On Field Vids from Northwestern Upsetting #17 Wisconsin

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By Paul M. Banks

With an upset at home over #17 Wisconsin, Northwestern finishes the regular season 8-4 overall, 5-3 in the Big Ten (tied for fourth place in the Big Ten with the Badgers). NU has compiled a 5-3 conference record four times since 2004 and also for a second consecutive season.

Some key facts and figures from today’s win

-Northwestern has won 17 games in back-to-back seasons, ranking only behind the 19 games won in 1995 and ’96, and the 18 won in 1903 and ’04. The Wildcats will have a chance to win their 18th game since the start of the 2008 season in their bowl game (bowl announcement will come no later than Sunday, Dec. 6).

-The Wildcats have won the last three games vs. Wisconsin in Evanston (2003, 2005 and 2009). NU is now 6-1 in games decided by seven points or less this season and now 24-6 in its last 30 games that were decided by seven or less.

Here’s the celebration between players, fans and students at midfield. You can see Head Coach Pat Fitzgerald walking past me, and avoiding the crowd. When I asked him about it in post game, he remarked “Those things obviously scare me. I’ve been on the field as as a player, as assistant coach, now as a Head Coach, when fans and others storm the field, it’s a pretty scary deal. Unfortunately, it’s part of the game, but I wish it was something we could try to eradicate. My first thought is for the safety, health and well-being of our players. Everyone made it to the locker room, so that was a good deal.”

NU Wide Receiver Andrew Brewer said, when I asked him about the midfield mosh pit  “I definitely enjoyed the fans and the mosh pit at midfield that was a very cool experience.”

And a key 3rd quarter play that helped make the victory possible. DE Corey Wootton sacking QB Scott Tolzien on a momentum changing 3rd down.

And finally, the school song sung in celebration. NUMB, players and cheerleaders altogether

Videos From Northwestern’s Land of Lincoln Victory over Illinois

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By Paul M. Banks

Just moments ago, Northwestern beat Illinois 21-16 to become the first ever owners of the Land of Lincoln trophy. The intrastate rivalry has a new trophy this year, and NU became the first of the two teams to win it. The first video below shows team captain Brendan Smith holding the trophy, as teammates Corey Wootton and others celebrate and sing the school fight song on their way to the visitors locker room at Memorial Stadium.

The second video, this next one below is of Wildcats’ Head Coach Pat Fitzgerald, and his post-game press conference. I trimmed it down to two minutes. By the way, I’m the reporter asking the question about his 2nd half adjustments to shut down Illinois’ ground game.

Northwestern Named Fiesta Bowl Team of the Week

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By Paul M. Banks

From the Football Writers Association of America press release

DALLAS (FWAA) – With their 17-10 win at No. 4 Iowa, the Northwestern Wildcats (6-4) are the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl National Team of the Week for games of the weekend of Nov. 7, as chosen by the board of the Football Writers Association of America. Trailing 10-0, the Wildcats forced four second-quarter turnovers to ignite the rally. Corey Wootton sacked Iowa’s Ricky Stanzi and forced a fumble that was recovered for a touchdown by Marshall Thomas to put Northwestern on the board. Stanzi was injured on the play and did not return to the game.

On Iowa’s next possession, a Quentin Davie interception led to the go-ahead score. Drake Dunsmore caught a 4-yard touchdown pass to cap the drive and give the Wildcats a lead they would not relinquish. The win was Northwestern’s third straight in Iowa City and ended Iowa’s 13-game winning streak.

“We fully expected if we could put together 60 minutes of Wildcat football together in all three phases we’d have an opportunity to compete,” Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald said after the game. “And, to our young men’s credit, we did.”

Other Tostitos Fiesta Bowl Bowl National Team of the Week nominees for the weekend of Nov. 7 included:

Navy (7-3): Ricky Dobbs threw a touchdown pass and ran for another as the Midshipmen upset No. 19 Notre Dame, 23-21, in South Bend. The win secured a Texas Bowl berth for the Midshipmen.
Stanford (6-3): Toby Gerhart ran for a school-record 223 yards and three touchdowns as the Cardinal stunned No. 7 Oregon, 51-42.

Northwestern Gives #8 Iowa First Loss 17-10

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By Paul M. Banks

All year long, Iowa wasn’t just wining ugly, they were winning HIDEOUSLY. To their immense credit, the un-sexiest 9-0 team in college football history kept winning, despite a starting quarterback, Ricky Stanzi who is to throwing interceptions what cable news is to covering celebrity deaths. The Iowa Hawkeyes got off to the best start in school history with mediocre-to-bad statistical rankings in every major category and zero skill position players that anyone other than the geekiest of college football geeks has ever heard of. Yet, their solid running game, seasoned linebacking corps, and loads of NFL ready talent on both lines kept them perfect and grabbed them the cover of Sports Illustrated. Dreaded SI cover jinx anyone?

They were finally done in by their deficiencies, some bad luck, and the bite from the injury bug swelling to crippling infection. They entered the game down to their third string tailback. Stanzi, their starting QB, went down with an ankle sprain in the first quarter and the Hawkeyes were forced to play backup James Vanderbeek. Whoops, I meant to say James Vandenberg. The freshman from Keokuk, not the actor best known as Dawson from “Dawson’s Creek,” who played a QB in two different films (“Angus” and “Varsity Blues”)

But Vandenberg was about as effective in running the Iowa offense as “Dawson’s Creek” writers were to having characters with realistic dialogue. The Northwestern secondary truly shut him down.

Coincidence that the team finally doing them in, the bowl-eligible 6-4 Northwestern Wildcats, have likewise experienced a season filled with injuries and insanely erratic play. Northwestern gave Iowa, the #8 team in the AP, #4 in the BCS, their first loss despite missing their MVP Mike Kafka for much of it.kafkadualthreat

The senior QB leads the team in rushing and leads the Big Ten in both passing and completions. He started, but a hamstring injury limited his passing effectiveness, and completely “hamstrung” his ability to run out of the pocket.

Therefore, the Wildcats were forced to go with backup QB Dan Persa much of the day, a former state of Pennsylvania high school player of the year, who like Kafka has a great ability to run, but has yet to have a Kafka like metamorphosis in the air attack.

Northwestern has had a perplexing season, losing to lowly Syracuse, but also holding a 4th quarter lead in every game but one this season, even when they were playing much more talented competition. They truly embody that cliché of “playing up (or down) to their competition.” Two of their non-conference wins were alarmingly close over two of the absolute worst squads of the 120 team FBS. (Miami of Ohio, Eastern Michigan). But this win, ugly as it was for both sides, was as sweet as it gets for Northwestern.

It’s the “signature win” that Head Coach Pat Fitzgerald was looking for. One of the youngest coaches in the FBS, he’s guided his Wildcats to three bowl-eligibility seasons during his four year tenure, but this is his first win over a top ten team. He’s known as one of the most emotionally intense coaches in all of college football, so he is no doubt grinning ear-to-ear today

And he truly has Iowa’s number: Northwestern has won 4 of their last 5 against the Hawkeyes, and three straight overall in Kinnick Stadium, where almost nobody wins.

And for the Hawkeyes, the nation’s second longest winning streak ends. Their most recent loss prior to today came at the hands of the Illinois Fighting Illini in November of 2008. With the loss to a team that calls Evanston, IL home this afternoon, I’m guessing Hawkeye Nation has a very bitter view of the Prairie State right now!

BEST Football Coach Soundbite of the YEAR

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By Paul M. Banks

This is why I’m proud to be from the same hometown as Pat Fitzgerald. Well sort of, he’s from Orland Park, IL and I’m from Palos Heights which are pretty much the same exact place in the grand scheme of things.

This video, captured by John Tsarouchas of Palestra.net/ ESPN UWIRE is a MUST WATCH! Fitz gets candid in describing the offensive line, which has not been very good at run-blocking or pass-blocking this season. (Other than that though, they’ve been just fine!) It isn’t a Mike Gundy or Dennis Green level rant, but it certainly will get more reporters interested in coming out to cover practice. And getting to hear this gem makes listening to 1,000 “we’re just focusing on what we do” and “we’re just focusing on our next game, not looking ahead” type cliches worth the while.

Good job Tsarouchas. Enjoy

The Sports Bank’s Live College Football Blog: Week 2

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Greetings college football fans! Well, it’s week two of the college football season and since our live blog went so swimmingly last week, we thought we’d come back and do it all over again.

I’m your host, H. Jose Bosch and I, along with a host of TSB writers will take you on a magical journey throughout the Big Ten and the rest of the nation throughout the day. There may be some more Arby’s jokes, Paul Schmidt might break all rules of journalistic integrity and pound Ron Zook’s face in when Illinois inevitably has another disappointing weekend and David Kay will once again risk his life covering a swine flu-infested football team.

Who knows what kind of wacky mayhem will happen!

So sit back, relax and enjoy yourself. Questions, comments or concerns may be addressed in the comments section, where we encourage you to add your input on any game you’re watching. Bonus points for finding/highlighting embarrassing moments. If you can provide a picture, even better. This thread will be for the noon games and we’ll have a second thread for the 3:30 games and beyond.

Oh and yes, Charlie Weis is fat. Go Blue!
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Repairing Sportsmanship after the Oregon-Boise State Incident

 

By Paul M. Banks

You’ve seen it somewhere by now- the ugly incident with University of Oregon and Boise State players, a deplorable scene for kicking off the eagerly awaited college football season. It was all caught on tape and it’s now being re-lived on countless websites through the art of viral video thousands of times.

The Awards and Recognition Association (ARA), founder of the National Sportsmanship Award, expressed concern over this black eye to college football’s image today. The ARA urges the public and the media not to share such negative displays and instead focus on the more common incidents of positive sportsmanship rarely make the news. The incident of negative sportsmanship — physical and verbal — reflects a trend that was identified in the ARA’s Annual State of Sportsmanship survey, fielded by TNS Worldwide earlier this year.

Unfortunately, for the fourth year in a row, the vast majority of Americans believe that sportsmanship is worse now than when they were growing up. More than 85 percent of Americans think sportsmanship is worse now than in previous years.lavelledwardsstadium

“What happened with the Oregon and Boise players was lamentable, but it is not by any means representative of the vast majority of athletes who participate in organized sports,” says former Brigham Young University Head Football Coach LaVell Edwards, who chairs the selection committee for the ARA Sportsmanship Award. “As a coach, I saw up close the character of the players on my teams and those of our opponents. Believe me, the good far outnumbered the bad. There are plenty of positive role models. The ARA Sportsmanship Award gives us an opportunity to shed a bright light on exemplary incidents and athletes.”

Last year, I spoke with both Edwards and Northwestern University’s Eric Peterman, when the former NU wide receiver accepted the ARA‘s 2008 National Sportsmanship Award.

On Saturday, I asked his former Head Coach about leadership, and who’s stepped up to fill that void (after Peterman’s departure) in his program. “Last year as a program, we volunteered 356 times for 80 different organizations. And yeah it was difficult to lose Eric, but he didn’t do all those. In our developmental process, giving back is critical. There are those who are a lot less fortunate than we are, and those who have made choices that have put themselves in those positions, and hopefully we can lift them up, in any way shape or form. Our young men are priviledged to be playing this game at Northwestern University, so hopefully we can take that 356 individual times and 80 different organizations that we went out and gave back, and hopefully double that this year,” Fitzgerald said.

Fitz was also asked his thoughts on Oregon suspending that player and the incident in general. He was very passionate about it and towards the end, displayed a fair amount of serious anger. Not anything close to Oklahoma State’s Mike Gundy and his infamous “I’M A MAN. I’M 40!!!,” but this is an issue Fitz feels very strongly about, as does the ARA.

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Here’s what Fitz had to say:

I believe, based on the initiative that Grant Taft and the American Football Coaches Association set out for this weekend, to have a ceremonial sportsmanship handshake before the game, shows the initiative we’re trying to have as a coaching body. Obviously that young man (at Oregon) made a poor choice, and he’s going to pay dearly. I look at it from what I’ve seen; I think there’s a crowd control problem in college football. There was a lot of emotion in that game. And to have people come on the field I think is dangerous for players and support staff.

I’d like to see that fixed in college football, so that our players can get off the field in a safe manner and the coaches can as well after ball games. There is no need for [the punch] in our game, there was no need for the initiation of the contact either that enacted the swing. We talked as a staff before the game and used that as a teaching moment. That’s how your life can change, your life can change like that (Fitz snapped his fingers) I also heard there were some coaches that decided not to do the ceremonial handshake today, and to me that’s extremely disappointing for our profession.pat_fitzgerald

And if we can’t recruit the right kind of young men to act properly and carry on the great tradition of football that is about acting the right way on and off the field than I question the young men that we’re recruiting, and I question the leadership of our coaching body. We’re entrusted to be the stewards of the game as coaches. I applaud Grant Taft and Chip Kelly for the statement that he’s making, because it’s unacceptable and it does not belong in our game.”

Tips for fostering positive sportsmanship, created by ARA’s panel of collegiate coaches, are available at www.arasportsmanshipaward.com

Pat Fitzgerald Previewing Northwestern’s Upcoming Season

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By Paul M. Banks

College Football season is a little more than three weeks away, and when things get underway September 5th, Northwestern will look to build upon last year’s success. In 2008, they finished one win shy of the single season school record for wins. “We’re Chicago’s Big Ten team,” Head Coach Pat Fitzgerald proclaimed at NU Media Day. I’m sure many people at the University of Illinois might disagree. But as Fitz gets ready to hopefully take the purple to Pasadena, here are some of the highlights of what he had to say when he rocked the mic at Big Ten and Northwestern Media Days.

Read below to see what his expectations are.

And to see Media Day pictures, a few of which feature yours truly click here.

“As I mentioned at the Kickoff Luncheon, currently the market remains very difficult and it affects you as members of the media so I want to say thanks for coming out.”

Couldn’t agree more on that…so how about all those newcomers in 2009 at the positions that get all the glory and publicity?

“On offense, none of you know any of our guys’ names so I’ll spare it for now, but you will. That’s exciting for us as a staff and as a program. We have great competitive depth across the board on offense.”


So who are the new guys at the skill positions?

“From a competition standpoint at tailback, Matt MacPherson and I are just chomping at the bit to get out to the practice field every day. Stephen Simmons, after the role he had a year ago with Tyrell Sutton and Omar Conteh going down, is kind of the elder statesman but he’s being pushed by Jeravin Matthews, who is maybe the fastest player in our program and has bulked up to about 180 pounds now after a tremendous summer. Alex Daniel is a young player who redshirted last year and had a great spring so based on the empirical data from last year those would be the guys, but Scott Concannon and Jacob Schmidt are also in the mix along with Mike Trumpy and Arby Fields.

At receiver, Andrew Brewer has now moved to the outside after a great summer, Charles Brown is inside, with Sidney Stewart on the opposite side doing some nice things early. All those guys are being pushed by Lee Coleman and Jeremy Ebert as he comes off his injury. The position I think that gets lost occasionally for us is superback. Josh Rooks has done nothing but excelled at the point of attack blocking, his routes have been outstanding. We have a healthy Drake Dunsmore along with Brendan Mitchell and Mark Woodsum so our superback position will be involved in our offense. Mick McCall and our offensive staff have a lot of flexibility.”patfitzgerald2

On the importance of having two senior starters at safety, the leadership they provide and what it means to the success of his defense…

“On defense, it’s like baseball in that it’s important to have a great pitcher, catcher and centerfielder up the middle. Your safeties have to be able to come downhill and play the run but also be effective in the passing game. The play-making ability of Brendan Smith and Brad Phillips is as good as any in this league and they’re being pushed by younger guys also in David Arnold, Brian Peters and Jared Carpenter, who we were pleasantly surprised by in his spring.”


On winning consistently each year to take the program to the next level…

“Well, you look at our record in the regular season and we’re 83-79 since 1995 so we’ve gotten over the hump of being able to say we can win consistently. When I was being recruited in 1993 that was the only thing being used against Gary Barnett’s staff, that they’ll never win consistently there. 6-6 is not the destination but I think our program has proven over time that we can win here on a consistent basis. The hallmark of consistent teams is winning bowl games and that’s our goal. But that’s down the road, right now it’s more important to consistently prepare for practice and that’s what we’re focused on.”


What does he think the team will do best…

“I know that we’ll play hard and give maximum effort in everything we do. You look at the job we did academically last year, that’s one part of our character. The second is on the football field and one of our hallmarks is the effort our young men play with. It starts with the way we practice. I thought we had a great effort on our second day and I’ve always known our guys will play as hard as they can as long as they, from when I was a student-athlete to when I was an assistant coach.”

On the league’s competitive depth…

“If I were a fan of Big Ten football and went to games, I’d be excited because a lot of times you don’t know what’s going to happen. I don’t think anyone sneaks up on anybody. There’s great players, great coaches in this league and for my role as a head coach, it’s why I’m going gray at 34, because it’s as competitive as it’s ever been.”northwestern_football_helmet


About all his effort in the community to increase brand awareness of the program, “Shot the Puck” at the Blackhawks playoff game, Pat Fitzgerald Day in his hometown of Orland Park, IL etc…

“I wouldn’t say I “shot” the puck at the Blackhawks game. There are some things that rank highly on the embarrassing scale and that was one of them for me. But it’s fun to be in Chicago, we’re in the third-largest media market in the country, right in Chicago’s backyard, and it’s great to be part of the Chicago landscape. We’re Chicago’s Big Ten team. To be asked to be part of that is humbling and it’s an honor as a Chicagoan. I went back to the John Humphrey Complex last week for the first time since maybe I was an umpire in high school, where I played football and baseball for the Pioneers, and I saw a lot of folks I hadn’t seen in a long time. Through the support of (director of athletics and recreation) Jim Phillips and the athletic department I’ve gotten to do a lot of things. Our program is on the rise and to be part of the Chicago landscape is exciting and I look forward to it growing even more.”