It's not the first time Northwestern has gotten its butt kicked.
That was part of Pat Fitzgerald's message to his team after the 31-10 spanking by Michigan State.
"What I told the guys in the locker room is: Unfortunately I've had my nose bloodied before, and so have a lot of guys in that room," he said. "One, you have to stick together. As Coach Walk (Randy Walker) always said: You have to point thumbs, not fingers."
Fitzgerald said players have to improve as individuals and coaches have to "present better plans."
"Right now offensively it's chicken and egg," he said. "Is it confidence or execution? Which one comes first? It has to be a combo of both."
Here are four takeaways as Northwestern prepares for a brutal assignment — a trip to Wisconsin, which is 3-0 after hammering Michigan.
1. Northwestern's slow starts are mystifying.
Northwestern should always have an early season advantage because of the quarter system: Fall classes don't start until Tuesday. So it can be 24/7 football for the players.
Yet the Wildcats started 1-3 in 2016, 2-3 in 2017, 1-3 in 2018 and are 1-2 now.
"I can't really put my finger on it, the dreaded slow start," defensive end Joe Gaziano said. "We're just looking at it game by game — what can we do better next time?"
Asked about NU's poor record in September, Pat Fitzgerald replied: "Is it over yet?"
When a reporter mentioned the trip to Madison next week, he responded enthusiastically: "Awesome. All right, let's go."
2. The offensive line did not hold up.
Hunter Johnson got sacked on NU's first play when the line failed to account for linebackers Tyriq Thompson and Joe Bachie, who might be the best defensive player in the Big Ten. Johnson continued to get harassed, as did replacement Aidan Smith.
You have free articles remaining.
The glaring deficiency was apparent during Michigan State's goal-line stand: Isaiah Bowser went nowhere on two carries, and the line got overwhelmed on the fourth-down option try.
Center Jared Thomas said offensive line coach Kurt Anderson predicted a key moment like that.
"He said he had a sneaking suspicion there was going to be a pivotal moment for us to execute on the goal line," Thomas said. "That time came and we didn't. We've got to get back to the drawing board and do better next time."
3. Drake Anderson can ball.
The redshirt freshman is the son of NU rushing legend Damien Anderson and answers to "D.A. 2.0." He rushed for 113 yards last week against UNLV with an astounding 101 coming after contact.
He was effective again Saturday against what had been the nation's No. 1 rush defense — 0.9 yards per carry.
Anderson gained 91 yards on 17 carries, though some of that production came against backups.
"I don't really see that as a good day for myself," Anderson said. "It's unfortunate that it took me so long to get going. I have to win those one-on-one matchups early in the game. Gotta get back in the lab.
"Obviously it was nice to have a couple of nice runs; it's good for the confidence. But ultimately we will flush it and worry about Wisconsin."
4. Wisconsin will be a monumental challenge.
Pat Fitzgerald is a respectable 4-5 against the Badgers but 1-4 in Madison with some hellacious losses (41-9, 70-23 and 35-6).
"We have to coach 'em harder, coach 'em better and keep grinding on them to get better," Fitzgerald said of his players. "I believe in all those guys."
Hunter Johnson remains the No. 1 quarterback after a decent showing (15-for-26, 88 yards). Johnson did err twice in NU's final series before halftime: He missed an open Berkeley Holman and should have hit check-down receiver Isaiah Bowser on third down rather than loft a ball across the field that got picked off.
But Johnson did about as well as his leaky line allowed.
Bottom line: Everyone associated with Northwestern football needs to improve. With an upcoming stretch of at Wisconsin and Nebraska and home games against Ohio State and Iowa, there is a danger of this becoming a lost season.