Wildcats' mood lifted by 'motivational speaker'

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

EVANSTON, Ill. -- Pat Fitzgerald's mantra this season has been "Flush It," a phrase the Northwestern head coach borrowed from a book written by former Pacific Lutheran coach Frosty Westering.

Whether the Wildcats win or lose, make a big play or a critical mistake, Fitzgerald demands that they "flush it" and move on.

But after Saturday's error-ridden loss to Indiana, Northwestern needed more than a two-word pick-me-up. Not only did the Wildcats commit five turnovers in the game, but they lost starting running back Tyrell Sutton to a major wrist injury and starting quarterback C.J. Bacher to a hamstring injury that could keep him out this week.

When the players reconvened, Fitzgerald told them to "flush" the game. But he also found another way to recharge the team for this week's trip to No. 17 Minnesota (ESPN2, noon ET).

Fitzgerald called upon the man living in the van down by the river.

"I brought in a special motivational speaker this morning," Fitzgerald deadpanned at today's news conference. "They took to him pretty well. Matt Foley spoke to the team this morning. So I think we're doing fine."

Foley, of course, is the fictional character portrayed brilliantly by the late Chris Farley on Saturday Night Live in the early to mid-1990s. Farley died in 1997, but Fitzgerald brought Foley back to life by showing the team clips from the hysterical SNL sketches.

Northwestern's campus borders Lake Michigan, so perhaps Foley relocated his van down by the lake?

"I don't know," Fitzgerald said, smiling. "He says river."

Lightening the mood could be a good strategy after such a damaging loss, but Northwestern will need a sharper focus against Minnesota.

Both teams have been labeled surprises this season in the Big Ten, and, as Fitzgerald noted, the two squads are statistically similar except for one critical category.

Minnesota leads the nation in both takeaways (24) and average turnover margin (plus-1.88). Northwestern ranks 101st nationally in giveaways with 19, eight of which have come in the team's two losses.

"We're plus-5 in our six wins and we're minus-8 in our losses," Fitzgerald said. "There ya go. Enough said. End of discussion. Take care of the football, get the ball back, give ourselves an opportunity to win."

Northwestern might have to rely on a new starting offensive backfield to do so. Quarterback C.J. Bacher (hamstring) is questionable for Saturday's game, and running back Tyrell Sutton likely will miss the final four regular-season games with a wrist injury.

Senior Omar Conteh will get the start at running back after starting five games last year in place of the injured Sutton.

"Same opponents, Big Ten, same job," Conteh said. "When I'm starting, I'm excited. When I'm [second- or third-string], I'm always excited. It's game time."

Though the Matt Foley clips undoubtedly served their purpose, Wildcats players have another reason to get motivated Saturday. For the third time this season, they will be the visiting team on Homecoming (they beat Iowa and lost to Indiana).

Northwestern has been Minnesota's Homecoming opponent 10 times since 1981, more than twice as many appearances as any other Big Ten team.

Do the Wildcats use it as fuel?

"Most definitely," Conteh said. "It shows that they have no respect for us."