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2011 Northwestern Preview – Offense
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CollegeFootballNews.com 2011 Preview - Northwestern Wildcat Offense
Preview 2011 - Offense
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What You Need To Know: The offense moved the ball, but for the second year in a row the points were hard to come by. The Wildcats scored 30 points or more in the three games against non-BCS teams, and rallied to put up 38 in the wild comeback attempt against Texas Tech, but they failed to hit the 30 point mark against everyone else. The season all comes down to the Achilles heel of QB Dan Persa, which is expected to be fine going into the season, but is still a question mark after blowing it out in mid-November. The line gets everyone back, and is big and experienced, but it has to be far better, especially in pass protection. The running backs might be mediocre, but the receiving corps should be quietly terrific with Jeremy Ebert and Drake Dunsmore two dangerous targets to work around … with Persa hopefully being the man to deliver the ball for a full season.
Star of the offense: Senior QB Dan Persa
Passing: Dan Persa
222-302, 2,581 yds, 15 TD, 4 INT
Rushing: Mike Trumpy
116 carries, 530 yds, 4 TD
Receiving: Jeremy Ebert
62 catches, 953 yds, 8 TD
Player who has to step up and be a star: Sophomore RB Mike Trumpy
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore WR Rashad Lawrence
Best pro prospect: Senior TE Drake Dunsmore
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Persa, 2) WR Jeremy Ebert, 3) Dunsmore
Strength of the offense: Line Experience, Receivers
Weakness of the offense: Running Back, Backup QB
State of the Unit: The Northwestern quarterback situation is in a bit of disarray until the injury situation is settled, but there are several good, young prospects waiting in the wings and ready to start making their mark. The passing attack was solid last year, averaging 235 yards per game and was 29th in the nation in efficiency, but it’s all about the health of No. 7.
Senior Dan Persa was on his way to being the Big Ten’s MVP, all but carrying the team on his shoulders, and his legs, to a strong 7-3 start, completing 74% of his passes for 2,581 yards and 15 touchdowns with four picks, while finishing second on the team in rushing with 519 yards and nine scores. After completing his magnum opus, a 32-of-43, 318-yard, two score, 50 rushing yard, one touchdown day against Iowa, with the final touchdown pass completing the comeback for the win, he tore his Achilles tendon and was knocked out for the year. The Wildcats went 0-3 the rest of the way. Persa is only 6-1 and 210 pounds, but he’s mobile, tough, and has a good enough arm to get by. A tremendous recruit, he was the first player in Pennsylvania high school history to run for over 1,000 yards and throw for over 2,000 in the same season. Had the measurables been there, he would’ve gone to a much bigger school, but for now, he’s Northwestern’s franchise. All eyes are on his leg to see if it’s ready to go by the start of the season.
Until Persa is 100%, it’ll be an open casting call for the starting job, and there’s serious jockeying for position for the No. 2 gig. 6-6, 245-pound sophomore Evan Watkins took over when Persa went down and struggled. A big, strong passer with a much bigger arm than Persa, Watkins finished the year completing 51% of his passes for just 378 yards and two picks with five interceptions, but he ran for 61 yards and two scores. While he’s mobile, he’s just an okay runner.
6-3, 200-pound redshirt freshman Trevor Siemian is a good passing prospect out of Florida who threw for 6,144 yards with 53 scores in high school. He has a live arm and can get the ball all over the field, and he can move a bit, too. He’ll be in the mix for time along with sophomore Kain Colter, a 6-0, 190-pound baller who’s the best runner of the group and is like Persa as a dual-threat option. Back after missing most of the senior year with a shoulder injury, and he stepped in for stretches completing 3-of-9 passes for 38 yards and a pick, and he ran for 143 yards and two scores with 105 yards and two touchdowns against Texas Tech in the bowl loss.
Watch Out For … the No. 2 job. Persa is being rushed back, so the backup job might really be for the No. 1 spot. Colter, Siemian, and Watkins are all getting an equal shot to show what they can do. The starting job is there for the taking … for 2012.
Strength: Mobility. Persa is a terrific runner who’ll always come up with positive yards, and the other three options can all move, too. Colter is a dangerous playmaker when on the move and could see time in the mix to do a little more to throw in a quirky curveball.
Weakness: Persa’s leg. By all indications, Persa is going to be ready to go by the season opener. Maybe. Probably. It takes at least six months for a torn Achilles tendon to heal, and even then it takes a while for things to stretch out and get back to normal. The backup options were merely average this offseason.
Outlook: If Persa is back to being Persa, Northwestern’s offense won’t have any problems and a winning season and a bowl game are locks. Even if he’s struggling, the Wildcats have good options to work with, however, they have to be better and more consistent than they were this spring. The offense always seems to have a productive playmaker under center, and one has to emerge as the future, even if Persa is 100%.
Unit Rating: 8
State of the Unit: Damien Anderson, where are you? The Wildcat running game finished in the middle of the Big Ten pack averaging 156 yards per game, but the quarterbacks had a lot to do with that. Only one back finished the year with more than 200 yards, and the consistency wasn’t there. The line was a big problem, and the reliance on Dan Persa was part of the issue, but the backs simply didn’t get the job done. Most of the key parts are back, and now there’s more of an emphasis on getting the backs more involved.
Sophomore Mike Trumpy wasn’t expected to be part of the running equation, but he took over and finished the year leading the team with 530 yards and four scores highlighted by a 119-yard day against Indiana and 129 yards and two scores in the loss to Illinois before getting knocked out for the year with a wrist injury. At 6-1 and 210 pounds he’s a big back with decent quickness, and now he appears ready to be a tougher, more physical runner. He’ll start to handle more of the workload.
5-10, 205-pound senior Jacob Schmidt has been a little-used backup throughout his career, following up a 217-yard sophomore season with 161 yards and four scores. Just when he started to get rolling with four scores in a three-game stretch, he rolled up his ankle and was knocked out for the regular season. With good hand, catching 14 passes for 114 yards, and decent experience, he’ll be part of the rotation once again, while 5-11, 185-pound sophomore Adonis Smith needs to show he’s ready to do more. One of the team’s top recruits last year, the 5-11, 185-pound speedster out of Oakland is built like a wide receiver, but he has sprinter’s speed and a great burst. He saw a little time throughout the second half of the year, highlighted by a 61-yard day in the bowl loss to Texas Tech.
Looking to make an impact right away is Jordan Perkins, a 6-0, 180-pound true freshman who ran for 3,738 yards and 34 touchdowns throughout his high school career. The California native might be the team’s most talented runner from the moment he gets his chance, and he could be one of the team’s breakout stars sooner than later.
Watch Out For … more Trumpy. Healthy and apparently ready to far more, he’ll be fed the ball early on to see if he can be a tough, quick workhorse. The nephew of former Cincinnati Bengal and announcer Bob Trumpy, he could be a 1,000-yard rusher if he can stay healthy.
Strength: Quickness. Trumpy isn’t quite a blazer, but he can get through a hole in a hurry. Schmidt is a bit of a thumper and can cut well on the inside. Smith and Perkins can move, and they should add more flash to the equation.
Weakness: Running the football. The Wildcat backs didn’t get the job done, and the hope is for some young, relatively untested players to do more. Arby Fields transferring out of the program is a problem, and now the pressure will be on Smith to be a bigger playmaker while Trumpy has to shine early on.
Outlook: The Wildcats will use a variety of backs to try to get the production going, but the quarterbacks will probably be the most dangerous parts of the attack. There are plenty of veteran backs who should know what they’re doing and should be more effective, but the backs have to start cranking out five yards per carry on a regular basis.
Unit Rating: 6
State of the Unit: No matter who’s at quarterback, the receiving corps is in place to produce a solid season through the air. The Wildcats are full of nice route runners and good producers with seven of the top eight receiver/tight ends back, with only Sidney Stewart, a 40-catch, 454-yard season needing to be replaced. It shouldn’t be a problem. This might not be a special group of receivers, but it’ll be extremely effective.
Back as the No. 1 target and the go-to receiver Jeremy Ebert, a 6-0, 195-pound senior who came up with 62 catches for 953 yards and eight touchdowns with a steady year, highlighted by 11 catches for 124 yards against Purdue. He only came up with one touchdown in the final five games, but he proved he’s more than just a midrange possession target averaging a solid 15.4 yards per catch. Rock-solid at the Y, the former high school quarterback will lead the team in receiving once again. He’ll be backed up by Venric Mark, a 5-0, 175-pound sophomore who came up with five catches for 43 yards as a true freshman. Extremely quick, he’s a phenomenal kick returner, averaging 26.2 yards per try, and now he’ll do even more in the receiving rotation.
Junior Demetrius Fields followed up a decent 24-catch season with 25 grabs for 291 yards and two scores, and he needs to do more. Steady and good for around two catches a game, he has too much speed and too much experience to be more dangerous at the outside X position. At 6-0 and 205 pound he has good size to go along with great athleticism, but averaging 11.6 yards per catch is a bit disappointing. 6-1, 180-pound sophomore Tony Jones stepped in as a true freshman and caught 11 passes for 157 yards and a score. Getting past an early shoulder injury, he showed what he could do as the season went on and showed that he’ll soon be one of the team’s most dangerous deep threats. He might be the gamebreaker the offense needs.
Working a the inside Z position will be sophomore Rashad Lawrence, a 6-2, 190-pound dangerous athlete who caught 12 passes for 178 yards seeing a little time in every game. With good size, smarts, and great speed, the Orlando native has all the tools to be fantastic. He’ll be a highlight reel performer, while 5-11, 185-pound sophomore Drew Moulton has lightning speed despite missing a chunk of his high school career with a torn ACL. Mostly a special teamer so far, he can stretch the field.
5-11, 180-pound senior Charles Brown is a veteran backup option who caught eight passes two years ago and came up with 16 grabs for 198 pounds last year. Extremely quick at the H, and with the ability to play at any spot in the receiving corps, he should be ready to be a bigger factor in his final season. Former defensive back Mike Jensen will be the prime backup after looking the part this offseason. The 6-0, 175-pound sophomore walk-on was a special teamer last year, and now he’ll work at the H.
In a combination of tight end and fullback, Drake Dunsmore is back as the team’s Superback, a 6-3, 235-pound playmaker who caught 40 passes for 381 yards and five touchdowns. A great receiver with terrific route running ability, he’s a decent blocker who can do a little of everything for the offense, but he’s at his best as a safety valve target. Steady more than spectacular, he’s a great veteran who should be one of the Big Ten’s best tight ends. 6-5, 255-pound sophomore John Plasencia is a tremendous blocking prospect who saw a little time in four games. The talent is there to be a decent receiver as well as a good hitter.
Watch Out For … Lawrence. He looked great at times in his first season, and with the size, speed, and athleticism to do far more, he could be one of the team’s most dangerous playmakers. He’ll spend almost all his time in single coverage, and he’ll make defenses pay.
Strength: Veterans. Ebert, Dunsmore, Fields, RB Mike Trumpy, Brown, Schmidt, Lawrence, Jones, and Mark combined for 205 of the team’s 263 catches. The Wildcats won’t have any problems spreading the ball around to players who know what they’re doing.
Weakness: Blazing speed. This is a good-sized, veteran group that runs nice routes and makes plays, but it’s not going to run away from anyone. Moulton is a blazer, but he’s a backup, and it would be nice to generate more big plays.
Outlook: The receiving corps should be terrific. If QB Dan Persa is back, the passing game will be ultra-efficient with Ebert, Fields, and Dunsmore forming a terrific trio to work around, while Lawrence, Mark and Jones are excellent young pieces for the future. This might not be a splashy receiving corps, but it’ll be tremendously effective.
Unit Rating: 7.5
State of the Unit: A major disappointment last season, the big, strong line that was supposed to be a strength struggled in pass protection – finishing last in the Big Ten in sacks allowed – while not doing nearly enough for the running game. Now it’s time for everything to come around with four starters returning and a fifth veteran back who started the first part of last year. Last year’s line had logged in plenty of time, and now it’s really experienced.
The star of the line needs to be senior Al Netter, a 6-6, 310-pound left tackle who started every game and should finish with all-star honors. With great size, three years of experience, and good skills, it’s all there to be an anchor of the front five, but he has to be a more consistent pass protector. One of the team’s top recruits in 2007, he has lived up to expectations with his time at the position, but it would be nice if he became a dominator after earning Honorable Mention All-Big Ten honors in each of the last two seasons. He’ll be backed up by 6-7, 320-pound junior Chuck Porcelli, a massive blocker who saw time in nine games last year and should see even more work this season to be groomed as the starter next year. While he’s not great on the move, he has the frame that’ll be tough to get around.
Junior Brian Mulroe is back at left guard after starting every game last season after proving he could handle the job at the end of 2009 with a good performance against Auburn. A terrific athlete for his 6-4 and 295 pounds, he’s excellent on the move and can be bruising when the team needs a hard yard. Seeing time at both guard and center is 6-5, 295-pound senior Colin Armstrong, who spent last year in the middle and saw time in every game. Now he’ll move one spot over to left guard, but will fill a variety of roles.
Center Ben Burkett has been a rock and ironman over the last three seasons, starting every game since his freshman year. At 6-4 and 300 pounds he has excellent size and he’s tough as nails, and now he’s overdue to earn all-star honors. He might not be the best center in the Big Ten, but he’s one of the steadiest. Redshirt freshman Brandon Vitabile sat out last year, but he was a great recruit, considered to be one of the nation’s better center prospects. He’s a good athlete for his size and will hit the ground running as the quarterback of the line next year.
6-7, 305-pound junior Patrick Ward stepped into a starting role after seeing time in every game as a freshman. Athletic enough to get by, and with a long frame, he has the makeup and the potential to be a strong pass protector, but he needs to be more consistent. He’s a bit tall to be a guard, but he could move inside if needed even thorough he established himself as a starter at right tackle. The pressure will be on to be a bit more consistent, while 6-6, 290-pound redshirt freshman Paul Jorgensen will push for time to show that he’ll be ready for a starting job somewhere next years. Physical and strong, he has the talent and potential to become a solid run blocker when he gets his chance.
Back at his starting spot is Doug Bartles, a 6-4, 300-pound right guard who started the first three games of last year, suffered a shoulder injury, and couldn’t push out Keegan Grant the rest of the way. The former walk-on has been consistent, tough, and good when he has had his chances, and while he’s still trying to get back to 100%, he’ll be good by the start of the year. If he’s not right, junior Neil Deiters should be able to fill in without a problem. The versatile 6-8, 315-pounder is far better suited for the outside – he started seven games at right tackle as a freshman – and was a key backup throughout last year.
Watch Out For … Burkett to start to get more respect. Big, athletic, and experienced, the 6-4, 300-pounder knows what he’s doing and he’s a good technician for the line. If the overall results were better for the line last year, he would’ve gotten some all-star attention.
Strength: Experience. Five starters were back last season, and now four starters return once again, not counting Bartels, and this should be a fully jelled unit that knows what it’s doing. However …
Weakness: Experience equaling production. This was a veteran line two years ago, and last year as well, and the pass protection was awful and there wasn’t enough pop for the ground game. This line should be good, but it hasn’t been over the last few seasons.
Outlook: Can it all finally come together? The Wildcats are loaded up front with size and experience, but the blocking has to be more consistent and the pass protection has to be far, far better. Netter has to be a star, Burkett is a good one, and Ward and Mulroe are solid. It all has to mean a strong season that anchors the offense, but that was supposed to happen last year, too.
Unit Rating: 7
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