Perhaps the biggest complaint from fans and media members last year regarding Northwestern football's performance was how the coaches used their personnel.
In one sense, the offense trended away from the spread and what it had always done, but in another sense, the coaches refused to adapt their dink-and-dunk style, even when it was grossly inefficient. That style worked when NU had explosive players, but the Wildcats were dead last nationally in explosiveness, and the results suffered accordingly.
You don't have to tell Pat Fitzgerald that — he was in adamant agreement — and now the question becomes how NU is going to fix that. It appears that we won't see a change in scheme, but rather, a change in the players. It's a case of fitting the players to the offense, not fitting the offense to the players. And this year, Fitzgerald thinks he has the players to fit the offense.
"We've got to have the guys that are dynamic players get the ball in their hands," Fitzgerald said. "I look at a guy like Miles Shuler, he's got to make big plays. Getting Christian Jones back, he's got to make big plays. Danny Vitale has to make big plays for us. Those three guys are guys that, quickly, in their careers have all made big, explosive plays, and we've got to find a way to get them to ball in those types of settings."
Basically, Northwestern is looking for another Dan Persa-Jeremy Ebert connection. While Ebert had some long receptions in his career, most of the passes to him were relatively short. NU relied on Ebert's explosiveness, and it hasn't had anyone to fill that role.
Now, Fitzgerald claims, the Wildcats have the ability to play like that again.
"We'll see guys that you haven't seen yet who I think have explosiveness," he said. "And one of those things we've done in the past is bubble screens. They haven't been a 40-yard post. They've been a bubble, get a block, make two guys miss and there we go, we've got a 40-yard gain. We were almost void of that last year, and that's not just on the guy catching the ball. It's as much on the guy blocking for him and winning at the point of attack."
Bubble screens, short passes and breakaways. It's still Northwestern football, success TBD.