Post-Game Analysis: Spring Game 2009
by Jonathan Hodges

Although the weather looked a bit ominous at times and there was a mid-game downpour (that thankfully only lasted about 5 minutes as most fans made a scramble for seats under the overhang in the west stands), the temperature was good and it was a good day to watch some football.  The Wildcats were successful with priority #1, avoid injury, as it was great not to see anyone hobble off the field (especially after WR Frymire broke his leg during the first drive of last year's spring game).  Other than that, with some key contributors held out of the game with preexisting injuries, a lot of the underclassmen got valuable scrimmage time and hopefully the coaches got a good look at some of the key position battles as NU works to shape its 2-deep before September 5th.


The offense did fairly well considering that in previous scrimmages this spring the D had their number.  The offense had 5 TDs, including an impressive 55 yard bomb from Kafka to Brewer (Kafka's only TD on the day and Brewer's only catch of the day), while the RB trio of Daniel, Simmons, and Matthews added 4 more.  Although Kafka only went 12 of 21 passing for 134 yards, he once again showed off his running skills with a 22 yard run early on in the scrimmage (which was not just the work of the "don't hit the QB" rule) - Kafka is clearly the leader of this offense and should be sitting pretty as the starting QB rolling into the fall.  Persa went a respectable 8 for 9 passing with 65 yards, sticking mostly to the short passing game; although he has dual threat abilities and is coming along, he is clearly not in a position to challenge Kafka for starter playing time this fall.

Running back was an interesting position to watch given the loss of 2 key seniors (Sutton and Conteh) this year.  Daniel made an initial appearance with the first team and ripped off 2 runs for a total of 21 yards during the first drive, showing good speed, but also an ability to run through and break tackles.  Simmons then took over and capped off the first drive with a TD.  Matthews played almost exclusively with the second team and showed great speed, especially when he broke a tackle and sped 22 yards into the end zone later in the scrimmage.  It was clear that the coaching staff was giving all 3 RBs approximately equal time on the practice field as they all have benefits and drawbacks.  Each averaged over 6.0 yards/carry during the scrimmage and compiled a total of 207 yards and 4 TDs on 32 carries.  The competition should get more interesting this summer with the arrival of true freshman RBs Fields and Trumpy, although I expect the competition to come down to Daniel and Simmons once fall arrives - and even then it's pretty clear that NU will be going with a multiple RB lineup.  Hopefully the 'Cats can find the right mix to try and continue a long tradition of success from the RB position this decade.

The receivers looked solid, although they were undoubtedly held back from some of the more complex routes to keep things simple and not to give away too much in an open scrimmage.  Brewer looks like he's ready to lead the corps this year, especially after outrunning the coverage for a 55 yard TD catch.  Other guys in the mix with the first team were Stewart, Brown, and Markshausen - also, look for Ebert to return in the fall after recovering from his injury.  The TEs (Rooks and Mitchell, primarily) were also split out wide more often than last year, when they typically lined up right next to an OT.  And the 2nd team receivers will likely get some playing time this fall as NU's spread features receivers coming in and out of the game on almost every drive.

Given the success of running the football, the offensive line looked promising, although it was difficult to tell given the nature of an intrasquad scrimmage.  The 2nd team got a lot of reps on the day as the coaches are surely looking to build a foundation for the future at that position.  It looked like the starting combination (left to right) of Netter, Grant, Burkett, Bartels, and Mattes was doing fairly well (especially with the running game going as effectively as it was), and the return of Taylor later on should be a boost.  This was probably the most difficult area to gauge with the QB no hit rule in effect and no real pass rush going on for most of the day (likely because of that reason).


Although the defense conceded 5 TDs, there likely isn't a whole lot to be too concerned about as the scrmmage was mostly a good opportunity for the younger guys to get on the field and make some live tackles.  The line was missing 3 potential starters: Wootton, Bryant, and Hahn, while one of the key members of the secondary, Phillips, was also held out.  Senior CB McManis was also pulled from the scrimmage early on as a lot of the younger defensive backs were thrown into the mix.

Although the line wasn't overly impressive, one really can't tell much of anything from a scrimmage where 3 potential starters were missing and they were playing under modified rules.  Given the success last year and some up and coming talent, this unit should be fine come fall - especially if they can close to match their Big Ten leading sack total from 2008.  The secondary can be put in the same boat; although they didn't create any turnovers they showed last year that they're more than capable of coming up with the big play and with McManis and Mabin anchoring the corners and Smith and Phillips taking care of business at saftey, NU is more than fine back there.

This leads to the biggest question mark on the D: the linebacking corps.  Nate Williams will almost certainly be the man in the middle after a solid second half of 2008 after taking over for the injured Arrington.  On the edges, though, NU tested quite a few different guys on Saturday.  That included Johnson (who played well in special teams last year), Nagel, Davie, Pinckney, Cisek, Nwabuski, Quentin Williams, and Jeske.  Based on what we've seen so far, I wouldn't be surprised to see Johsnon and Davie on the outsides come fall, although Nagel and Jeske will likely get some playing time - and that's not counting McNaul who was held out of the spring with an injury.

While the scrimmage was mostly a good chance to get some live tackling in, expect this unit to return ready for business in the fall with that level of aggressiveness instilled by DC Hankwitz.

Special Teams

There was no punting, so that huge question mark is left unanswered - it appears as though we may be waiting until the true freshman Budzien arrives in the summer to figure that out - consequently, there was also no long snapping (Pace appears to be lined up for that position).

For FG/XP snaps, it was the regular centers (Burkett, Armstrong), and it appears as though the holder has been decided to be WR Markshausen.  Demos did a solid job on kicks, although he did miss one XP and one 46 yard FG.  He'll be the guy handling place kicks this fall, which gives NU one of the strongest legs at that position in years, it will be interesting to see his consistency during game situations.


It was nice to get a glimpse of the 2009 Wildcats, and there was a decent crowd on hand despite the constantly changing weather conditions.  Hopefully the groundskeepers will get Ryan Field up to snuff by the time fall comes around, after a long winter it was looking pretty spotty.

Go 'Cats!!

e-mail: j-hodges@alumni.northwestern.edu

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