by Jonah Rosenblum (@jonahlrosenblum)
Snippet of the Day: Drowning Their October Blues
It’s the first day of October, which typically heralds not only fall, but a certain falling of the Wildcats.
This has not been Northwestern’s month of late. The Wildcats have a 10-15 record in October during Pat Fitzgerald’s six-plus years with the team, and that’s a failure that the Northwestern coach is completely conscious of.
Fitzgerald said that he and his coaches have been talking about October for a long time. He said they talked about it for two hours on their staff retreat. He also brought it up with his players as early as the spring.
“Hopefully, you achieve what you emphasize,” Fitzgerald said. “We have to be more consistent here with Saturdays in the month of October. We’ve been pretty salty in September, we’ve been pretty good in November, and October’s our month. We talked about it in the off-season. We talked about having a plan of time managing better, of making sure we get done what we need to get done when we need to get it done and being professional in the way that we approach it.”
A lot of that relates to taking on an increased workload, according to Fitzgerald, who said that he has urged his leaders to practice beyond the 20 hours that Fitzgerald gets with his team each week. He urged them to “bring the guys in” and stressed the importance of “not allowing the NCAA to hold them back,” and added that “instead of Playstation and Facebook and sleep,” he needs his players to focus on football.
It’s tempting to blame the Wildcats’ October failures on the start of Big Ten play. It’s surely no coincidence, after all, that their 20-9 record in September slips to 10-15 in October, but that theory doesn’t account for their 13-8 record in November — also during the heart of Big Ten season.
Their struggles could be due to difficulties adjusting to a higher level of play, but they won their opener at Minnesota in 2010 and came out really strong in the first half of their Big Ten opener at Champaign last season, so there must be other reasons for their October struggles.
“We need to have an approach of no excuses,” Fitzgerald said. “We have got to time manage. We obviously started school full fledge this week. We’ve got to be able to do a terrific job of handling our business appropriately and going to class and being where we’re supposed to be when we’re supposed to be, which our guys do. We had a 3.04 team GPA last year. I’m not worried about us academically. We have got to play above a 3.0 on Saturday. How does that sound?”
Last year, the Wildcats hit rock bottom in October, as they failed to rebound from a late September loss at Army, losing four more games, to Penn State, Iowa, Illinois and Michigan, in a row. It marked the first time since Fitzgerald’s first season that they lost four games in any month, and similar to 2006, the four losses once again came in October.
“I’m going to be really demanding on them this month,” Fitzgerald said. “I’m not going to tolerate the past. I’ll just put it to you that way. Our expectations collectively as a program have risen. We have got to be much better in this month if we want to achieve the goals that we have for ourselves.”
To some extent, Northwestern’s October struggles may be the result of off-the-field distractions. Whereas most schools start in late August, leaving their football players with plenty of time to learn how to balance school and football during the gentler non-conference portion of their schedule, the Wildcats’ players are thrown into the Big Ten fire and the academic fire at roughly the same time, leaving players with an awful lot to juggle.
“A lot more gets thrown on our plates in October,” senior linebacker David Nwabuisi said. “We finally start school again and get into the groove of things, but there’s really no excuse. It’s our job as the older guys to make sure that the young guys are coming along faster once school starts, make sure they get into class, make sure they understand that football is still a commitment too. Spend just as much time in the film room and in the weight room once school starts as you were before.”
Of course, spending just as much time in the weight room and film room as they did before school started means that the players will have to sacrifice something and that something might be sleep.
“Make sure there’s always a time for football, but there’s also a time for school,” junior running back Venric Mark said. “Coming into this month, you have to make sure that you prepare yourself. You have to make sure that you come in early sometimes, lose a little bit of sleep and come in late to watch film.”
Snippet of the Day: An Underrated Force
For some reason, Penn State senior quarterback Matt McGloin doesn’t garner all that much attention around the Big Ten. He has certainly gained coach Pat Fitzgerald’s respect though.
“Matt’s playing at a really high level,” Fitzgerald said. “I’ve always thought highly of Matt McGloin. I’ve thought he’s been a guy that’s been successful. He’s tough, he’s gritty, he takes hits. You watch the way he played in the Virginia game, he was a warrior in that game, he gave them a chance to win. He played really well on Saturday. He did a great job of taking what Temple gave him. So, I’m really impressed with the way that he plays.”
McGloin was particularly strong against Illinois last week, tossing three touchdowns in Penn State’s thunderous 35-7 victory in Champaign. The senior has completed 59.4 percent of his passes this season for 1,217 yards, 217 more passing yards than Kain Colter and Trevor Siemian combined. Most impressive, McGloin has avoided costly turnovers, tossing 10 touchdowns against just two interceptions.
Fitzgerald also said that senior center Matt Stanlewitch is one of the best offensive linemen in the country, noting that “the way that he plays the center position is impressive.”