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Posts Tagged ‘Pat Fitzgerald’

Paul M. Banks a.k.a. The Sports Bank, NBC Chicago Street Team This not quite safe at work 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 pass and though, they’ve been just fine!) And they were especially bad again in Saturday’s win over Miami of Ohio. NU is 4-2, but in order for them to finish with a winning record, they’ll need to get their running game going, and the OL to play much better down the stretch against tougher competition. Hearing this Ozzie Guillenesque, not for the kiddies 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.

Enjoy by clicking here

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See more of Paul M. Banks’ sports-writing at:

-the site he founded The Sports Bank.net

-NBA analysis at Walter Football.com

-“Patrick Kane Chronicles” at Buffalo Sports Daily

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Paul M. Banks a.k.a. The Sports Bank, NBC Chicago Street Team

Chicago’s hometown Big Ten team, the Northwestern Wildcats, began the season in a manner that most predicted they would. Granted it was against Towson, an FCS (formerly I-AA) opponent, but a 47-14 win is still a 47-14 win.Quarterback Mike Kafka made a lot of plays, starting 7-8 passing and finishing 15-20 for 192 yards. The strength of the team, the secondary had a good day picking off Towson QB Peter Athens twice and holding him to just 140 passing yards. Senior safeties Brad Phillips and Brendan Smith led the way, as their experience helped them make the proper reads and coverage adjustments into what the opposing offense was doing.

The NU air attack was led by senior Andrew Brewer, who caught a 72 yard TD pass from backup QB Dan Persa, and finished with 6 catches for 145 yards. Since NU lost all their starting receivers from last season, the faithful dressed in purple were glad to see somebody step up. “Everyone talks about our no-name receiving corps, but now you guys know Andrew Brewer, so that’s one,” Head Coach Pat Fitzgerald said.

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But it wasn’t just Brewer, as many receivers got in on the act. “It’s always exciting to spread the ball around on offense, I heard 8 different guys caught the ball,” Brewer said.
The spreading the wealth around philosophy also translated to the running back corp, where three of the tailbacks rushed for 30 yards or more, and three of the backs saw at least six carries.

Expect most of the trends from this game to carry over to the rest of the season.

Note: today marks the first installment of The Sports Bank’s new Saturday Live College Football Chat. Check it out here.

Each and every week, we’ll have numerous writers blogging from the press box, at home on the couch, the sidelines, sports bars etc. all around the Big Ten and Midwest. Our comment boards are lighting up with over 60 comments so far, so please join in on the discussion by clicking here.

See more of Paul M. Banks’ work at the Washington Times, Walter Football.com and The Sports Bank

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Paul M. Banks a.k.a. The Sports Bank Despite having a higher record and better national ranking than their opponent, #20 Northwestern (9-3) finds themselves the biggest underdog of the bowl season to #23 Missouri (9-4) in Monday night’s Alamo Bowl. Odds-makers have the Tigers a two touchdown favorite over the Wildcats in this San Antonio battle of los gatos peligrosos. On paper, it’s strength versus strength: Northwestern’s 23rd ranking scoring defense versus Mizzou’s 6th ranked offense. If NU wins this side of the ball, they should have their first bowl victory since 1949.

Throw your Hands in the Air…as if you’re Unconcernednorthwestern

Missouri has huge playmakers everywhere on offense- senior QB Chase Daniel (358 of 484-4,135-37 TDs-15 INT) who often finds electrifying WR Jeremy Maclin (95-1,221-12 TDs) and TE Chase Coffman (83-920-10 TDs). Oh, and the backup QB is named Chase Patton, just in case you thought this team didn’t have enough people with that obscure first name already. (Does Missouri have Chase Bank as one of their sponsors?) And don’t forget tailback Derrick Washington (162-992-17 TDs).

Daniel’s NFL Draft stock is about as high valued as Washington Mutual due to his lack of size. He’s listed at 6’0”, but in reality he’s as close to being 6 as I am to being 9 feet tall. NU’s primary strength this year has been their defensive line, so when they get near Daniel, they must “throw their hands way up in the air and wave ‘em around like you just don’t care,” to disrupt Chase’s passing-lanes vision or (better yet) deflect his passes and hopefully pick off a couple. This is highly doable considering team MVP and DE Corey Wootton is 6’7”, NFL bound DT John Gill is 6’3,” and the rest of the line is that height or taller.
I asked Liberty Mutual Coach of the Year finalist and NU head man Pat Fitzgerald about employing this strategy at the bowl selection announcement presser. “Chase from a quarterback standpoint, maybe he’s not the tallest guy, but he’s very athletic; makes a lot of plays and does a good job extending the plays,” Fitz responded, also adding prior “Like 118 other schools across the country we made a mistake in not recruiting him.”

Prediction- Northwestern 28, Missouri 24. Is 2008 the year of the underdog? Ask the Celtics, Giants, and Phillies! Or maybe I’m just drinking purple colored Kool-Aid.

FOR THE FULL IN-DEPTH VERSION OF THIS PREVIEW/PROFILE OF THIS GAME CLICK HERE.

For more Chicago Sports Analysis and discussion.

For my Washington Times.com blog “Chicago Blue State.”

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Paul M. Banks a.k.a. The Sports Bank By demolishing their bitter rival, the University of Illinois, on Saturday the Wildcats earned a No. 20 ranking — their highest of the season — in this week’s USA Today Coaches’ poll. The Cats concluded the regular season by becoming just the fifth team in school history to win nine games in a season. Should they win their bowl game (destination announced on Dec. 7th), it will be their first postseason victory since 1949; and the ten win season would join the 1995 Rose Bowl team as the only squads in program history ever to do so. With no real individual statistical standouts, on offense at least, it speaks volumes about Head Coach Pat Fitzgerald’s stressing of defense and playing collectively. Two team statistics certainly catch your eye however; NU’s current 127.7 rushing yards allowed per game is the best single-season average in school history and the Cats were first in the Big Ten (10th nationally) in sacks. They were also 24th out of 117 teams nationwide in scoring defense. A big reason for that is defensive end Corey Wootton, whose 9 sacks and 15 tackles for loss helped him earn a first-team All-Big Ten coaches selection.wootton

“Corey has always been a tremendously talented member of our program, and this honor is well deserved,” head coach (and former two-time National defensive player of the year) Pat Fitzgerald said. “He came to camp this year with the right attitude and he has done a great job in his preparation all season long. He may be our only first-team All-Big Ten guy this year, but I think we have a first-team All-Big Ten football team.” At last week’s press conference Fitz also added, “I have not seen Corey take one play off in practice or in games this year, his efforts on top of his technique and fundamentals have been outstanding.” First year NU defensive coordinator Mike Hankwitz has also done a tremendous job developing Corey.

Possibly validating Fitzgerald’s All-Big Ten team claim, eight additional players were named honorable mention selections: John Gill, Keegan Kennedy, Sherrick McManis (who also finished among national leaders in pass breakups), Eric Peterman, Brad Phillips, Brendan Smith (who combined with Phillips to give the Cats outstanding play at the safety position this year), Tyrell Sutton and Amado Villarreal. The Wildcats final 2008 contest will be a Bowl game to be determined, with the Outback, Alamo or Insight looking the most likely.

For more Chicago Sports Analysis and discussion.

For my Washington Times.com blog “Chicago Blue State.”

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Paul M. Banks a.k.a. The Sports Bank The 7-2 Northwestern Wildcats are nationally ranked 25th in the USA Today Coaches’ poll and just moved back into the Bowl Championship Series (BCS) standings at No. 24. The BCS standings first appear in mid-season and NU checked in at #22 with a record of 6-1 at the time. Of course, Head Coach Pat Fitzgerald and his players constantly remind us how they are actually “0-0 again, at the start of each game week.” The day after the initial 2008 BCS rankings were released, senior wide receiver Eric Peterman gave us the quote of the week, playing on the familiarity of this mega-cliché by stating, “We are the first 0-0 team in the history of the BCS. I’m very proud of that.”

It’s a good thing the Cats aren’t getting complacent because coming to town is the 12th ranked team in all the polls: the Ohio State Buckeyes, winners of 13 straight Big Ten road games. This is by far, the biggest game of the season for the Wildcats, who last week solidified a postseason birth for the first time since 2005. They will probably have their starting quarterback C.J. Bacher returning, but will also have to start one of their third choices at tailback with both the first and second-string out with injuries.

A sold out Ryan Field will showcase Buckeye playmakers on both sides of the ball. Leading the way will be middle linebacker and Butkus Award favorite James Laurinaitis. “He’s as good as advertised,” said Fitzgerald, who was named one of 15 finalists for the Munger Coach of the Year award this week. Fitz won the 1995 and 96 National Defensive Player of the Year awards himself as a linebacker. “In their secondary, they fly, they’re fast. Malcom [Jenkins, senior OSU cornerback] is a first day guy, they have first-day guys all over the place,” Fitzgerald said in describing all the potential NFL first round draft picks within the Buckeye defense. Laurinitis currently has top ten overall draft stock and outside linebacker Marcus Freeman is projected as a second round commodity. This complements Chris “Beanie” Wells on offense, the nation’s blue chip prospect at tailback.

The last two meetings with Ohio St. have yielded a “Dead Cat Bounce” with Northwestern taking a beating worse than the Dow Jones average has lately. Last year OSU whacked NU 58-7 after beating them 54-10 the season before. This game, kicking off at 11AM and televised on ESPN2, figures to be much closer on paper.

For more Chicago Sports Analysis and discussion.

For my Washington Times.com blog “Chicago Blue State.”

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mikekafkaPaul M. Banks a.k.a. The Sports Bank With star tailback Tyrell Sutton out for the season, #25 Northwestern was hoping backup quarterback Mike Kafka could provide a metamorphosis in the offense. With starting quarterback C.J. Bacher also out with an injury, the second string signal caller Kafka was on trial against a tough University of Minnesota defense. He responded by shattering a record that previously stood for nearly 40 years. He rushed for 217 yards, the most ever in a single game by a Big Ten quarterback against the Golden Gophers, ranked #20 nationally at the time. For leading the Wildcats to their first victory over a ranked opponent since 2005, Kafka was named Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week.

On Election Day afternoon, it was announced that Kafka was one of four players selected nationally by ESPN as this week’s potential A T&T All-America Player of the Week award, given to the player with the most outstanding performance on Saturday. Fans can text message VOTE to 51234 on their wireless phone to opt in and vote for their player. Fans have no limit voting opportunities until 11:59 p.m. ET on Wednesday so like they say in Chicago, “vote early, vote often.” Each vote counts as one entry in the sweepstakes chance to see the 2009 Bowl Championship Series (BCS) National Championship game in Miami. Full sweepstakes rules can be found here.

NU also brought home the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week award, with senior safety Brendan Smith earning this distinction. Smith sealed the Cats victory in Minneapolis when intercepted Gopher QB Adam Weber with 12 seconds remaining and took it 48 yards back for a touchdown.

It is still uncertain whether Kakfa or the convalescing C.J. Bacher will start this week at home versus #12 Ohio State. Head Coach Pat Fitzgerald told the media on Monday that despite Kafka’s huge game, Bacher will not lose his starting job due to injury. The current depth chart lists both as the potential starter. “It will be C.J. or Mike, we’ll make that evaluation as things go along, I feel C.J. is improving every day and if we can get him up to full speed or as close to it, he is our starting quarterback. I’m very proud of the way Mike stepped up though in his opportunity to play,” Fitzgerald said.

For more Chicago Sports Analysis and discussion.

For my Washington Times.com blog “Chicago Blue State.”

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Paul M. Banks a.k.a. The Sports Bank You know it’s a big game for Northwestern when Ronnie Woo Woo is in the house. However, plenty of people with much more juice than Mr. Woo (or is it Mr. Woo Woo?) were at Ryan Field for Northwestern’s 48-26 Homecoming win over Purdue. Representatives from the Rose Bowl, as well as the Big Ten’s second and third place bowls (those games both possess corporate names) were on hand as well as NU Alum and Olympic Gold-Medalist Matt Grevers, who served as Homecoming Grand Marshal. “Being here is incredible, I’ve bled purple for quite some time and I grew up in the area, so it really meant something today to be here on the field. It was a warm, fuzzy feeling,” he said. Grevers won the silver medal in the 100m backstroke at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, and was a part of two Gold Medal winning relay teams. After my interview, he let me hold his Gold Medal.

Also attending was All-American offensive tackle Chris Hinton, who served as honorary Co-Captain. Hinton played 13 years in the NFL and made seven Pro Bowl appearances. All the notables and dignitaries saw the Wildcats pick off Purdue Quarterback Curtis Painter (the Big Ten signal caller with the highest NFL Draft potential) three times and beat the Boilermakers very decisively. We’ve all heard the exceedingly shopworn football cliché “we start 0-0 each week” or “we just try to go 1-0 every week.” However, in Evanston they have an interesting spin on that specific platitude. The players and coaches talk about “flushing it” each week. Win or lose, flush the last game’s mindset and move on to the next one. Their 6th win secures bowl eligibility, so how will they “flush” a “bowl” clinching win? Pun intended!

With a 6-1 start, an increased buzz is inevitable. “There’s something special going on here at Northwestern. You guys can sense it that have been around for awhile and those of you that are here for the first time, don’t be a stranger cuz there’s something special going on at our campus and it’s starting to feel the same as when I was a student-athlete here,” Head Coach Pat Fitzgerald said at the post game press conference, comparing the current atmosphere to that of his playing days while a member of the last Northwestern Rose Bowl team.
For more Chicago Sports Analysis and discussion.

For my Washington Times.com blog “Chicago Blue State.”

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Paul M. Banks a.k.a. The Sports Bank By winning at Iowa a couple weeks ago, the Northwestern Wildcats extended their best start in 46 years. In 1962, Northwestern began the year 6-0 and was ranked No. 1 nationally for two consecutive weeks. The Wildcats’ five-game winning streak is their longest since 1996, the senior season of current Head Coach Pat Fitzgerald. Experts are comparing this team’s defense to the “Purple Pasadena” season of 1995. Halfway into the season however, the ’08 team has accomplished one thing that all three (’95, ’96, ’00) modern era Conference Championship teams did not. All three Big 10 championship squads dropped an early pre-conference game to an inferior opponent: 95-Miami of Ohio, 96-Wake Forest, 00- TCU/ This year’s squad, by contrast, won all the games they were favored to win. And it’s created a bit of a buzz on campus.

“I’ve seen some people on campus decide to jump on the bandwagon. We don’t want to be known as only an academic school; we want to be known for great academics and athletics. We want people to stop wearing Michigan or Ohio St. shirts, and start representing our school and bleeding purple. It’s ok to have bandwagon jumpers, but we also want people who will support us all the way from an 0-11 season to a 12-0 season,” senior tailback Tyrell Sutton said.

That buzz is poised to grow when you consider that Northwestern is one of just 15 unbeaten FBS programs, and that status brought them into this week’s USA Today Coaches (22) and Harris Interactive (23) national polls. Their opponent Saturday, Michigan State, also found themselves in the top-25 (No. 23/19/21, AP/USA Today/Harris). The Spartans, winners of their last five, feature a Heisman trophy candidate in senior tailback Javon Ringer. Nationally, he’s second in rushing yards per game and first in touchdowns this season.

“When I look at the tape it doesn’t take long to see the success their offensive line has had in opening holes for arguably, if not the best back in the Big Ten, then one of the best, and also in the country. He’s a very physical back with great patience, plays well behind his pads and seems like he gets stronger as the game goes along,” Fitzgerald said.

The winner of Saturday’s game will remain unbeaten in Big Ten play and also gain bowl-eligibility. Plenty of good tickets remain and can be purchased by calling 847-491-CATS or visiting NUsports.com

For more Chicago Sports Analysis and discussion.

For Washington Times.com blog “Chicago Blue State.”

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Paul M. Banks a.k.a. The Sports Bank

The media has certainly beaten a dead horse concerning the Cubs and 1908. But have you heard much about 1949? It’s the last time the Northwestern Wildcats won a postseason game. With college football bowl bids as plentiful as Amy Winehouse legal infractions these days, it’s quite a streak! Like the “Lovable Losers” in Wrigley Field, they’re another Chicago team that went through an embarrassingly LONG losing spell in the 60s, 70s and part of the 80s. However, in the last 25 years, both the ‘Cats (’05, ’03, ’00, ’96, ’95) and Cubbies (’07, ’03, ’98, ’89, ‘84) have been to the postseason a previously uncharacteristic 5 times!

Is this, the sixth trip, the breakthrough year for both? Many college football experts forecasted Northwestern to be 8-4 this season and their schedule certainly seems to be conducive to obtaining this mark. They looked impressive in week one, as their defense -a unit provoking much skepticism- held Syracuse to just 225 total yards. The Cats gained almost 500 yards of their own on the way to a 30-10 victory. Remember, Illinois went to the Rose Bowl at 9-3 last season, so an NU upset somewhere along the line could actually mean a BCS bid. No, Seriously! The Wildcats are coached by Pat Fitzgerald, a native of suburban Orland Park, and All-American Linebacker/National Defensive player of the year during his playing days at Northwestern. His teams won back-to-back Big Ten titles in 1995 and 1996.

Current star tailback Tyrell Sutton, a Doak Walker Award (best national collegiate running back) candidate, is on pace to become the school’s all-time leading rusher. That feat is quite impressive considering the school’s tailback tradition includes recent or current NFL backs Jason Wright, Damien Anderson, Noah Herron and Darnell Autry.

The final similarity they share with the Cubs is seeing their home field star on the silver screen. Universal Pictures shot the football scenes from the soon-to-be-released movie, “The Express” at Ryan Field. The movie profiles former Syracuse Heisman Trophy winner Ernie Davis, the first African American to win the prestigious award. Numerous films have featured the Friendly Confines.

You can hear my audio exclusives with Fitzgerald and Sutton, by following the hyper-linked text. They both address the program’s bowl game victory drought. For more Chicago sports analysis and talk go here.

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