NU's Fitzgerald explains away sacks
Only four of the 120 schools in the Football Bowl Subdivision are surrendering more sacks per game than Northwestern.
That's a low-rent, high-pain neighborhood.
Of the nation's worst 25 teams at pass protecting, the Wildcats and Alabama are the only ones with at least 5 wins.
That either suggests NU has been fortunate to win as often as it has the Wildcats allowed 13 sacks in their recent losses to Purdue and Michigan State or its sack numbers are deceptively unimportant.
Count Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald in the latter group.
When he reviewed the tape of Saturday's 35-27 loss to No. 7 Michigan State, he considered just 3 of the 8 sacks to be worthy of the name.
"If you were to go back with a critical eye, which I know you guys will, probably closing in on half of those are scramble sacks," Fitzgerald told the media Monday. "Meaning, could Danny (Persa) have thrown them away? Maybe. Most of them (were) for a very short amount of yardage, if they were sacks.
"There were 3 where we lost one-on-one battles (on the line), so we've got to shore those up."
Fifth-year senior guard Keegan Grant appreciates that Fitzgerald turned the 8 into a 3, but he doesn't like seeing either of those numbers on the line's ledger.
Persa has been sacked 24 times versus 156 pass attempts this year. The junior also has scrambled for positive yardage at least as many times as he has been sacked.
"No matter what Dan does there, it's a sense of O-line pride across the country that you do not let your important quarterback get hit no matter what," Grant said. "If Dan wants to run out of the pocket for 20 yards, we're going to do our best to run down there to take the hit off him.
"No matter what Dan does, it's always a sense of pride to make sure he stays clean and pretty for everyone."
Grant could get his wish Saturday at Indiana (11 a.m., BTN). The Hoosiers rank 106th in the nation with just 8 sacks in seven games.
Northwestern's official two-deep for the Indiana game didn't change from last week's chart, but that's not reality.
Pat Fitzgerald said first-string running back Jacob Schmidt is "questionable" after injuring an ankle on his first-quarter fumble against Michigan State. In Fitz's parlance, that's more akin to doubtful or out.
Meanwhile, freshman Adonis Smith still isn't listed among the top three running backs, but he was Schmidt's first backup Saturday and could start this week after posting 44 yards in 10 carries against MSU.
Senior Justan Vaughn continues to be listed ahead of Michael Bolden at cornerback, even though the junior from Evanston played the entire second half for the benched Vaughn.
Fitzgerald suggested theirs will be a competitive situation in practice this week and beyond.
By the numbers:
Northwestern has won five of the last six meetings with Indiana, but the series hasn't been nearly that lopsided.
At the end of 60 minutes in those six games, the Wildcats and Hoosiers have been separated by 0, 0, 1, 2, 3 and 4 points.
Last year, Stefan Demos' 19-yard field goal with 21 seconds capped NU's biggest rally in program history. The 'Cats scored the final 26 points to win 29-28.
Had your chance:
Northwestern sold the final seats for its home game against Iowa and the Wrigley Field clash with Illinois.
The Wildcats' 41,115 attendance for the Michigan State game was the biggest Ryan Field crowd since Ohio State attracted 47,130 on Nov. 8, 2008.