Keeping up with Tony Jones

Two weeks into the season, Tony Jones is emerging as the deep threat Northwestern desperately needed. More from Saturday's contest.

Tony Jones saw the blitzing corner. He saw the single coverage over the top. He saw open field as he galloped to a defining 47-yard touchdown.

No one else saw this coming.

"That's back-to-back weeks where Tony has played at an elite level, at an All-Big-Ten level," Pat Fitzgerald said after the Wildcats beat Syracuse 48-27 Saturday night. "We've got to continue to get him the football."

Fitz isn't kidding. With Venric Mark shelved and Kain Colter knocked out in Berkeley, the Cats have still put up more than 40 points and 500 yards of offense in each of their first two wins.

And seemingly out of nowhere, Tony Jones has leapfrogged Rashad Lawrence and Christian Jones to become NU's first option in the passing game. Against the Orange, he went off to the tune of nine receptions, 185 yards and that third quarter score, proving his solid outing last week at Cal was no fluke.

After being hindered by a lack of vertical threats all of last year, Northwestern may have found their deep option in a quiet senior manning the X.

He's got the speed–just ask Julian Whigham, the Syracuse defensive back burned on the touchdown–but it's a high football IQ that led Jones to his breakout start.

"Mentally, I'm going to a different place. I feel more locked in and focused, and I think that's paid dividends," he said.

It pays dividends for the entire Wildcat offense. On Saturday, Northwestern was able to spread the field like never before, with completions to 10 different receivers and second-level touchdown runs from Colter and Treyvon Green.

Jones' nine catches are important, but the Orange safeties sitting back and respecting the team's vertical potential is even bigger. An offense that was already dangerously multifaceted just added another important dimension.

"I think he's obviously matured," Trevor Siemian said. "He's getting cleaner with his routes, he's leading the younger guys and he's pretty easy to throw to."

Jones' versatility was on full display Saturday, as he snagged his first catch over the middle for 10 yards and then torched Syracuse for 26 on the very next play. It's rare to find such duality in Northwestern's recent flock of receivers. Jones finished the game with receptions of 32, 43 and 47 yards; Christian Jones' 47-yarder against Iowa was Northwestern's longest passing play of 2012. And through week two, Jones is averaging a healthy 18.2 yards per catch; no receiver topped 12 last fall.

Both Cal and Syracuse have bad secondaries, and Northwestern's offensive line has given Colter and Siemian plenty of time in the pocket. The Wildcats, though, are building rapport that they haven't had since the days of Dan Persa and Jeremy Ebert.

Jones' continued success will be vital to an offense that suddenly appears confident airing it out and breaking away from run-heavy gameplans. Saturday night was a great start.

"It feels good to know I have the trust from the quarterbacks and coaches to be a guy to go make big plays," he said.

Those big plays will have even bigger rewards as Northwestern begins to truly balance its offense.

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