Northwestern Wildcats coach Pat Fitzgerald answered readers’ mailbag questions this week at ESPNChicago.com as he prepares his team for the Dec. 31 Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas against the Texas A&M Aggies in Houston.
This is a special group of seniors, and I suspect they’re going to do anything and everything to win. With recent key injuries on a young defense, the offense is going to need to play outstanding. Without giving your game plan away, can we expect any new wrinkles to Mick McCall's play calling on offense for this bowl game? – Kevin, Chicago
Pat Fitzgerald: I think you were right with the last part of the question. Sorry, I’m not going to give you any inside information. We’re going to do everything we can to win.
Are we going to see future Northwestern games at Wrigley Field? Preferably with two useable end zones. – Michael Carroll, Chicago
PF: As we talked after the game, we felt like it was a really special opportunity to showcase Northwestern to Chicago. I would never say never, but I think those are discussions that are much higher than myself. Ryan Field is our home field. We like playing in Evanston and in front of our fans. We’ll see what opportunities present themselves in the future.
What has been the reason for your high-percentage completion rates for your quarterbacks in recent years with players like Brett Basanez, C.J. Bacher, Mike Kafka and Dan Persa? – Kevin Jarosz, Mt. Prospect, Ill.
PF: First of all, Mick McCall and our offensive staff are taking advantage of what each player does best and playing to their strengths. Most importantly, they go out and execute. The quarterback gets credit for that, but the line gives protection and the receivers get open.
Coach Fitz, in building the Northwestern program, what have you found to be the "identity" that Northwestern wins with? What is it that Northwestern Football does consistently better than its opponents to win football games? Love watching your teams, would love the opportunity to see some game film or practice. Hopefully I am in your shoes one day. – Mike Davidson, Springfield, Mass.
PF: Thanks for the kind words. I think it starts with recruiting character young men for your program. We follow a blueprint. The cornerstone is bringing in character guys that are going to compete on and off the field.
What can you say about Jeremy Ebert and his playmaking abilities and all he has done for the program you run? – Alec, Chicago
PF: He’s been spectacular. He was a high school quarterback that we converted to wide receiver. The way he’s worked on and off the field to prepare. He does a great job with the tape. He does a great job in the weight room. He’s a young man who has paid the price and put himself in a position to be a playmaker.
How are you preparing to face Texas A&M? – Jordan Herald, Wintersville, Ohio
PF: It’s a big challenge in all three phases, Jordan. Offensively, they have a lot of weapons. They’re dynamic. They’ve scored a lot of points. Defensively, they’re a 3-4 team. They do a good job of attacking you. Their kicking team has a ton of players. We’ve worked our butt off. We’re going to try and play our best game of the year on Saturday.
Coach Fitzgerald, just moved to Wrigleyville and can't wait to get up to a game next year. Love hearing you on Waddle & Silvy. Who are some younger guys to watch during the bowl game that you are expecting to make a big impact next year? – Bob E., Chicago
PF: We played three true freshmen this year. Those guys have done a good job -- Treyvon Green at running back, Christian Jones at wide receiver and Jack Konopka at tight end. They’re probably the ones you’ll see the most.
Hey coach, what would you say to a team that is interested in drafting Dan Persa? Go Cats! – Anthony Bertolini, Chicago
PF: They don’t ask me. They make their own evaluations. It’s pretty easy to comment on a young man who is as strong of a leader as we’ve had in our program. He’s a first-to-show and last-to-go kind of person. He’s a winner. He’s won a lot of games for us. He’s overcome a ton. He’s always professional. He handles himself like a professional now. They’re going to get a guy who can compete and is very smart and understands the game.
Coach, I know you are mostly concentrated on winning a bowl game right now, but I feel as though you will be asked something like this come spring quite often, so I would like to know your opinion on the development of guys like Trevor Siemian or Zack Oliver, who seem to be more of a passing attack vs. Kain Colter who can handle himself at QB but seems to be a bigger threat on the ground. Basically, next season do you see Northwestern as a pass-the-ball-around and try-to-work-underneath with Siemian/Oliver or run-the-option and hit-one-deep with a guy like Colter playing QB?
PF: I think they’ll all compete. I’ve been impressed with how Kain has handled the whole year and how he’s progressed and been a quarterback, and he’ll remain a quarterback. Trevor and Zack have done a nice job. Trevor has gotten in a few games. Zack has progressed and improved. I think we’re in a good position. It’s going to be tough to replace a guy like Dan, but a few years ago we went through the same thing.
ESPNChicago.com: Anything else you’d like to add?
PF: I just appreciate our loyal fans and their support everywhere we’ve gone not just this year, but the last five years. There are a bunch of them getting down to Houston. For those who can’t make it, they can go to NUSports.com or call 888-Go-Purple and donate tickets to the game to the less fortunate in the greater Houston community or military personnel in the area. It’s the season for giving.