It was hard to hear much over the blustering wind, but I was able to pick up Pat Fitzgerald’s strained rasp as he asked for five “up downs” because of a mistake made by Keith Watkins. A few minutes later, Kyle Queiro was the culprit. An hour into practice put seemingly the entire roster on the hook.
Northwestern doesn’t usually administer conditioning tests to its players mid-scrimmage, nor does it use the outdoor practice facility in poor weather. In past years, it seldom runs its varsity team during mid-bye week practices.
It also doesn’t go 0-2 out of conference.
“This was the maddest I’ve seen him in two years,” a drenched Brandon Vitable said after drills concluded. “It’s what we needed.”
Wednesday’s practice was the result of a team that’s fed up, and though the wet conditions made for shoddy throws and sloppy dropped passes, it was one of the more encouraging days of the season thus far. Zack Oliver commanded the team with intensity while Trevor Siemian sat out; the sidelines erupted when Justin Jackson ripped a carry into the open field; players were worked ragged all morning.
It’s exactly what they wanted.
The leadership council met Sunday to discuss implementing a few changes. They brought an unusual request to Fitzgerald the next day.
“We said that we needed his help,” Vitable said. “We asked for the coaches to ride us.”
That they did, with Fitzgerald criticizing the offensive line after practice. He challenged Eric Olson and Jack Konopka to earn the starting right tackle job, then threatened to try a replacement with Adam DePietro. He said the team isn’t tough right now, and is “guessing” when it comes to technique, forcing players into what Fitz called a panicked “oh shit” moment. And above all, he put blame squarely on his shoulders, a welcomed move after two deflating postgame pressers in two weeks.
“My job is to coach a football team,” he said. “When we’re not doing too well, it’s my responsibility. The person I’m mad at most is myself. I’m the leader of the ship, and I’m going to get it fixed.”
This practice was certainly an “oh shit” moment, with equal parts panic and intensity. The team is at it again Thursday morning, and if Wednesday was any indication, a needed change is occurring at Northwestern practices. Responsibility is being taken.
The rain isn’t letting up any time soon. NU doesn’t deserve otherwise right now, nor does it want it.