Good day for NU

Brian Chappatta

It could be a good day or a bad day for the Northwestern rushing attack when senior quarterback Mike Kafka is the team’s eighth leading rusher.

Saturday was a good day.

In a game that was essentially decided after one quarter, the Wildcats leaned heavily on their running attack to seal the game. Junior running back Stephen Simmons got the start and record a team-high 18 carries, rushing for 77 yards.

But it was the players behind him on the depth chart that made the biggest splash. Freshman Arby Fields ran six times for 48 yards and two touchdowns. Both touchdowns came in the first quarter. Fields’ carries were limited because of cramping that sidelined him for a large part of the game.

Fortunately for the Cats, who experienced their fair share of running back injuries last season, Fields said he felt fine after the game and attributed the cramps to not hydrating well enough Friday night. Sophomore Jeravin Matthews was also injured during the game and did not return. Coach Pat Fitzgerald did not have an updated injury report after the game to comment on Matthews’ injury.

Sophomore Scott Concannon had seven carries for 32 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Fellow sophomore Jacob Schmidt was used primarily as a short yardage back, and rushed four times for 18 yards and a touchdown.

Fitzgerald said he was encouraged by the unit’s depth and plans to continue rotating players at the position.

“We’ve got a good stable of guys that we can roll in there and stay fresh,” Fitzgerald said. “They all have different strengths. (Running backs coach) Matt McPherson and (offensive coordinator) Mick McCall are doing a good job trying to utilize what they do well.”

Kafka said the ability to play multiple runners makes it more difficult to plan against the NU offense.

“It puts the defense in a bind,” Kafka said. “We’ve got fresh guys coming in that can run the ball real hard and real well. That rotation that we’ve got is pretty good.

“If we can have fresh legs out there every play, it’s going to be tough for a defense, especially with our tempo, to keep up.”


Junior kicker Stefan Demos’ first game handling all three phases of the kicking game got off to an inauspicious start when he sent the opening kickoff out of bounds near the 20-yard line.

Rather than letting the misfire affect him rest of the game, Demos quickly moved past it after meeting with Fitzgerald.

“He’d probably like to have that opening kickoff back,” Fitzgerald said. “He just came off and said, ‘Well, there we go, that’s my one for the year.’ He’s just grown up. He’s matured so well.”

Demos punted the ball only once on the day, while kicking off seven times. He also made the first field goal of his career from 26 yards.

Redshirt freshman place kicker Steve Flaherty handled kickoff duties once, and booted the ball 70 yards for a touchback.


You can count Fitzgerald among the major supporters of the sportsmanship initiative developed for this weekend’s games by the American Football Coaches Association and the NCAA.

You can also count him among those appalled by the actions of Oregon running back LeGarrette Blount, who was suspended for the remainder of the year after throwing a punch following the team’s loss to Boise State on Thursday night.

“That young man made a poor choice, and he’s going to pay dearly,” Fitzgerald said. “There’s no need for that in our game. There was no need for the initiation of the contact, either, that enacted the swing.”

Fitzgerald used the incident as a teaching mechanism for his players, reminding them at the end of their walkthrough: “That’s how your life can change.”


NU’s 47 points are the most in a season opener since it defeated DePauw 62-0 in 1944, and the team’s 37 first-half points were the most in an opening half since it scored 41 in the first half against Wake Forest on in 1991. … The Wildcats’ five rushing touchdowns are the most in a single game since they scored six against Navy in 2002. … Dan Persa’s 72-yard TD pass was NU’s longest since C.J. Bachér tossed a 78-yarder to Jeff Yarbrough against Michigan State in 2007.