Northwestern secondary forced to adjust

With Daniel Jones out for the season, some unknown quantities will need to step up for Northwestern.

Pat Fitzgerald sat at the podium during Northwestern's Monday press conference and wasted no time in delivering the rough but expected news.

Starting cornerback Daniel Jones will miss the remainder of the season after he undergoes knee surgery next week. The knee injury–whose specifics were first reported by PW–leaves one gaping hole in the Wildcats secondary.

Fitzgerald planned to have redshirt freshman Dwight White see the field in dime packages. Then, when Jones left for good in the second quarter, he became the fixture at starter. There were mixed results, as White was beaten early but rebounded to play a solid second half.

"All of a sudden, he's thrust into a starting role," Fitzgerald said. "One man's injury at a really difficult time is another man's opportunity."

Several analysts projected White to have his breakout season in 2013. After an outstanding spring, White flashed his potential during training camp. The Cypress (Tex.) native appeared to be a capable third corner for NU, though his progression will quicken from here.

He'll enter game week as the primary player to watch, even after Nick VanHoose turned in a career-worst performance against Cal's talented receivers. The secondary needs to suffocate Syracuse quarterback Drew Allen in his second career start. It's the first for White, whom Fitzgerald expects to succeed in another challenge.

"As always, when you're out there for the first time, you're going to learn about yourself and the attention to detail it's going to take," Fitzgerald said. "I fully anticipate that they'll all play better moving forward."

After being injured on the opening kickoff, true freshman Matt Harris was listed on the two-deep—with C.J. Bryant the other corner to note. Harris had a superlative fall camp, emerging as one of the team's top two new arrivals.

With some needed depth at corner–even more so now–Harris works into NU's immediate plans. Whenever Fitzgerald evaluates newcomers, he first looks at mental readiness. Harris, from his and our eyes, withstood the test.

"He picked up the system pretty well," Fitzgerald said. "He's a talented and explosive athlete and he's incredibly competitive. That's why we made the decision to play him in the opener."

Now, Fitzgerald is forced to bank on unknown quantities. It will be the lingering question this week, and one that can be answered with an excellent Saturday.

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