Northwestern Coach Pat Fitzgerald Pondering Changes To Wildcats’ Offense

Northwestern football coach Pat Fitzgerald is staying positive, but he’s having trouble figuring out why the Wildcats can’t move the ball offensively.

Pat Fitzgerald’s signature sign-off would be comical if it wasn’t so endearing. It’s not beyond the realm of possibility that each morning he kisses his wife and calmly tells her “Go Cats” before heading off to work.

There’s a constant aura of positivity that hangs around Fitzgerald, so it was no surprise that he closed Tuesday’s Big Ten media teleconference with the school’s rally cry despite the plethora of issues surrounding winless Northwestern, most notably the offense – or lack thereof.

Fitzgerald didn’t sugarcoat the Wildcats’ 0-2 record or last week’s lackluster 9-7 loss to in-state FCS foe Illinois State. He avoided making it seem like the world was caving in, too, with a little splash of Hulk Hogan to boot.

“It’s not rocket science here, brother. It’s roll your sleeves up and get better,” Fitzgerald said. “I think there’s a lot of competition in a lot of places right now offensively.”

He didn’t mention specific positions, but one has to wonder if quarterback Clayton Thorson is on a short leash heading into Saturday night’s home game against Duke. He fumbled before reaching the end zone for what would’ve been the go-ahead touchdown in the 22-21 loss to Western Michigan two weeks ago, then completed only 17 of a career-high 41 pass attempts for 191 yards and a touchdown against Illinois State.

Thorson wasn’t helped by the fact standout running back Justin Jackson left in the fourth quarter with a leg injury. Still, 277 yards of total offense while committing six penalties against an FCS opponent just isn’t going to cut it.

Fitzgerald isn’t blaming it all on Thorson. Northwestern finished with only 86 rushing yards last week, and the offensive line play was disappointing throughout. The coach even said if he would’ve known ahead of time how poorly the line was going to play, he would’ve started all of his backups.

It’s no wonder he’s contemplating making changes.

“It is very difficult to be successful offensively when 12 out of your 18 third downs are third and long,” Fitzgerald said. “It’s very difficult to be successful offensively when half of your plays over the 50-yard line result in failure because of self-inflicted wounds. I’d love to tell you it’s an easy fix.”

Justin Jackson Injury Update

Jackson was limited to 11 carries for 39 yards last week after going for 124 yards and three touchdowns against Western Michigan. Fitzgerald said he asked Jackson if he was going to play against Duke, and Jackson smiled before saying he would.

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