Northwestern Football: Recent History of Slow Starts, Fast Finishes


pat fitzgerald

After yesterday’s 31-10 (a score that doesn’t do justice to the lopsidedness) home blowout loss to unranked Michigan State, Northwestern football Coach Pat Fitzgerald was asked about his team’s bad record in September. He seemed to channel his inner Billy Joe Armstrong as his response evoked the Green Day anti-Iraq War song “Wake Me Up When September Ends.”

“Is it over yet?” Fitzgerald responded. It was then pointed out to him that one more game remains this month, a trip to #13 Wisconsin. “Awesome. All right, let’s go,” he responded in a fun manner.

“I would say every year is a little bit different,” Fitzgerald continued.

“Last year we play a pretty good Duke football team. I’m being very specific, get some self-inflicted wounds, we just didn’t execute offensively. Before I got asked about October, write what you want to write, I don’t have an answer for you.”

“It’s not good enough.”

He does have a point, as October used to be the troublesome month. And Fitz’s teams

For Northwestern football, September has often inspired a feeling that is polar opposite Earth, Wind and Fire’s ultra-uplifting, utterly timeless dance jam named for the month

Recent inexplicable and inexcusable losses in the month include Duke and Akron last year, Duke again (this time it was more about the manner in which they lost) the previous year, FCS opponent Illinois State in 2016, NIU in 2014, Army in 2011 and FCS level New Hampshire in 2006

“I can’t really put my finger on it, the dreaded slow start,” defensive end Joe Gaziano said. “It’s definitely a problem we have to fix.

Northwestern football Slow Starts, Fast Finishes 

2016: started 1-3, finished 7-6 with a bowl win

2017 started 2-3, finished 10-3 with a bowl win

2018 started 1-3 (first winless non-conference regular season since 1992), finished 9-5, Big Ten West division champions with a 8-1 conference record and a bowl win over the PAC 12 runner-up.

Now: 1-2 now, finish ??

Up next is that extremely challenging aforementioned trip Wisconsin, then a visit to Nebraska (where they have played very well in recent history), the Ohio State juggernaut (who NU hasn’t beaten in a very very long time) and top 20 ranked Iowa (home game).

The schedule is just like a mullet- business in front, party in the back (the next three after Iowa are Indiana, UMass and Purdue, with a trip to Illinois on the final day again). However, if they don’t show major improvement and take care of business soon, Northwestern football could find itself in too deep a hole to realistically climb out of.

Losing to MSU yesterday was truly damaging to their bowl hopes.

Paul M. Banks runs The Sports, which is partnered with News Now. Banks, the author of “No,  I Can’t Get You Free Tickets: Lessons Learned From a Life in the Sports Media Industry,” regularly appears on WGN CLTV and co-hosts the “Let’s Get Weird, Sports” podcast on SB Nation

You can follow Banks, a former writer for NBC and Chicago on Twitter here and his cat on Instagram at this link.

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