talk to them about controlling the voice in their head," said Fitzgerald after Tuesday's practice. "Whoever that voice in their head they're listening to is going to determine their attitude.

"It's your job as a coach to help them understand the situation that they're in and help them understand how to deal with it. Fill their head and talk to that voice in their head and give them what they need to hear. Now, again, it's a choice, it's a choice. It's a critical choice. You've got to choose your attitude."

The Wildcats' recent struggles have come in the form of a loss to 2-4 Army, then two consecutive second-half collapses against Top-25 Big Ten foes. Fitzgerald says it's his job as a coach to keep his team focused on their goals—not outside influences.

"When you're in the middle of a storm and you're not finding a way to win, you've got to be able to showcase and highlight the areas where we're playing very well, which there are a number of," Fitzgerald said. "If they fall into the trap of listening to (the media) and so-called fans who say the sky is falling, and they listen to the wrong voices, then they can fall into a trap of negativity. That's an easy trap to fall into because you start feeling sorry for yourself. Quite frankly, I can't stand that world, so I don't like living in that world, so we wanted to remind them that they're great players individually, but we've got to be great players as a team."

However, don't look for Northwestern to start over from square one. Fitzgerald is happy with the plan in place. He hopes his team will ride through the ‘storm' with hard work and better execution.

"Look at Tiger Woods—change, change, change, change, change, and he hasn't found his game again," Fitzgerald said. "I think if you stay the course, you keep grinding, working your butt off to get better, make the tweaks you've got to make, sometimes those are tough decisions. I love each and every one of our guys, but it's a production business, man. You've got to produce and if you don't produce, I'm sorry. That's reality. We've got to do a better job as coaches coaching them up. It's a two-way street. But at the end of the day, you've got to produce in the arena. I've been in the arena, I've been in a lot of games in the Big Ten arena and you've got to make plays, man. When your opportunity, your number gets called, you've got to make plays."

One thing, however, is for certain. Fitzgerald and the Northwestern coaches are determined to keep their team's spirits high and having them ready to scrap each Saturday.

"We're going to fight our butts off," he said. "We're going to fight our way and scratch and claw and find a way to win and if guys don't follow that lead, then they're going to have to get out of the way 'cause that's where we're going."


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