After a frustrating 2013 season, Pat Fitzgerald wants more accountability from Northwestern in 2014. A season of late blown leads, a rash of injuries and the backups not stepping up doomed Northwestern a year ago. Appearing at the Big Ten Media Kickoff Luncheon last month, Fitzgerald discussed a variety of topics.
Speaking about their first bowless season since 2007, Fitzgerald said
the reality is we didn't do a good enough job as a coaching staff getting our next level and our depth prepared a year ago, and it really showed up in the mistakes we made down the stretch.
Fitzgerald made a point of talking about accountability both on and off the field. He talked about the team's cumulative 3.0 GPA, the 46 internships that NU players have had since the spring and the work they put in in the weight room.
According to Fitzgerald, the team set 176 records in the weight room. He mentioned that importance of improving the team's strength to get better at the line of scrimmage.
Late game blown leads have seemed to hurt Northwestern during the Fitzgerald era. Last season they were critical. After a 4-0 start during non-conference play, Northwestern lost seven in a row to begin the Big Ten. They avoiding going winless in the conference with a season ending win against Illinois.
Northwestern blew second half leads in losses to Ohio State, Nebraska and Michigan a year ago and had chances to win at Iowa. Those were games the 2012 Wildcats would have won.
After outscoring their opponents 175-126 in the first half. They were outscored 81-40 in the third quarter and 25-10 in overtime.
Fitzgerald stressed the importance of adapting to adversity this season.
That was just disappointing a year ago. And, again, football, 72-degree room or training camp, when everybody's feeling great, it's easy to respond. But when adversity strikes, we didn't do a good enough job of that a year ago"
Injuries doomed NU last season. All-American Venric Mark redshirted after never recovering from a broken ankle last season. At one point last November, the Wildcats had their top five tailbacks hurt. He will also miss the first two games this season because of a suspension.
Mark's return should make Northwestern a more balanced offense. Coupled with Trevor Simien back at Quarterback and Fitzgerald should have a more traditional offense this season. Siemian is a more traditonal Quarterback than the departed Kain Colter. He threw for 2,149 yards, 11 touchdowns and nine interceptions last season.
The 2013 injuries did provide many players a chance to play with starters out.
Treyvon Green rushed for 736 yards and eight touchdowns on 5.4 YPC. Sophomore Stephen Buckley showed promise when given opportunities before he suffered his own season ending injury. With Mark and Green in their senior years, Buckley is the heir apparent at running back.
With nine starters back on both sides of the ball, it has the potential of an exciting season in Evanston.