The Letdown Game.
Northwestern fans are all too familiar with this phenomenon. Like last season, when the Wildcats won their first two games and then lost to Army. Or in 2010, when they were 5-0 before dropping a home game to Purdue. Or '09, when a 2-0 start gave way to a loss to Syracuse. Or in '08, when a 6-1 team fell at Indiana. Or the year before, when Northwestern lost in Week 3 to Duke.
I could go on, but why torture the people in purple?
No one knows the program's history better than Pat Fitzgerald, so that's likely why he's taking an interesting approach this week. Even though the Wildcats are off to a solid 2-0 start after last week's impressive win over Vanderbilt, Fitzgerald is acting like his team just lost to Evanston High School.
Fitzgerald criticized just about every player not named Venric Mark for their performance on Saturday in spite of the 23-13 win.
"We were not very physical at all on the perimeter on either side," he said Tuesday.
Fitzgerald is demanding more out of his team this week in practice. He dialed things back a week ago, coming off a 42-41 shootout win at Syracuse in the hot, humid Carrier Dome. He said he thought his players needed lighter workouts so they could get their legs back for Vanderbilt. But that resulted in a less physical performance than he wanted.
"I take last week on my shoulders," he said. "But moving forward, that's not going to happen again."
Fitzgerald also talked up this week's opponent, Boston College (1-1) and its size. The Eagles average 306 pounds per man on the offensive line
"We'd better show better than we did on Saturday night, I promise you that," he said. "If not, we're going to get our tails whooped."
Is Fitzgerald talking about the same BC that gave up 41 points in a home loss to Miami in Week 1? The same one Northwestern handled in last year's opener and that finished 4-8? Hmm.
Of course, coaches build up opponents all the time. But Fitzgerald is likely more worried about his own team and its slip-ups in years past. Looking ahead is hazardous, but the schedule offers some favorable matchups if the Wildcats can take care of Boston College. They play FCS opponent South Dakota next week at home before hosting Indiana. Then come road trips to struggling Penn State and to Minnesota. A 7-0 start is not out of the question.
But first Fitzgerald has to make sure his team gets to 3-0. "Let Down" might be a tremendous Radiohead song, but it's not a tune or a term he wants to hear this week.