NU dominates in lifting record to lofty 4-0
After 38-7 victory over South Dakota, Wildcats welcome challenge awaiting in Big Ten
Running back Tyris Jones scores a touchdown against South Dakota during the first quarter. (Jerry Lai-US PRESSWIRE, Jerry Lai-US PRESSWIRE / September 22, 2012)
"It doesn't matter," Fitzgerald said. "I don't know why we rank anybody prior to October anyway."
Crushing FCS foe South Dakota 38-7 Saturday at Ryan Field still might not land the Wildcats their first ranking since the end of the 2008 regular season. (They were three spots shy last week.)
But, as Fitzgerald said, it doesn't matter.
Here's what does: Northwestern is 4-0 heading into its Big Ten opener against Indiana after what Fitzgerald described as a "very professional performance."
NU's running game dominated for a second straight week, producing 277 yards. Its defense pitched a first-half shutout, a week after holding Boston College to 13 points. And its special teams had another near-flawless performance.
And to celebrate their 4-0 start, the Wildcats did … very little.
The muted reaction reflects what the players learned while training with Navy SEALs on the beach in Kenosha in preseason camp.
"Every operation the SEALs go into, they expect to be victorious," quarterback Kain Colter said. "When they complete a mission successfully, they won't be jumping for joy. We expected to win these first four games and as we go into Big Ten, we expect to win games, expect to win the conference."
Fitzgerald said "the reason we're all here … is to play Big Ten football. Everyone goes back to 0-0."
The Wildcats have one of the league's best backs in Venric Mark, who chewed up for 117 yards and visited the end zone three times, bouncing off defenders.
"It's funny," Colter said. "I hand the ball off and I don't even see him. There are those big guys around him and all of a sudden he squirts through."
But it was not all whipped cream and cherries for NU's offense.
Colter took a massive hit and had to get his left wrist examined during the game. He's fine.
No. 2 quarterback Trevor Siemian got decked by a blitzer he did not see coming. At times, Colter also needs to be more aware of the pass rush.
"When they bring the free safety," Fitzgerald said, "it's on the quarterback to get rid of the ball."
And although the Wildcats did not turn the ball over, they nearly did three times. While getting hit, Siemian lobbed a pass that almost was picked off; Mark fumbled, but he was ruled down; Green coughed up the ball, but Siemian dived on it.
But that's the fine print. The big picture has Northwestern undefeated heading into Big Ten play.
Fitzgerald seemed to offer a preview of what he will tell his players.
"Will we prepare the way that championship teams do, the way that mature teams do?" he said. "Or are we going to be fat and sassy after winning some games in the non-conference?"