EVANSTON — Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald labelled his team's performance "very average" in the Wildcats' upset of No. 21 Stanford Saturday.
Speaking Monday at his weekly press conference, Fitzgerald sounded frustrated, perhaps even exasperated, despite winning as a 12-point underdog.
"After watching the video, there aren't too many big heads around here right now," Fitzgerald said. "The eye in the sky doesn't lie.
"I'm tired of being average. And average comes from being inconsistent. I thought we had a very average performance as a football team on Saturday. I think we can be much better in all three phases."
Fitzgerald was especially displeased with the offense. "We've got a long way to go," he said. "We've got a long, long way to go offensively.
"I thought we had too many one-man breakdowns that left a lot of yards and a lot of opportunity out there."
The biggest issues, according to Fitzgerald, were on the offensive line. "They were very average," he said of the unit. "We've got a long way to go there. Very inconsistent. I thought our body language at times was very poor."
"When we started going with some tempo, the last group to get lined up was the o-line. The last group to make a call was the o-line. The last group to do what was right was the o-line. That's not acceptable. They've got a lot of work to do. They are far, far from being a finished product."
Fitzgerald said he and offensive line coach Adam Cushing came into the game with a plan to rotate offensive linemen in and out, but didn't stick to that plan. And Fitzgerald regrets it.
"We didn't play enough guys," he said. "Right now, we don't have a consistent five, we're not there yet. We're not even close to being there yet. So a lot of work for that group. A lot of work...That was the group I was probably most disappointed with."
More from Monday's press conference
More from Monday's press conference
Fitzgerald also singled out the center position, which was manned by Brad North and, when North went down with an injury, Ian Park. He was particularly frustrated with the several high snaps.
"It’s unacceptable," Fitzgerald said. "You can’t snap the ball, you can’t play. Unacceptable. Cannot happen. Cannot happen."
With loads of sarcasm in his voice, Fitzgerald said, "we're going to have an awesome week of practice. It is going to be a joy."
It wasn't just the offensive line though. Fitzgerald called out the offense as a whole. Superbacks Dan Vitale and Garrett Dickerson, in his mind, were "not very good," and "really had no impact on the game."
Fitzgerald also downplayed Clayton Thorson's performance. "He walked out of the film room today going, 'Whoa! I got away with some... I better not do that again,'" Fitzgerald said. "He didn’t walk in this morning [saying] 'wow, I’ve arrived.' He walked in [saying] "wow, I’ve got a lot of work to do."
Fitzgerald was even somewhat critical of Jack Mitchell, who nailed a clutch 49-yard field goal to put the Wildcats up 16-6 in the 4th quarter.
One area in which the Wildcats had problems was the red zone. "Our inability to run the ball, 1st-and-goal at the 5. Some decision making with the ball in the red zone at the quarterback position. Those are things that will get you beat," Fitzgerald lamented. "We were fortunate on some of those plays."
That Fitzgerald was unhappy with the offense was no surprise. After all, the Wildcats averaged just 4.18 yards per play, not a good mark. But at the same time, they did move the ball enough against what many expect to be a very good Stanford defense.
Using phrases like "we've just got to move on and move forward," Fitzgerald appeared to be challenging his team to not get caught up in the positive end result. Players like Miles Shuler and Shane Mertz confirmed that Fitzgerald's message to the team was the same as his message to the media.
Coaches have a tendency to downplay both success and a lack thereof. After a loss, when most are critical, they tend to be more positive, and after a win, vice versa. After a win, from a public relations perspective, they can afford to be critical. But Fitzgerald's words Monday seemed at least somewhat genuine. He was not happy.
"We're just not there yet," he said. "I love the attitude, and I love the energy, and obviously defensively, if we hold people to six points, we're going to win a lot of football games. But to think we're going to do that every week...we'd be sadly mistaken.
"I'm ecstatic that we won. I'll never be upset about a victory. But when you see what we potentially could be... I'm done with potential. I want to see production. Period. Production. If you can't produce, you are going to be replaced."