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Fitzgerald, Wildcats await Ohio State

The SportsXchange

EVANSTON, Ill. -- No. 17 Northwestern has a weekend break and will take full advantage of the breather as it prepares for its Big Ten opener against No. 4 Ohio State at Ryan Field next week.

And there are multiple concerns to address before that Homecoming clash -- especially on offense -- following last Saturday's 35-21 triumph over Maine that wrapped up a 4-0 non-conference slate.

"We've just got to execute cleaner on offense," Wildcats coach Pat Fitzgerald said. "We'll take a hard look as coaches. What are we doing schematically? Are we putting too many things in? Are we trying to do too many things that we can't execute?

"They just looked like some discipline and fundamental and technique things to those and me are all coachable and correctable."

Northwestern running back Mike Trumpy agreed.

"I don't think there's anything wrong," said Trumpy, who rushed for 94 yards against the Black Bears. "I think we just need to get back to the little things, really at every position. We need to work on finishing as well, getting back to the basics. Fortunately we have two weeks to do that."

On the defensive side there were several positive performances.

The Wildcats had two pick-6s and could have had as many as five interceptions. Damien Proby had a 49-yard pickoff and TD return just before halftime and Dean Lowry picked off a career first for a score in the second half.

Northwestern now has four interception returns for scores, the most-ever in a single season. The Wildcats lead the nation with 10 interceptions and have 19 picks in their last seven games going back to last season.

That's the good news.

Northwestern's pass defense still struggles, giving up an average 308.8 yards per game, among the highest average in the nation.

Maine exploited that with two touchdown passes and 272 pass yards.

"We still played hard and never gave up," said Black Bears tight end Justin Perillo. "We put up 21 points against the 16th-ranked team in the country, not even in our division."

The victory was the Wildcats' 16th straight against non-conference opponents.

Northwestern has won seven straight dating back to last season and holds the nation's third-longest active winning streak, tied with Alabama and Baylor.

The Wildcats last won seven straight during their 1996 Big Ten Championship season.

Ohio State seeks a 5-0 start on Saturday as it hosts No. 23 Wisconsin.

Notes: With Venric Mark still sidelined with a injury Northwestern continues to run its backfield by committee. Last week it was Mike Trumpy's turn as he picked up the slack with 94 yards against Maine, the most since he ran for 107 yards against Boston College in 2012. Trumpy also had a game-high 28-yard run.
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