Chicago Sun-Times
with Tina Akouris

September 2011 Archives

Northwestern's rivalry week with Illinois begins

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            Northwestern opens Big Ten play Saturday at No. 24 Illinois. With the new Big Ten realignment, NU finds itself in the Legends division while the Illini are in the Leaders and will play in its first of three crossover games this season. Penn State and Indiana are the other crossovers for NU.

            But coach Pat Fitzgerald doesn't think the realignment will affect the Wildcats as much as moving to a nine-conference game schedule starting in 2017.

            "Every game still counts and its critically important to get off to a fast start," Fitzgerald said. "We're kicking [the conference schedule] off by playing a ranked team on the road. When we move to nine conference games, that'll [have] more of an impact than divisional play.

            "It was my understanding that one of the key components [to the divisions] was to protect the rivalries. I felt confident that it was the direction the conference would go."

            The NU-Illinois rivalry was protected but the NU-Purdue one was not. The Boilermakers will not face NU this season.

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            Fitzgerald was happy with Tuesday's practice -- held indoors because of periodic rain showers -- which ended about 15 minutes earlier than expected. Fitzgerald said if a practice ends early, it means the Wildcats must be doing something right.

            "It was one of our better practices," he said. "We were real spirited and real physical. It's obvious that it's Big Ten time. We finished 15 minutes early today and that'll show you the tempo we pracitced at. We practiced fast. Today was one of our fastest practices. The guys went at a great clip."

Northwestern notes

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            The Wildcats practiced on Thursday and are moving on from their 21-14 loss at Army on Saturday. Having a bye week is helping NU to prep more for the Illinois game in Champaign next week -- the Big Ten opener and Dan Persa's return from his Achilles injury.

            NU's performance on third down still rankles coach Pat Fitzgerald, which was most likely the team's downfall at Army.

            "You play right into their trap," Fitzgerald said. "They were 40-something percent on third downs and we were [25 percent]. You're not going to beat a triple option team doing that.

            * NU field hockey player Chelsea Armstrong broke a 23-year old school record for career points with 145. Armstrong, who has another year left in Evanston, broke the record at an ironic time. Sannie van Dijck, the previous record holder who was at NU from 1985-88, died of cancer a year ago.

            To recognize van Dijck's passing, field hockey coach Tracey Fuchs started a team award in her honor.

            * Season tickets for the men's basketball team are now on sale. For more information go to www.nusports.com or call 888-GO-PURPLE.

            The last time Northwestern played Illinois, Dan Persa was on crutches and Evan Watkins was taking a lot of hits in his first collegiate start at quarterback, amid the circus that was the Wrigley Field game last November. A week earlier, Persa blew out his Achilles against Iowa when he threw the winning touchdown.

            Fast forward to this season: Persa isn't on crutches but he hasn't played yet, either, and has sat out six consecutive games. Watkins isn't Persa's backup anymore -- Kain Colter is -- and it was obvious to many that Persa wasn't going to see any playing time at West Point unless Colter got hurt and so did backups Trevor Siemian and Evan Watkins.

            Will we finally see Persa, then, at Illinois on Oct. 1? It is the Wildcats' Big Ten opener, after all, and a chance for NU to avenge that 48-27 loss to the Illini a year ago.

            But coach Pat Fitzgerald isn't saying.

            "I'll have an update for you on Thursday," he said immediately after the Army game.

            The Wildcats have a bye this week, which falls at an opportune time for Persa to get his strength back before heading down to Champaign, just in time to face the Wildcats' in-state rival.

            Receiver Jeremy Ebert, who paried up with Persa last season on so many explosive plays, was quiet after the Army loss and agreed that it would be better going into the bye week (and the Illinois game) at 3-0 instead of 2-1.

            Colter said he hopes Persa comes back soon "because [against Army] it showed that we need him."

            Ebert, though, refuted the comment.

            "I don't know [when Persa is coming back], nor do I really care," Ebert said. "I trust whoever is back there to make the plays. They're coached the same way Dan is and they can make the same plays Dan can. [The bye] is good for preparation because this loss is going to hurt, but we have to learn from it. It's the perfect time for a bye to work on our fundamentals and what was lacking in these first three games."

            The Illini won't be one of those teams to overlook. They just beat nationally ranked Arizona State in Champaign and sophomore linebacker Jonathan Brown was named the Big Ten's Defensive Player of the Week on Monday. Brown had seven tackles against the Sun Devils, but also recorded career highs in tackles for loss (3.5) and sacks (1.5). Brown had his first interception of the season and forced a pick in the first quarter.

            "I'm glad we've got a bye week, because we've got a lot to work on," Fitzgerald said. "We'll get back into a semblance of normalcy. We get to go play Big Ten football and this is an opportunity for us to come together and be a better football team. You learn a lot through adversity and that's what we're facing right now."

Northwestern and Army 7-7 at halftime

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            Northwestern got on the board with 5:23 to go in the second quarter at Army Saturday, when quarterback Kain Colter connected with Jeremy Ebert on a 14-yard touchdown pass. It was Colter's first career touchdown pass and it tied the score at seven.

            But NU couldn't convert in the Red Zone with time running out in the first half, as kicker Jeff Budzien's 26-yard field goal attempt went wide left.

            Time of possession was the key issue coach Pat Fitzgerald was worried about in the days leading up to the Wildcats' game at West Point. And the Black Knights did exactly what Fitzgerald was afraid of: they controlled the time of possession for the first half 18:53 - 11:07.

            The Black Knights had their longest drive of the season (in terms of plays and time), when quarterback Trent Steelman marched Army downfield and scored on a 17-yard run with 3:49 to play in the first quarter. Army's scoring drive went 18 plays on 81 yards over 8:48.

            The Wildcats' defense got a scare late in the first quarter, when linebacker Bryce McNaul left the game with an apparent left ankle injury. McNaul returned to start the second quarter.

            Army kicker Alex Carlton saw his consecutive field goal streak end at 11 at the 11:33 mark in the second quarter. Carlton's 47-yard attempt went wide right.

Army out to 7-0 lead over Northwestern

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            Army did exactly what Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald was afraid of: they controlled the time of possession for most of the first quarter Saturday at West Point.

            The Black Knights had their longest drive of the season (in terms of plays and time), when quarterback Trent Steelman marched Army downfield and scored on a 17-yard run with 3:49 to play in the first quarter. Army's scoring drive was 18 plays on 81 yards over 8:48.

Persa can play -- in an emergency

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            Northwestern team officials have announced that quarterback Dan Persa is cleared to play, but only for use in an emergency Saturday when the Wildcats play at Army.

            Persa had to sit out the Wildcats' first two games against Boston College and Eastern Illinois, still recovering from surgery last November to repair a ruptured Achilles tendon in his right foot. In all, Persa has missed five consecutive games.

            Persa should benefit from the bye the Wildcats will have next week, as he can get extra rest before NU opens the Big Ten season at Illinois on Oct. 1.

Northwestern swimmers make a difference

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            Northwestern swimmers volunteered to help a participant of the Big Shoulders Open Water Classic 5K race finish her race at Ohio Street Beach on Sept. 10.

            The Wildcat swimmers acted as "Swim Angels" during the race, swimming alongside competitors to encourage them to finish the 5K.

            One participant in particular hadn't swam in an open 5K race before and asked that senior Jenny Wilson be her swim angel. Wilson swam alongside the competitor, whose goal was to finish in 3 ½ hours, and helped the woman finish in 2.75 hours. With water temperatures that day of about 65 degrees, other members of the Wildcats swim team joined Wilson and the participant to encourage her to finish under her goal time.

Keeping Kain Colter safe, Treyvon Green's passion

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            Kain Colter has to watch it. Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald warned him last week and so did Yankees manager Joe Girardi: Colter can't keep taking the ball into his own hands and expect not to get clocked a good one once in a while. He's got to learn how to slide.

            "I thought it looked like he really improved from last week from the standpoint of taking what the defense gave him," Fitzgerald said. "They made a decision that they were going to let him run the football early and I thought he ran well. He said something to me like, 'Obviously I didn't listen very well to coach Girardi.' He needs to be smarter. I had Joe give him a call this week. But he's playing beyond his years."

            Colter ran for a career high 109 yards and three touchdowns in the Wildcats' 42-21 victory over Eastern Illinois Saturday and -- knowing that running back Mike Trumpy was not cleared to play because of a concussion -- running backs Jacob Schmidt, Adonis Smith, Treyvon Green and Tyris Jones took up the charge. The Wildcats rushed for 320 yards on 67 carries.

            Fitzgerald knows the importance of having a group of backs with a fresh set of legs. He's pretty pleased that he can call on a number of guys instead of just one.

            "When I was playing [in the mid-1990s] Michigan used to run running back after running back out at you and it seemed like, as a defense, you were getting beat up and the backs were always fresh," Fitzgerald said.

            Hopefully, the running game won't go downhill anytime soon. Trumpy is still out and Smith went down in the fourth quarter with an injury to his right leg and had to be helped off the field. Fitzgerald said he will know more on Smith's status Monday. A team spokesperson said Sunday there was no update.

            If Smith is out for any length of time, the Wildcats can look to Jones, Schmidt and Green, who was the team's second leading rusher with 70 yards on 14 carries with a touchdown. The true freshman from Mesquite, Texas has a passion for the game that catches Fitzgerald's eye.

            "I'm the type of player that goes full speed, no matter how much time is left on the clock, it doesn't matter," Green said. "[Fitzgerald] told me, 'I like your juice.' He kept on telling me that."

Leftovers from Northwestern's win over Eastern Illinois

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            * There is still a question mark as to who is Kain Colter's backup: Trevor Siemian or Evan Watkins? Last season when Dan Persa suffered his season ending Achilles tear, it was clear that Watkins was the backup. But after shaky starts against Illinois, Wisconsin, and Texas Tech in the TicketCity Bowl and then a subpar spring, Watkins gave way to Siemian. Coach Pat Fitzgerald said the competition between Watkins and Siemian is day-to-day.

            "This week Trevor won the job and last week it was Evan," Fitzgerald said. "Everything counts and those guys are close. But we have to see somebody take that over."

            * Fitzgerald reminded that Army, the Wildcats next opponent on Saturday in West Point, N.Y., runs the triple option offense.

            * Colter had 213 yards of total offense. He threw for 104 yards on 10 of 13 passing and had 109 rushing yards.

            * The Wildcats need to stop getting penalties on both sides of the ball in the red zone. Fitzgerald warned that it is "going to hurt us down the road."

            * Fitzgerald made note in his opening comments that the Wildcats have not played at Ryan Field since Nov. 13 against Iowa -- the same game where Persa ruptured his Achilles throwing the winning touchdown to Demetrius Fields

Northwestern leads Eastern Ill. 14-0

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            Northwestern took a 14-0 lead after the first quarter, capitalizing on two key Eastern Illinois mistakes.

            Wildcat linebacker Bryce McNaul's interception at 13:17 set up NU's first touchdown. Quarterback Kain Colter ran in from six yards out at the 11:52 mark to give the Wildcats a 7-0 lead.

            NU took a 14-0 lead on Jacob Schmidt's one-yard run with 6:03 to play in the first quarter, after linebacker David Nwabuisi recovered EIU quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo's fumble from center.

Persa dressed, Trumpy out

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           A Dan Persa update a little over an hour before game time: a team spokesperson said the senior quarterback will dress and not play in Northwestern's game Saturday against Eastern Illinois. Persa is listed as questionable on the team's injury report.

            And tailback Mike Trumpy will not dress after he was listed as doubtful with a concussion on the injury report.

Wildcats remember 9/11

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            The firetruck looked like any other, but when it rolled through the gates at Northwestern's practice field Tuesday afternoon and a hush fell over the Wildcats, you had the eerie feeling that there was a serious story to come.

            The truck and members of FDNY Rescue 4 were at practice to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. Rescue 4's truck was the only rig that remained intact and operational after the 9/11 attacks at the World Trade Center, but all eight responders lost their lives on 9/11. And the truck was the only one that remained intact enough to serve New York in the days and weeks after the attack. The truck will also be at Ryan Field Saturday when the Wildcats host Eastern Illinois in their home opener at 2:30.

            Most Wildcat players were too young to remember 9/11, others were able to remember but not old enough to understand. Quarterback Dan Persa, from Bethlehem, Pa. falls into the latter category.

            "I remember a lot, like where I was, in seventh grade sitting in a class and a bunch of kids were getting called out of class. I remember not really knowing what was going on. I just remember going home and my parents were pretty upset. I remember it vividly.

            "At the time, I knew it was a big deal but I didn't understand how big of an affect it was going to have at the moment. But every year that went by it would hit me more and more."

            Coach Pat Fitzgerald has his own memories of where he was and what he was doing on that day.

            Fitzgerald was in Evanston where he was NU's linebackers/special teams coach. He was in a meeting with other coaches when administrative assistant Carolyn Fleming came into the room and told the staff what happened.

            "My cousin [Billy Forbes] worked around the corner from the towers and I know there were many AON employees out there for Mr. [Pat] Ryan's company and Northwestern graduates were working down there, too," Fitzgerald said. "It was one of those surreal events you never forget."

            But what made Fitzgerald nervous was that his wife, Stacy, was driving back to Evanston from Idaho, where Fitzgerald had just finished a stint as a defensive graduate assistant. For a while, he couldn't reach her.

            "Cell phones weren't as cool as they are now," Fitzgerald said. "She was driving and I couldn't reach her. I don't remember when I reached her, somewhere in the Dakotas I think. It was a little scary for a while."

            Fitzgerald remembers going out to practice that day trying to be like it was any other. And while the Wildcats were attempting to focus, Fitzgerald's lasting image was of an airplane -- probably a military aircraft -- flying over Evanston that morning.

Kain Colter's rising star at Northwestern

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            It seems like Kain Colter is such a different player than he was on New Year's Day in Dallas.

            Nine months ago, Colter started the TicketCity Bowl as a slotback, making his first ever college start. He was jumpy and hyper in the pregame and his emotions were boiling over.

            Now, Colter is the picture of poise as he took over for starting quarterback Dan Persa against Boston College on Saturday. Colter's poise is what won the Wildcats the ballgame, a 24-17 contest, according to wide receiver Demetrius Fields.

            Fitzgerald elaborated:  "Going through the [bowl prep] and then spring ball and the summer and going through all of camp, he showed more experience of being more comfortable in the role," coach Pat Fitzgerald said. "In the two weeks prior to the game he handled [the pressure] well."

            It seemed like Colter's only glaring misstep was an interception on a pass intended for receiver Jeremy Ebert. After the play, Colter was able to turn to Persa on the sidelines for some analysis and advice.

            "It was a miscommunication between me and Ebert," Colter said. "I thought he turned outside but he ended up turning inside. After that, [Persa said to] you have to come back out and respond. Mistakes are going to happen, and the outcome of the game is going to depend on how we respond to the adversity or success we face in the game."

            Colter has faced adversity before. He originally gave a verbal commitment to Stanford when he was a junior in high school. But after Colter tore his labrum his senior year and had surgery, Stanford lost interest and Colter, a Denver native, gave a commitment to Fitzgerald.

            Fitzgerald remembers the Colter recruitment well, and had harsh words for programs that give up on players who get hurt while they're still in high school.

            "I don't know what happened with that other school [Stanford] nor do I really care," Fitzgerald said.

            "The other school made the decision they made and I think that shows the character we have in recruiting. We're going to stand by young men who get hurt. The only way I'm going to drop a guy is if academically it doesn't work or socially they become a knucklehead.

            "I was not concerned at all about [Colter's] labrum and I was not concerned about the surgery. We're going to honor their commitment and stand by our word. Other schools are going to punt on kids and that's disappointing. When kids get hurt, [college coaches] punt on these guys and that's pathetic. We look at it differently than those guys who play roster games that don't care about kids' futures; all they care about is taking advantage of kids."

            * Injury-wise Fitzgerald announced Monday that defensive lineman Jack DiNardo has a leg injury, but Fitzgerald thinks the Hinsdale Central alum will be back in the fold sooner rather than later.

            Also, Mike Trumpy "got his bell rung" (Fitzgerald's words) against Boston College in the fourth quarter and is listed behind Jacob Schmidt in this week's depth chart for the EIU game.

Colter checks out

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A Northwestern team spokesperson said Sunday that quarterback Kain Colter is fine and did not sustain any major injuries after receiving precautionary x-rays after Saturday's season opening 24-17 victory at Boston College. 

Ebert, Netter know the Wildcat drill

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Northwestern receiver Jeremy Ebert and offensive lineman Al Netter already know the drill: the Wildcats won't put any game away until the final seconds.

"I'm kind of getting used to it, being in my fourth year," Ebert said. "I think I've been in about a hundred of these now. It's the Northwestern way, I guess."

It happened again on Saturday, when NU opened the season with a 24-17 win at Boston College. After Adonis Smith scored on a one-yard run for NU in the fourth quarter, the Wildcats found themselves up 24-10. But then the Eagles rallied and cut the deficit to a touchdown with six minutes to play.

It was a familiar refrain, especially when BC quarterback Chase Rettig started marching his offense downfield in the game's final minute. The Eagles got as close as the Wildcat 19 with 14 seconds remaining when the BC offense was whistled for a false start.

That's when things got interesting.

Because of a new NCAA rule, if a team gets called for a penalty in the final minute of either half and the clock stops, the opposing team can either take the yardage, take 10 seconds off the clock, take both or decline. The Wildcats took option three, knocking off 10 seconds from the game clock and then penalizing the Eagles five yards.

On the next play, defensive end Vince Browne tackled Rettig and the game was over.

"To be honest, I really didn't have an idea of what was going on," Netter said. "But it was huge for our defense to only have one last play instead of two, and it probably changed the play calling for Boston College as well. That was to our advantage to have four seconds instead of 14."

Dan Persa out for Boston College

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Dan Persa isn't playing at all at Boston College Saturday.

During pre-game warmups Persa was dressed in a t-shirt and shorts and tossed a few passes to teamates, but a team spokesperson said Persa won't be playing against the Eagles. Kain Colter will make the start, instead.

This ends a week of speculation where Persa did not log much practice time and was listed as questionable on the NU injury report released Thursday.

 

Dan Persa questionable for Boston College

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So now we know.

Something, I guess.

After a long wait Northwestern released its injury report for the Boston College game on Saturday. The list included: defensive tackle Brian Arnfelt (foot), defensive back Mike Bolden (leg), safety Jared Carpenter (wrist), linebackers Colin Ellis (hand) and Roderick Goodlow (leg) and receiver Tony Jones (leg) all listed as out for the Eagles game.

And then at the bottom was this: quarterback Dan Persa (leg) questionable.

Questionable isn't doubtful, so there is still a chance Persa can see some playing time in Boston, its just that no one knows how much.

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This page is an archive of entries from September 2011 listed from newest to oldest.

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