CAMPUS CHECK IN: Northwestern looks inward as second half begins

EVANSTON, IL- OCTOBER 13: Flynn Nagel #2 of the Northwestern Wildcats scores a touchdown against the Nebraska Cornhuskers during the second half on October 13, 2018 at Ryan Field in Evanston, Illinois. Northwestern won 34-31 in overtime. (Photo by David Banks/Getty Images)

EVANSTON – Just a few weeks ago, they were sitting at 1-3 with their season, wondering which direction the season would go as September turned to October.

But an upset win at Michigan State and a comeback victory over Nebraska has Northwestern back to even as they start the second half of the season.

The beginning of the stretch run starts at Rutgers, who is struggling dearly in 2018. They’re just 1-6 on the season and have been close in only one of their four Big Ten losses.

The trip to Piscataway figures to give the Wildcats a chance to boost their record before they face Wisconsin then Notre Dame at home. Yet Fitzgerald wants his team to look inward and not their opponents as they approach the second half.

“We stay very consistent with how we approach stuff here. It’s a 1-0 approach each week, the way we talk about, the way we go about preparing what we have to do today,” said Fitzgerald.  “We have a very specific routine we go through and, to me, we’re not playing very well right now, we’re not playing very consistent football right now.”

Clayton Thorson’s coming into form after being on a play count early in the season as he finished his recovery from a torn ACL. He’s thrown for 828 yards with six touchdowns compared to four interceptions, and has been praised by Fitzgerald a number of times for his ability to recover from the injury.

Yet for Thorson along with the rest of the team, the message remains the same: Focus within in hopes of finishing the season strong.

“My biggest concern is us. We’ve got to get better up front, both sides of the ball. We’ve got to tackle better. We’ve got to find a way to establish some semblance of a rushing attack,” said Fitzgerald. “We’ve got to continue to take care of the football, and we have to continue to take care of the football. We’ve got to play with great discipline, which I’m very proud of the guys for what they’ve exhibited at this point halfway through the season.

 

ILLINOIS: What’s going to be the response?

CHAMPAIGN – Finally it appeared there was a shot for some momentum for the Fighting Illini – and the fans responded.

A season-high crowd of over 40,000 showed up at Memorial Stadium to see if the program could take a major step forward in their rebuild against Purdue.

Not only did that not happen, but they looked bad doing it.

After a touchdown to take the lead, Illinois surrendered 46 unanswered points en route to a bad defeat that had a good amount of that Homecoming crowd heading to the exits in the third quarter.

Not even Lovie Smith knew what to make of the effort, which was the worst of the season for the Illini

“When you don’t have a lot of answers for what happened, you go back to work which we’ll do,” said Smith of the loss to Purdue. “We started that process of course this morning watching the video. For our football team, whether you win or lose, you have to move on.”

That’s not going to be easy as the Illini now travel to face No. 23 Wisconsin on the road, who will be looking for a bounce-back of their own. Against Michigan in Ann Arbor last week, the Badgers were blown out 38-13, ending any hopes they had of making the College Football Playoff.

Expect Paul Chryst’s team to be motivated, so Smith is making sure his team doesn’t carry the Purdue loss for very long.

You can’t let a bad game beat you the next week, and that’s what were not going to do. Wisconsin gets your attention,” said Smith. “We’re not the only team that’s disappointed in our play on a certain weekend. I’m sure they’re disappointed with how they played also. We have our hands full with Wisconsin, all three phases.”

Notre Dame and Northern Illinois have a bye week.