Northwestern falls to Michigan after failed 2-point try

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Calling for a two-point conversion instead of playing for overtime was unusual for typically conservative Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald. That doesn’t mean it wasn’t pragmatic, though.

In the Wildcats’ 10-9 loss Saturday to Michigan at Ryan Field, Fitzgerald went for the victory after receiver Tony Jones caught a three-yard touchdown pass with three seconds left to pull NU to within a point.

‘‘Well, we didn’t score a lot of points,’’ Fitzgerald said. ‘‘So I felt like I’ll take a one-play opportunity. Three yards, one play. Try to go win the football game. Being aggressive.’’

It was the right call to make, considering how poorly the Wildcats’ offense had played against the Wolverines. Heck, go ahead and factor in how bad NU’s offense has been all season.

But making the right call doesn’t absolve the coaching staff of blame for the Wildcats’ fourth consecutive loss. The two-point attempt suggests Fitzgerald had no confidence in NU’s offense to win the game in overtime. Who would after watching the Wildcats score a combined 16 points the last two weeks?

Someone has to take responsibility for that offense, though. Fitzgerald calls coordinator Mick McCall among the best developers of quarterbacks around, but Trevor Siemian and the offense have been consistently abysmal the last two seasons.

Redshirt freshman Matt Alviti came to NU with plenty of fanfare. He made his season debut against Michigan in an effort to mix up the offense, but he has looked average in practice.

Development? That implies an upward trend. What we’ve seen from the Wildcats’ quarterbacks is stagnation, maybe even decline.

It’s because of its offense that NU must win its final three games of the season to become bowl-eligible. Lose one, and the Wildcats will miss out on the postseason for the second consecutive year. The latter seems more likely, with a trip to Notre Dame coming up next.

‘‘We were playing well [enough] on offense to go out there and get another touchdown [in overtime], but I definitely like the call going for two,’’ Siemian said.

Fitzgerald said he made the decision with six minutes left, when he saw only three points next to NU’s name.

‘‘Not real chaotic,’’ Fitzgerald said. ‘‘Already had our plan in place.’’

That’s not surprising because Fitzgerald thinks things out. But now it’s time for him to think about his offense and to think about it in the same way he thinks about everything else — practically.

As obvious a decision as it was for Fitzgerald to go for two, another decision is just as clear. It’s one the offense has dictated with its play the last two seasons, and it’s a call that will be more difficult than any play Fitzgerald might utter through his headset.

It’s a call for change.


Twitter: @SethGruen

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