He began the season with an exceptional five-catch, 101-yard outing against California, and then slipped as the season progressed.
In the past five games, with NU's offense unraveling, Vitale had only 12 receptions—far below expectations. He dropped multiple passes in the surprise loss to Minnesota, becoming part of a team-wide problem.
But the frequent drops appeared to frustrate Trevor Siemian, who struggled in consecutive games as the sole option under center.
Last season, when NU relied on its exceptional running game–passing on just 37 percent of plays in the process–the receivers kept emphasizing patience. When the opportunities arrived, they prepared to capitalize.
Now, even as offensive coordinator Mick McCall tests his passing game, the receivers are clearly struggling to reach their ceiling.
"It's something you have to fix in practice," Vitale said of the drops. "That comes along with confidence. If you drop one, you've got to come back for the next play, brush it off and move on."
Known for his pass-catching ability, Vitale thrived from the superback position in several games. Despite frequent blocking struggles, he's calmly transitioned from true freshman to Drake Dunsmore's successor. Like so many others, though, he's left plays on the field—culminating in a mediocre outing against the Golden Gophers.
"I'm just trying to get back to the old fundamentals, looking the ball in," he said. "I'm going to get it done."
This is where the season stands, reduced to the fundamentals. Now 0-3 in Big Ten play, we can make acceptable use of the clichéd "little things."
Aside from the Wisconsin meltdown, NU keeps nearly every outcome close. Each dropped pass or egregious turnover from the offense will make the team's rebound that much more difficult.
Vitale and NU's sputtering attack turn to Iowa, hoping they can correct their problems before suffering another rough loss.
"Football's a game of momentum," he said. "That's something we haven't gotten a hold of on offense yet. We get in some slumps and dig ourselves a big hole.
"But you've got to climb right out."