For this report, I turn it over to Jamie Arkin, my Northwestern beat writer at The Sports Bank.
Four weeks ago, Northwestern had hit rock bottom. The ‘Cats were 2-5 after a five-game losing streak – blowing substantial leads in several of those games – and were on the verge of a losing record, which would have ended the streak of four consecutive years of bowl eligibility. With a four-game winning streak, however, including an upset over Nebraska on the road, the Wildcats have completed the miraculous comeback to bowl eligibility. As head coach Pat Fitzgerald has said multiple times during the winning streak, the ‘Cats are trying to make it a November to remember.
The Wildcats continued the winning ways with a 28-13 victory at home over a Minnesota team that has improved significantly throughout the year. The offense scored on its first three drives before stalling for the rest of the game minus a touchdown drive early in the fourth quarter.
“We were not very good,” Fitzgerald said of the offense in the second and third quarters. “For a lack of anything else, they did things we expected them to do and we just didn’t adjust very well in the field. I thought we settled down a little bit at halftime and then we were ‘just okay’ in the third quarter. We have a lot of things to clean up – it wasn’t our best game of the year.”
Due to the lackluster offensive performance, the defense was forced to step up. Though the unit struggled mightily during the losing streak, the past three games have been a completely different story.
“We finally were able to take some of the weight off the offense and decided to step up,” senior safety Brian Peters said. “It was due. When we come to play we are a good team across the board because our offense is going to put up points no matter what. A lot of that falls on our shoulders, so when we execute and do our jobs, we operate pretty smoothly.”
Before this win streak, most Northwestern fans had written off the idea of a bowl game this season. Sitting two losses away from a losing record with games remaining against Michigan State and Nebraska, the odds of securing the necessary wins seemed low. The team, however, never lost faith.
“When we were in the middle of that losing streak, we knew that we were a better team than that and that we were not performing the way we could,” senior running back Jacob Schmidt said. “We knew if we just stayed the course and kept working our butts off that we could get back to .500 and now above.”
With the win, however, Northwestern did not secure a trip to a bowl game. In 2007 the Wildcats finished the season 6-6, but did not receive a bowl bid. With that in mind, the team’s focus is on Michigan State. Fitzgerald normally has a 24-hour rule after each game before beginning to prepare for the next opponent. This week, however, that rule is not in effect.
“It’s already over,” Fitzgerald said of the 24-hour rule. “I think more for our staff… We now have a big week coming up for us as we look forward to playing a great football team – Michigan State.”
Schmidt agreed that the team needs to have a quick focus shift to Michigan State. Schmidt also highlighted the importance of getting a seventh victory.
“We know what we have left to do. Six win’s doesn’t guarantee anything,” he said. “We’ve got to work our butts off this week to get ready to Michigan State because we know the type of team that they are. If we get to seven, then we’re guaranteed to go somewhere, and hopefully somewhere warm. We’re going to move on pretty quick.”