Tag:Kain Colter
Posted on: March 1, 2012 4:13 pm
 

Spring Practice Primer: Northwestern



Posted by Tom Fornelli


Spring football is in the air, and with our Spring Practice Primers the Eye On College Football Blog gets you up to speed on what to look for on campuses around the country this spring. Today we look at Northwestern.

Spring Practice Starts: Saturday, March 3

Spring Game: Saturday, April 14

Returning Starters: Five on offense, five on defense, both specialists.

Three Things To Look For:

1. Can Kain Colter take over the starting quarterback job? When Northwestern was without Dan Persa last season, Colter did an admirable job filling in. Even after Persa returned Colter continued to see time on the field, though mostly as a running and receiving threat, tallying 1,120 yards and 12 touchdowns for the Northwestern offense. The question, though, will be whether or not Colter can take on full-time responsibilites as a passer. There's reason to believe he can, because even though he only threw 82 passes last season, he completed 67% of them and had 6 touchdowns with only 1 interception. Still, he'll have to prove it this spring or Pat Fitzgerald may be forced to look in a different direction.

2. Another playmaker on offense must emerge. While Colter is likely to be the focal point of the Northwestern offense in 2012, his life would be a lot easier if somebody else on the Wildcats offense stood up to help carry the load. Whether it's running back Treyvon Green or receiver Demetrius Fields, somebody will have to step up to replace the talent lost to graduation and Colter's likely move.

3. Northwestern needs to stop somebody. A major problem in Evanston the last few seasons has been the defense and its inability to keep opponents off the board. Against Big Ten competition last season, Northwestern's defense allowed 32.75 points a game. I repeat, that was against Big Ten offenses. If there's reason to be optimistic, it's that the Wildcats played a lot of freshman and sophomores on defense toward the end of the season, so hopefully that experience will lead to improvement in 2012.

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Posted on: November 6, 2011 4:15 am
Edited on: November 6, 2011 12:04 pm
 

Big Ten Winners and Losers: Week 10



Posted by Adam Jacobi

A handy recap of who really won and who really lost that you won't find in the box score.

B1G B1G B1G WINNER: Chaos

How much wilder is the Big Ten after this 10th week of play than before? Consider, now, that four of the six Legends Division teams are still in plausible contention for that crown, or that Penn State could still find itself at 6-2 (or worse) in the conference, setting off a similar scramble in the Leaders Division. This year, Minnesota has beaten Iowa, Purdue has beaten Illinois, and now Northwestern has beaten Nebraska in Lincoln. Did you see that one coming? Yes? Liar.

Sure, some might note that the ACC already tried having everybody in the conference go 6-2 or worse, and the result is a shambolic title race -- and a sham BCS bowl participant. And yes, generally, it's better to have a conference champion in the BCS' Top 12, where they'd be eligible to participate in a BCS bowl even without the conference title, but still: a little madness never hurt anybody, and what better way to demonstrate to the Big Ten faithful how much drama a division race can add to a season?

LOSER: Penn State

This was supposed to be a peaceful week off for Joe Paterno and Penn State, who would be watching gleefully as losses by Nebraska and Michigan would leave PSU as the only one-loss team in the conference. Instead, nobody in State College is talking football today; instead, it's the litany of serious crimes facing Jerry Sandusky -- and what role PSU brass may have played in keeping Sandusky's alleged crimes under wraps.

We're not going to comment on Sandusky's charges; we trust our readers to form their own opinions at this point. We'll just say that it's beyond depressing that Penn State is 8-1 (5-0), Joe Paterno is the Division I's winningest coach of all time, and the Penn State president still needs to be issuing statements assuring people that his athletic director and treasurer didn't try to cover up a serial child molester in violation of Pennsylvania state law. But alas: here it is, and here we are. Ugh; back to football.

WINNER: Michigan State's division title hopes

On its face, Michigan State's performance today was, if anything, lackluster; the Spartans let lowly Minnesota take a lead into the fourth quarter in a game in East Lansing, and MSU only won by 7 points after letting Minnesota drive into Spartan territory in the game's final seconds. And yet, Michigan State still won, and that gives the Spartans sole possession of first place in the Legends Division after Michigan and Nebraska both dropped contests Saturday. Unlike every other contender in the conference, MSU has no games against ranked opponents left; there are, however, road tests at Iowa and Northwestern looming, so it's not exactly time to start booking hotel rooms in Pasadena quite yet. Still, this is as commanding a position as anybody's held in this division thus far. 

LOSER: Michigan's division title hopes

It's getting to be difficult to imagine a scenario in which Michigan plays for the Big Ten Championship in Indianapolis this December. The Wolverines dropped to 3-2 in the league, and while that's still just a game off the lead with three games yet to play, it's to whom Michigan has lost that should prove most problematic for the Wolverines. Iowa and Michigan State both hold head-to-head tiebreakers over Michigan and a non-division loss, so really, the only way Michigan takes this division is by winning it outright. There is a plausible path to that: MSU loses to Iowa and Northwestern, Iowa loses to Nebraska, and Nebraska loses to Michigan. But that's about it.

WINNER: Iowa's offensive stars

Iowa's numbers on offense weren't spectacular in the Hawkeyes' 24-16 win over Michigan; 302 total yards and 15 first downs were all the Hawkeyes managed in 56 offensive plays. Not bad, no, but not spectacular. Nonetheless, there were some very familiar faces responsible for the lion's share of that production -- Marcus Coker had 132 yards and two scores, James Vandenberg was 14-21 for 171 yards and a score, and Marvin McNutt (seen at right, divorcing J.T. Floyd from his helmet) caught nine passes, a career high, for 101 yards. Overall, that's a pattern that has put several Hawkeyes among the league leaders with three games left in the regular season.

Coker leads all Big Ten rushers with 1101 yards on the season; Montee Ball is a close second with 1076. In receiving, McNutt trails only A.J. Jenkins (1030 yards) with 959 yards, and his nine receiving touchdowns lead the league. Meanwhile, Vandenberg is third in the Big Ten in passing efficiency, with a 154.83 rating and 18 touchdowns to only four interceptions. Officially, Vandenberg is second only to I-A leader Russell Wilson in the NCAA's eyes, as Dan Persa hasn't played in 75% of Northwestern's games yet, but that doesn't seem totally fair to Persa, who meets the other qualification of 15 pass attempts per game even counting the games he missed. We see you, Dan.

LOSER: Any notion of Rex Burkhead as a Heisman candidate

For a little while, Rex Burkhead was starting to gain steam as a potential darkhorse candidate -- not a potential winner, but certainly someone that might at least score a free trip to New York in December. Nebraska would have to win out as a one-loss Big Ten champion, though, and Burkhead would have to keep coming up as big as he has all season long. Do all that, and it might be good enough to get some major national attention.

Well, that clearly didn't happen. Nebraska's rushing attack was bottled up by Northwestern, of all defenses; the Wildcats had been ranked 95th nationwide coming into Saturday's contest, ceding 194 rushing yards per game. And yet, Nebraska managed only 122 yards on the ground in the 28-25 loss, and Burkhead was particularly ineffective: 22 rushes, 69 yards, one score, and one costly fumble inside Northwestern's 5-yard line. Worse, only three of those 22 rushes gained first downs, while Burkhead converted for a score or first down on only two of six rushes on 3rd and 4th down. That? That's not good.

WINNER: Kain Colter

Say this about Pat Fitzgerald: he doesn't much care for traditional labels on players. How else to explain Kain Colter, who for the last four weeks has averaged 55 yards rushing, 55 yards passing, and 71 yards receiving per game in a QB/WR hybrid role in support of Dan Persa? This week, Colter's versatility was especially useful, as Persa would leave the game at the half after sustaining a shoulder injury; Colter responded by scoring three touchdowns in the second half of Northwestern's upset victory.

Colter and Persa had seen their roles increasingly specialized coming into this week's action, with Persa taking the lion's share of the passing duties and Colter rushing far more often. Indeed, even though he only played a half, Persa threw 14 passes in this week's game; Colter, meanwhile, threw six. So there still isn't a ton of trust from Pat Fitzgerald in Colter's throwing ability yet. At the same time, this platoon seems awfully similar to 2009, when Persa was primarily a rushing threat in relief of Mike Kafka. That clearly didn't hamper Persa's prospects as a thrower down the road, and the current setup shouldn't be construed as a permanent indictment of Colter's passing ability.

LOSER: Denard Robinson's legs 

Last year, in the Gator Bowl blowout that would seal Rich Rodriguez's fate with Michigan, the Wolverines tried to go for it on five fourth downs. In each one, a pass play was called for Denard Robinson; in each one, Michigan failed to convert, as the pass fell harmlessly incomplete on each attempt. This week, Robinson had led Michigan to Iowa's 3-yard line with under 20 seconds to play and a first and goal. This time around, Brady Hoke called four straight passes for Robinson; in each one, Michigan failed to score, as the pass fell harmlessly incomplete on each attempt.

This is not to argue that Robinson should never pass or anything of that sort. It's just that Robinson is at his most dangerous on the move, and when a drive or a game's on the line, by and large, it's not smart to have him stand still and look to pass. Junior Hemingway came awfully close to making a great catch on 2nd down and Roy Roundtree may have had a legitimate gripe for pass interference on 4th down (though it was far less obvious in real time), but still: Denard Robinson is the most dynamic runner in the Big Ten; why not try a run-pass option? With deep apologies to ZZ Top, Robinson has legs, and he knows how to use them. Give him a chance to do that!

Posted on: November 5, 2011 7:37 pm
 

QUICK HITS: Northwestern 28, Nebraska 25

Posted by Adam Jacobi

NORTHWESTERN WON. Northwestern stunned the Big Ten today by upsetting 10th-ranked Nebraska at Memorial Stadium, 28-25. Kain Colter was a dynamo for the Wildcats, scoring three TDs, leading the team in passing with 115 yards, leading the team in rushing with 17 carries for 58 yards and two scores, and finishing second in receiving with three catches for 57 yards.

WHY NORTHWESTERN WON: There was one team that was able to move the ball on the ground effectively in this game, and that was Northwestern. The Wildcats held Nebraska to just 103 yards rushing on 30 attempts, and that inability to wear down the Wildcat defense meant Nebraska couldn't control the pace of the game. Meanwhile, the Wildcats notched 207 yards and three scores on the ground, most of which came after Dan Persa left the game with a left shoulder injury.

WHEN NORTHWESTERN WON: When Nebraska's onside kick went about 25 yards and was recovered without incident by Northwestern with 18 seconds left. With Nebraska out of timeouts, all it took was one kneel to finish the win off for the Wildcats. 

WHAT NORTHWESTERN WON: This won't just be Northwestern's biggest win of the season, it might be on the short list of best wins for any Big Ten team this year. The Wildcats went to a Top 10 team, (at storied Memorial Stadium, no less), lost their starting quarterback in the first half, and still not only won, but did so while holding the lead for over 47 minutes of gameplay. For a team perilously close to losing bowl eligibility (Northwestern was 3-5 coming into the game), pulling off a win like that could be enough to turn around a season.

WHAT NEBRASKA LOST: The Huskers had been the highest-ranked team in the conference coming into today's game -- and the early leaders in the Legends Division race. That, obviously, is out the window now. Nebraska's one Michigan State loss away from controlling its own destiny in the race again, but there aren't many potential losses left on the Spartans' schedule. This loss probably eliminates Nebraska from BCS at-large contention, though, if the Huskers were to lose in the Big Ten Championship. Make no mistake: this is a bad loss for Nebraska, and one that'll probably cost it when it comes to bowl selection.

THAT WAS CRAZY: Nebraska had trouble stopping Northwestern in the fourth quarter, but one thing the Huskers could stop was the clock; Nebraska didn't use a single timeout until there was under a minute left in the game. What that meant, then, was that the Wildcats burned over two full minutes off the clock between the time it got inside the 5-yard line and when Colter finally scored a touchdown. At that point, Bo Pelini had let the clock run down to 1:34, and Nebraska just plain didn't have the time necessary to mount two scoring drives. When you're losing by two scores, you need to maximize the length of the game, and Pelini failed miserably at that.

Posted on: November 1, 2011 2:10 pm
Edited on: November 1, 2011 2:13 pm
 

Keys to the Game: Northwestern at Nebraska

Posted by Adam Jacobi

NORTHWESTERN WILL WIN IF: The Wildcat defense shuts down Rex Burkhead. Seriously, if Rex Burkhead can't rush for more than 2-3 yards a pop, Nebraska's probably in trouble, because Burkhead is the unquestioned workhorse of this vaunted rushing attack; he's averaging over 25 carries per game in Big Ten play, and logged 35 rushes last week and three total TDs in the Huskers' 24-3 win over Michigan State. The one small, tiny, insignificant detail: keeping Burkhead bottled up for four quarters is basically impossible, even for a good defense. Northwestern's defense? Not so good. The Wildcats give up about 200 yards per game on the ground alone, and 31.5 points per game. That's going to have to change this week, or Burkhead and Nebraska are going to run up the score.

NEBRASKA WILL WIN IF: They don't make Dan Persa look like Superman. One thing that's become evident over the course of the season is that Dan Persa is not at his 2010, pre-injury level of play. That's to be somewhat expected, considering it's an Achilles injury we're talking about here, but it's to the point that Pat Fitzgerald isn't even using Persa's rushing ability anymore; that role falls to Kain Colter, who's certainly dangerous as a rusher (and receiver, when need be) in his own right -- but Colter's so harmless as a passer that one look at who's under center is usually all it takes to figure out whether Northwestern's going run or pass. Now, Persa's still a talented thrower, and he's got a stable of capable receivers, so if Northwestern's going to keep this game at all close, it'll be by passing the ball -- if Nebraska keeps Persa's passing numbers out of the stratosphere, this should be a relatively easy Husker win.

X-FACTOR: Bad Taylor Martinez. At his best, Taylor Martinez is a dual threat with the ability to make big plays with his arm or his feet, and defenses usually have to account for both possibilities. Of course, Taylor Martinez is rarely at his best, and he's usually good for one or two horrifying interceptions per game. He certainly has the ability to keep Northwestern in this game when the Wildcats shouldn't be; at the same time, if he takes care of the football, this one'll probably be over by the time the fourth quarter starts.

Posted on: October 23, 2011 6:57 am
 

Big Ten Winners and Losers: Week 8



Posted by Adam Jacobi

A handy recap of who really won and who really lost that you won't find in the box score.

WINNER: The fans at Spartan Stadium

The scene in East Lansing Saturday night was Big Ten football at its best: a packed house under the lights, a national audience, and two highly-ranked programs duking it out for all 60 minutes. The end of the Wisconsin-Michigan State game was phenomenal beyond comparison, of course, but even without the miracle touchdown from Kirk Cousins to Keith Nichol to finish the game off it was still probably the best of the year in the Big Ten. This time, there was no collapse, no widespread ineptitude, nothing but a mighty good football game.

So being that the fans at Spartan stadium were nice and loud (and probably, ahem, well-lubricated by the time of the late kickoff) and they got to see such a stellar effort by both sides, the myriad big plays by MSU -- including the blocked punt for a touchdown being celebrated above -- and the astonishing game-winning play, yes, they are all the winners here. I've personally been part of a home crowd who saw a game anywhere close to that once: Purdue at Iowa, 2002. That was an incredible, euphoric experience, and Saturday's MSU win hit those notes of amazement even better than the 2002 game did. Sparty fans, you don't need to be told this, but you just witnessed a game for the ages. Treasure it.  

LOSER: Russell Wilson's Heisman campaign

For the first half of the season, Russell Wilson looked like a great quarterback making fools of bad defenses (Nebraska included). His yards per throw not only led the NCAA, it was a full yard ahead of the pace to set a new FBS record, at 12.16. Wilson was a legitimate Heisman contender, and hey, with what Wisconsin was doing to everybody on its schedule, why not?

Unfortunately, on Saturday, Wilson looked like a quarterback who hadn't played a good defense all year, playing a good defense. The end result was several ill-advised throws, two picks, an intentional grounding call for a safety, and easily the worst start of his brief Badger career: 14-21, 223 yards, 2 TDs, 2 INTs (Yes, that is his worst start. Like we said, bad defenses). Now, Wilson did engineer four touchdown drives, so it's not as if he was beaten into submission all night, but the offense completely fell apart when Montee Bell was on the sidelines, leading one to wonder if the key to keeping the Badger offense rolling has never actually been Wilson to begin with. 

WINNER: Keith Nichol

Keith Nichol, seen at right with a very good reason to smile, hasn't had very many opportunities to be a hero in his college career, though it seemed at the start that he'd have chances at every turn; he was originally recruited by Bob Stoops to be a quarterback for Oklahoma, and he only went to MSU because of the emergence of one Sam Bradford down there. Once Nichol transferred to Michigan State, he split time in a QB platoon with Kirk Cousins at the beginning of 2009 before Cousins was named the full-time starter.

Now, there are plenty of quarterbacks who would have simply transferred to an FCS school in search of immediate playing time at that point, and nobody would have begrudged Nichol if that was the path he had chosen. Instead, a spate of WR suspensions going into the 2009 Alamo Bowl against Texas Tech prompted Nichol to switch to wideout, and while he hasn't set the world on fire there, he has at least remained a productive 4th option for Cousins -- and a loyal teammate to the rest of the program. It takes a lot of maturity to catch passes from the guy who beat you out for a starting role at QB, and if that doesn't sound true, try beign forced into a different job at work and taking orders from the person who took the job you wanted. Right. Not fun.

So, seeing Nichol go through the first 59 minutes and 59 seconds of the game without a catch, only to become the hero on the last play like that? That's not only a joy, it's a testament to program stability. Does a hypothetical freshman backup wideout in Nichol's stead know to be in that position to look for a deflection? Does that hypothetical WR also have the will to push the ball across the plane against multiple tacklers? Neither is a given, but we do know the answer is yes for Nichol. The phrase "couldn't have happened to a more deserving guy" is trite to the point that it's usually used sarcastically, but it absolutely applies here.

LOSER: Ron Zook, again

Forget the 21-14 final score of the Illinois-Purdue game, please, because it paints a very inaccurate picture of how close the contest really was. The Boilermakers ran out to a 21-0 lead in the first half, and Illinois never touched the ball again after bringing the game to 21-14. Despite the large lead Purdue rang up in the win, we'll refrain from saying the game "didn't feel like an upset," because it absolutely did; Illinois had scoring chances but blew them, while Caleb TerBush and the rest of the Purdue offense just flailed ineffectually in the second half and got a win to show for it anyway. 

Illinois should not have been so mentally flat coming into the game, though, especially coming right off a loss to Ohio State (who, like Michigan, was off this week) where the Illini handed the anemic OSU offense scoring chances in the second half time and time again. The mental errors need to be corrected coming off a game like that, not magnified. That is on Ron Zook and his coaching staff, 100%. And so even with Illinois at 6-2, it's that "2" that looms larger at this point in the season, and that threatens to balloon in a hurry if Zook doesn't get the team back on track. Otherwise, there's really no telling how much more patience the Illinois brass will have for him. 

WINNER: Marvin McNutt

Coming into this week's action against Indiana, Iowa WR Marvin McNutt just needed one TD to break the all-time Hawkeye receiving touchdown record of 21 that he shared with Tim Dwight and Danan Hughes. McNutt got that touchdown on Saturday. Then he got two more. In the first half. In related news, the Hawkeyes-Hoosiers game was not very close.

McNutt now has 41 catches for 757 yards and eight TDs in seven games thus far, all of which lead the team by substantial margins. If he keeps that pace up for the rest of the year, he would shatter Iowa single-season receiving records in both yardage and scoring -- and he would also set Iowa career marks in receptions and receiving yardage to go with his touchdown mark. So keep your eyes on No. 7, Iowa fans; he's probably the best wide receiver in school history.

LOSER:  PersaStrength

It would be inappropriate to lay the struggles of Northwestern at the feet of Dan Persa, since he's hardly the worst performer on the Wildcats; for one, Persa isn't responsible for the defense, which currently gives up about 250 yards of passing per game and can't crack the top 100 in FBS in pass efficiency defense.

That said, though, Persa is at least the most visible of the Wildcats, and is so by the direct actions of an athletic department that hyped him as "PersaStrong," even as he (understandably) struggled to recover from a severe Achilles injury. And the fact is, Persa's just not at the level he played at last season. His mobility is hampered to the point that he doesn't run designed rushes, and he doesn't have the same timing down with his receivers that he did last year. He also doesn't seem entirely recovered from that injury, though he's at least at the point in the process where it's going to take play on the field to get back to the "100%" of 2010 and not more time with team doctors.

All in all, though, Persa's barely even beating out Kain Colter for the starting QB role, and while we expect Persa to at least continue that mastery of the starting lineup, the fact that Colter's still getting snaps there every week demonstrates that even the Northwestern coaches don't fully trust Dan Persa's leg yet. And given that, it seems more than a little silly that he was the focus of a Heisman campaign coming into the season, doesn't it? 
Posted on: October 1, 2011 4:56 pm
 

QUICK HITS: Illinois 38, Northwestern 35

Posted by Adam Jacobi

ILLINOIS WON. After a lackluster first half, then an 18-point deficit, No. 24 Illinois came storming back and won a wild 38-35 slugfest against Northwestern. Nathan Scheelhaase (pictured at right, enjoying a trophy) drove the Illini 69 yards in just six players after Northwestern took a late lead, and Scheelhaase plunged in one a one-yard sneak with 13 seconds left to give Illinois the hard-fought victory.

WHY ILLINOIS WON: A.J. Jenkins was an unstoppable demon force on Saturday, catching 12 throws for 268 yards and three touchdowns. Plain and simple, Northwestern's secondary had no answer for Jenkins, and it might well be the case that some other defenses in the Big Ten won't be able to stop Jenkins either. Miscues almost cost the Illini the game on multiple occasions, though, and if it weren't for that heroic drive starting with 1:19 left in the game (a drive that was started by a 28-yard pass to Jenkins) Northwestern would have taken this game home.

WHEN ILLINOIS WON: This game wasn't settled until Illinois fell on a loose ball at the end of the game as Northwestern tried -- unsuccessfully -- to lateral its way into the end zone. Northwestern came close, as Kain Colter took one of the laterals into Illinois territory on a sprint, but Illinois' defenders prevented Northwestern from getting much further and that was that.

WHAT ILLINOIS WON: Illinois is now 5-0, having won each of its last three games by a three-point margin. This was a major test for the Illini, and they barely -- just barely -- pulled through for the victory. It's clear that A.J. Jenkins is a force to be reckoned with at wideout, and Illinois has now won games both primarily on the ground and through the air. That versatility bodes well for the future. For now, though, Illinois is 5-0 for the first time since its magical 1951 season, and the Illini can shore up bowl eligibility next week when they travel to Indiana.

WHAT NORTHWESTERN LOST: For the Wildcats, it was great to see Dan Persa back at quarterback and working his magic. Persa threw for four touchdowns on just 14 attempts, and more than that he just plain looked good. Unfortunately, Persa had to leave the game in the fourth quarter after he was tripped up on a scramble and came up hobbling. Kain Colter entered the game for Persa and drove the Wildcats to one touchdown, but he's clearly inferior to Persa. Good news for NU, though: Persa will likely be fine, and he was removed for what Pat Fitzgerald called "precautionary reasons." Still, though, this was a 50-50 game for Northwestern, and the loss means that Northwestern's darkhorse division title aspirations are likely at an end.

THAT WAS CRAZY: Nobody was ejected from today's game. That's too bad, because Illinois DB Jonathan Brown certainly deserved to be after he kneed Northwestern lineman Patrick Ward square in the, ahem, "man parts" after a play was over. As it was, Brown earned an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for the act, and Northwestern would score a go-ahead touchdown on the very next snap. There's illegal play, there's dirty play, and then there's hits (or knees) below the belt. 15 yards doesn't seem sufficient for that.

Posted on: September 27, 2011 6:36 pm
 

Dan Persa to start for Northwestern this week

Posted by Adam Jacobi

It's been nearly eleven months, but for Northwestern fans, the wait to see Dan Persa take the field is finally over. Persa, a senior quarterback from Bethlehem, PA, is set to finally return from a ruptured ACL this Saturday as Northwestern opens up its conference schedule against Illinois.

"I fully anticipate that Dan will play," coach Pat Fitzgerald said. "How much and all those things are to be determined in how the week goes. ... He's not only mentally ready, he's chomping at the bit to play."

Persa will be stepping back in for Kain Colter, the sophomore signal-caller who started all three games this season. Colter led the Wildcats to wins against Boston College and Eastern Illinois in Northwestern's first two contests, but the Wildcat offense sputtered in a 21-14 loss to Army in Week 3. Northwestern had a bye week last Saturday.

Persa's return, barring an unforeseen setback between now and Saturday, should have an immediate impact on what has been an inconsistent Northwestern offensive attack. Persa was second only to Wisconsin senior QB Scott Tolzein in passing efficiency among Big Ten quarterbacks last year, ranking ninth nationally, and he led the nation by completing 73.5% of his passes. Persa also led the Wildcats in rushing yards during the 2010 regular season, stepping in to cover for a running game that didn't find a consistent tailback until the emergency of Mike Trumpy late in the year.

Of course, that production all happened when Persa had two healthy legs, and while Persa's recovery has progressed to the point that he's being allowed to play ball again -- like, he's not going to be limping substantially with concerned trainers begging him to get off the field -- he's still going to have to play a different style of ball as he relearns to use and trust that leg in competition. That's not an immediate process, no matter how smart or brave any athlete is, but it's also not forever, so again, barring any major setbacks, we expect Persa to be as dynamic as ever by the end of this season and beyond.
Posted on: September 18, 2011 5:32 am
Edited on: September 18, 2011 5:56 am
 

What I learned from the Big Ten (Sep. 17)



Posted by Adam Jacobi

1. It's Wisconsin, then everybody else. In a week where Ohio State and Michigan State both flunked their first major tests and Nebraska looked increasingly like a three-loss team in the making, Wisconsin blew out yet another opponent, this time working NIU 49-7. And yes, Northern Illinois is a MAC team, but a good one at that, and one that was expected by Vegas to keep the game within three scores. That went out the window by halftime, and the Huskies never looked capable of challenging Wisconsin. Russell Wilson (pictured above, striking a perhaps prophetic figure) looked fantastic once again, and now it's down to him and Denard Robinson in early consideration for first team All-Big Ten at QB.

As for things that aren't perfect about Wisconsin, it's a pretty short list. Russell Wilson did finally threw an interception, so he's clearly mortal, but even that's bad news for the Big Ten -- if he's mortal, then the rest of the Big Ten can't play its games against Wisconsin under protest (because immortal QBs have to be illegal, right?). We'll know way more once Nebraska comes to Madison on October 1, but until then, this is a one-team race.

2. It's Ohio State's turn to have no quarterbacks: Last week, Penn State's duo of Rob Bolden and Matt McGloin combined for a horrific 12-39, 144-yard passing tally in a 27-11 loss to Alabama. McGloin in particular submitted a near-impossible 1-10, 0-yard performance. But hey, at least it was against Alabama; facing Temple on Saturday, PSU went a much more reasonable 22-37 through the air for 216 yards (and confoundingly, McGloin looked far better than Bolden). Not great, but not awful.

No, awful had somewhere else to be, and this week, that was "under center for Ohio State." Ohio State lost to Miami under the lights at Sun Life Stadium, 24-6, and it looked capital-B Bad in the process. Facing Miami's secondary, which certainly isn't as good as Alabama's, QBs Joe Bauserman and Braxton Miller combined for the following line, which contains no typos: 4-18, 35 yards, 1 INT. Passer rating: 27.4. HELPFUL POINT OF COMPARISON: Penn State's passer rating vs. Alabama was 56.7. Yes, for as awful as Penn State look against the Crimson Tide defense, Ohio State was way, way worse on Saturday.

Needless to say, the OSU tailbacks weren't thrilled at the result. "I felt like me and Jordan were doing a great job in the run game, so I felt we should have just come out and ran at them," OSU tailback Carlos Hyde said after the game. "We should have manned up and ran straight at them, see if they could stop us. I think it would have worked. I mean, to me, I don't think they were stopping us on the run, so I feel like it probably would have worked."

Just as with Penn State last week, there will be better days for both OSU QBs over the rest of the season. There just has to be. Otherwise, we'll have two stadiums on the east side of the Big Ten, filled with 100,000+ fans who'll have nothing to say. And for once, neither will be the Big House. I KID, I KID, Michigan. You're a peach.

3. The Big Ten is almost certainly not expanding east: If one continues to subscribe to the theory that the Big Ten will join the ranks of the 16-team superconferences, one would have thought recently that its expansion would be largely eastward, with both the Big East and ACC seemingly vulnerable. Slight problem for that plan, though: the ACC is getting proactive in a hurry, and now the main suspects for Big Ten expansion to the northeast are all off the table. Syracuse and Pitt are in the ACC, and if the USA Today report is correct, UConn and Rutgers are next for the ACC. That basically dooms Big East football, and of the five football-participating conference members left (TCU, South Florida, West Virginia, Cincinnati, Louisville), none look like strong candidates for Big Ten membership and all that entails, to say nothing of their limited geographical desirability.

Moreover, even the potential big-ticket schools out there have severe challenges for fitting in the Big Ten. Texas and Notre Dame have their own lucrative television deals already, and thus probably zero interest in equal revenue sharing in the Big Ten Network's plan. The remaining Big 12 North teams are more likely to join the rest of the Big East's football programs en masse than to split entirely off of their traditional base of rivals and go it alone in a new conference. And after all that, there just aren't a lot of schools that would bring more value to the Big Ten than they'd command in an equal revenue sharing program -- at which point it makes no sense to expand at all.

So when Jim Delany says the Big Ten's "as comfortable as we could be" staying at 12 teams... he probably means it.

4. Even Michigan State can disappear on offense: I mentioned in the Big Ten Bullet Points that MSU had to put up large amounts of points to hang with Notre Dame, because the Irish were going to get theirs pretty much no matter what. Notre Dame held up its end of the bargain, racking up 31 points in a variety of ways. MSU? Not so much. The Spartans managed 13 points of their own, and that's almost entirely due to Notre Dame's rushing defense coming up big. The vaunted Spartan rushing attack managed just 29 yards on 23 carries, and MSU effectively abandoned the run in the second half after Notre Dame established a double-digit lead.

That's a shocking result for a backfield that was universally regarded as the second-best in the Big Ten, and the only one even close to matching the potency of Wisconsin's ground game. MSU's got plenty more tough road dates coming its way once conference play starts, and plenty more stout front sevens to face. If this is the way Michigan State responds to tough defenses, it's going to be a long year in East Lansing. 

5. James Vandenberg and Iowa are not dead (yet): When Pittsburgh took a 24-3 lead at Iowa late in the third quarter, Hawkeye fans began panicking; this was the worst deficit the Hawkeyes had faced in four years, and a larger deficit than Iowa had ever overcome for a win. Ever. Quarterback James Vandenberg looked out of sorts for most of the first three quarters, and announcers were wondering for the second straight week if he just couldn't overcome a shaky set of nerves. All of this on top of a three-overtime loss to rival Iowa State the week prior made the outlook dim and grim for Iowa.

All of a sudden, Vandenberg and the Iowa offense sprang to life, racing to a 60-yard touchdown drive in 1:55 of play, and when Pittsburgh could only manage a field goal in response after achieving a first and goal at Iowa's 3-yard line, Iowa smelled blood. The Hawkeyes stayed in a hurry-up offense for the rest of the game, and Vandenberg engineered three fast but sustained touchdown drives in the fourth quarter to bring Iowa back for the 31-27 victory. Vandenberg went 14-17 for 153 yards and three TDs in the 4th quarter alone, and none of his last four touchdown drives lasted any longer than 2:11 -- or went for any fewer than 60 yards.

Iowa can't rely on 153-yard, 3-TD quarters from its quarterbacks, ever, so this will almost certainly be a result in isolation from the rest of the season -- especially since there were a lot of recurring problems that Pitt exploited in both Iowa's pass rush and its secondary. But at the very least Iowa's not 1-2 right now, and it's not on the ledge of disaster and/or apathy before the conference season even begins. Whether the Hawkeyes can parlay this comeback into big things down the line remains to be seen, but it was a magical afternoon at Kinnick Stadium either way.

6. Northwestern is not kidding about bringing Dan Persa back slowly: Northwestern put Dan Persa in uniform for its Week 3 matchup against Army, and Persa warmed up with the offense, but when the Wildcats struggled for most of the contest, it was Trevor Siemian why came in to spell Kain Colter, not Persa. Siemian would throw a game-tying pass to Jeremy Ebert, but Army still ended up prevailing in a stunner, 21-14. With a bye week next for Northwestern, Persa should be ready to go for the next game on October 1. If so, that's a merciful end to the Kain Colter era for the time being, and Persa can probably right the Good Ship Northwestern just a tad.

One does have to wonder, though -- shouldn't someone in the football program have notified the athletic department that Persa probably wasn't going to play a snap until October before the department put up Persa For Heisman billboards? The billboards came down after just two weeks; did nobody know he'd still be out today? And here Northwestern was supposed to be the "smart" member of the Big Ten.

 
 
 
 
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