Chicago Colleges: spring games 12

Northwestern spring game recap

April, 16, 2012
4/16/12
5:43
PM CT
Our Big Ten spring game recaps roll on with Northwestern's spring exhibition, which took place Saturday at Ryan Field.

Check out recaps here and here and here. Here's the full stat sheet from the scrimmage.

Star of the game: Redshirt freshman defensive end Deonte Gibson capped a strong spring with 2.5 tackles for loss, including two "sacks."

How it went down: Rather than split into teams, Northwestern's offense went against the defense and the defense prevailed 47-43, thanks to a modified scoring system.

Northwestern's defense has struggled for the past season and a half, but the unit stepped up Saturday, recording six sacks and eight tackles for loss. The line had a big performance as four players contributed sacks, and defensive tackle Chance Carter returned an interception 19 yards for a touchdown, which earned the defense 17 points.

"It should be a pick-17 every time -- especially for a defensive tackle," Carter joked.

The defense recorded two takeaways and limited third-down conversions (6 of 18) -- a major problem last season.

"That side of the ball ... was very grateful for the negative comments about them," head coach Pat Fitzgerald said. "They've used that as fuel. As they said at the start of the spring, 'We deserve it. We didn't play very well last year at times.' What are you going to do about it? How are you going to respond? That's something we value here and they've taken that external motivation a little bit to really band together."

While the defensive line surged, the offensive line struggled to protect the pocket or generate a rushing attack. Top quarterback Kain Colter completed 7 of 12 passes for only 56 yards and took five sacks, and the unit finished with just 47 net rush yards on 36 carries. The running back spot looks wide open entering the summer, as Mike Trumpy returns from knee surgery and two freshmen enter the mix.

Fitzgerald didn't seem too concerned with Colter's performance, saying, "Maybe today's snapshot might not be his best practice of the spring, but he's done a really good job throughout." Backup Trevor Siemian appeared to help his cause, completing 8 of 14 passes for 119 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions. Redshirt freshman receiver Cam Dickerson ended a nice spring with three receptions for 61 yards.

Fitzgerald had the position coaches, rather than the coordinators, call plays during the scrimmage, calling it a professional growth opportunity. The team got some good news off the field as decorated quarterback recruit Matt Alviti verbally committed after the scrimmage.

Northwestern had several young defenders emerge this spring and should feel better about the defense entering the summer. Running back and offensive line are areas that need improvement, and Colter still has some strides to make as he becomes a full-time starting quarterback in the Big Ten.

Illinois spring game recap

April, 16, 2012
4/16/12
5:43
PM CT
We're recapping all of the Big Ten spring games that took place Saturday. Let's check out how the Orange and Blue Game went down in Champaign.

You can read coverage of Illinois' spring game here and here and here. Here's the full stat sheet.

Star of the game: Redshirt freshman running back Josh Ferguson rushed for 130 yards -- including scampers of 20, 18 and 68 yards -- on 20 carries, and added a game-high six receptions for the victorious Blue squad. Defensive end Michael Buchanan earns a mention after racking up 12 tackles, including 4.5 "sacks."

How it went down: The run game and defense lifted the Blue squad to a 13-12 victory against the Orange team. Nick Immekus kicked a 47-yard field goal with 1:22 left in the game, and Justin Staples sealed the win with a sack of Nathan Scheelhaase.

"Come Monday, they'll be having steaks and we'll be having beans and weenies," Scheelhaase, who suffered his first spring game loss, told reporters. "Which means Chipotle can probably expect a lot of business from the Orange squad."

Mmmm, Chipotle.

Not surprisingly, there was a mix of good and bad as the Illini wrapped up their first spring session under new head coach Tim Beckman. Buchanan had a huge day and looks like the clear successor to All-America defensive end Whitney Mercilus, who led the nation in sacks in 2011 (16). Staples also had a nice performance, and the defense made plenty of big plays. Ferguson's performance also bodes well as Illinois lacks depth at running back and wants multiple options.

On the flip side, the offensive line struggled to keep pass-rushers out of the backfield. Quarterback play also was spotty -- Scheelhaase completed just 11 of 26 passes; Reilly O'Toole completed 19 of 31 attempts, but took four sacks -- although lousy weather made it a tough day to throw.

The Illini could get some contributions from players they're auditioning in multiple roles. Starting cornerback Terry Hawthorne caught a 29-yard touchdown pass from O'Toole, and cornerback Justin Green had a 15-yard run. Reserve quarterback Miles Osei caught four passes, although he fared well as a signal caller, completing 8 of 12 pass attempts.

Illinois' defense looks strong coming out of the spring, and its front seven should be one of the Big Ten's best. Offense clearly is the priority entering the summer months as players continue to learn a new system.

"We got to get better, but not just at quarterback," Beckman said. "That's the one that's always looked at. That's the one that’s always critiqued. [But it's] every position. If we want to be a champion, and we have the capabilities of doing that, we need to step our game up this summer and in two-a-days."

Spring game preview: Illinois

April, 13, 2012
4/13/12
2:51
PM CT
Seven Big Ten teams hold their spring games Saturday, and we're taking a closer look at each one of them.

Next up: The annual Orange and Blue Spring Game at Illinois. Here are all the vitals:

When: 3 p.m. ET (2 p.m. local time), Saturday

Where: Memorial Stadium

Admission: Free. All seating will be in the east stands. Free parking is available in the lots surrounding the stadium and Assembly Hall.

TV: The game will be streamed live on both BTN2Go and the Big Ten Digital Network. The Big Ten Network will broadcast the game on tape-delay at 7 p.m. ET Sunday.

Weather forecast: Partly cloudy with scattered thunderstorms possible, temperatures between 66-76 degrees, 50 percent chance of rain, winds at 19-20 mph.

What to watch for: Illinois should have one of the more entertaining spring games in the Big Ten. New head coach Tim Beckman said players will approach it "as if it's a real game." The team's seniors were divided into two groups and drafted teams earlier this week. The game will be played with a normal clock in the first half and a running clock in the second half (except if the game is close in the final two minutes). Another unique tidbit: Beckman will go into the stands and select Illinois students to call two plays per half for both teams.

Beckman wants to put on a show for the fans, who should get a decent sense of the new systems Illinois is using on both sides of the ball. The Illini are employing an up-tempo spread attack on offense, and it will be interesting to see how quarterbacks Nathan Scheelhaase and Reilly O'Toole are adjusting. There are depth issues at both wide receiver and running back, and Illinois is bolstering the spots with players such as Miles Osei, a reserve quarterback who could see time at both receiver and running back Saturday, and starting cornerback Terry Hawthorne, who will see time at receiver. Another defensive back, Justin Green, is being used as a running back. Top wideout Darius Millines (foot) is out, so plenty of others will have opportunities to make plays.

The changes aren't as dramatic on defense, as coordinator Tim Banks uses a similar scheme to his predecessor, Vic Koenning. Illinois looks very strong in the defensive front seven, and coaches have praised players such as Michael Buchanan, Jonathan Brown and Justin Staples. Safeties Supo Sanni and Steve Hull, both projected starters, are out for the game.

Spring game preview: Northwestern

April, 13, 2012
4/13/12
2:50
PM CT
We're getting you set for each of this weekend's seven Big Ten spring games with a short preview of every one.

Let's take a look at Northwestern's Spring Exhibition:

When: 1 p.m. ET, Saturday

Where: Ryan Field

Admission: Free

TV: The game will be streamed live on the Big Ten Digital Network and BTN2Go. The game will air on the Big Ten Network on Sunday at 9 p.m.

Weather forecast: A 60 percent chance of showers and thunderstorms, with a high near 70.

What to watch for: Defense, defense, defense. As in, will there be any?

You can't read too much into a defense's performance in a spring game, since it is going up against the same offense it has faced for weeks and knows the plays and opposing players. Still, Northwestern's defense last year, especially against the pass, was pretty crummy and has been a major focus in the 2012 offseason. So it's fair to hope for some signs of life and defensive playmakers in the spring game.

On offense, the passing game requires close examination. We know quarterback Kain Colter can run the ball, but can he throw it accurately and on time? The receiving corps loses Jeremy Ebert, but could be deeper overall, and USC transfer Kyle Prater can show off his stuff before a crowd before he finds out whether or not he can do it for real on Saturdays this fall.

The Wildcats have only 11 total starters back, so look for a lot of new faces on both sides of the ball. The spring game could give an indication of how optimistic Northwestern fans should be for their future.

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