Northwestern motivated by loss to Illini a year ago

Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald has not forgotten the defeat Illinois handed his Wildcats last season, and he knows his vastly improved team could be challenged Saturday at Soldier Field.

"They kicked our fanny," Fitzgerald said during his Monday news conference of the 47-33 loss in Evanston. "Our guys know that. The tape doesn't lie. So we have to play much better than we did a year ago.


"That is what I addressed with the guys (Monday) morning. All right, put your hard hat on, roll your sleeves up and let's go to work. I know that's what we will do this week."

The Wildcats played a superb defensive game Saturday in a 13-7 victory at Wisconsin, led by end Deonte Gibson, who had three sacks to give him nine for the season and earned co-defensive player of the week honors from the Big Ten.


Linebacker Nate Hall played well filling in for the injured Jaylen Prater, and safety Terrance Brown stepped in for injured senior safety Traveon Henry.

"We've got to get rested up," Fitzgerald said. "We just got done with a heavyweight fight. We're going to get another one on Saturday. So we've got to get our minds right, our bodies right. And as a staff, we've got to give our guys a great plan because Illinois got after us a year ago."

The Wildcats have a chance to become the school's first 11-win team.

"I am not afraid to talk about the realities of situations," Fitzgerald said. "We understand the opportunity we have in front of us this week.

"We talk about going 1-0 each week, and that's to get to No. 10. We have only done that a couple of times in this program's history. Our seniors were a part of our most recent one. If we get that accomplished ... they are the only guys in our program's history to say that they have done it twice. That's a pretty special legacy. And that would give yourself the opportunity to go into some uncharted waters."

Twitter @kicker34