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posted: 9/3/2012 9:10 PM

NU's Fitzgerald on win: Live to fight another day and here we go

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  • Northwestern backup QB Trevor Siemian throws a game-tying, 9-yard touchdown with 44 seconds left against host Syracuse on Saturday. Demetrius Fields made the catch and the Wildcats won 42-41 when the extra point was good.

      Northwestern backup QB Trevor Siemian throws a game-tying, 9-yard touchdown with 44 seconds left against host Syracuse on Saturday. Demetrius Fields made the catch and the Wildcats won 42-41 when the extra point was good.
    Associated Press

 
 

Northwestern's opener at the Carrier Dome on Saturday might as well have been the 14th game of the 2011 season.

All of the past problems were back on display -- inability to protect a lead, shaky secondary, quarterbacks bouncing in and out of the lineup.

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Coach Pat Fitzgerald acknowledged the issues during Monday's news conference in Evanston -- but he saw no reason to apologize for the 42-41 win over Syracuse.

"We're not a finished product right now by any stretch of the imagination," he said. "The good news is we're 1-0 and 50 percent of the country is 0-1. Live to fight another day and here we go."

Except for the score, the final numbers were not in Northwestern's favor. The Wildcats surrendered a whopping 597 total yards. After NU took a 35-13 lead midway through the third quarter, the next four Orange possessions produced drives of 77, 91, 86 and 72 yards, giving the home team a 41-35 lead with 2:53 left.

Backup quarterback Trevor Siemian led the Northwestern response. He hit Demetrius Fields for a 9-yard touchdown with 44 seconds left and the Wildcats escaped the hot and steamy Carrier Dome with a win.

"We played a BCS team, 98 degrees, 89 percent humidity, 110 (defensive) plays -- it stunk," Fitzgerald said. "It was as bad a deal as you could get and we found a way to get it done. Move on, that's what we talked about today.

"I'm not sure we're going to win the Miss America contest this year, but I'm really not worried about it. I'm just worried about winning."

Cornerback was one of the biggest question marks heading into the season and nothing changed after Week 1. Besides giving up a few boatloads of yardage, Northwestern was flagged for 3 pass interference penalties and a defensive holding.

Most of the penalties were a matter of too much holding and grabbing as the defender ran beside the receiver. Senior Demetrius Dugar, who had three career starts prior to this season, had a rough afternoon.

"I thought we had great coverage in those situations," Fitzgerald said. "We've just got to look back and play the ball. We do that, we probably intercept two out of three. That's the step we have to make."

Fitzgerald pointed out that those pass interference plays wouldn't have happened had the Wildcats gotten third-down stops earlier in the drives. Syracuse converted 12 of 20 third downs.

At quarterback, Kain Colter remains the starter. He took most of the snaps at Syracuse, but was shaken up once and had to leave the field another time when his helmet came off.

The Wildcats planned to bring on Siemian, a sophomore, in the second quarter, but didn't get around to it until the fourth.

Siemian took the field for the final drive and was actually sacked twice for a combined loss of 20 yards. But he completed 6 of 7 passes for 72 yards and added a 9-yard scramble just before the touchdown.

"Here's what happened: It was a coach's decision because of what Kain said to (offensive coordinator) Mick (McCall) in the headphones," Fitzgerald said. "He got a little bruised up during the game and he said to Mick, 'I think Trevor would give us a better chance to win.'

"To me, that's a pretty strong statement of a guy who's, No. 1, confident in himself and selfless in his leadership style to say, 'Right now I might not be able to go out and do the things my teammates need me to do for our team to win.'"

With their 1-0 record, the Wildcats will play four straight home games for the first time since 1934. The homestand begins Saturday against Vanderbilt (7 p.m., BTN).

One injury of note was to defensive end Deonte Gibson (elbow). He's not expected to play this week, so Fitzgerald moved true freshman Ifeadi Odenigbo to second team on the depth chart.

Odenigbo, from Centerville, Ohio, is one of the highest-ranked recruits of Fitzgerald's tenure. But he came to school weighing 220 pounds, so the original plan was a redshirt season so he could add some bulk.

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