We had Jay from the Northwestern blog Lake the Posts on the podcast, and he was so good, we thought we'd ask him a few questions about the game this Saturday.
1) You're 4-0 and have a real chance to go into November at 7-1 or 8-0. Clearly you're playing well and will dominate Minnesota and there's really no point in preparing for the Gophers. Any chance at all you get caught looking ahead (because that's the only remote chance we have of winning)?
Remember who you're talking to!!! Brewster has been stealing Fitz-isms this week by posting Big Ten "0-0" signs around Gopher lockerrooms. Fitz is the king of "we went 1-0 this week and now we're 0-0". Literally says it every week. There is no shot in hell we're looking past a Big Ten opener. Plus - haven't you heard from Fitz. Brewster is one of the best coaches in America!
2) Dan Persa is quietly off to a great start. From CJ Bacher to Mike Kafka to Persa the Cats are doing an excellent job of developing good Big Ten QB's. Who deserves the credit?
Each QB - Bacher to Kafka (now Eagles 3rd string QB) to Persa has been an improvement. I think Fitz gets credit for recruiting, but the system gets credit for putting our QBs in position to capitalize on their strengths and limit risk. Mick McCall, our OC has done a nice job developing QBs with the only knock from most of us is not throwing it more since we're so successful with the pass.
3) What's it like having a great coach and a staff who you trust can win you games?
It's great. Trust me, it's human nature to have beefs with any coaching staff. The biggest one we have now is our continued attempt to Scotch-tape a run game together and the playcall mix of trying to prove to the world we can run (we can't). It's great to have Fitz as the guy just gets it in every way. Our recruiting has skyrocketed talent-wise and it sounds cheesy, but he gets great character kids who are selfless. We've had a couple of blowout wins which we have no idea how to act since we're usually used to gnawing our fingers down the knuckles b/c we have so many close wins. I will tell you if it is a close game we do have a feeling that we'll win it every time.
4) The Gophers can't find a coach who can win consistently yet NW has won three
Rose Bowl berths Big Ten Titles since 1995 under three different coaches. What's been the reason for the success?
I wish 3 Rose Bowls! Three Big Ten titles ('95, '96, 2000) and those were under Gary Barnett and Randy Walker. However, Fitz is on the cusp of a first-ever 3-straight bowl appearance for NU which will be our 8th since 1995. The reason for success is Fitz. Period. The entire program has been molded in a way that is similar to the way the
guy played - like a champion. Amazingly, he's done it without great financial support and marketing support - until now. NU is enjoying the biggest attendance lift since the Rose Bowl - attendance is up more than 50% for the first two games and we have the largest marketing initiative going on in Chicago that we've ever had. We really are on the brink of busting this thing in to a permanent upper tier Big Ten program in my mind.
5) Building upon that point, we've been having arguments in Gopherland about how much fan support matters in building a winner. Your crowds at Ryan Field have been, um, shall we say "sparse", yet Fitzgerald keeps putting a winner on the field: how and why does this happen?
I addressed the attendance thing above. The single greatest feat for me is the recruiting. Bringing recruits for on-campus visits with a half-full stadium on gameday vs say, Nebraska and Michigan State - regular crossover recruiting competitors - blows me away. I predict we'll be #1 in the nation this season in attendance improvement -
percentage-wise. We have a sold out game vs Illinois at Wrigley Field, a night game next week vs Purdue in which we could be undefeated and the buzz is building. The on-field success product is really the system. We've got plug and play at skill positions. Why wouldn't you want to come to NU if you're an offensive skill player - we run more plays (currently top 5, last year #1) per game on offense than just about anyone and if you're really good, you might be able to play right away. We clearly get most of the kids who realize the value of the degree and the ability to go pro if you're good.
6) Despite all the success Northwestern has had lately, I'll admit it: I don't fear you. I believe Minnesota should beat Northwestern every time we play them and losing is unacceptable. Losses to Northwestern seem to hurt worse than others (that 2008 loss being a prime example) because I always feel like "we should have beaten them!" Why is that?
Probably like most you've been indoctrinated in the Dark Ages of NU history. It takes a full generation to overcome 25 years of losing records and not just losing, but getting smoked regularly. However, it's crazy but the current college kid looks at NU in the same light as an Iowa or even Notre Dame as far as success. History and tradition are tough to overcome. The lack of fan support also plays in to the whole thing. However, we keep hoping people think like you - as the student section T-shirts read this year "We Just WiN"
7) What is your view of the Gopher football program right now?
Empathetic. You had everything teed-up for this season. The new stadium hangover, Adam Weber as a senior QB and you've blown a flat tire (editor's note: a flat tire? You're calling this 1-3 start a flat tire? I'd say Brewster has driven the car into a ravine, rolled it seven times, and the car is now on fire. He's standing outside the car bleeding, telling everyone it's just a few scratches and the car will be good as new if we can just get it back on the road). We've been there - we know how bad it feels. All I can say is that last year after the MN game we were 2-2 with our lone wins being against FCS Towson and a last second FG to beat a God awful Eastern Michigan team. If you had told me then we'd be playing on New Year's Day we would've locked you up. The beauty of the Big Ten season is that it is an instant do-over. I won't lie though, NU fans' perception of Minnesota is perennial cellar dwellar right now. A loss
on Saturday would be extremely painful and instantly ruin the momentum we've built.
8) The Wildcats haven't ran the ball well at all, and Persa has been carving up defenses through the air. Good thing for you both our run and pass D have been some of the worst in college football. So what's the game plan for Saturday?
If it were me? I'd go 90% pass against you until you could prove you could stop it. However, I guarantee we'll be running quite a bit and frustrating us as fans. Mike Trumpy who two weeks ago was 4th or 5th on the depth chart is now the starter. He looked decent in limited action last week so a lot of folks are hoping this is the game we can
get some confidence on the ground. We haven't had a 100-yard rushing game from an RB since the 2008 Alamo Bowl. Amazingly, we've gone 12-5 in that stretch. Imagine if we had a stud RB?
Until proven otherwise, NU plays to the level of the opponent - both good and bad. Hence, this will be a tight one, but I believe NU will limit the mistakes and continue to create enough takeaways to give Persa enough chances to win the game. NU 30 MN 20