Big Ten: David Oredugba

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

 
 Harry How/Getty Images
 Minnesota's Adam Weber thought Northwestern's defense was vulnerable Saturday but his interception at the end of the game gave the Wildcats a 24-17 victory.

MINNEAPOLIS -- Minnesota's amazing rise this season has followed a pattern, and Saturday's game against Northwestern seemed to be falling right in line.

Despite a slow start, the 17th-ranked Gophers showcased the opportunistic play that fueled their 7-1 start. Cornerback Traye Simmons gave Minnesota its first lead in the second quarter with a 23-yard interception return for a touchdown. It marked the Gophers' nation-leading 25th turnover and their third defensive touchdown of the season.

From there, quarterback Adam Weber went to work, as he has all season, methodically moving the offense downfield. As Northwestern tried to take away top target Eric Decker and stuff the run, Weber went elsewhere, and five other receivers had multiple receptions. The Gophers converted 8-of-18 third downs. They held the ball for more than 10 minutes in both the second and third quarters.

Most important, Minnesota avoided major mistakes.

Until the final minute.

Northwestern safety Brendan Smith's 48-yard return of a tipped Weber pass proved to be the difference in a 24-17 Wildcats victory. After making opponents pay the entire season, the Gophers came up short in their type of game.

"It was like a punch to the stomach, but what can you do?" Gophers linebacker Lee Campbell said. "They made the play they needed to make to win the game."

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Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

MINNEAPOLIS -- Northwestern cornerback David Oredugba had a premonition during warm-ups before Saturday's game, and he shared it with safety Brendan Smith.

"I just had a feeling in me," Oredugba said. "I can't explain it. I was like, 'You know what? You'll get a pick six today.'"

 
 Harry How/Getty Images
 Northwestern's Brendan Smith celebrates his interception for a touchdown in the final minute of the Wildcats 24-17 win over Minnesota

It seemed like a bold and highly unlikely prediction.

Minnesota entered the game leading the nation in both takeaways (24) and turnover margin(plus-1.88). Gophers sophomore quarterback Adam Weber had thrown only three interceptions in 163 pass attempts and led Big Ten starters in completion percentage (67.1).

For most of Saturday's game, Weber looked unshakable. Only one of two passes were near interceptions. But with 26 seconds left and the game tied at 17-17, Weber looked downfield for his No. 1 target, Eric Decker.

Northwestern was in "quarters," or Cover 4, and Oredugba broke on the ball.

"It kind of bounced off my hands," he said. "The funny thing is they always make fun of me for my bad hands. So I guess my bad hands came in play today.

"I've always been a defensive player for a reason."

Fortunately for Oredugba and Northwestern, senior safety Brendan Smith boasts a better offensive skill set. He picked off the tipped pass and zigzagged 48 yards to the end zone, putting Northwestern ahead with 12 seconds left.

After failing to force a turnover last week in an unsightly loss to Indiana, a team that had committed a giveaway in its previous seven games, Northwestern got the takeaway it needed.

"I got the ball and I just thought, 'Touchdown,'" said Smith, who had his second return for a touchdown this season. "Everyone should think that when they've got the ball in their hands with 40 seconds left, however many seconds, it doesn't matter. ...

"Guys came in and did their job. It's that simple. When you come in and worry about doing your job first and then make plays from there, we'll be very successful. And it showed."

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Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

MINNEAPOLIS -- Northwestern needed a turnover to win. Minnesota doesn't commit turnovers.

A problem? No doubt. But the Wildcats came up big when it counted. Cornerback David Oredugba tipped an Adam Weber pass and safety Brendan Smith picked it off. Smith weaved 48 yards to the end zone with 12 seconds remaining and Northwestern stunned No. 17 Minnesota on Homecoming. Weber had been flat-out tremendous until the interception. Coach Tim Brewster will have to answer questions about his decisions in the final minute.

What a game. I'll be back later with more updates.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

 
 Jerry Lai-US PRESSWIRE
 Pat Fitzgerald took over a tough situation, but sees improvement from his squad regularly.

EVANSTON, Ill. -- The Northwestern football office is filled with memories from Pat Fitzgerald's playing career. Visitors are immediately greeted by one of his National Defensive Player of the Year trophies, and a display case several feet away holds several other awards given to the former Northwestern linebacker, who headlined the 1995 Rose Bowl team. More items are on the way when Fitzgerald gets enshrined into the College Football Hall of Fame next summer.

The Hall of Fame selection provided Fitzgerald the chance to reflect on his on-field accomplishments, but his focus has switched back to his current responsibilities. He wants to bring more hardware to Evanston, this time as a head coach. Northwestern underachieved in 2007, falling short of a bowl game, and Fitzgerald's missteps cost the team at times. Fitzgerald's legacy a player is undeniable, but he still has plenty to prove as a coach. No longer the novice who took over following the sudden death of Randy Walker, Fitzgerald understands the significance of this season.

After a family vacation to Florida during which he did not get a tan -- impossible, he claims -- Fitzgerald sat down last week to discuss the Hall of Fame, the upcoming season, his two new coordinators and his evolution as a coach.

How has your life changed since being selected for the Hall of Fame?

Pat Fitzgerald: (laughs) I don't know if it's changed at all. It's an incredible, humbling honor. Someone asked me what it meant to be on the ballot. I think it just shows how strong of a football team we had. My career in the NFL was not very long, probably the shortest of anybody being enshrined this year. So I look back to what we accomplished here and I look at this honor, and it's my name, but it's more of our team that's going to be inducted into the Hall of Fame.

You're obviously asked about that team a lot, but did this make you reminisce about it even more?

PF: As you get a little bit older, you look back at that time in your life and you really appreciate the experiences you went through and the people you were with. For me, still living it every day, still being here every day, I think about it almost daily. We had a little milestone with the 10-year reunion the last couple years, and hopefully for some of my teammates, this opportunity to celebrate our team will be an opportunity to reconnect again.

Given all the places you've been and the experiences you've have since then, does the Rose Bowl feel like a long time ago?

PF: Yeah, it does. So much has changed, not only for myself, but a lot of my teammates. Most of them are married now, most of them have children, so we've all taken another step in our lives, milestone-wise. It seems a little distant now. We need to get back.

Coaches talk about finding their voice. Do you think you've found your voice now more than before?

PF: I'm more set on what I want. Looking back to Year 1, there were things I felt strongly about, but now as we've gone through a couple years of it, I'm very confident in what I want to have. I'm excited about this year. We've got a lot of experience coming back, a lot of guys that have been around me and know what I expect. I think I'm doing a better job of articulating that.

With (quarterback) C.J. (Bacher), what's been the biggest difference in him, leadership-wise, from when he took over as the starter?

PF: He's confident. He's kind of run the whole gamut you go through at quarterback. He was the backup, watched a great player (Brett Basanez) have a great end to his career, got hurt, had to battle his way to a starting job, won it, we didn't have success, then got us to bowl eligibility last year, was not satisfied with that. Now he's poised to have a great year. He's worked hard, he's strong. I'm encouraged with where he's at.

Mick (McCall) is his third offensive coordinator in four years. How did it go with those two in spring practice?

PF: Mick came in with some automatic credibility to the development of two All-American quarterbacks (Josh Harris and Omar Jacobs) while he was at (Bowling Green). So C.J. was excited to work with a coach like that. Not that things weren't going great with Garrick (McGee), but to have this opportunity and to watch the job C.J. did, learning and growing, giving extra time to get to know coach McCall better, I'm excited where that relationship is right now.

Will fans notice dramatic differences with what you do on offense with Mick calling plays?

PF: Mick is smart enough and our offensive staff has got a good dynamic where they're not going to ask C.J. to do things he doesn't do very well and put him in an area where he's strong. I don't think it'll be dramatic. Will there be some nuances? Yeah.

More dramatic on the defensive side?

PF: Hopefully in being a little bit more successful, but from a scheme standpoint, we're trying to attack and be more aggressive. What does that mean? As we solidify that top 11, 12, 13, 14, 15 guys, what do they do best? I would assume we'll be four-down most of the year, based on where we're at health-wise right now and the strength of our defensive line. But who ends up being that nickel guy? Do we keep two linebackers in? Do we keep one linebacker in? Is it a corner? Is it a safety? Those are all left to be determined. But Mike Hankwitz has run just about everything you can run, so the flexibility in our system will give us an opportunity to be successful.

How beneficial has having him around been for you, as a young head coach?

PF: Both him and Mick. Mick's been a former head coach for a number of years, and for me, it's great to have those two guys in the room. I like being in a staff room where there's not a bunch of yes-men, where anything I say, they bobblehead, 'Yeah, yeah.' That's what I enjoyed the most about the spring, the challenge of being able to say, 'Do you have any ideas? We did this a certain way.' And they say, 'Well, OK, we did that a couple years ago, too.' To talk through those things, the growth that happens is tremendous.

Who needs to step up on that side of the ball?

PF: The experiences we had there are going to hopefully make us a better defense. You think of the experience up front, Corey Wootton being a multi-year starter, John Gill being a multi-year starter, Adam Hahn being a multi-year starter, Kevin Mims, as we sit here today, being a multi-year starter. And they're being pushed every day by the Vincent Brownes and the Corbin Bryants and the Marshall Thomases. I'm excited about that group, but that group needs to step up. We had good pressure last year. Now we need to finish the job. That's kind of indicative of our whole team. We had some games that we need to finish the job in and we didn't and stayed home for the holidays. At linebacker, Malcolm Arrington had a very solid spring. In the secondary, I'll rattle off more names than we've ever rattled off. (Brendan) Smith coming back off
injury and (Brad) Phillips, two guys that have made a lot of plays for us. They're going to be pushed by David Arnold, who we were going to play as a freshman but then got a little banged up. Same thing with Brian Peters. At corner, Sherrick (McManis) is being pushed by (Jordan) Mabin and (Mike) Bolden and then on the other side, you've got (David) Oredugba and (Justan) Vaughn fighting it out for a starting job. That's six names at corner. We've never had six names at corner of guys I feel confident about. We need to figure out which 11 pieces fit.

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