Disciplined. Fundamental. Well-coached.
These were the words the Nebraska staff and players used frequently on Monday to describe the 6-1 Northwestern Wildcats. You hear it enough and it starts to sink in: There’s a lot of respect for coach Pat Fitzgerald and his squad in Lincoln.
“I think they love playing the game of football,” offensive coordinator Tim Beck said following Monday’s practice. He then went on to add that they’re “well-coached” as well. Everyone’s doing it.
Northwestern may not have the defensive stars or size of some other teams in the Big Ten, but Beck said Fitzgerald has done a good job of maximizing his resources on that side of the ball.
“Sometimes it’s the size of the fight in the dog,” Beck said. “Those guys are tough kids, they play extremely hard, and he’s got them believing in their system. That’s more important to me than how much they weigh or how tall they are.”
Defensively, the Wildcats rank 56th nationally in total defense, eight spots behind Nebraska, but Northwestern has been successful in the area coaches love most — stopping the run. Northwestern ranks 22nd nationally, and second in the Big Ten, in rush defense, allowing just 109.86 yards per game.
Nebraska comes in averaging 292 yards per game on the ground and has run the ball on 65 percent of its downs this season. Beck came into the season hoping for a 50-50 split, but the Huskers strong backfield has changed that philosophy.
“We’re a good running football team,” Beck said. “Not that we’re not a good passing team, but we’re just trying to establish positive yards on first down and keep us out of long yardage situations. Sometimes it’s predicated on how teams play you.”
A few other notes from Monday’s practice:
–Running back Rex Burkhead practiced in full pads, with a knee brace, on Monday and said he “felt good” after his first practice back since re-injuring his knee against Ohio State.
–Northwestern has rotated quarterbacks this season, using Kain Colter primarily as a run threat and Trevor Siemian as the main passer. Colter typically stays on the field as a wide receiver when Siemian’s in and defensive backs coach Terry Joseph said Colter might be the team’s best receiver.
“The kid’s a special player. He runs good routes, has good hands and he can really put his foot in the ground and get vertical when he does catch it. He’s a guy that you want to get your body on and get physical with.”
–Senior safety Justin Blatchford is getting an audition at Nebraska’s dime back position this week. Joseph explained a bit about what earned him a look.
“(He’s) a consistent guy, a good tackler. Against a team that wants to spread it out but run the ball so you get somebody in there who can bang against the run pretty good and fit in the run game.”