Staying Level-Headed

Ever notice how major-college coaches have a knack for dredging up relatively insignificant problems during a week when their team is scheduled to play a Football Championship Division team? And if their team is coming off a big win -- such as Northwestern's season-opening victory at Boston College -- there tend to be a lot of such problems to solve?

Ever notice how major-college coaches have a knack for dredging up relatively insignificant problems during a week when their team is scheduled to play a Football Championship Division team? And if their team is coming off a big win -- such as Northwestern's season-opening victory at Boston College -- there tend to be a lot of such problems to solve?

Wildcats coach Pat Fitzgerald had a laundry list of complaints Monday as NU started preparing to face Eastern Illinois in Saturday's home opener. Some were relevant. At least one sounded like it was straight out of a Psychology 101 class to ensure his Wildcats don't take the Panthers lightly.

Issue No. 1: Some players didn't do enough cheering during Saturday's 24-17 win over BC.

"I thought our passion on the sideline from our next group in was awful," Fitzgerald said. "It was just as bad as we've had it. That's an area -- and the passion that we play with -- is an area that we take great pride in. We need to improve on that. I didn't think it was our starters and our '1Bs.' I think it was the guys that were riding the bus and eating the steaks. If they act that way again, they won't travel. I don't care. I'll take 50 guys (instead of 70)."

Issue Nos. 2 and 3: Northwestern was outperformed on third- and fourth-down conversions. The Wildcats converted 40 percent of third downs and went 0-for-2 on fourth downs (both of which were less than 1 yard to go). The defense allowed Boston College to convert 8 of 17 third downs and 1 of 2 fourth downs.

"(It) was not where it needs to be," Fitzgerald said. "Our kicking-game aggressiveness and unit pride was not where it needs to be, especially our kickoff team. Very disappointed in that group." Issue No. 4: Northwestern didn't lose any fumbles, but running back Mike Trumpy put the ball on the ground late in the game after taking a huge hit to the head. Quarterback Kain Colter also had one or two issues handling snaps during his first start. NU's defense, meanwhile, didn't make Boston College put the ball on the ground once.

"I made it pretty crystal-clear today two things to the team," Fitzgerald said. "If you're not going to take care of the football, you're not going to play here. And, No. 2, if you don't work on stripping the ball out the way we demand in-game, then I'm going to run our defense's tails off on Monday. The way that we performed around the football as a program on Saturday was completely and totally unacceptable."

NOTES, QUOTES

--Senior QB Dan Persa isn't likely to play for the second week in a row, but Northwestern can expect a Persa-like performance from sophomore QB Kain Colter. In addition to putting similar numbers as Persa, Colter took a similar number of hits during NU's 24-17 season-opening win at Boston College.

Colter carried the ball 23 times and threw the ball 24 times against the Eagles, so he had plenty of chances to get hit and plenty of chances to avoid getting hit. Head coach Pat Fitzgerald wants Colter to learn to avoid as many hits as he can. Colter needed a postgame X-ray to check on an unidentified body part, though nothing apparently came of it because he's expected to play Saturday against Eastern Illinois.

"Kain's going through a little bit of the lesson that Danny went through," Fitzgerald said in the Daily Herald. "Kain's a little sorer than he should be today because of Kain. Hopefully he's going to learn. Otherwise he's going to get his lips knocked off."

--Senior CB Jordan Mabin made his 38th career start Saturday against Boston College and he played like the dean of NU's defense. He earned the coaches' Defensive Big Playmaker award for multiple efforts in the opener. On Boston College's first play from scrimmage, tailback Andre Williams broke down the left sideline for a 69-yard game. Williams would have scored if Mabin hadn't chased him down from the far side of the field and dropped him at the NU 4. The Eagles had to settle for a field goal. In the second quarter, Mabin read a deep pattern perfectly and picked off a pass to account for BC's only turnover. Mabin finished with a team-high-tying 8 tackles.

--Northwestern's defense benefited from the correction of a clerical error. Boston College's postgame stats indicated NU allowed 375 passing yards on Saturday, but the stat crew misidentified a yard line on a medium pass play and credited BC with 24 yards too many. That means the Wildcats allowed 351 passing yards and 455 total yards in the opener.

While the numbers still aren't great -- NU has surrendered at least 370 total yards in seven consecutive games -- the Wildcats jumped from No. 99 to No. 92 nationally in yards allowed.

SERIES HISTORY: First meeting between Northwestern and Eastern Illinois

SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: With Kain Colter at quarterback instead of Dan Persa, Northwestern's offensive focus doesn't change much. Colter's inexperience means the Wildcats leaned more on the Pistol and the running game in Saturday's opener at Boston College, but Colter's arm is decent enough to allow the Wildcats to throw a few vertical routes and keep defenses honest. NU coach Pat Fitzgerald praised his line and his receivers for their physical blocking against Boston College, which resulted in 227 rushing yards against a group that led the nation in rushing defense last season.

SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: Northwestern's 4-3 defense coughed up too many yards (455) and forced too few turnovers (1) in its opener against Boston College, but the Wildcats showcased some red-zone resolve that was missing last year. Boston College had first-and-goal from the 4-yard line in the first quarter, but had to settle for a field goal. The Wildcats halted another first-quarter drive at their 13 that became a missed field goal. And, with BC driving in the waning seconds in hopes of forcing overtime, a false start knocked the Eagles out of field-goal range and DE Vince Browne ensured they didn't return by smearing QB Chase Rettig at the line of scrimmage on the game's final play.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "You don't want to have Danny be one of your coaches, trust me. But in that role, he was outstanding, a real calming influence." -- NU coach Pat Fitzgerald in the Chicago Tribune discussing how injured QB Dan Persa helped Kain Colter get past a second-quarter interception that led to a Boston College touchdown.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL THIS WEEK'S GAME: Eastern Illinois at Northwestern, Sept. 10 -- For the fifth time in Pat Fitzgerald's six years at the helm, the Wildcats open their home schedule against a Football Championship Subdivision opponent. After losing the inaugural game to New Hampshire in 2006, NU has beaten its last three FCS foes by an average of 31.3 points. This game allows retiring EIU coach Bob Spoo a final chance to coach in the Chicago area, where he grew up and became a Chicago Catholic League Hall of Famer.

KEYS TO THE GAME: Eastern Illinois reeled off 21 fourth-quarter points to rally past Illinois State in its opener. Despite that flurry, the Panthers didn't do much on the ground but threw for 304 yards. Considering NU allowed Boston College to throw for 355 yards last week, Job No. 1 will be to fix the issues in pass coverage. It will be Game No. 2 for starting corner Jeravin Matthews and redshirt freshman safety Ibraheim Campbell, so their learning curve ought to be sharp this week.

PLAYERS TO WATCH:

QB Kain Colter -- In his first start at quarterback, the true sophomore played like a veteran as he produced 268 total yards and 1 touchdown with just 1 turnover. NU coach Pat Fitzgerald lauded Colter for his calm demeanor and his generally solid reads. Colter's acceleration and shiftiness makes him hard to corral with the ball. EIU figures to load up against the run and force Colter to pick his way down the field with short and medium passes.

RB Mike Trumpy -- Senior Jacob Schmidt earned the start, but Trumpy earned the most carries among the five running backs that NU employed during the opener. Trumpy posted 85 yards and 1 score in 15 carries, but he "got his bell rung" on his final carry. If he can't play much or at all, then Schmidt, sophomore Adonis Smith and freshman Treyvon Green figure to split the carries.

S Brian Peters -- The senior safety earned the coaches' Defensive Player of the Game award for his solid play against Boston College. He was credited with just 5 tackles, but he broke up 2 passes and earned an 8-yard sack. Peters is the quarterback of NU's defense and kept inexperienced secondary players going as they learned the hard way against BC.

ROSTER REPORT:

--QB Dan Persa (healed right Achilles' tendon) is listed as Northwestern's co-starter at quarterback, but he isn't expected to play Saturday against Eastern Illinois. He seems at least two weeks away from playing.

--DT Jack DiNardo (leg) will miss the EIU game after injuring his leg while sacking BC quarterback Chase Rettig on Saturday. DiNardo returned to the game in the second half, but didn't appear in the fourth quarter. Either sophomore Will Hampton or redshirt freshman Chance Carter will take DiNardo's spot in the lineup.

--RB Mike Trumpy (head) didn't look well after taking a shoulder to the head during the final minutes of the Boston College game. Trumpy recovered his own fumble on the play, but didn't look like his head felt right afterward. Pat Fitzgerald didn't say whether Trumpy was diagnosed with a concussion, but his status for Saturday seems questionable.

--OLB Collin Ellis (broken right thumb) should miss his second straight game. The redshirt freshman was ticketed to start at strong-side linebacker, but fifth-year senior Ben Johnson has the job for now.


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