Chicago Sun-Times
with Tina Akouris

October 2010 Archives

Northwestern vs. Penn State game time announced

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Saturday's Northwestern game at Penn State will be televised on ABC Ch. 7 at 2:30 p.m. The game has added significance in that Penn State coach Joe Paterno will be going for career win No. 400.

Northwestern defeats Indiana 20-17

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Mike Trumpy became the first Wildcat to rush for over 100 yards since the 2008 Alamo Bowl and receiver Jeremy Ebert went over the 1,000 yard mark for career receiving yardage, as the Wildcats beat Indiana 20-17 in Bloomington.
Quarterback Dan Persa left the game in the fourth quarter with an apparent concussion.

Dan Persa leaves game with injury

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Junior quarterback Dan Persa left the Indiana game at the 8:45 mark of the fourth quarter with an injury. It was unclear from replays whether or not the injury was to Persa's shoulder or his head. Persa was the ball carrier when he got hurt.
Backup Evan Watkins has taken over.

Northwestern off to a slow start

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After the Michigan State loss last week, Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald wanted to stop stupid penalties and get his players to have more focus and discipline.

Today, it is only the first quarter and already NU was whistled for a personal foul (face mask), holding and off sides penalties. 

Indiana kicked a 23-yard field go to go up 3-0.

It might be a long day.

For the first time in Northwestern University history, the athletic department will commission a study on all its athletic and recreation facilities to see what needs to be upgraded and what needs to be built.

The study will begin in November and include the athletic facilities surrounding Ryan Field. The university has selected Populous to do the study, which has done studies for Indiana, Penn State and Ohio State.

The study should be finished by the spring and a draft of the findings will be presented to the university.

Northwestern announces 2011 and 2012 schedules

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Northwestern released its football schedule for the 2011 and 2012 seasons. The Wildcats will open the season in 2011 on Sept. 3 at Boston College and their Big Ten opener is at Illinois on Oct. 1. NU will play new Big Ten member Nebraska in Lincoln on Nov. 5. NU was also able to find room on its 2011 schedule for Rice, which will come to Evanston on Nov. 12. It was previously thought that the Rice game would have to be pushed to another season.

In 2012 the Wildcats open the season Sept. 1 at Syracuse and start the Big Ten season with a home game Sept. 29 against Indiana. Nebraska makes it first appearance in Evanston on Oct. 20.



Sept. 3 at Boston College

Sept. 10 vs. Eastern Illinois

Sept. 17 at Army

Sept. 24 Open

Oct. 1 at Illinois

Oct. 8 vs. Michigan

Oct. 15 at Iowa

Oct. 22 vs. Penn State (Homecoming)

Oct. 29 at Indiana

Nov. 5 at Nebraska

Nov. 12 vs. Rice (Family Weekend)

Nov. 19 vs. Minnesota

Nov. 26 vs. Michigan State



Sept. 1 at Syracuse

Sept. 8 vs. Vanderbilt

Sept. 15 vs. Boston College

Sept. 22 vs. South Dakota

Sept. 29 vs. Indiana

Oct. 6 at Penn State

Oct. 13 at Minnesota

Oct. 20 vs. Nebraska (Family Weekend)

Oct. 27 vs. Iowa (Homecoming)

Nov. 3 Open
Nov. 10 at Michigan

Nov. 17 at Michigan State

Nov. 24 Illinois

It seems like this week is turning into honors week at Northwestern.

Monday quarterback Dan Persa was one of 10 quarterbacks named to the Manning Award's watch list.

And Thursday defensive lineman Corbin Bryant was named one of 10 finalists to the Awards and Recognition Association (ARA) sportsmanship award. The award is given to the Division I football player who best represents sportsmanship.

* On kickoffs and punt returns the question was asked this week if it is going to be Hunter Bates or freshman Venric Mark. The answer? Coach Pat Fitzgerald said he likes them both. Bates got dinged up early in the Michigan State game and Mark took his place, but when asked if any more personnel changes were coming, we got this little nugget from Fitz:

"Everything is fluid," he said. "A the end of the day the guys have to produce."

The inspirational story of Northwestern's Marty Long

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            When you hear the term "football family" in describing Northwestern, believe it.

            Marty Long certainly does.

            Long, the Wildcats defensive line coach, found out first hand what it means to be a part of NU's football family.

            After NU found out they were headed to the Outback Bowl last December, Long started feeling discomfort in his sinuses and was having headaches. The symptoms increased, but that didn't stop Long from going to Florida with Wildcats coach Pat Fitzgerald on a recruiting trip prior to the bowl game.

            "I would not let Pat drive [on the trip] even though I was having massive headaches," Long said. "When we got back to town he said I needed to see the doctor. After a staff meeting the other guys told me I was really out of it. I didn't know I was out of it and I went to the doctor."

            The family started to circle the wagons and help Long. Assistant coach Jerry Brown and Long have the same doctor, and at Fitzgerald's insistence Long agreed to have a check up. Brown made the appointment, Long went to the doctor after that staff meeting and the news of what was really wrong hit him like an electric shock.

            A tumor on the pituitary gland.

            The pituitary gland sits in the base of the brain and is the size of a pea. The gland secretes hormones and helps regulate blood pressure, the thyriod gland and the body's metabolism among other things.

            Long was lucky, because he went to the doctor in the nick of time. Long's doctor sent him to Evanston Hospital for emergency surgery on Dec. 11, 2009 because the tumor had burst and was bleeding.

            "I remember it just like it was yesterday, and it was something I would not wish on anyone," Long said. "I was more worried about my players. We had [freshman lineman] Will Hampton visiting that weekend and I wanted to be there for him and all I can remember was whining to my wife [Donna] that I wanted to be with my guys. The players are like my kids."

            Fifth-year senior Corbin Bryant is a defensive line veteran. When Long got sick, Bryant and his teammates were worried but knew Long would be tough enough to pull through. Long's illness made Bryant and the d-line work harder in preparation for the Outback Bowl.

            "We were definitely worried about him and we all went over to his house to see him and talk to him, but we knew in practice that we had to carry on and we were doing it for him," Bryant said. "We were trying to win the bowl game for him, and even if it didn't come out that way we pushed ourselves harder because we love coach so much."

            Bryant said he hadn't noticed anything different about Long before the tumor was found. Coach just seemed like coach, getting after his "kids" and yelling at them during practice.

            Fitzgerald requested that the players not go to the hospital to see Long, preferring to wait until he was home. Long was hospitalized for nine days.

            "When the time came he welcomed us over and gave us a good pep talk before the bowl game," Bryant said. "Ever since he's been here, my play has risen to a higher level. It's because of him and he's teaching me the ins and outs of football."

            With Long on the mend, defensive coordinator Mike Hankwitz took over coaching the defensive line along with Long's graduate assistant, Matt Clark.

            There was uncertainty at first if doctors had removed all of the tumor, but what they did remove was benign. After the surgery Long had double vision for about two weeks and went through physical therapy for two months.

            Long had a six month checkup recently and found out the tumor has not grown back.

            "We're lucky he got it all," Long said. "These tumors continue to come back and they can blind you, which is what I was worried about. If a coach doesn't have his eyes it's hard to coach."

            The family got together and cooked three weeks worth of meals for Donna Long so she could take care of her husband. Hankwitz and his family went over to Long's home to shovel snow and clear the Long's driveway so there was one less thing for them to worry about. And Fitzgerald assured Long that his job wasn't going anywhere. It would be waiting for him when he got healthy.

            "I'm the sole breadwinner in my family and that would be a big change if I couldn't get back to work," Long said. "Between the players and coaches and their families, everybody just pulled together to make it easier on my family and I."

            And they did it because that's what families do.

Northwestern learns from another loss

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What have we learned since Northwestern lost 35-27 Saturday to Michigan State?

We've learned that coach Pat Fitzgerald is still being a sport about the fake punt MSU ran on the Wildcats in the fourth quarter. Spartans coach Mark Dantonio had his team called for a delay of game penalty to get NU "to take the cheese" and then successfully executed the fake punt called "the mousetrap."

"Like I said, kudos to them and good luck the rest of the way," Fitzgerald said Monday.

And Fitzgerald also took responsibility for MSU's success in pulling off the fake.

"I didn't do a good enough job and you cover your guys until the ball is kicked," he said.

Does that mean deconstructing how NU reacted to the mousetrap ends? Hopefully.

* Looking at the bright side, Fitz said the bye week before the MSU game helped the Cats shore up some issues and he saw improvement in the following: the kicking game, punt returns and the performances of Hunter Bates and Venric Mark in those punt return roles, the running game and impact plays on defense.

* The Iowa game on Nov. 13 and the Illinois game at Wrigley Field on Nov. 20 are both sold out.

Northwestern's David Lipsky scores big on the greens

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Doug Meffley over at Northwestern athletics passed along this interesting tidbit about golfer David Lipsky. At the UNCG Bridgestone Golf Collegiate Sunday in Greensboro, N.C., Lipsky had a birdie-birdie-birdie-eagle finish (5-under in final 4 holes)
 to tie for the individual championship, but more importantly Lipsky also tied Luke Donald's school record 54-hole tournament score of
202 in the process.

Northwestern loses to Michigan State

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Despite leading the entire game but for the last two minutes, Northwestern could not pull off the upset at Ryan Field and lost to Michigan State 35-27.

Jacob Schmidt injured; leaves game

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NU running back Jacob Schmidt sustained a right ankle injury near the end of the first quarter Saturday against Michigan State and has left the game. Schmidt injured the ankle when he was trying to score from the one-yard line and was hit causing him to fumble the ball and turn it over to the Spartans.

"Pat Fitzgerald is perfect for Northwestern."

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Hype for the Michigan State-Northwestern game has been building for two weeks. The game is televised on ESPN, MSU coach Mark Dantonio is on the sidelines for the first time since he suffered a heart attack after the Spartans' victory over Notre Dame, undefeated MSU is No. 8 in the country according to the AP poll and it is NU's homecoming. A little rain to start the morning didn't deter both MSU and NU fans from coming out to Ryan Field and up in the press box it was just as electric -- at 10:45, legendary coach Ara Parseghian came up for a visit. Parseghian was not at a loss of praise for NU coach Pat Fitzgerald.

"He likes being around people, well organized and his ability to have attention to all the details you need as a head coach," Parseghian said. "He's a great motivator and his team wants to play for him. I think Pat is the perfect guy for Northwestern."

Northwestern's Vince Browne good to go for Saturday

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The Wildcats weekly injury report was released Thursday and defensive lineman Vince Browne was not on it. Browne had dinged up his shoulder in the days prior to the Purdue game Oct. 9 and only played about a half. But it seems that Browne is doing OK and will start Saturday against Michigan State. But on the injury report is running back Scott Concannon with a groin injury.

* Despite safety Hunter Bates misreading two punts against Purdue that resulted in fumbles, coach Pat Fitzgerald still gave Bates a vote of confidence this week and said he is sure Bates "can take it to the house" at any time.

* Cornerback Jordan Mabin said this team is taking it upon themselves to change the way the football program is viewed on campus. For so long the Wildcats have been looked at as underdogs and fans have come to expect losing or underperformance. But Mabin said this team is working hard to change people's minds.

"We were eager and ready to get this week started. We're changing the culture around here to having a winning attitude. That's what we've been trying to preach to the guys and try get a win."

Northwestern's advance scouting on the Illini?

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Even though he had the day off and spent the morning doing the Big Ten Network's pregame show, coach Pat Fitzgerald weighed in on how Illinois looked against Michigan State. MSU beat the Illini 26-6 last Saturday. Fitzgerald said the Illini's defensive line were very active and "their front seven were flying around." Maybe that could be an accurate scouting report a month before NU meets the Illini at Wrigley Field on Nov. 20.

Monday at Fitzgerald's weekly press conference, there was still some rehash over the Purdue loss. With Purdue running a new quarterback in Rob Henry, NU's staff had to make adjustments and Fitzgerald was at least pleased with how his staff handled the change.

One interesting attendance note from Oct. 9: the crowd of 33,847 improved NU's season average for three home games. The average crowd of 29,798 is 51.1 percent higher than NU's first three home games a year ago.

The Wildcats are really underdogs?

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It's only Tuesday, but there was already an electric buzz going through Northwestern's campus this morning at practice. Game day is four days away, and if the Wildcats' practices get more intense as the week goes on then Michigan State might be in for a rude awakening Saturday morning.

"I'm really happy with [practice]," coach Pat Fitzgerald said. "I thought we came back with a really physical practice, so it was good. We've worked our butts off the last two weeks to try and improve."

At Monday's press conference, Fitzgerald was asked if it helps that NU is the underdog Saturday. He responded that the Wildcats have basically been underdogs since "the 70s."

And on Monday there was also the question -- again -- of whether to rely on the pass or the running game. If quarterback Dan Persa's passing isn't broken, then don't fix it by trying to incorporate the run, right? At least that's what critics say, especially after the Purdue loss. Persa said the pass balances out the run. Fitzgerald just wants to win ballgames, but knows he has to run, particularly when NU is in the red zone.

"You want to have balance to control the football, move the football and be able to score," Fitzgerald said. "You have to be able to run the football and try to have more success in the red zone trying to run the football. We're going to do whatever we can to win. Some things have been positive and there's a lot of room for improvement. The running game is one of those things."

Back to business at Northwestern

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With the bye week over, Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald met the media in his weekly news conference in Evanston. It is going to be a special week in Evanston, what with homecoming festivities but also a visit from legendary coach Ara Parseghian. The former NU and Notre Dame coach will be on campus Friday.

In other bits:

* The Oct. 30 game at Indiana will start at 11 a.m. and will be televised on the Big Ten Network.

* Superback Drake Dunsmore was one of 22 players nationally named to the John Mackey Award midseason watch list on Monday.

* Most players took advantage of the bye week to see the new "Jackass" movie in 3D. Quarterback Dan Persa reported it was not as good as the first one.

Back to business at Northwestern

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With the bye week over, Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald met the media in his weekly news conference in Evanston. It is going to be a special week in Evanston, what with homecoming festivities but also a visit from legendary coach Ara Parseghian. The former NU and Notre Dame coach will be on campus Friday.

In other bits:

* The Oct. 30 game at Indiana will start at 11 a.m. and will be televised on the Big Ten Network.

* Superback Drake Dunsmore was one of 22 players nationally named to the John Mackey Award midseason watch list on Monday.

* Most players took advantage of the bye week to see the new "Jackass" movie in 3D. Quarterback Dan Persa reported it was not as good as the first one.

Northwestern grieving period is over

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The 24-hour sulking period is over. NU safety Brian Peters said that was the time frame the Wildcats coaching staff allowed the players after NU lost to visiting Purdue 20-17 last Saturday night.

The players have since moved on from the loss and know what issues to address.

"We're starting to hone in on Michigan State and we're already watching film," Peters said of NU's next opponent. "Good football players have a short memory, and good football teams have a short memory."

It seems like this loss came at an opportune time, if there is ever a good time for a loss. The Wildcats are off this week before hosting the aforementioned Spartans at 11 a.m. next Saturday, Oct. 23. The game will be televised on ESPN.

"It's great timing to work on the things we need to fix and we've made mistakes all year," Peters said. "They finally caught up with us last week."

But what did you learn from the loss and what issues need to be fixed, I asked Peters after Thursday's practice.

"I think we just need to get back to our fundamentals and do our job," Peters said. "We've hurt ourselves."

Northwestern-Michigan State TV announced

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Northwestern announced Monday that the Oct. 23 homecoming game vs. Michigan State at Ryan Field will be an 11 a.m. start and will be televised on ESPN. 

Northwestern loses to Purdue

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Northwestern's undefeated season is over.

The Wildcats lost 20-17 at Ryan Field to Purdue after former Wheaton Warrenville South star Dan Dierking scored the winning touchdown from seven yards out with 3:54 to play in the game. Dierking just cruised into the end zone for the go-ahead score.

To add insult to injury, NU linebacker Quentin Davie was called for a late hit on Purdue quarterback Rob Henry with about 45 seconds to play.

Countdown to Northwestern-Purdue

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It's just over two hours until kickoff here at Ryan Field for the NU-Purdue game and you probably couldn't have asked for a better fall day. Even though it was in the mid-80s this afternoon, it should cool off a bit by the time the game starts at 6:30.

It's going to be interesting to see how Jacob Schmidt and Mike Trumpy do in the running game and how Dan Persa can pick apart Purdue's defense. On the Boilermakers side, I'm looking forward to watching running back Dan Dierking play. I remember writing about him and reporting on him when he was in high school at Wheaton Warrenville South. He was probably one of the best high school backs I had seen and the Sun-Times had picked him our 2006 Player of the Year. 

Northwestern's Jeravin Matthews injured

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The Wildcats released their injury report for this week and cornerback Jeravin Matthews will not play Saturday against Purdue. Matthews suffered a leg injury during the Wildcats' 29-28 victory at Minnesota last week.

Much ado about Northwestern's freshmen

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So much is being said about Northwestern's three freshmen -- Venric Mark, Adonis Smith and Tony Jones -- and how they fared at Minnesota last week that it's almost difficult not to get caught up in the hype. Remember: they are still freshmen, and freshmen make mistakes and are still learning what Big Ten college football is all about.

The freshmen talk came up at Monday's news conference at NU. Superback Drake Dunsmore, lineman Vince Browne and linebacker Ben Johnson were asked who is the fastest among the three young players. Trying to be diplomatic, the three vets agreed that the freshmen are all gifted and talented in their own way. But Dunsmore did note that, technically, Jones has the fastest 100-meter time of the three. And Johnson picked Mark as the winner if the three raced each other.

* The Daily Illini has reported that all 500 student tickets for the Nov. 20 Illinois-Northwestern game at Wrigley Field sold out in two hours at Assembly Hall Tuesday morning. The tickets were only available for student season ticket holders. The DI reports that Illinois' allotment of tickets to the general public had sold out in June. 

* Best quote: "I can't give you a cookbook here and tell you what we're doing." -- coach Pat Fitzgerald on how he plans to use Mark, Jones and Smith the remainder of the season.

* Fitzgerald told WSCR-The Score Wednesday afternoon that the Wildcats will be wearing Zak Kustok's and Sarah Kustok's initials on their helmets during Saturday's game against Purdue, in support of the Kustok's whose mother was killed last week. 

* Saturday marks the midway point of the season. NU has a bye week next week.

Under the lights Saturday for Northwestern-Purdue

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* It doesn't matter that Northwestern is playing a night game Saturday at Ryan Field, a 6:30 p.m. contest against Purdue. Coach Pat Fitzgerald said it would only make a difference if it was the Wildcats' first night game of the year, but it's not, it's their third. "We've got a pretty good routine," Fitzgerald said. "I'm happy to have a night game at home because those night games on the road are tough." NU opened the season with a night game at Vanderbilt and then travelled to Rice two weeks later.

* NU coaches chose their players of the week Monday. Offense: receiver Jeremy Ebert; offensive big playmaker: quarterback Dan Persa; defense: Vince Browne; defensive big playmaker: Ben Johnson.

* Even though Purdue has been riddled with injuries to key skill players -- quarterback Robert Marve (torn ACL), receiver Keith Smith (knee), running back Ralph Bolden (knee injury in the spring that is keeping him out of this season) and backs Dan Dierking, Jared Crank, Al-Terek McBurse and Keith Carlos have all been banged up -- Fitz isn't taking the Boilermakers lightly. Not only are they a formidable Big Ten opponent, but they had a bye week last week which makes them a bit more well-rested than the 'Cats.

* Tuesday is the 75th anniversary of the first Big Ten night game involving  Northwestern and Purdue at then-named Dyche Stadium.

Northwestern is nationally ranked

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For the first time since 2008, the Wildcats are a nationally ranked team. NU cracked the USA Today coaches' poll this week at No. 25 after beating Minnesota 29-28 Saturday. The victory improved the Wildcats' record to 5-0 and NU won its eighth consecutive regular-season game. The last time NU was nationally ranked was Dec. 7, 2008 when the Wildcats were No. 20 at the end of the regular season.

Northwestern's Dan Persa bloodied but not beaten

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There is never enough space in a game story to get in all the interesting tidbits of the football game you just watched. Here's a bunch of great stuff from the Northwestern-Minnesota game today, a 29-28 Wildcat win.

* Telltale sign of the game: Quarterback Dan Persa walking into the postgame interview room clearly exhausted. When a reporter asked about Persa's bloody knuckles, fingertips and a gash on his left elbow, Persa said: "It's a streetfight. You gotta be ready to go."

 * Of NU's 486 yards of total offense, Persa had 415 of them. He rushed for 106 yards and passed for 309 (23 of 30, one interception, two touchdowns). The question was raised again to coach Pat Fitzgerald about national recognition for Persa (since the game was nationally televised on ESPN) and, dare I say it . . . consideration for the Heisman Trophy.

"I don't want to talk about him that much," Fitzgerald said with a wry smile.

* Northwestern trailed for the first time this season when Minnesota's DeLeon Eskridge scored on a four-yard run with 59 seconds to play in the first half. The Gophers led 21-14 and took that score into the break.

"One of the things that I think is hard-wired into a Northwestern player's head is fight," linebacker Bryce McNaul said. "We noticed that we were down and we were trailing for the first time, but the attitude doesn't change. We have certain values in our program that we lean on."

Northwestern beats Minnesota

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Northwestern escaped with its first Big Ten victory Saturday in Minnesota, a 29-28 win over the Golden Gophers at TCF Bank Stadium.

With 28 seconds to play Minnesota was driving on the Northwestern 40-yard line when Gophers' quarterback Adam Weber threw his second consecutive incomplete pass. On fourth down, NU's Ben Johnson intercepted Weber and the Golden Gophers' drive ended to preserve the win.

Northwestern kicker Stefan Demos missed an extra-point attempt to start the third quarter, but turned around and made a 27-yard field goal with 2:10 to play in the fourth quarter that gave NU a 29-28 lead.

What to watch when Northwestern takes on Minnesota

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When Northwestern plays Minnesota today in the Big Ten opener, watch for the Wildcats' defensive line. Even though they lost a marquee player like Corey Wootton, the Wildcats have the deepest d-line in years. NU is playing a lot of different players inside like former Hinsdale Central product Jack DiNardo, who has shined since the opening game of the season at Vanderbilt and had his hands on two blocked kicks last week against Central Michigan. Also watch Niko Mafuli, Vince Browne, Kevin Watt, Tyler Scott, Quentin Williams and Brian Arnfelt. Those guys are making veteran lineman Corbin Bryant's job a lot easier.

"It helps to know that we have eight guys that can play well," Bryant said. "I'm not worried about anyone not doing as well as they can."

About the blogger

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



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