First Game, First Opportunity for Breakout

Tyler Scott was a member of the defensive line rotation, but hardly a star when Northwestern traveled to Chestnut Hill last September. He had 12 tackles to his name in his only year playing to that point. Scott still had a lot of growth potential as a sophomore, but nobody saw him making the kind of impact he made in his first career start.

Boston College certainly did not.

Back in those days when there was unbridled optimism for the 2011 season, Tyler Scott busted out and had a career day. A day he is probably still trying to live up to. He hurried and pressured Chase Rettig, helping to record the game-clinching sack on the final play (by Vince Browne). He had a shoulder injury that slowed him down in the middle of the season, but the impact of that game showed what Northwestern had in this promising young defensive end.

The Boston College game also marked the emergence of Kain Colter. Colter completed 17 for 24 passes for 197 yards and rushed 23 times for 71 yards and a touchdown. It was the beginning of a magical season for Colter that came out of nowhere after his struggles his freshman year.

A lot is unknown about that first game. The greatest unknown is finding out who will be the breakout star for the season. Colter and Scott figure to be key components of this year’s team too. As they enter the first game of the season a whole bunch of expectations are placed on them to match the performances that stunned everyone in last year’s opener. It is safe to say they are the leaders of their units now — with Colter also being a captain for the entire team.

It is not unusual for a fresh face to shine in the season opener.

The 2010 opener at Vanderbilt was Dan Persa’s coming out party. Remember before that he showed flashes in a conservative playset called for him after Mike Kafka was hurt in the Penn State game. While Persa threw the game-winning touchdown in the big upset over Iowa in 2009, he hardly looked like the quarterback he would become. Persa made his first start of his career against the Commodores that opening night and was 19 for 21 for 222 yards with three passing touchdowns. It was the preview for a magical season for him.

The 2008 opener featured a veteran team with stalwarts like C.J. Bacher and Tyrell Sutton. But we got our first glimpse at Jeremy Ebert as a true freshman in that game. My memory of it was the emergence of Brendan Smith who returned an interception for a touchdown that game. It set the tone for what would be a great defensive season for the Wildcats. The 2005 opener ended up a loss at TCU, but Brett Basanez established himself as a quarterback to watch in Northwestern’s dynamic offense. He passed for a then-record 513 yards in the season opener. He threw for four touchdowns that game, matching his total from the previous season.

Many teams probably have an ample record like this of players who stepped up into new roles in major games the first week of the season. The added attention brings a new chance to shine.

So who will it be this year?

There are lots of players that are sure to step up with an increased role and opportunity to play.

The obvious one might very well be Venric Mark. Mark is listed as the starting tailback for Saturday’s game according to this week’s depth chart. Mark is going through a position change and this will be his first full year as a running back. Northwestern has been trying to find a way to get the junior the ball consistently. He has been solid on kick returns and has had some big plays as a wide receiver when he gets the ball in open space. The idea to transform him into a running back was spawned last year and he has clearly done well enough to earn significant playing time at that position this year.

Mark will have his hands on the ball plenty as he will also still be returning kicks and punts in addition to getting the first crack at carries as a running back. Expect Northwestern to try to get him the ball in the flats and underneath in the passing game too. A swing pass to Mark as he is cranking up to full speed could be deadly.

Likely the biggest opportunity for a breakout new star will come on the defensive side of the ball.

Demetrius Dugar tackles Iowa's Keenan DavisRedshirt freshman Nick VanHoose will get the start at one corner spot opposite senior Demetrius Dugar. The two have not had any starts at that position and all eyes will be squarely on them after last year’s struggles in the secondary. Likely too, first-time starter Davion Fleming will have some pressure on him to perform as he replaces Brian Peters and his ability to come up and support in the run.

Along the defensive line, junior Will Hampton beat out Chance Carter for a spot at defensive tackle. He and Brian Arnfelt will need to anchor the middle of that defensive line as offense likely look for ways to stop Scott and Quentin Williams on the ends, a perceived strength for Northwestern. Involved in that rotation too could be a surprise from freshman Dean Lowry. He is listed as Williams’ backup on the depth chart as he reportedly put on a ton of muscle and weight in offseason workouts before arriving on campus. The true freshman might very well be the only true freshman we see on Saturday (more on that in a moment).

Opportunity is only good if you seize it and Northwestern has plenty of guys who are capable of grabbing an opportunity in this first game and breaking through for a stellar season.

Who do you think will break out Saturday at Syracuse?

No Odenigbo on the two deep

We probably do not want to focus all our attention on one player, but fans are still buzzing about landing four-star recruit Ifeadi Odenigbo. The question throughout camp was whether Odenigbo would play this season. Really, the first issue to sort out is what position he will play — linebacker or defensive end. Pat Fitzgerald and Mike Hankwitz have had Odenigbo playing a little bit of both throughout training camp.

It is still not clear where we will see Odenigbo, if at all, and this week’s depth chart does little to clear that up.

Ifeadi Odenigbo was not listed on the depth chart at either position. The depth chart is only a two-deep so this hardly means that Odenigbo will or will not play Saturday. He very well could.

But Pat Fitzgerald is firmly in the camp of trying to redshirt freshmen if he can. He does not burn that extra year lightly. His philosophy is that freshman year should be used to build comfort in the new college surroundings and put on muscle and add strength before entering the college football arena. It is a way to get acclimated and give guys four years of stronger productivity.

Fitzgerald has never been afraid of playing freshmen though if they earn their way onto the field.

We will wait and see if Odenigbo suits up and plays his first game for the Wildcats this week.

LTP Purple Challenge

We are not sure how many NEW season tickets we have received since Sunday night. But with LTP under the knife, we can think of only one gift to get him. Please, don’t send flowers, buy NEW season tickets or use the fact that this deranged fan is so fired up about the ‘Cats home schedule that you are trying to shut me up. Whatever it takes! Remember, Vandy @ night, BC late afternoon and the only way to see the soldout Nebraska game is to buy season tickets (Iowa likely as well).  Plus, show them the 2013 and 2014 schedules and tell them to get in while they can. Email us at and we will give you a shoutout – as soon as LTP’s morphine subsides.

  • KL

    “recording the game-clinching sack on the final play.”

    That was Vince Browne, not Tyler Scott.

    • Was it? You might be right. I think Scott definitely flushed him out of the pocket for Browne. For some reason, I remember Scott having a much bigger impact in that game than his stats showed.

      • It was certainly Vince Browne. Scott still played very well though

  • Chasmo

    Every team each season can count on one or two formerly unknown players to emerge as major contributors. What’s really scary about this season for NU is that it needs four or five such players just on the defense alone to have breakout seasons.
    The defensive line needs a either redshirt frosh or a true frosh (Deonte Gibson or Dean Lowery) to step up and be a major pass rusher. Even senior “leader” DT Brian Arnfelt is an unknown quantity because injuries have kept him from playing on a consistent basis. NU will need EVERYONE on the d-line to improve his play in order to be effective this year.
    The secondary desperately needs a redshirt frosh (Nick VanHoose) to be a good and two previously undistinguished players (Dugar and Fleming) to at least be adequate in order to improve over last year.
    The linebackers need Chi Chi Ariguzo and Collin Ellis to be much improved and redshirt frosh Drew Smith to contribute in order to be better than last year.
    The Cats are depending on a lot of players to all become good at once. That’s a tall order. Can it happen? Sure. But the odds against it are long.
    As always, let’s hope for the best.

  • cebpd

    LTP, Colter’s breakout game was against Texas Tech.

    • You could definitely say that. I think we still went into camp not quite sure who the backup behind Persa was going to be. Watkins was still an option. Also, I blacked out the remainder of the season after Persa’s injury because it was too horrible to watch.

  • cebpd

    Ifaedi is too undersized right now to play DE. He was running track in the spring. The coaches probably realize his GREAT potential at DE, as he did have offers from everyone in CFB. The main problem is his technique and size. he has natural ability, but raw. better to redshirt than waste a season

    • Also, again let it be noted — Ifeadi and his parents indicated during his recruitment (as I recall) a willingness if not a preference to redshirt. Academics are important to him and his family, and so is being the best player he can be. This may be a case where both player and team get what is best/what they want by redshirting.

  • mike1999

    While I do think Mark is an incredibly exciting runner… please oh please, Venric, protect the ball. Am I the only one who was always nervous and fearful of a turnover whenever we were receiving a punt or KO last year? IMHO, I felt he had a few too many bobbles / near-turnovers than I’m comfortable with.

    But… that being said, if he *can* secure the ball well, then I’m as optimistic as anyone that this season might show a resurgence to the NU ground game. Wow, especially with Cain’s running ability, how much fun would it be to see a some sort of triple-option threat coming out of our backfield? =)

    93 more hours until kickoff… Go Cats!

    • jbg

      I seem to him remember dropping the ball in the BC game in an end around. I share your fears.

  • GrammaGrandma

    Philip, grammar check “try and get” in the paragraph beginning with “Mark will have his hands….” It’s supposed to be “try to get.”

  • Steve Z

    Just got my Season Tickets… I particularly like the “Property of Mr…” personalized cover.

  • wcgrad

    What about Ibraheim Campbell? He’s my pick to click on defense this year and fill the shoes of Peters. Surprised he wasn’t mentioned after all the talk of his improvement throughout last year.