The members of the Northwestern football program say they live by the acronym W.I.N which stands for “What’s Important Now.” In the wake of the Wildcats' disappointing and frustrating 37-34 loss to Syracuse, there has never been a better time for the Wildcats, especially on defense, to prove how seriously they take that mantra.
Without a doubt the loss to Syracuse was a disappointment. It’s a shame to feel a great comeback, and career efforts from Mike Kafka and Drake Dunsmore, were wasted. However, the biggest disappointment wasn’t that the records those young men broke came in a loss. The biggest disappointment for Wildcat Nation was how a quarterback who has been practicing football for just over seven weeks torched a defense which was expected to be among the best in the Big Ten.
Certainly Syracuse quarterback Greg Paulus is a naturally gifted athlete. Certainly nature more often than not trumps nurture in athletics, but it is not like NU is devoid of natural talent on defense. Northwestern’s defense is in fact filled with talented athletes including cornerback Jordan Mabin, a freshman All-American last year, and defensive end Corey Wotton, a preseason All-American this year.
Yes, the Wildcats played without Sherrick McManis and Nate Williams, but they still played 11 starters with more college football experience than Paulus. Despite this, Paulus and his top target, Mike Williams, dominated the game. Many Wildcat fans say this is a scary fact because Minnesota’s quarterback and top wide receiver, Adam Weber and Eric Decker, are better than Paulus and Mike Williams. This might be true, but what happened at Syracuse shouldn’t matter as NU preps for Minnesota.
If Northwestern’s players truly buy into the “What’s Important Now” philosophy of Coach Fitzgerald, they need to put their mistakes at Syracuse behind them. Instead of looking back, they need to focus on what they can do to stay fundamentally sound on Saturday in order stop Weber and Decker.
Yes, mistakes were made in coverage which allowed Mike Williams to get open. That doesn’t matter now. What matters is that no mistakes will be made in coverage to allow Decker to get open. Perhaps NU’s defensive line didn’t attack the quarterback and provide the pressure they were expected to in the preseason. That doesn’t matter now. What matters is that Adam Weber finds himself under pressure with no time to throw. Those are just two examples. From player one to player 105, the Wildcats need to focus this week on what they can do to their team beat Minnesota.
Northwestern has the talent on defense to stop anybody they face and enough talent on offense to regularly dent the scoreboard, but if the players worry about past mistakes—or even past success—that talent won’t mean a thing because those past events can no longer hurt or help.
For Northwestern football, what’s important now is not the loss at Syracuse. What’s important now is beating Minnesota and getting the Big Ten season off to a 1-0 start.
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