Dark clouds threatened mid-day on Saturday, August 20, but the rain held off, allowing Northwestern to conduct its annual Kenosha scrimmage. Here are our biggest takeaways. Also check out our Facebook Live video for a look at the premises and our immediate reactions.
- It was a pretty well-attended event, as the scrimmage was open to the media and the players’ and coaches’ families. Lots of parents and siblings made the trip.
- Overall, the energy at the scrimmage was impressive. It was the first time we’ve seen live tackling from the team this year, and there were a lot of big hits.
- Only two projected starters took part in the scrimmage: cornerback Montre Hartage (who recently became a starter with the injury to Keith Watkins II) and safety Kyle Queiro, who missed almost all of last year with an arm injury. Additionally, several top veteran backups, including offensive tackle Tommy Doles, defensive tackle Jordan Thompson, running back Warren Long, linebacker Joe Jones and essentially every wide receiver with game experience (except Jelani Roberts), did not participate.
- The undisputed star of the day was walk-on running back Chad Hanaoka. He scored a couple of touchdowns. He must have been inspired by the feature we wrote on him on Friday.
- The play of the day was redshirt freshman Lloyd Yates finding true freshman Ramaud Chiaokhiao-Bowman for a diving catch and a touchdown. Yates rolled to his right and released a strike between a couple defenders, and Chiaokhiao-Bowman made a great play on the ball to reel it in.
- With so many starters and top backups out, here’s who made up the first-string offense skill players: QB Matt Alviti, RB John Moten, WRs Jelani Roberts, Steven Reese, Cameron Green and Ben Skowronek. However, there was a ton of shuffling all around, especially up front.
- On the other side of the ball, Greg Kuhar and Fred Wyatt started in the middle of the defensive line. Wyatt got some good pushes up front. Alex Miller, Tommy Carnifax, Joe Gaziano and Trent Goens got some time on the outside, as did a host of other players.
- At linebacker, Brett Walsh and Jango Glackin impressed, going sideline-to-sideline and delivering some big hits. Walsh had back-to-back big stops against the run one series that got his defensive teammates fired up.
- In the secondary, it was encouraging to see Parrker Westphal healthy and receiving a lot of playing time. He didn’t have much to do, but just him being out there was a positive.
- The team also went through several repetitions of kick off returns. With Solomon Vault among the guys not playing, true freshman Riley Lees saw a lot of action returning punts. Lees also fielded punts along with Chiaokhiao-Bowman, Alonzo Mayo and others.
Pat Fitzgerald media availability notes
- Fitzgerald noted how vital quarterback depth is for Northwestern: “I’ve been here for 10 years and we’ve had to play, at some point, two quarterbacks in the same game. I think you’d be very naive at the college level to not have two guys ready—maybe even three.”
- He also praised Kenosha and the UW-Parkside Facilities, as this is the 25th year Northwestern has had training camp in Kenosha: “Everyone in the program is out of their comfort zone—and I think there’s something special about that. It builds trust and chemistry...Everyone is stoked week one. But week two is tough. And to do it in that type of environment has brought our program together over the years.”
- He also said the team feels some disrespect, being the only Power 5 10-win team from last season to not end up in the preseason coaches poll: “I think this is a very focused team with a chip on its shoulder, who frankly feels quite disrespected. But it is what it is, and that’s why preseason things don’t matter...We believe we’re building a Top-25 consistent program that’s going to compete for championships.”
- He added, “we’re the only 10-win team to have our season defined by three games,” pointing to Northwestern’s three blowout losses to Michigan, Iowa and Tennessee.
- Northwestern’s wide receivers had the highest drop percentage in nine years. Fitzgerald said, “that’s somewhere we can really get a lot better,” and said he’s already seen improvement.
- Wide receivers Austin Carr and Flynn Nagel added that the receiving corps has done a lot of grip-strengthening exercises to minimize dropped passes, such as squeezing their hands in buckets of dried rice.
- Fitzgerald added that the scrimmage was much more high contact, which we saw with the Walsh and Glackin hits, because Monday through Friday tends to be more cautious. He said he learned the phrase “use your imagination” from the Seattle Seahawks, meaning that instead of finishing hard hits, players should “use their imagination” to prevent injury. But during Saturday’s scrimmage, there was little left to the imagination.