Chicago Sun-Times
with Tina Akouris

September 2010 Archives

Northwestern kicker Stefan Demos honored

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Wildcat kicker Stefan Demos has been named as a semifinalist for the William V. Campbell Trophy, honoring players for excellence on the field and in the classroom. Demos, who is a fifth-year senior and is working on a master's degree in sports administration, is one of 121 semifinalists up for the award. The National Football Foundation and College Football Hall of Fame made the announcement Thursday.

In other Wildcat news on Thursday, the team sent out its weekly injury report for Saturday's Big Ten opener at Minnesota. Jared Carpenter is cleared to play after suffering from a lower back issue right before kickoff during the Rice game two weeks ago. Offensive lineman Evan Luxenburg is out with a knee injury.

Northwestern men's basketball schedule announced

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Northwestern has announced its men's basketball schedule for the 2010-11 season, highlighted by a trip to Madison Square Garden Dec. 20 and 21. The Wildcats will play St. Francis of New York and then either St. John's or Davidson on the second day of the New York trip.

NU plays a Nov. 4 exhibition against Robert Morris (Ill.) at McGaw Hall on Nov. 4, before opening the regular season Nov. 12 at Northern Illinois. The Wildcats' home opener is Nov. 19 against Arkansas-Pine Bluff.

 check out the schedule:

Northwestern practices getting intense

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Tuesday's practice up at Evanston seemed chippier than usual with more jawing between the guys than there usually is. I didn't know if it was just me, but when I asked coach Pat Fitzgerald about it he seemed to agree. Probably a good sign with the Big Ten opener at Minnesota now just four days away. To quote the coach from his Monday press conference: The real season starts now.

"I think we're starting to figure out how to practice smart but practice intense and guys are not being satisified with having a play be made on them," Fitzgerald said. 

Other nuggets of info:

* Quarterback Dan Persa said that he thinks the offensive line is playing much better of late, and that bodes well for conference play. The improvements Persa sees makes him think that the Wildcats will be a dangerous team in the Big Ten.

* Ryan Field isn't the only place that gets loud. Fitzgerald was almost giddy that the crowd made so much noise during the Central Michigan game, therby disrupting the 'Cats' defensive play calling. NU will have to deal with that again Saturday at Minnesota's TCF Bank Stadium, which seats about 50,000 people and probably gets a little louder than Ryan Field.

Northwestern musings on a Monday

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Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald held his weekly news conference in Evanston Monday. Among a preview of the Minnesota game Saturday and an analysis of the Wildcats' win over Central Michigan, Fitzgerald offered up these nuggets of info:

* NU honors as bestowed by coaches: Jacob Schmidt, his first time honored as offensive player of the week for his two rushing touchdowns against Central Michigan. Jeremy Ebert, is the big playmaker of the week, his third time honored.

Defensive players of the week: Corbin Bryant; big playmaker of the week: Jack DiNardo and Niko Mafuli, who were instrumental on the two blocked kicks. Because the Wildcats won by only five, those blocks were key to the Wildcats' 30-25 win over Central Michigan.


* Safety Jared Carpenter isn't on the depth chart for this week. Carpenter was a late scratch before the Rice game on Sept. 18 because of a back injury. In his place is Hunter Bates, who had a career-high 11 tackles (10 solo) against Central Michigan. But this may not be a Wally Pipp-Lou Gehrig situation between Bates and Carpenter. Pat Fitzgerald said no one will lose their job because of an injury. "Every rep matters. Every play counts in practice and in games. Our guys understand that. They just have to get healthy." Fitzgerald is not sure of the severity of Carpenter's back injury or when he will return.


* Speaking of injuries, Mafuli has made tremendous progress after injuring his right knee during the season opener at Vanderbilt. He missed two games but returned against Central Michigan (see note above for Mafuli's accomplishments against the Chippewas). Fitzgerald said Mafuli came back so quick because school wasn't in session when he got hurt and Mafuli was able to rehab his knee 24/7.


* NU coach Pat Fitzgerald and Minnesota coach Tim Brewster often vacation in Naples, Fla. with their familes. But last year's 35-24 Minnesota win over NU doesn't get brought up. "We usually talk about our families," Fitzgerald said.

Bits and pieces of Northwestern-Central Michigan

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* Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald was happy with the student body's turnout at Ryan Field Saturday for the Wildcats' 30-25 victory over Central Michigan. Fitzgerald said several of his players handed out T-shirts on campus Thursday and about two boxloads were gone "in about four seconds." The 30,000-plus fans brought more energy to Ryan Field for this second home game.

* Quentin Williams and David Nwabuisi each had interceptions for the Wildcats. 
"I wasn't hiding but it was part of the scheme where they don't expect a defensive lineman to be covering the flat very often and I was lucky to be there," Williams said.

* Fitzgerald said quarterback Dan Persa's maturity is what makes him a winner. Persa does a lot of scrambling and rushing, and he has come back to the sidelines to tell Fitzgerald he did so because he "didn't like the look" of the receivers. 

* Best quotes: When you've got something wrong, like a weed in the yard, you get weed-killer. I'm going to kill the penalties, I promise you that."
-- Fitzgerald on the Wildcats' 106 yards of penalties.
"If you were just in that locker room, it wasn't Mardi Gras."
-- Fitzgerald on the team's mood after the game, especially after giving up two touchdowns to Central Michigan in the game's final 7:30.

ESPN to broadcast Northwestern Big Ten opener

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When Northwestern opens the Big Ten season at Minnesota this Saturday, fans will be able to watch the game on ESPN at 11 a.m. The game will also be broadcast on WGN 720-AM and the school's radio station WNUR 89.3-FM.

Northwestern defeats Central Michigan

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It wasn't pretty. From the 84 yards worth of penalties in the first half for Northwestern to the still struggling running game, the Wildcats were able to hold off a high scoring Central Michigan team 30-25 Saturday at Ryan Field. 

Central Michigan had scored with 1:11 to play in the game but the two-point conversion failed. When NU got the ball back, quarterback Dan Persa took a knee and let the clock run down to preserve the win.
Northwestern safety Jared Carpenter is listed as doubtful for the Wildcats' game against Central Michigan Saturday at Ryan Field. Carpenter was a late scratch from last week's 30-13 victory at Rice with back tightness.

On the bright side, defensive tackle Niko Mafuli is not on the injury report after hurting his knee at Vanderbilt Sept. 4 and missing the past two weeks. Also, cornerback Demetrius Dugar is not on the list after suffering a head injury at Rice and leaving the game in the second quarter.

Pat Fitzgerald tied for top spot in APR rankings

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Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald is tied for the No. 1 spot in the Academic Progress Rate rankings, which monitors academic progress. Fitzgerald and Air Force coach Troy Calhoun both scored a 985 for the top spot. The APR ranks 107 out of 120 coaches among Football Bowl Subdivision teams.

Three Northwestern walk-ons awarded scholarships

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NU coach Pat Fitzgerald announced after Tuesday's practice that three walk-ons will receive scholarships for this school year.

The three players are senior long snapper John Henry Pace, senior defensive lineman Andrew Struckmeyer and junior cornerback Ricky Weina.

The three are in good company among NU walk-ons. Last season's leading receiver, Zeke Markshausen, was a walk-on and ended his college career with All-Big Ten and Academic All-American honors.

Something about Tuesdays for Northwestern

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After Northwestern ended practice Tuesday morning amid 80-plus degree temperatures that reminded me of mid-August and not nearly of late September, coach Pat Fitzgerald came sprinting over to the small group of media gathered on the Wildcats' practice field. He was happy that, for the second Tuesday in a row, the Wildcats had their best practice of the season.

Why is that? What is it about Tuesdays anyway?

"We're in the routine now and that first week is tough," Fitzgerald said. "I think after that week I might look a little bit at our plan for next year. I think [before the Vanderbilt game] we practiced too much. I can't believe I'm saying that, as a coach. We maybe ran out of gas before we went into Vanderbilt and we didn't peak at the right time."

NU's Corbin Bryant earns Allstate honor

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Monday night Northwestern defensive lineman Corbin Bryant found out he was the fifth consecutive Wildcat to be named to the Allstate AFCA Good Works Team. Bryant, who graduated in June and is working on a master's degree, is on the 11-member team for his community service.

"We're not just here for football; we're here to help the community and do different things to enhance this program," Bryant said. "I was excited and I kind of expected it, because I've done a lot of work in the community and my grades are pretty good. But I wasn't always too sure."

Leftover Rice bits; Dan Persa still rolling

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Leftovers are usually best served after they've sat around in the fridge for a day or so. 
Here's some leftover tidbits from the 30-13 NU win over Rice Saturday night in Houston.

* Dan Persa's passing yardage of 307 was a career high. He also had a career-best 341 yards of total offense.

* Starting linebacker Bryce McNaul, who is healthy this season after a string of injuries in previous seasons, recorded four tackles.

* Rice Stadium was the site of Super Bowl VIII in 1974.

* With Houston's high humidity an issue even before the Wildcats left Evanston, coach Pat Fitzgerald played over 60 players Saturday night. Humidity at game time was 92 percent with temperatures near 80 degrees.

* The offensive players of the game as selected by the NU coaching staff were: receiver Jeremy Ebert and lineman Brian Mulroe was the offensive big playmaker; the offensive practice player of the game was Brian Smith. Lineman Corbin Bryant and linebacker Quentin Davie were defensive players of the game; defensive end Vince Browne was the defensive big playmaker and James Kurzawski was the practice player of the game. Ben Johnson earned special teams honors and Will Studlien was special teams practice player of the week.

Talking about Northwestern's next opponent already

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The 30-13 victory over Rice in Houston Saturday night was savored for only about a half hour, when Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald was asked in a post-game Q and A about the Wildcats' next game against Central Michigan at Ryan Field this coming Saturday. 

"They're the most championship ready," Fitzgerald said. "This is an outstanding football program and I've had a chance to look at them a little bit and they are very athletic."

The Chippewas dismantled Eastern Michigan Saturday 52-14 and Paris Cotton ran for 209 yards and three touchdowns. Talk about a running game. NU's defense is going to have their work cut out for them if Cotton's performance against EMU is any indication. 

Northwestern beats Rice

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After a rocky first half, Northwestern's offense came alive in the second half and beat Rice 30-13 Saturday night in Houston. Rice scored late in the fourth quarter with 14 seconds to play, ending the Wildcats streak of not giving up a touchdown in about seven and a half quarters. NU is 3-0.

Northwestern's Demetrius Dugar out with head injury

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NU cornerback Demetrius Dugar left Saturday night's game at Rice with a head injury in the second quarter. 

It was a rough quarter for the Wildcats, as quarterback Dan Persa left the game for one play when he got hit after throwing an incomplete pass.

Northwestern's Jared Carpenter out for Rice game

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Northwestern safety Jared Carpenter was a late scratch from the Wildcats game at Rice. He is being replaced by Hunter Bates. No word from NU officials as to why Carpenter is out.

Northwestern putting conditioning to test

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When I walked out of Houston's Hobby Airport Friday night, I felt like I was in a tropical forest, the humidity was that bad -- at ten o'clock at night. And this morning it was just as bad. I went out for a walk and was drenched at 9 a.m. So hopefully Northwestern is as well conditioned as coach Pat Fitzgerald says they are for their game tonight at Rice.

A quick downpour around 4:30 may have cooled things off, if just a bit, but Fitzgerald has insisted since training camp that this year's edition of the Wildcats are the best conditioned team he's seen. We'll see when the game starts at 6. The game is on the radio, 560-AM and WNUR 89.3-FM, but is not televised. I'll post updates to twitter @takouris.

Dan Persa hopes to make Northwestern 3-0

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Northwestern quarterback Dan Persa, the nation's most efficient passer, will lead the Wildcats' no-huddle offense at Rice Saturday night in Houston. It will be the last time the two teams meet for a while, since the Big Ten expanded in June and new divisions were announced Sept. 1, changing the Wildcats' 2011 schedule and therefore bumping Rice out of the picture. 

After a shaky start at Vanderbilt on Sept. 4, the 'Cats ground game picked up against Illinois State last weekend with a 37-3 win at a rain-soaked Ryan Field. With the offensive line playing better and tailback Arby Fields gaining confidence, Northwestern could start the season 3-0.

About the blogger

Tina Akouris covers the Northwestern Wildcats for the Sun-Times.



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