Pat Fitzgerald doesn't want to hear about NIU "playing up" this weekend when the Huskies visit Evanston.
The Wildcats are preparing for a team that has been involved in BCS conversations over the past several seasons, a team that's always in the mix for the MAC title, a team that beat both Big Ten teams on its schedule last season.
Fitzgerald doesn't want to hear about NIU "playing up" because NIU isn't playing up.
Northwestern lost its season-opener with a poor showing, particularly in the early going, against a team that went 1-11 last season. NIU opened the season by scoring 55 points and allowing just three.
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The Big Ten team in Saturday's matchup at Ryan Field might not even be favored. So NIU "playing up" isn't even a factor.
"You don't have four championships in a row and two outright championships and play in BCS games unless you know how to win and you play the right way, and that's what they've been able to do and have great success," Fitzgerald said Monday. "Especially last year, it jumped out to me early that you watch them play those teams, there'll be no intimidation from them playing what's perceived as 'up.' All that stuff is great for when you guys write things, but it has zero relevance on the games."
NIU was mighty impressive in its season-opener vs. Presbyterian, rushing for 424 yards and running — get this — 109 plays. Those numbers are pretty amazing, and it's something that Fitzgerald knows is coming.
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"It's been very impressive to watch them on tape as we did our summer study and then went through last week. Obviously they dominated their opponent, and they dominated it with pretty good ball security in a monsoon, which was really impressive from their offense," Fitzgerald said.
The Huskies took down Iowa in its season-opener last season, the one that saw them win their first 12 games. They also defeated Purdue. Both games came on the road. It was a clean two-game sweep of Big Ten teams, and it's let Fitzgerald and the Cats know exactly what to prepare for. The challenge now is stopping it.
"When you watch them, they really got after Purdue early last year and then the great win in Iowa City, which is a tough place to play," Fitzgerald said. "I think that's all you need to say."