Football notebook: Kafka spells Bacher at QB

Andrew Simon

Junior Mike Kafka is firmly entrenched as Northwestern’s second-string quarterback, two years after starting the first four games of the 2006 season. Although he won’t get on the field consistently as long as starter C.J. Bachér stays healthy, he might see occasional action throughout the year as a change of pace.

That’s what happened on NU’s third drive in its victory against Southern Illinois on Saturday, when Kafka took over behind center for one series. Kafka gained three yards on a run before throwing two incomplete passes, one of which nearly was intercepted.

Coach Pat Fitzgerald wouldn’t reveal if the team planned to use Kafka in that role again. But he didn’t rule out the move.

“At the end of the day, we want to get Mike some experience, some reps,” Fitzgerald said. “He brings an element of athleticism to our offense we really like.”

While Bachér possesses decent mobility, Kafka is a more electric runner, with 54 career attempts for 292 yards and two touchdowns. Against Nevada in 2006, he ran for 111 yards on 12 carries, including a 55-yarder. Yet he has struggled to throw the ball effectively, tossing five interceptions against one touchdown.

SPECIAL SPECIALISTS

NU’s kicking game has been a big factor this season. Punter Stefan Demos was Big Ten Special Teams Player of the Week for his performance against Syracuse, and now kicker Amado Villareal has a big game of his own.

After he attempted only one field goal in the Wildcats’ first two contests, Villareal’s services were much more in demand against SIU. With his team’s offense consistently stalling in the red zone, the senior had field goal chances from 35, 33, 18 and 20 yards. He knocked each of them through the uprights, despite the slippery field conditions.

“We had a practice very similar to this last Thursday before the Duke game, and that was almost the same conditions – my foot was soaked – but that was really good practice and prepped me well for this game,” said Villareal, who also credited holder Kyle Daley.

Villareal is now 5-for-5 on field goal attempts and 10-for-10 on extra point attempts this season. He made 12 of 18 field goals and 36 of 37 extra points in 2007.

RAIN IS NO PAIN

With a steady rain falling throughout Friday and Saturday, NU’s contest with SIU had the potential to be a sloppy affair.

It did not turn out that way. Neither team threw an interception or lost a fumble, and players rarely seemed to lose their footing. The Cats credited Ryan Field’s well-maintained playing surface and their own recent rain-soaked practices for making the job easier. Some even enjoyed the conditions.

“I always loved it growing up, playing in the rain,” defensive end Corey Wootton said. “So it kind of reminded me when I was younger.”

Even though the rain didn’t bother the players, it probably kept a lot of fans away. The announced attendance was 19,062, but the actual attendance appeared to be much less. Large swaths of bleachers remained empty, as many of the fans who braved the conditions still took shelter under overhangs to get out of the downpour.

EXTRA POINTS

Running back Tyrell Sutton’s three rushing touchdowns were the most he’s recorded in a game since he had three against Wisconsin on Oct. 8, 2005. He scored four against Northern Illinois in his second career game. … After gaining 16 yards on five receptions Saturday, Sutton needs only four more receiving yards to become only the second player in school history with 1,000 career yards both rushing and receiving. … Through three games, NU is leading the Big Ten with 10 sacks. Last season, the Cats finished 10th in the conference with 18, leading only Minnesota.

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