After latest 'sock in the gut,' Northwestern remains resolute

After latest 'sock in the gut,' Northwestern remains resolute
November 18, 2013, 4:45 pm
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Vinnie Duber

Pat Fitzgerald has said all during Northwestern's conference losing streak that his Wildcats were close to winning.

And he's been right.

Kain Colter was stopped on fourth-and-1 against Ohio State. Trevor Siemian threw a late pick-six against Minnesota. It took overtime for Iowa to top Northwestern. And then there's that ridiculous Hail Mary against Nebraska.

But Saturday, the latest loss came in an even closer, more heartbreaking fashion. With no timeouts and the clock running inside 20 seconds, Michigan somehow set up a field goal that went through and sent the game to overtime, where the Wolverines eventually handed Northwestern its sixth straight defeat.

As Fitzgerald put it Monday, it was just the latest punch in the stomach.

"They're working their tails off. It's just come down to making one more play. I don't know if there's another team in the country that's gotten socked in the gut the way these guys have and have responded the way that they have," he said at his weekly press conference. "I think that shows the character of our program."

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Who knows what is happening inside the minds of the Wildcats players, but Fitzgerald is correct in assessing their ability to bounce back and continue to fight. The games wouldn't be this close if the players were letting this losing streak really get to them.

"We're really close," Colter said Monday. "It's not like we're getting blown out every game. We're really close, and we're right there. Got to get over the hump and try to get these last two wins."

After 10 wins a season ago, this Cats have taken a broken-down elevator ride from the top floor to the basement of the Big Ten. They're winless in conference play, and now only two wins in two games can get them to the postseason.

And that seems rather unlikely. No. 13 Michigan State comes to Evanston on Saturday, a team that boasts the nation's best defense and is looking to be on its way to the Big Ten title game. By most observers' standards, the Wildcats are doomed to not even reaching bowl eligibility in a year they were picked to contend for the conference championship.

But don't tell them that.

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"Just got to keep fighting. That's all you can do," Colter said. "I think we're going to put pressure on the guys for these seniors who are about to leave. Just keep fighting for them. We've got two games left and can't pout now. When the season's over, if you want to look back and reflect on it, do that after the season, but right now you've got to keep fighting, keep swinging."

There is some reality seeping past these resolute Wildcats, though. Fitzgerald, while he's been right in saying that his team isn't far off from having a much different mark, had to admit the truth.

"We're a couple plays away from being where we want to be, and we're not. That's the reality," he said. "'You are what your record says says you are.' So that's what we've got to get fixed. I promise you and I promise all of our fans and everybody that supports our program, our guys are working to do it and we're working to do it as a staff."

Still, there is a reason they play the games. And though a win against the vaunted Spartans might be a long shot, no one in Evanston is giving up before the game even begins.

"I wouldn't give up on these guys, especially here on senior day," Fitzgerald said, alluding to the final game for his last-year players. "I'd be out there in full force to support these guys that have given so much to the program."