Tag:Scott Tolzein
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: August 23, 2011 2:15 am
Edited on: August 23, 2011 2:22 am
 

Russell Wilson named co-captain, starting QB

Posted by Adam Jacobi

Russell Wilson's ascension to the top of Wisconsin's depth chart is officially complete. The senior quarterback, a ballyhooed transfer from North Carolina State, was officially named Wisconsin's starting quarterback in the depth chart sent out by the football program on Monday evening.

Wilson's designation comes a day after another commendation from the program, when Wilson was named one of four co-captains by his teammates. As noted by Wisconsin RapidReporter Tamira Madsen, the other co-captains are FS Aaron Henry, DL Patrick Butrym and Bradie Ewing. All four captains are seniors.

It's remarkable what a godsend Wilson has been for the program already. Wilson probably isn't going to approach his highest levels of production from his time at NC State -- the 379 straight pass attempts without an interception probably aren't going to happen again, nor is Wilson likely to throw for the 260 yards per game he averaged over the last two years for the Wolfpack. Wisconsin didn't need that heavy production from Scott Tolzein last season, and it probably won't ask the same of Wilson either -- especially since it's Wilson's first and only season with the program.

No, Wilson's real value for the Badgers comes from the simple fact that he's a healthy, experienced quarterback. Wisconsin's quarterback depth took a big hit this offseason when talented backup Curt Phillips suffered a setback in his ACL tear recovery; he's out for the second straight season. Jon Budmayr, who was projected to start before Wilson showed up and is currently second on Wisconsin's depth chart at QB, is experiencing such extensive nerve problems in his right arm that he's experiencing numbness and may require season-ending surgery. Past those two, Wisconsin has senior mop-up man Nate Tice (yes, son of Mike Tice) and a handful of freshmen. Without Wilson, the Badgers' quarterback situation would be in dire straits.

The news about the captaincy, then, is even better for the Badgers. It's one thing to depend on Wilson as a starting quarterback out of sheer necessity, as is pretty much the case for Wisconsin. It's another that Wilson has apparently taken to his role so well that his teammates have imbued him with leadership status. Sure, you want that from a starting senior quarterback, but you also want said senior quarterback to have spent years, not just months, developing relationships with his teammates, so for Wilson to be at this level already, either everything has to have gone well or the Badgers are insane and acting against their best interests. So it's probably much more the former and not the latter.

All of which is to say, the Russell Wilson Era has officially begun. It's only going to be a season long, but it's probably going to be one heck of a season. 

Posted on: September 27, 2010 8:00 pm
Edited on: September 27, 2010 11:53 pm
 

For the Big Ten, the fight begins this weekend

Posted by Adam Jacobi

Big Ten Conference play begins this weekend*, and the race for the conference title is either already over (Ohio State) or wide open (the six other teams seemingly capable of winning the conference). We'll quickly find out whether many of the presumptive challengers to the Buckeyes' supremacy have what it takes to put together a great season. Considering the questions surrounding so many of them, the answer seems to be "maybe, but it's unlikely." In no particular order ...

Michigan (4-0): On one hand, Denard Robinson is a near-lock for Heisman candidacy this December; his stat lines are other-worldly, and there are few defenses in the conference that seem capable of containing this Michigan offense. But that defense. Ye gods, the defense. Michigan allowed 37 points to FCS stalwart UMass, and has given up more points thus far than every Big Ten team except Minnesota. Can Robinson and his teammates outscore enough conference opponents to justify the team's No. 19 ranking? They'll find out soon enough against Indiana this weekend; the Hoosiers have scored more than 40 points a game this season and have talent everywhere on offense.

Iowa (3-1): The good news: the Iowa Hawkeyes look materially better than last season, as wins that were close last year are blowouts now. Ricky Stanzi is far more efficient as a passer, and the only interception he's thrown all season came on a deflection. The bad news: the Hawkeyes have three kickers, which is to say they have none, and their cornerbacks are still rather suspect. And good heavens, that Arizona game. Iowa committed mistake after mistake in the first half, found themselves down 20 points at the break, then imploded on the offensive line with the game on the line. So what's there to make of the Arizona game? Was it an aberration, or is Iowa merely a bully of plainly inferior competition? Penn State comes to town this weekend, and intends to find out exactly how good the Hawkeyes actually are.

Wisconsin (4-0): No undefeated Big Ten team is more of an enigma than Wisconsin, who looks like it should be a Rose Bowl contender on paper -- and may very well be so -- but has underwhelmed against FBS competition. The Badgers needed a blocked extra point and a miraculous tackle at the 1-yard line at the end of the first half to help preserve a 20-19 win against Arizona State, and only beat an unimpressive San Jose State team 27-14. Yes, they won 70-3 over Austin Peay. Whatever. Wisconsin has the hogs up front and the stable of running backs (led by All-American candidate John Clay) to run over just about anybody in the conference, and Scott Tolzein is having another impressive and efficient season. Their defense isn't a weakness, and they get Ohio State (whom they've usually given fits) in Madison. But lo and behold, they face Michigan State in East Lansing this week, and it's basically a toss-up. Which Wisconsin will show up this Saturday -- and this season? 

Penn State (3-1): Joe Paterno made waves when he installed true freshman Rob Bolden at quarterback to begin the season, and for the most part, the decision has worked out; Bolden hasn't looked great, but he's playing with a maturity beyond his years, and he's certainly not a weak link in the offense. That weak link, however, would be the offensive line; Penn State hasn't blown anyone off the ball with any regularity yet this season, and that includes the likes of Youngstown State and Temple. That Penn State is still ranked after its somewhat underwhelming non-conference schedule demonstrates the deep level of trust voters have in JoePa to field a competitive team, and that's a trust that's rarely betrayed. Still, the Nittany Lions had better start playing like a quality team very soon, or they could find themselves in line for something like the Texas Bowl.

Northwestern (4-0): The Cardiac 'Cats have the inside track to a 6-0 record right now; they're two-thirds of the way there at 4-0, and their next two opponents are absolute doormats Minnesota and Purdue. Quarterback Dan Persa is one of the highest rated passers in the NCAA, and he's also Northwestern's leading rusher. That's sort of a bad thing. In fact, Persa and his stable of running backs all average less than 4 yards per carry, and they haven't even faced great rush defenses: of their three FBS opponents, only Central Michigan is in the top half of the nation's rush defenses. Let's face it: if you can't run on Vanderbilt (143 yards on 46 carries most certainly does not qualify), you can't run on most of the Big Ten. Can Persa keep up his efficient passing in the conference season, or is that 6-0 start going to turn into 8-4 and a mediocre December bowl bid?

Michigan State (4-0): Here's what's scary: The relatively underhyped, unheralded Michigan State squad could end up being better than all the teams mentioned above. Kirk Cousins is 17th in passing efficiency in the FBS. True freshman Le'Veon Bell is a dynamo in the Spartans' backfield (and pancaked two defenders at once on MSU's game-winning fake field goal). Also, unlike Michigan, MSU doesn't have a giant honking RED ALERT attached to its defense. Oh, and the Spartans miss Ohio State on this year's schedule. Ten wins or more for Sparty? It's happened all of once (1999) since the NCAA went to 11-game regular seasons, but it could easily happen this year. Or MSU could revert to its usual self and drop four or five games in the conference. We'll start finding out when the Spartans and Badgers lock horns -- if, y'know, ancient Greek warriors and badgers had horns -- this Saturday.

So who's legit and who's not? To be honest, right now, nobody really knows. That's why this weekend's going to be vitally important for all the teams mentioned above. No more excuses, no hiding behind cupcake schedules; it's Big Ten season now.

*It's worth pointing out that the Big Ten is still something of a dinosaur in this respect; it's the only conference with an eight-game schedule that has yet to begin conference play. Sure, thanks to bye weeks, Indiana and Illinois each still have a non-con to squeeze in during the conference slate, but that's it; for the rest, it's the tried and true formula of out-of-conference, in-conference, bowl. A bit stale, to be sure, but it's somewhat nice to not have your conference title hopes completely ruined before it's even October; Georgia, after all, has already gone 0-3 in the SEC. Hopeless in September. That's no way for a fan to be, is it?

 
 
 
 
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