Northwestern aims for complete effort

Northwestern enters the Maine game motivated, and for good reason: This weekend, the Wildcats can dominate in all three phases.

I said it throughout the offseason. At some point during the non-conference slate, Northwestern needed to piece together the basic blueprint for beating Ohio State.

The Wildcats will not lose to Maine, barring unforeseen disaster. There's still incentive: On Saturday, NU can finally dominate in the infamous "three phases" of Pat Fitzgerald.

With an emphasis on near-perfect execution, NU can remain motivated for Saturday's FCS opponent. In typical Fitzgerald fashion, he'll respect Maine like any other opponent.

"We're not saving anything," he said. "We're not holding anything back. We put together a bank of formations and plays throughout the season, and we pull from that bank in all three phases based on the gameplan."

Though NU experimented with different formations in practice–per PW's Steven Goldstein–the attack doesn't figure to change right away. Expect Fitzgerald to test his first-team players and their overall execution, which slipped against Western Michigan.

Fitzgerald started by criticizing the red zone offense—which also included the other two games.

"We haven't scored enough touchdowns," he said. "We're not very happy with the way we've played in the red zone right now… But we're getting better."

It carries over to the secondary, which struggled in the later stages against WMU. We could have expected the rough transition of Dwight White; redshirt sophomore Nick VanHoose was supposed to compensate with strong play. He has yet to come through.

Fitzgerald partially defended VanHoose, saying "he hasn't been tested a whole lot" this season. Regardless of how quality Maine's quarterback play is this weekend, the NU secondary can gain necessary confidence for October the fifth.

NU should dominate against Maine and avoid "playing down" to the level of another thirsty team.

There's work to be done. There's more than enough incentive to do it.

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