Pat Fitzgerald’s Monday press conferences have gotten pretty old. The jokes and analogies are a few weeks past their expiration date, what with the team sitting at 1-8, and every time, reporters and fans seem to hear slightly different iterations of the same story. One thing Fitz has taken to talking about recently, though, that rings completely true, is how much he wants to send the seniors out on a high note.
Saturday is that chance.
Northwestern came into this season with a lot of uncertainty and a lot of expectations. The former has prevailed and materialized, but we’ve covered that enough to where I don’t need to harp on it much more. Where a repeat trip to Indy or even further was on many minds in August, especially on those of the seniors looking to cap their careers, the thought now lingers as to whether their last win in a Wildcat uniform came on September 14 against UNLV.
Let’s face it: by the way NU has played, and the strength of its two opponents after UMass — no. 7 Minnesota and a surging Illinois — this is by far the best chance for the graduating class of 2020 to get that last win in purple. The season is over for all other purposes, but the one obvious reason to play hard (besides for pride) is to do so for the guys who might not have another chance to.
The class of 2020 is by no means a large class or one headlined with as many playmakers as that of a year ago, but they helped NU to one of its best three-year stretches in program history, including three straight bowl wins.
And there were certainly plenty of memorable plays brought to you by this class, whether it be Bennett Skowronek’s touchdown catch at Iowa that helped clinch the Big Ten West title, John Moten IV’s memorable 77-yard touchdown run in the Big Ten Championship, or Joe Gaziano’s strip that led to Jared McGee’s long touchdown return and sparked an insane comeback in the Holiday Bowl.
Then there are the less heralded seniors like Trae Williams, Joe Bergin, Rod Campbell, Jared Thomas, Trent Goens and Alex Miller. These guys have done the dirty work on both sides of the ball for four years, and this season is not representative of what they have given to the program and is certainly not how they deserve to go out.
UMass is a bad team. While Northwestern hasn’t been good in 2019 either, there is a reason they’re favored by 39 points (even if they might not win by quite that margin).
It might not be the most ceremonious last victory, but I bet everyone in the program knows that this is by far the best shot to get one final W for a group of guys they care deeply about. So despite this game taking place before Senior Day, the message should be especially clear and Fitzian: go 1-0 this week, for the guys who won’t get too many more chances to do so.