After rattling off five straight wins to open the season (including a road win at Syracuse followed by home wins against Boston College, South Dakota and Indiana) Northwestern came up just short (39-28) during their game last Saturday against Penn State.
The Northwestern staff was one of only 16 teams in the country to keep their entire coaching staff intact. Minnesota (this weekends opponent) was also one of those schools. Defensive coordinator Mike Hankwitz and offensive coordinator Mick McCall are both in their fifth year with the Wildcats.
During his press conference earlier this week, Coach Fitz was asked about a banner that McCall and the offensive staff used to conceal their signal callers that were relaying the plays to the field. It's not something particularly out of the ordinary for staffs to do, but Fitz noted the start of Big Ten play as one of the main reasons for the banner.
"We’re smarter than we look," Fitz explained. "We know what’s going on. We’re getting into Big Ten play now. We know that they know that we know. You’ve got to have answers. We have answers."
‘‘When you’re playing in the nonconference, it’s not as big of a concern. But when you’re playing in league play, like I said, we know that they know that we know."
Prior to their loss Saturday, the Wildcat offense had ranked 42nd nationally in scoring offense, putting up nearly 33 points per game on average and had eclipsed the 37 point mark in three of their first five games (all wins). The Wildcats managed to put up 28 points on a Penn State defense that had not allowed a 20 point game since their week 1 loss to Ohio.
Heading into this weeks game with 4-1 Minnesota, Northwestern ranks 14th nationally in rushing offense (234 ypg) and 15th nationally in defending the run (103 ypg). The Wildcats have also been getting it done on special teams, an area that Coach Fitzgerald oversees and every coach has a part in, ranking 3rd nationally in punt returns with over 27 yards per touch.