Football: Concannon moves up depth chart before tilt with Penn State

Danny Daly

As a reward for his strong play in Northwestern’s win over Indiana, Scott Concannon vaulted to the top of the running back depth chart this week. The sophomore, who averaged 4.6 yards per carry against the Hoosiers, was the fourth-string tailback before last Saturday.

“We’ve been by committee all year – I don’t know how many different combinations that we’ve had,” coach Pat Fitzgerald said Monday in his weekly press conference. “We’re just trying to get positive yards. (Concannon) played really well in protection, he ran the ball hard, saw the seams were there and took advantage of them.”

Concannon has battled concussions this season and last played in the loss to Syracuse more than a month ago. At the start of last week, Concannon was behind junior Stephen Simmons and sophomore Jacob Schmidt, but both missed the game with ankle injuries despite being listed as probable.

True freshman Arby Fields was also listed ahead of Concannon, though Fields has been ineffective recently. Concannon’s first rush came on the Wildcats’ second drive, and he gained 45 of his 73 yards in the fourth quarter to help cap off the comeback victory.

In other depth chart-related news, NU is hopeful senior cornerback Sherrick McManis will recover in time for this weekend’s tilt with Penn State. McManis missed two games earlier this year with a leg injury, which he re-aggravated against Indiana, limiting him to only one half of action.

“He moved around a little bit today in our warm-up,” Fitzgerald said. “He’s got an injury that he’s been battling all year, and he’s trying like heck to get healthy. Unfortunately, it didn’t respond very well in the second half.”

Redshirt freshman Ricky Weina, a walk-on, replaced McManis after intermission and made key plays down the stretch. Weina blocked a punt and was credited with one pass break-up.

Fitzgerald would not hesitate to give Weina substantial playing time against the Nittany Lions, if necessary.

“He’s a great student of the game,” Fitzgerald said. “He understands what we’re doing conceptually, and he just went out and played with discipline and played a really clean game.”

Redshirt freshman cornerback Demetrius Dugar is slated to start if McManis cannot play, but Fitzgerald said that could change based on what he sees in practice.

VANDERLINDEN RETURNS TO EVANSTON

Fans familiar with the Cats’ glory days in the mid-1990s should recognize a name on coach Joe Paterno’s coaching staff: Ron Vanderlinden, the defensive coordinator for NU’s back-to-back Big Ten champions. Vanderlinden has been Penn State’s linebackers coach since 2001, the year after he was fired from Maryland. He was the Terrapins’ head coach for four years and recruited the nucleus of the squad that won the 2001 Atlantic Coast Conference title.

In addition, Vanderlinden broke Fitzgerald into the coaching profession by making him a graduate assistant in 1998.

“There’s a lot that I owe to him,” Fitzgerald said. “I sent him a text last night saying I looked forward to seeing him and I wished his team didn’t look as good on tape as they did.”

Fitzgerald is not Vanderlinden’s only connection to NU’s coaches – he also worked with defensive coordinator Mike Hankwitz from 1985-1991.

“He was on the staff at Colorado when Hank was the coordinator and he was an assistant coach,” Fitzgerald said. “So actually, Vandy learned a lot of his defensive philosophies from Hank.”

Two of the linebackers Vanderlinden is currently mentoring, senior Sean Lee and junior Navorro Bowman, were preseason candidates for the Butkus Award. Lee was recently named a semifinalist for the honor, and Fitzgerald called the Nittany Lions’ linebacking core “as deep as we’ve seen.”

UNDER THE LIGHTS

For the first time this season, Ryan Field will host a game that doesn’t start at 11 a.m. Saturday’s kickoff is scheduled for 3:30 p.m., and the contest will be televised by ESPN. NU faces its first ranked foe, as Penn State was 12th in the most recent BCS standings.

“There’s always something about night games that makes it special for our players,” Fitzgerald said. “Most of them play night games in high school. A lot of times when you play at night, you’ve got an opportunity to go down memory lane a little bit to Friday night football.”

Fitzgerald encouraged the student body to follow the lead of his sons and attend the game decked out in Halloween costumes.

“Jack’s going as Luke Skywalker, little Ryan is going to be Darth Vader and Brendan is going to be Yoda,” Fitzgerald said. “How about our Wildcats fans follow their lead? …You’ve got a bunch of days to be students, why not party like a rock star on Saturdays in the fall?”[email protected]