EVANSTON, Ill. -- For the second consecutive game, Northwestern melted down during the final 30 minutes, and coach Pat Fitzgerald summed up the current direction of his team with the first words that came out of his mouth late Saturday night.
"Credit goes to our opponent," Fitzgerald said after Michigan's convincing 42-24 beatdown of his Wildcats. "Obviously, they came back in the second half and made the plays that winners make. We turned the ball over, they capitalized on it and obviously [that's] very disappointing."
The frustration in Fitzgerald's words and the dejected looks on his players' faces told you all you needed to know. They were miserable. Northwestern had seized control of the game late in the second quarter and went into halftime leading 24-14. But then the wheels came off ... again.
After throwing three interceptions in the first half, Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson got himself together and carved up Northwestern's defense for 461 yards of total offense. When asked why Michigan had so much success on third down, going 14-for-17 on the night, Fitzgerald had another simple answer.
"A young man named Denard Robinson," he said. "He's pretty good. Pretty good player. Probably the best we've seen in a while. He was outstanding."
As good as Robinson was, Fitzgerald and his team know that their problems go deeper than the performance of one special offensive talent. The Wildcats are developing into a team that can't close out its opponents.
"It kills you," defensive lineman Tyler Scott said. "When you're working so hard to stop the offense and you do it consistently on a play-by-play basis and they hit a big one on you, it really hits you hard. You got to just flush it and focus on the next play and come out and stop them, because big plays are going to happen. You got to stop the momentum and see what you can do."
The problem for the Northwestern is that they don't know how to stop that momentum at the moment.
"I feel like it's the same story every game," wide receiver/quarterback Kain Colter said. "We're up in the first half and somehow we just lose it. Once we put four quarters of Northwestern Football together and do what we can do all four quarters, I think we can be a really good team. But until then, we have some work to do."
Those words were echoed over and over again.
"It's frustrating," quarterback Dan Persa said. "But we have no one else to blame but ourselves. So we got to look inside ourselves to see what we got to do to pull it out and that's the end of it. We go to figure [it] out and I think we'll do that."
How do they do that?
Well, nobody is quite sure, not even Fitzgerald.
"I'm not quite sure they made a whole lot of adjustments," Fitzgerald said of Michigan's second-half explosion. "I think we just didn't execute. Little things, but nothing major schematically. We just turned it over ... We thought we had a good plan coming out in the second half. We're sitting there talking as coaches, we don't think there was anything major schematically that we didn't adjust to properly or they did that stopped us. We just feel like we stopped ourselves. That's a little disappointing."
Until his team can figure out exactly how to fix the problems, Fitzgerald is going to have to continue to deal with that disappointment.