Maine-Northwestern Preview

The Associated PressSeptember 17, 2013

Northwestern may appear to be clicking on the surface, but coach Pat Fitzgerald's team has endured a wacky practice schedule over the past few weeks to remain unbeaten.

With an afternoon game Saturday against FCS opponent Maine, the 18th-ranked Wildcats finally are able to get back to a regular routine.

"There's no one more ecstatic in the country than me right now to finally get into some normalcy," Fitzgerald said. "We've really worked hard in practice to improve fundamentally and execution wise. Hopefully we'll get into that groove now."

Northwestern (3-0) began the season with a 44-30 win at California on Aug. 31 and had been practicing at 9:30 p.m. local time to prepare for that night game on the West Coast.

Fitzgerald adjusted his practice schedule again before a 48-27 evening win over Syracuse on Sept. 7, then dealt with unusually high temperatures throughout the week leading up to a 38-17 victory over Western Michigan last Saturday, a contest that kicked off at 8 p.m. local time.

The Wildcats started slow and trailed 3-0 at the end of the first quarter before blowing the game open.

"Of course (the schedule has) affected them," Fitzgerald said. "There's not been a consistency to what we typically do in our routine. All those excuses are over. Now we get to get into our routine. We're finally getting back to some normalcy."

What's remained constant, though, is his squad's offensive production. After amassing more than 500 yards in each of its first two contests, Northwestern finished with 471 last Saturday, including 332 on the ground despite starting running back Venric Mark missing his second straight game with a lower-body injury.

Treyvon Green set career highs with 20 carries and 158 yards while scoring two touchdowns in his second 100-yard game in three weeks. Quarterback Kain Colter rushed for 106 yards and a TD while going 6 of 7 for 40 yards and a touchdown through the air.

"I think it speaks to our depth," Colter said. "We have guys behind some of the starters that can play. When they get an opportunity like Treyvon did, they take advantage of it. Honestly, the competition makes the whole team better.

"Trey's made an argument that when (Mark) comes back, he should be in that starting role."

It's unclear if Mark, who rushed for 1,366 yards last season, will play against Maine. He may be rested again with the Wildcats having a bye week following this contest before a showdown at home against No. 4 Ohio State on Oct. 5.

"He's day to day, improving every day, feeling better every day," Fitzgerald said. "We're taking a long-term smart approach that when he does come back, he's 100 percent and ready to go."

No matter who is in uniform, Fitzgerald is making it clear that Maine won't be a pushover despite being an FCS squad. The Bears, of the Colonial Athletic Association, are off to their first 3-0 start since 2002 and are ranked No. 25 in the division's coaches poll.

Marcus Wasilewski finished 23 of 32 for 263 yards and four touchdowns - all to different receivers - while adding 64 yards and a TD on the ground in last week's 35-22 win over Bryant.

"Maine knows how to win," Fitzgerald said. "They've won a lot of football games, and it doesn't take long to tell this is a very, very good football team."

The Bears, though, allowed 224 yards rushing to Bryant, and coach Jack Cosgrove said on his weekly conference call that his team will have its hands full come Saturday.

"This is the biggest challenge that we've ever faced, I think," Cosgrove said. "In all the FBS games we've played, we've never played a team ranked this high."

Northwestern has won 15 straight home games against non-conference opponents.