Beginning its season at 3-0 for the third time in the past five seasons would have most teams feeling very good about themselves and possibly overconfident, however this doesn’t hold true for Northwestern.
As head coach Pat Fitzgeraldcontinues to state his team hasn’t played to its full potential this season, it appears the players have bought into his preaching as they’ve shown in practice over the past few weeks.
“The looks in the [players] eyes when they walked in [to practice] was very focused,” Fitzgerald said. “The one thing that I think we’re missing is having fun. We’re working but we’ve got to have some more fun.”
Through three games, the Wildcats have been somewhat inconsistent on offense and defense but have found ways to win games at home and on the road. What’s been impressive about each victory for the Wildcats is a new player has helped the team win games.
Whether it was Demetrius Fields in week one, Venric Mark in week two or kicker Jeff Budzien last week, there has been a different contributor each week thus far for Northwestern.
The Wildcats haven’t looked this good this early in a season in quite some time or possibly since 2008. As the players continue to buy into what Fitzgerald has called a journey, the benefits will appear sooner rather than later.
“We can obviously get better and we’re trying to do that this week,” said senior defensive lineman Quentin Williams.
Williams has been part of a defensive line that limited Vanderbilt to 101 rushing yards and Boston College to 25 rushing yards. While the defense was maligned all of last season for its lack of discipline up front, Williams has given credit to the team’s chemistry this season and a better form of communication throughout a game on defense.
“Communication is huge,” Williams said. “If you know what you’re doing, what calls you’re making it easier to make them loud and that communication very simple and easy. It’s great for me because I get all the calls, I don’t have to make many calls. When I get the calls quick and they’re loud, I’m a happy person.”
If you’re watching football from afar, you may not understand how important communication is on both sides of the ball, especially defense. This is something that has plagued the Wildcats the past few seasons along with poor tackling.
As Fitzgerald has noted in practice on Tuesday, this team will have to embrace its journey to reach its goals of winning the Big Ten championship this season. Some players have begun to embrace the journey and had their eyes set on the conference title before this season began. Others however, have mentioned how the chemistry on this team is the best they’ve seen while at Northwestern.
“You have to lead by example,” said senior defensive lineman and captain Brain Arnfelt. “I give credit to all the seniors on this team, all the upperclassmen. I look a lot to my teammates and they’re always there if you’re not having the best time, they pick you up. I think this team really builds upon itself.”
The Wildcats players appear to have fun at practice, especially when they want a certain song played or the defense forces a turnover. Although the team has plenty of work to do on Saturday against South Dakota, this team understands they are onto something special in Evanston.
“I think this program has taken huge strides in the five years that I’ve been here,” Arnfelt said. “It’s really fun to see the excitement change and the atmosphere around this program change.”