Notebook: Wind wreaks havoc on Demos’ punts, kickoff returns

Danny Daly

Before Saturday’s game, winds of 15 mph were swirling around Ryan Field, with gusts of up to 25 mph. Northwestern’s special teams unit felt the effects early and often.

In the middle of the second quarter, the Wildcats faced fourth-and-three and sent out the punting unit. But punter Stefan Demos could not catch the snap, and Penn State’s linemen broke through before he managed to get a kick away.

Realizing the situation, senior superback Mark Woodsum took off upfield. Demos found him for a nine-yard gain and a new set of downs.

“I just dropped the snap,” Demos said. “The wind was kind of messing with it a little bit. Luckily Mark did a really good job of adjusting. I was able to get a little shovel pass-off, but that was the farthest thing from a called fake.”

At least it was a better result than Demos’ previous pass attempt this season. In a win against Miami (OH), a botched snap on an extra point led to Demos trying to pick up the two-point conversion by throwing underhanded. That floater was picked off, though Demos made a tackle to ensure the defender did not run the interception back the other way for two points.

The kickoff return was another challenge. The Cats dropped three of the seven they received – one slipped through the hands of junior Stephen Simmons in the first half, while sophomore Jeravin Matthews mishandled back-to-back kickoffs in the fourth quarter. While Simmons swiftly caught the ball on the bounce and ran it into Penn State territory, Matthews’ two mistakes pinned NU’s offense inside its own 20-yard line.

The changing direction of the wind made field goals hard to judge, too.

“I still can’t tell you – I have no idea what it was doing,” Demos said. “The first field goal, it started right down the middle and then, all of the sudden, you see (the wind) taking it off to the right and the flags (on top of the uprights) blowing left.”

Demos made that attempt, from 34 yards away, as well as a 45-yard kick as time expired in the first half. In between the two makes, he had a field goal blocked for the second consecutive week. Penn State defensive end Jared Odrick got a hand on Demos’ 37-yard try as it was still climbing.

Though the conditions were difficult, the Nittany Lions were not plagued by problems in the kicking or return games like the Cats were.

“They played in the same wind that we did, and we’ve just got to make some more plays,” Demos said.

MCMANIS A LATE SCRATCHListed as questionable for Saturday’s game, cornerback Sherrick McManis was unable to contribute against Penn State. A leg injury that has hampered the senior captain for most of the season sidelined him at the end of the first half in his previous game, and it did not heal enough during the week.

“Sherrick was a game-time decision,” senior safety Brad Phillips said. “Whatever was bothering him wasn’t feeling too well. Obviously when you want to go, you want to be able to go 100 percent.”

McManis also missed two contests earlier in the year, against Eastern Michigan and Syracuse. The Cats dropped to 1-2 in games without their top corner.

Meanwhile, sophomore Ricky Weina made the first start of his career and held his own. Weina was credited with a pass breakup, his second in two weeks, when he stepped in front of a pass intended for wide receiver Graham Zug in the end zone. That forced the Nittany Lions to settle for a field goal.

“He did pretty well,” Phillips said. “He did his job. From what I saw, he made a couple of plays and was in the right place at the right time. I didn’t expect any less because of the way he played in practice this week.”

Weina was NU’s ninth different starter in the secondary this year and the 20th different one for the defense as a whole.

SMITH AND VAUGHN RETURN TO ACTIONFor the first time in weeks, the Cats’ hobbled secondary had the services of two familiar faces. Senior safety Brendan Smith, who had missed time with a broken thumb, played against the Nittany Lions with a cast on his hand. And after a leg injury kept him out of NU’s last five games, junior cornerback Justan Vaughn took the field and filled in for Jordan Mabin in the fourth quarter after the sophomore left with an injury.

“It looked like Justan was pretty active in the kicking game,” coach Pat Fitzgerald said. “Smitty, when he was out there, played pretty well. I can’t say they jumped out and made any big plays, but they went out there and gave us a chance to win.”[email protected]