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Pat Fitzgerald Taking Northwestern Wildcats To Finishing School

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Kristofer Green

Evanston, Illinois--Once again the Wildcats were in position to win the game.

Northwestern, led by quarterback Mike Kafka, battled in the third quarter to come back from an 11 point deficit to lead 24-21 at the end of the quarter.

But the Wildcats couldn't hang on, allowing Adam Weber to connect for two fourth quarter touchdowns: the first coming off a 13 play, 83 yard drive that lasted over six minutes and the other coming off another late game Kafka turnover.

"I've got to give Minnesota credit," Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said after the game. "We had the lead going into the fourth quarter, you've got the game at home, and you've got to put it away, obviously we didn't do that and there'll be a lot we look back on in that fourth quarter where we had a chance to get the job done."

Getting the job done is something Fitzgerald emphasizes, but something the 'Cats have not been able to accomplish. For the second week in a row, the mental toughness and conditioning that Northwestern prides itself on broke down in the fourth quarter.

Fitzgerald, who isn't afraid to mince words, decribed his feeling as "shocked" when asked about how his team has closed the last two weeks.

"I don't have a magic pill or a magic call or a magic formula," he said. "It's trust and confidence and staying together. If you do that, you have a chance to get the job done. And we will. I believe that. I really do."

Senior wide reciever Zeke Markshausen, who caught a team high six passes for 70 yards, said the team's ability to finish games the last two weeks has been a problem and the players are well aware of it.

So where do the Wildcats go from here?

"We look at ourselves," Markshausen said. "We come back tomorrow and we look at the film and we see where we can improve."

One area that will certainly be addressed in the coming weeks by Fitzgerald is defensive tackling.

Fitzgerald, a former All-American linebacker at Northwestern, had one word to described the Wildcats' tackling in the fourth quarter especially.

"Awful," the coach said without hesitation. "Completely out of our character. I give credit to Minnesota, I guess they either put grease on their shoulder pads and their jerseys or we just decided not to tackle with our chests on our feet and play Big Ten football. It is something we will address and fix immediately."

Senior cornerback Sherrick McManis concurred with Fitzgerald when asked about the defense's poor tackling performance. "It was awful," he added. "It can be a lot better and that's what we're going to work on. It's not like we can't do it."

Fitzgerald said he places an emphasis on finishing and that he preaches it everyday in practice.

"Finishing is a way of life and when you don't accomplish that and that's something that you value, obviously our message, the way we're working, more than anything we just keep course and keep pounding at it.

"We've got to find a way to finish games, and that's on us as coaches. When we do then we'll give ourselves an opportunity to win, and the hardest thing to do is to win a Big Ten football game."

One or two plays is all that separates Northwestern from being 4-0 and on top of the Big Ten conference. Instead the Wildcats now sit at 2-2 and must regroup.

Big Ten play continues next week in West Lafayette against a Purdue team that could be problematic if they actually decide to show up to play, then a home date with Miami (OH) before getting into the thick of the conference schedule.

"We have to find that killer instinct as a team," Kafka said. "Smell blood and get after it."

It all comes down to finishing.

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