Gameday: Ebert critical to picture-perfect passing game

Colin Becht

Trailing by eight in the fourth quarter to Minnesota, Northwestern needed a score badly. On third down at the Minnesota 25-yard line, the Golden Gophers sent a heavy blitz package on junior quarterback Dan Persa , who was forced to hurry a lob to junior wide receiver Jeremy Ebert.

Never mind that the ball appeared ready to fall into the hands of cornerback Ryan Collado. Persa didn’t have to worry. He knew Ebert would make the play.

“It was basically him versus (Collado),” Persa said. “I took my chances with (Ebert).”

In Persa’s eyes, it was no surprise when Ebert snatched the ball out of Collado’s waiting grasp for a touchdown.

The chemistry and trust in one another that Ebert and Persa have shown comes from the large amount of time the two have spent in the same passing offense.

“It started way back last fall when we were on scout team together,” Ebert said. “We just grew through that.”

Midway through the season, Ebert has unquestionably been Persa’s go-to receiver, catching 35 passes for 560 yards and five touchdowns, all team highs.

“We did a lot of work (together), and it’s showing on the field right now,” Persa said.

After serving on the scout team at the beginning of last season, Ebert has come a long way to fill the role of primary receiver.

“He’s gotten much stronger,” coach Pat Fitzgerald said. “He’s done a great job in the weight room. He’s really dedicated himself.”

Ebert, who came to the Wildcats not specifically as a receiver but as an athlete, said his progression has come from an increasing knowledge of “just being a wideout, running routes, doing all the little things that wideouts do.”

Persa said Ebert’s experience as a quarterback in high school is part of what makes him such an effective receiver now.

“He just knows the game really well,” Persa said. “He knows where to be. He knows what defenses are trying to do to him, and he knows how to find all the holes.”

Although Ebert’s development into the go-to receiver may spark comparisons to Zeke Markshausen, NU’s primary receiver last year, Ebert doesn’t see it that way.

“We’ve just been playing by our offense and our concepts,” Ebert said. “Dan’s just hitting the open receivers, and lately it’s been me.”

One major difference between Ebert and Markshausen is that while both led the team in receptions, Markshausen averaged just 9.4 yards per reception. Reflecting Ebert’s big play potential, he’s averaging 16 yards per catch.

Ebert’s speed out of the slot led junior safety Brian Peters to compare him to the Indianapolis Colts’ Anthony Gonzalez. Persa chose Wes Welker of the New England Patriots as his comparison.

“He’s just a quick playmaker inside,” Persa said. “He knows how to run good routes.”

Fitzgerald said he’s fine with opponents cueing in on the “lethal combination” of Persa and Ebert.

“I hope they allocate a lot to him because we’ve got a lot more weapons than just Jeremy,” Fitzgerald said. “So if that’s all you do is focus on him, then we’ve got a chance to slice you and dice you a little bit.”

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