I consider myself among the world's foremost experts on Northwestern University's spring football game, having been randomly assigned to cover it two straight seasons. I speak from the heart when I say it's one of the silliest exhibitions possible: about 1500 fans in a 49,000 seat stadium watching 100 guys play a game of football with no scores, no teams, no times, and drives with arbitrary start positions, then three field goals, then another drive from the same spot with no explanation. Last year's was pretty exciting: Alex Daniel and Jeravin Matthews played great at running back, and MIke Kafka hit Andrew Brewer for like a 50 yard pass down the middle.
This years', pretty much nobody scored. Even as a diehard obsessee over the most minute of football details, I was not entertained by the last NU football I'd see for five months.
Anyway, let's do this the way I do every game summary, with bulletpoints, but since spring ball is all about finding out what to expect, I've divided this post into two parts: things I expected, and things that surprised me. (the things that surprised me are second. You see what I did there? Created suspense. That's why I'm a bigshot blogger.) These two parts are further divided into three sub-parts: things that were good, things that were bad, and things which were hilarious.
Things I expected, good edition: Evan Watkins, still my boy: He's got a strong arm and he's not afraid to use it. There's no way he sees significant playing time this next year, but I'm still a card-carrying member of the Watkinsurgency®. He's 6'6, has a cannon, and something none of us knew is that he can run it. YES, HE CAN RUN IT. He looked Kafkaesque with some jukes, very similar running style to last year's QB, makes people miss in the open field despite not having overwhelming speed. Yeah, he went 12-27 with a pick and a touchdown, but anybody who saw the game knows he probably should've been about 16-27 with two touchdowns and no pick. More on that later, though.
Jeremy Ebert ain't bad: He's our best wide out right now, and was the only guy with a reception of more than 20 yards, dragging one down in space for a big gain over the middle and keeping the legs churning for five or six more. He was injured last year and fell off everybody's radar after a good freshman year, it's weird thinking of him now as a junior, but he'll be our No. 1 or No. 2 option this fall, so get ready for him. Four catches for 49 yards on the game.
Everything else, after the jump!
Things I expected, bad edition: We don't have a running back: Arby Fields was playing with the baseball team at Purdue, outside of him, our depth chart is thus, according to the media handout for the first three spots and conjecture thereafter: Jacob Schmidt, Tyris Jones, Stephen Simmons, Scott Concannon. Quite frankly, my favorite of the bunch is Concannon, but he didn't even make the three-deep for the spring game, which is really the four-deep, counting Fields. Nobody looked impressive. Schmidt (14 rushes for 41 yards) is still only good for 2-3 yard dives up the gut, Tyris Jones is a walk-on who most recently played linebacker (3 carries, -1 yards) (yeah, he had three rushes for negative one yards) Simmons (3 carries, 1 yard) looked alright two years ago against Michigan, but just isn't talented enough to be a feature back ( and Concannon (11 carries, 11 yards) can occasionally make a really nice cut or two and turn a play that should've been stopped at the line to a six yarder, but that's really the essence of Scott Concannon.
Dan Persa is not my boy: I'm sure he'll do fine next year. I just don't like the scramble first mentality I've seen from him his whole career. He looked dedicated to attempting to chill out in the pocket, and it backfired as he got "sacked" three times, and his statline - 7-11 with a pick - leaves stuff to be desired. The pick was ugly, because the ball supposedly slipped out of his hands going for a lob pass in the end zone, I don't think it's a tiny hands thing, but who knows.
Things I expected, comical edition: Nobody was there: This is what it looked like before the game started when kids were stretching on the field. It didn't get any more crowded.
Eeeeeeeeeeverybody got to play: I love nothing more than obscure NU football player on-field sightings, and, well, Saturday was filled with them. Timmy Vernon, who I'd never heard of, led the team in tackles had a pass breakup and a tackle for loss, David Nwabuisi STARTED - but seriously, he's going to contribute this year - and everybody from Stone Pinckney to Andrew Struckmeyer got some tick. A good day.
Who to cheerlead?: Offense? Defense? Nobody knew. There was one moment where they did the post-first down "Go Cats!" only to turn around two plays later and try to make noise on third down.
Things that surprised me, good edition: Our defense doesn't suck: NU is generally a team that values offense and has a defense, technically. After losing Corey, Sherrick McManis, Brad Phillips and Brendan Smith, I expected Northwestern's defense to be as resistant as some sort of cream cheese or butter, but they played great. Only one NU full-length drive led to a score, they sacked Dan Persa three times, and two picks, with more pass breakups. Then again, it could be one of those situations where it's just our offense sucking bad, but a great day for the D, from the secondary to the linebackers to the d-line.
Lessening of the Demos: I assumed we'd be seeing another year of all-Demos, all the time on special teams, but it seems like after a year of being last in the conference in punting, Fitz was warming up redshirt freshman Brandon Williams as the punter in warmups, and... well, he's not Stefan Demos. He punts the ball upwards, not horizontally. I don't hate Stefan Demos, in fact I think he's a servicable kicker. But he shouldn't be doing kickoffs, punts, and placekicking. That's why we have 80 scholarships. We should use them, instead of giving punters free educations to watch Stefan Demos punt. Three kickers worked out - Demos, who went 3-4, missing a 51 yarder by a lot, Steve Flaherty, who didn't get to kick in the last seconds of the Outback Bowl, who went 2-4 and doesn't have as accurate a leg as Demos, and Jeff Budzien, who we saw for the first time. He needed the crossbar for a 46 yarder to go, so it looks like Demos has a bigger leg, but he's got four years to work on that.
If you must know, Brandon Williams was also the holder. This is what I get paid the big bucks for.
People who have never played before performing well: Drew Moulton, four catches out of the No. 1 spot on the depth chart at one wide out spot, looked decenly possession recievery, Nwabuisi played notably well too.
Things that surprised me, bad edition: A generally uninteresting wide receiver corps: I'm sure they'll show up when the season starts. But they weren't very interesting.
The offensive line: Three sacks? I know it's spring ball, but really? They looked out of sync.
Things that surprised me, comical edition: Hands: I alluded to Evan Watkins probably being 17-27 with two touchdowns. Here's the deal: NONE OF NORTHWESTERN'S SECOND-STRING WIDE RECEIVERS CAN CATCH: ANYTHING. I counted six dropped passes, and towards the end of the game, it started to become fun predicting which players would find what new, exciting ways of dropping catchable passes.
The play of the game belonged to Mike Jensen, who was simply running his route and managed to find a seam 15 yards downfield, only to look up, and BOOM! Evan Watkins headshot. The ball hit Jensen in the facemask while he wasn't looking, and dropped to the ground unharmed. IN THE FACE! Jensen would redeem himself with a touchdown later, but is my new favorite wide receiver.
Lee Coleman was a repeat offender, but his highlight was when he had beat his defender by a good two or three steps, managed to get open around 25 yards downfied, Watkins hit him in stride, in the end zone with no defender around. The whole crowd let out a groan/nervous laugh - great pass from Watkins, just comically bad receiving by Coleman, as it hit him in both hands with nobody around and he just straight up dropped it.
The first drop wasn't an easy catch: Watkins hit Brendan Barber around 30 yards downfield but threw it a tad behind him, as he was five yards past the secondary, Barber went up, looked like he had it, but a hit from Davion Fleming knocked it loose, and David Arnold scooped it up. Barber would go on to drop another later. I wanna say the sixth drop was Josh Rooks, but don't mark me on that.
Medill F: Northwestern congratulated Corey "Two O's, two T's" Wooton on the scoreboard for getting drafted. Sadly, former Northwestern end Corey Wootton apparently didn't get picked.
Trophy patrol: NU busted out three Big Ten championship trophies and put them in a tent as part of a sales pitch for season tickets. And when the game was over, some NU employees unceremoniously picked them up and just hauled them across the field to put them wherever they store them, in the same way you'd move a chair from one side of the room to the other. Awesome stuff, when you can just nonchalantly sort of just carry a trophy like that. If I win the Biletnikoff trophy, or something, first off, I'd take it with me everywhere I went. EVERYWHERE. Movies, dates, shower, class, dinner, everywhere. Second, I'd change my name from "Rodger" to "2010biletnikoffwinner" and my last name from "Sherman" to "Rodgersherman", so my new name would be "2010biletnkoffwinner Rodgersherman", also, I'd get somebody to carry around a championship belt behind me everywhere I went. But that's just me.
That's it for now. Peace love and unity, brothers.