FCS Opponent No Joke for Northwestern

Northwestern knows its upcoming game with Western Illinois is anything but a trap. They're ready to prepare for it.

At the very least, Northwestern’s two losses ensured one positive thing: No one will be lazy in preparing for FCS opponent Western Illinois.

“I don’t think we can look past this team at all,” Collin Ellis said after Wednesday’s practice. “You can’t prepare for any team past the one we’re facing this week.”

In 2012, NU stomped South Dakota. Last year, they struggled before beating Maine. In both of those seasons, though, the team entered the game following good early season play.

They aren’t afforded that this year. The Wildcats lost to Cal (1-11 last season) and Northern Illinois (replacing star quarterback Jordan Lynch). And with that, NU brought extra urgency to practice during the bye week.

Pat Fitzgerald implemented the classic “up-down” system — something he said he’s never had to use before. Every time the team made mistakes, the players were punished. Part of that is for past performance; the rest is to prep for a serious opponent.

“This is a team that a year ago played Minnesota really well,” Fitz said. “They went to Wisconsin and played really well. They’ve been out to Vegas and things of that nature. This team will not be intimidated at all.”

“They’re extremely well coached,” Ellis added. “They know what they’re good at.”

The Leathernecks will enter with their somewhat run-oriented offense. Senior J.C. Baker averaged 5.5 yards per carry on 343 yards in his first three games this season. Ellis also praised Trenton Norvell, a quarterback who’s completing 67 percent of his passes and tore up Drake and Valparaiso.

Though WIU lost to Wisconsin, the score looks misleading. Wisconsin — still a much better team than NU — led by only six at halftime. Tanner McEvoy solved the defense by the third quarter, but WIU proved enough to be taken seriously.

Add in the fact that NU’s offense looked terrible in its opening weeks. The Wildcats are not the “Wildcats of old.” They’re a team that deserved a 0-2 mark and the questions that ensued.

“Anyone that’s ever put on the purple and white should be embarrassed by the way this team’s played,” Fitz said. “It’s not acceptable.”

It’s crazy to think that Northwestern has something to prove this week. They do. The WIU game is not some obstacle to a greater challenge — like Penn State the following weekend. Unless the Wildcats improve their play, 0-3 is a real possibility.

There’s no reason to label this a “trap game.” Northwestern is ready for a game it needs.

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