Wildcats aiming to improve

Northwestern earned a tough road win against Syracuse in its season-opener, but left town with many concerns and plenty to improve on. The Wildcats are now focusing on making progress after an eye-opening first game.

By the time Pat Fitzgerald met with the media following Northwestern's 42-41 escape from Syracuse, he had already taken a deep breath. It was a victory filled with many mistakes and plenty of concerns.

Fitzgerald held an age-old coaching axiom in mind after the win, stating that a football team can make its greatest improvements during the week of practice between its first and second games.

That belief could very well hold truth for Northwestern, which had 15 players endure their first game action. The week of preparation offers the team as a whole time to iron out its wrinkles.

"In week one, every team in America is trying to find out who they are," said fifth-year senior safety Jared Carpenter, named the starting safety for week two. "In the first game, you find out a lot of things. You find out how to actually play in a live game, for some guys."

The emphasis at the Wildcats' practice this week is making improvements as a whole and individually. While NU's preparations are for the week two matchup with Vanderbilt, the team is stressing progress.

"Our focus is on us, with no disrespect to anyone we're going to play," said Fitzgerald. "We've got to get better; that's all our focus is. ... It's about execution, it's about improvement."

Northwestern's issues were put under the microscope following the season-opener. The Wildcats' defense, which struggled through much of last season, allowed 597 yards to the Orange offense. Fitzgerald admits it adds some stress to the week two preparations.

NU players aren't dwelling on their mistakes from the first game; instead, they believe a turnaround is in order.

"Once you do get the first game out of the way, you can only go up," sophomore receiver Christian Jones said. "You learn what your mistakes are, you learn what your problems are in that first week."

Northwestern's issues from week one seem minimized due to the fact that it won the game. Those concerns will diminish with a strong showing against the Commodores. Fitzgerald is pleased his team is in the win column and hopes to see improvements reveal themselves.

"Half the country is not in the [the picture for the] national championship game and half the country is in it; we're in it," he said. "I'm not looking to win Miss America, I'm looking to find a way to win. We've got to keep coaching our butts off to get the guys to improve. The guys are embracing it with a great attitude."

Chris Emma has covered recruiting, college athletics and professional baseball for FOX Sports Next since 2009. Emma covered the Nebraska Cornhuskers for Big Red Report, and currently covers the Northwestern Wildcats and Chicago Cubs. He currently resides on Chicago's north side.
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