When Northwestern football coach Pat Fitzgerald was ripping on Joey Galloway after Saturday’s win over Wisconsin, I had to text a purple-loving NU alumnus to find out what in the world he was talking about.
My friend told me Galloway, the ESPN analyst, was a “little dismissive” of the Wildcats during a studio show last week but added it was “nothing crazy.” When I asked why Fitzgerald was being so sensitive, the friend informed me that wasn’t the case at all.
“It’s what coaches do to motivate,” he said.
Using criticism as bulletin-board material has been part of coaches’ motivational repertoire for ages, and it’s likely to outlast newspapers. Between Twitter, sports-talk radio and the proliferation of “hot take” debate shows on ESPN and Fox stations, there’s no shortage of criticism in any sport on any day of the week.
This wasn’t something anyone had written but something an ESPN analyst said that Fitzgerald found “incredibly disrespectful.”
Fitzgerald’s postgame remark to ABC’s sideline reporter — “How about these Fighting Rece Davises?” — probably went over most viewers’ heads, as it did mine. I figured Davis, the ESPN studio host, was one of the many media members of the Purple Mafia, like Michael Wilbon and all the other NU alumni who come out of the woodwork when the Wildcats are winning.
Silly me. It was meant as an insult.
During Tuesday’s College Football Playoff show, Davis asked Galloway, an Ohio State alumnus, about the possibility of the Wildcats being in the playoff picture if they could beat Wisconsin, then ranked 10th in the nation.
Galloway said he had seen Northwestern play and, “honestly, they’ve got a bunch of Rece Davises out there running around.”
“High-level athletes, huh?” Davis replied.
“Yeah, very athletic, Rece,” Galloway said with a heavy dose of sarcasm.
Kudos to Fitzgerald for getting his players fired up over Galloway’s remark, though they really shouldn’t need that kind of motivation in the biggest game of many of their careers. And remember, Fitzgerald told us last year he doesn’t care about the critics, saying he understood there were “40,000 experts on Twitter that can call plays for me. My email address is hashtag I don’t care.”
At least we know Fitz has a new email address. He cares after all.
I don’t watch Galloway enough to know whether he was just being flip or trying to become the Charles Barkley of college football.
Either way, good for him.
Sure, it was a disrespectful thing to say, and it would’ve been much funnier had he called them a bunch of Stephen A. Smiths or Skip Baylesses. But at least Galloway was trying to be interesting, and he didn’t seem to care if the coach or the players didn’t like it.
College football analysis, on the whole, is amazingly bland. Seeing which mascot’s head Lee Corso will wear on “College GameDay” is about as controversial as it gets on any given Saturday. College athletes and coaches are almost always treated with kid gloves, as though it’s high school football. No one wants to upset the kids who are trying so hard, much less their parents or the coach making $5 million a year.
I found it hilarious that Illinois trolled Nebraska and its well-earned reputation as an arrogant program via the athletic department’s Twitter account after the Illini’s win Saturday in Lincoln, Neb.. Of course, someone made Illinois’ social media employee delete the tweet so as not to offend Cornhusker Nation.
Face it: College football is big business, which is why they’re playing through a pandemic in mostly empty stadiums. If there was no TV revenue for the schools, the Big Ten season most likely would’ve been canceled — and in fact it almost was until the SEC, Big 12 and ACC decided to play on without them.
They’re all big boys, including Northwestern. And if some analyst doesn’t think a school with a golden academic reputation like Northwestern’s has enough top-level athletes to compete for a playoff spot, well, the Wildcats just have to go out and prove him wrong.
So far, so good.
Saturday’s 17-7 win over the Badgers could be a stepping-stone to the Big Ten title game in Indianapolis, where the Wildcats likely would face Ohio State. But the offense needs to show improvement in the final three weeks if they hope to have a chance against the Buckeyes.
Other than the rout of Maryland in the opener, the Wildcats have won squeakers over Iowa, Nebraska, Purdue and now Wisconsin. They should be favored against Michigan State, Minnesota and Illinois — and would clinch the division with wins over two of those three — but they likely can’t afford a misstep if they want to stay in the playoff picture.
Fitzgerald has done a fine job getting the players to forget about last year’s abysmal three-win season, and quarterback Peyton Ramsey, a transfer from Indiana, has worked well with new offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian.
But this team will thrive or fall on its defense, which has carried the Wildcats in their 5-0 start, with linebackers Paddy Fisher and Blake Gallagher, cornerback Greg Newsome II and safety Brandon Joseph leading the way. They’re second to the Badgers in the conference in yards allowed (314.6) and points allowed (12.6) per game.
It’s not far-fetched to believe they can hold their own against Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields and the conference’s top-ranked offense (535.3 yards per game), but they likely would be heavy underdogs if that matchup comes to fruition in Indy.
Still, that’s too far off to think about now. With the Wildcats rising to No. 11 in the AP poll Sunday and garnering national attention thanks to Saturday’s win and Fitzgerald’s “Fighting Davises” speech, they’ve suddenly put a target on their back.
Now that they’ve made Galloway a villain, the onus is on them to prove they’re a real national power and not a byproduct of this pandemic-altered season. We’ll all be watching to see what ESPN has to say about its role in Northwestern’s 2020 saga.
If the network has any sense of humor, Corso will pull out a giant papier-mache version of Rece Davis’ head during this week’s predictions segment and put it on his own.
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