Midweek Notebook

The Sports Xchange brings midweek notes, quotes, and more from Northwestern as they prepare for their first Big Ten clash with the Nebraska Cornhuskers.

Northwestern sophomore Kain Colter's play and leadership has been a bright spot in a rough season for the Wildcats. When starting quarterback Dan Persa was dealing with an injury concerns heading into the season, the Wildcats were forced to go with the young quarterback. Colter guided the Wildcats to victories over Boston College and Eastern Illinois before losing at Army.

Colter's blend of athleticism, versatility, toughness and leadership brought a different dimension to Northwestern's offense. When Persa returned to the field against Illinois, Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald elected to utilize Colter's all-around talents. Colter started at Iowa and Indiana at wide receiver, while taking snaps under center to give the offense a new look.

"I don't know if I can sing a guy's praises any higher than I have for Kain, but he's very deserving," Fitzgerald said. "You see that maturation of a special athlete happen in front of our eyes."

Colter's confidence is a breath of fresh air for the program. His brashness has been infectious to his teammates. Colter had some frank comments after last week's victory over Indiana about his desire to play ninth-ranked Nebraska.

"My dad and I talk every week about setting goals," Colter said.

Colter's setting higher goals every week. At Indiana, he threw two touchdown passes and caught six passes for 115 yards. For the season, Colter leads the Wildcats with 459 yards rushing on 82 attempts and scored six touchdowns. He has completed 48-of-72 passes for 531 yards and four touchdowns and thrown just one interception. Colter ranks third on the team with 21 receptions for 279 yards and one touchdown.

The Wildcats (3-5, 1-4) have a tough task this week to keep their slim bowl hopes alive, when they travel to Nebraska. The Huskers dismantled Michigan State last week behind a dominating defense, limiting MSU quarterback Kirk Cousins to 11 of 27 passing for 86 yards and an interception.

"We need to have our All-Big Ten-level players All-Big Ten on Saturday," Fitzgerald said.

The Wildcats won't be beating Nebraska or making any bowl plans if they don't improve on defense. The Wildcats are allowing 31.5 points and 431.6 yards per game, but managed to pick off eight passes and allowing opponents to convert 50 percent of their third-down attempts.

"It's unacceptable," Fitzgerald said of the defense. "Gotta play better. Gotta coach 'em better."

NOTES, QUOTES

--TE Drake Dunsmore was named the Big Ten Conference Offensive Player of the Week. Dunsmore had a school-record four touchdown catches in last week's win at Indiana. He finished with seven receptions for 112 yards to become the school's all-time leader for receiving yards (1,373) by a tight end. "That's great, but there are a lot of good tight ends coming through this program," Dunsmore said of the record. "So I'm sure that record will be broken."

--RB Jacob Schmidt rushed for a career-high 110 yards and scored twice against Indiana. Coming into the Indiana game, Schmidt had just 176 yards in the previous seven games and two touchdowns.

--Maybe the start of November will help cure Northwestern's problems. Since 2008, the Wildcats have posted a 7-4 mark in the final month of the regular season, including a 4-2 mark on the road.

--In last week's game at Indiana, Northwestern scored on nine of its first 10 possessions, with the lone exception on a kneel-down to end the first half.

SERIES HISTORY: Nebraska leads Northwestern 3-1 (last meeting, 2000, Nebraska 66-17).

SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: The Northwestern offense might deal with bouts of inconsistency, but the Wildcats continue to put up impressive numbers. Northwestern averages 288.8 passing yards in conference play, more than 50 yards per game better than second-place Michigan. The Wildcats are averaging 456.8 yards in conference action and coming off a 59-point effort at Indiana -- the most since scoring 61 against Illinois in 2000. Tight end Drake Dunsmore caught four touchdown passes and freshman Jacob Schmidt rushed for a career-high 110 yards and added two scores against Indiana.

SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: Senior safety Brian Peters raised his career total to 10 interceptions after picking off a pass last week. His last six interceptions have come in Big Ten action, and Peters has picked off two passes in bowl games. The Wildcats have picked off eight passes this season, with Peters leading the team with three interceptions and Ibraheim Campbell snaring two picks.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "At this point in the year, it's a lot less about what I say than the ownership in the locker room. I start to sound like Charlie Brown's teacher." -- Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald on Kain Colter's emerging presence in the locker room.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

THIS WEEK'S GAME: Northwestern at Nebraska, Nov. 5 -- The first meeting between the two teams since Nebraska's 66-17 bowl victory in 2000. It will be interesting to see how the Wildcats respond playing a hostile Lincoln, where Nebraska has sold out 316 consecutive games.

KEYS TO THE GAME: Come out fast and not get rattled by the big crowd. The Wildcats have played in big venues, but the Big Red crowd is unique and can be intimidating. The Wildcats have to jump on the hosts and score early, while forcing a key turnover is crucial. Getting the ball to Colter is a must against Nebraska's defense, while another big game by the running attack and tight end Drake Dunsmore can help spread the field and open things up for quarterback Dan Persa.

PLAYERS TO WATCH:

WR Kain Colter -- He is becoming a bigger part of the offense with each passing week. Colter's a big-play threat that can turn a game around. Colter is coming off a big two-touchdown passing and 115-yard receiving effort.

E Drake Dunsmore -- Has showed his worth to the offense with a four-touchdown game at Indiana. Dunsmore is a quality tight end with the ability to run after the catch.

RB Jacob Schmidt -- Gave the offense a different look with his running last week at Indiana. Schmidt, who had 110 yards rushing and two touchdowns against Indiana, is a young player with a good upside.

ROSTER REPORT

--TB Adonis Smith is healthy, but been limited in practice.

--Defensive end Tyler Scott is expected to return to the field this week after dealing with a neck injury.

--Linebacker Bryce McNaul has dealt with a back injury, but will play at Nebraska.


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