Northwestern fans can breathe easier.
Coach Pat Fitzgerald said Monday that he expects senior running back Tyrell Sutton and senior quarterback C.J. Bachér to start in the Wildcats’ first Big Ten game of the season against Iowa.
Sutton, who has 387 rushing yards in four games, did not see action in the second half of NU’s 16-8 victory over Ohio on Saturday after he suffered a left leg injury late in the second quarter.
“I’m not going to be very specific, but I feel that he’s got a leg injury that’s not going to hold him back in the game on Saturday, ” Fitzgerald said. “It’ll depend on this week, but if he’s ready to go, he’ll start.”
Bachér injured his right hand in Saturday’s win. The senior signal-caller sprained two fingers after hitting them on another player’s shoulder pads while following through on a pass attempt, but Fitzgerald said he is fine. (Read more from Fitzgerald’s weekly press conference on our Cats’ Corner blog here.)
Senior wide receiver Eric Peterman offered his take on the injuries.
“They’re going to be fine,” Peterman said. “You get bumps, you get dings. That’s what football is, a contact sport. But they’re going to be fine.”
No Rhythm, No Rhyme
Fitzgerald said he was impressed with the defense’s ability to play as a unit. The same cannot be said of the offense.
“We had a number of one-man breakdowns that led to a lack of execution, especially in the third quarter,” he said. “That cannot happen for us to be successful, especially in Iowa City.”
With Sutton on the sidelines, NU’s offense could not find a rhythm in the second half against Ohio.
The Cats did not register a first down in the third quarter while posting 80 yards of offense in the second half.
“When there’s 11 guys on the field, we need 11 people to do their job,” Peterman said. “And it doesn’t work if 10 guys are doing their job and one guy’s not. It was a different guy each time, which makes it tough to point your finger where the problem is.”
While Fitzgerald said 54 percent of the plays in the second half resulted in a gain of one yard or less, he still had confidence in the offense.
“It’s scary that we still haven’t played to our potential yet,” Fitzgerald said. “And that’s what’s encouraging to me.”
Offensive Line Impressive
If there was one question mark facing the Cats’ offense entering the 2008 campaign, it was the offensive line. While NU returned eight starters on offense, the three missing links could be found in the trenches.
Still, the Cats’ front five has surrendered just two sacks in four games. And despite only one starter having significant playing experience, the group does not consider itself unproven.
“We’ve learned a lot from the tape,” senior left guard Keegan Kennedy said. “We’re starting to look at the O-line as not being inexperienced anymore. We’ve got four games under our belt, summer under our belt. We’re not trying to use that mentality anymore.”
Senior kicker Amado Villarreal and redshirt freshman defensive end Vince Browne earned Big Ten Player of the Week honors. Villarreal won Special Teams Player of the Week after scoring 10 points on three field goals, including a season-long 46-yard boot. Browne totaled three sacks, a blocked field goal, a forced fumble, a quarterack hurry and seven tackles as the Cats’ defense allowed only four rushing yards against the Bobcats.
Iowa leads the all-time series with NU 46-20-3 with a commanding 23-7 record in Iowa City. It will be the Cats’ first trip to Kinnick Stadium since Fitzgerald earned his first Big Ten win as a head coach in 2006.
Saturday’s game will be broadcast on ESPN Classic with kickoff scheduled for 11 a.m. CT to a national cable audience. Dave Lamont and Shaun King will be on the call.