by Jonah Rosenblum (@jonahlrosenblum)
Snippet of the Day: Not Letting A Loss Turn Into A Losing Streak
Good things come in bunches. Then again, so do bad things, and the last time Northwestern lost a regular-season game, it ended up losing five in a row. Coach Pat Fitzgerald and his players said Monday that they have learned from last year's experience.
"We're a different team," Fitzgerald said. "We learned a lot from a year ago. We do have a good mix of guys who were part of that experience a year ago and were on the field, and we're going to lean on our leadership, which has been solid to this point. Those guys are good catalysts. We have 12 guys on our leadership council. We've got our four captains. We've got our staff. We've got a great group of seniors that have a lot of goals in front of them and aspirations so we got to work that way."
That leadership also includes a junior, who was benched at the tail end of Northwestern's 21-14 loss to Army last season, after having one of the tougher days of his young career. Kain Colter was the starting quarterback against the Black Knights, but after averaging just 3.87 yards per attempt, he was benched in favor of Trevor Siemian. After the game, in the murky depths of Michie Stadium, the young quarterback was dejected, even commenting that the Wildcats needed Dan Persa back, but determined. Even then, he grasped the lesson that Northwestern will need to grasp this weekend. As Colter said on that chilly September afternoon more than a year ago, "Life is about responding."
Colter, of course, is one of many veterans who not only endured, but played a part in the Wildcats' tailspin last season, a dramatic downturn that saw them lose consecutive games to Army, Illinois, Michigan, Iowa and Penn State. In several of those games, just like last weekend's loss at Happy Valley, Northwestern held commanding leads before letting them slip. In those games, the Wildcats' pass defense and Dan Persa's precision passing game were tested like never before. And players like then-junior defensive tackle Brian Arnfelt had to learn how to recover from slumps, like the one that saw Arnfelt and his teammates surrender at least 34 points in four consecutive games and manage just one sack combined in losses to Michigan, Iowa and Penn State.
"It's all about just refocusing," Arnfelt said. "It's on our values: respond. How do we respond? I don't think necessarily we took the right attitude last year. I don't think (with) this year's group that's going to be an issue at all. I think maybe more so than ever, we've got a group of character guys who are willing to answer and really willing to go out and put in the work during the week, the film study, the practice, the reps, kind of that grind in order to get the results on Saturday so I don't think that's going to be an issue."
Some items will remain in place, however, such as Fitzgerald's 24-hour rule, which allows the team 24 hours to soak in and recover from the game they just played before beginning preparations for the week ahead.
"You can't let a team beat you twice and you just got to get back to work," Fitzgerald said. "We've got a 24-hour rule here, win or lose. If we win the game, we don't say, 'Wow, we're great, we've arrived,' and sit on our laurels and not have a great week of preparation. I thought our prep last week was great. I don't look back and think that our guys didn't do a great job of preparing."
And while the team had just 24 hours to ruminate on its heartbreaking loss to Penn State, that doesn't mean that a more permanent lesson doesn't get taken away. Arnfelt stated that this year's team has definitely learned something from last year's failures.
"You learn from everything that happens," Arnfelt said. "You learn how to respond, maybe how not to respond, and I think that's something that this team has definitely taken away. There's a lot of veteran guys who are playing. There are also a lot of guys who maybe aren't as experienced but we've tried to lead them in the right direction and we think the attitude is in a great place."
Stat of the Day: Could Venric Be An All-Time Great?
Venric Mark continues to shine, even in the Wildcats' first loss of the season, in which he returned a punt 75 yards for a touchdown. Mark has already made a dent in the record books. He is currently 14th in program history with 3,005 all-purpose yards and second with 1,609 career kickoff return yards. By the time he has completed his career in Evanston, he should be the program's all-time leader in kickoff return yardage. He currently stands just 386 yards away. He also has a solid shot at becoming Northwestern's all-time leader in all-purpose yards. If he were to continue his current pace of 180.5 all-purpose yards per game, assuming no injuries and postseason appearances this season and next season, then he would finish his Wildcats' career with 6,615 all-purpose yards, 1,344 ahead of current leader Damien Anderson. Even with a game or two missed here and there, Mark has the record firmly in his crosshairs.