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Posted By Ben Chiswick On Sep 27 2010 @ 12:36 pm In Northwestern | 1 Comment

Pat Fitzgerald is the man.

On Saturday, the Northwestern Wildcats finished the non-conference portion of their schedule at 4-0 after beating a good Central Michigan team, 30-25, at Ryan Field.

Listening to the coaches and players after the game, you would have thought they had just escaped some kind of upset threat from Northwest Central Mississippi A&M.

True, Saturday’s win was a sloppy one. The Wildcats committed 11 penalties for 106 yards, missed a field goal and an extra point, and gave up 423 yards of total offense. Arby Fields was irrelevant once again, rushing for 16 yards on seven carries and fumbling during a brief cameo appearance in the second half. After taking a 30-13 lead on the first play of the fourth quarter, Northwestern gave up two late touchdowns before recovering an onside kick to stave off a late Chippewas’ rally.

Those were the negatives. That is what Fitzgerald – and his players – were dwelling on after the game. They have their eyes on the prize. A 4-0 start is great, but they will have to play better to make a serious push once Big Ten play begins. You have to love the attitude and focus.

I, on the other hand, do not work out of Ryan Field. That means I can admit that the Wildcats are looking good right now – and the future is bright.

Consider the following:

  • Despite the blunders, the staunch Northwestern defense again led the ‘Cats to victory. They forced three more turnovers, two of which led to touchdowns on the ensuing drives. They were especially dominant in the third quarter, allowing just 39 yards and one first down to key a 17-0 run that turned a 13-13 halftime deadlock into a commanding 30-13 advantage. The ferocious Wildcats’ defense has Northwestern ranked sixth in the nation in turnover margin (+1.75), tied for seventh with 12 turnovers forced, and tied for 22nd with 15.5 points-per-game allowed.
  • Quarterback Dan Persa was excellent once again, running the offense brilliantly while putting up big numbers. He was 23-for-30 for 280 yards and two touchdowns through the air while rushing for 43 yards on the ground. Despite throwing his first pick of the year in the second quarter, Persa owns an 8-to-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio and an 80.2 completion percentage with 1,049 passing yards. He leads the nation in completion percentage and is tied for second with a 186.3 passing efficiency while engineering an offense that is averaging 30 points-per-game.
  • For the first time all year, the Northwestern running game made an appearance. After Fields was ineffective once again, Fitzgerald turned to… redshirt freshman Mike Trumpy? Seemingly out of nowhere, Trumpy took over as the primary tailback in the second half and ran for 53 yards on 12 carries (4.4 ypc). Don’t be surprised to see more of him next week as the ‘Cats look for some kind of consistency from the running back position.

Northwestern beat a good team on Saturday. Central Michigan has gone to four straight bowl games, won the MAC in three of the last four seasons, and has a history of launching their coaches to big time careers.

After beating the Chippewas, the Wildcats find themselves knocking on the door of the Top 25 polls as they head into their first Big Ten match-up in Minnesota next weekend. Northwestern received 21 votes in the Coaches Poll and four votes in the AP Poll this week.

And the future is even brighter.

With eight conference games remaining on the schedule, Northwestern will not have to play Michigan or Ohio State this year. Three of their next four games are against Minnesota, Purdue and Indiana. While the schedule gets tougher down the stretch – three of their last four games are against ranked teams in Penn State, Iowa and Wisconsin – things are shaping up very well for a Northwestern team that will continue to get better.

The Big Ten should take notice.

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