NCF Nation: Jamal Womble
How the game was won: Five Arkansas State turnovers doomed the Red Wolves, who couldn’t find a way to consistently generate any offensive production after the first quarter. NIU’s defense did a great job disrupting ASU quarterback Ryan Aplin, who threw three interceptions and couldn’t get in sync with his offense without Frampton.
Turning point: NIU running back Jamal Womble, all 5-11, 247-pounds of him, barreled into the end zone as time expired in the first half to give the Huskies a 21-13 lead at the break. And it came on fourth-and-goal at the 1-yard line. Gutsy call after Arkansas State gave the ball to the Huskies on a muffed punt, then a roughing the punter call kept the drive alive to set up the score.
Star of the game: Spectacular night for NIU wide receiver Martel Moore, who caught eight balls for 225 yards – a whopping 28.1 yards per catch average – and a touchdown.
Play of the game: Taylor Stockemer’s leaping, one-handed 16-yard touchdown reception on fourth-and-four was just fantastic. Aplin heaved up it up with 11:12 left in the game, which cut NIU’s lead to 31-20. It made the fourth quarter a little more interesting, at least until Dechane Durante’s 36-yard pick-six with 8:20 left in the game to put NIU ahead 38-20.
Unsung hero: How about NIU backup quarterback Jordan Lynch filling in on the spot for Harnish in the second quarter? The backup QB goes 4-for-4 and engineers a seven-play, 78-yard touchdown drive that ended with him finding the end zone on an athletic 3-yard run. The score kept NIU's momentum going in Harnish's absence and put the Huskies ahead 14-13.
Stat of the game: 24 points off of five turnovers for the Huskies.
Record performance: For the 19 NIU seniors, it's their 35th win -- the most of any class in school history. The 11 wins this season matches the school record of 11 wins set last season.
2010 conference record: 8-0 (West champs, lost in MAC title game)
Offense: 9, defense: 4, punter/kicker: 1
QB Chandler Harnish, DE Sean Progar, DB Tommy Davis
RB Chad Spann, DE Jake Coffman, LB Alex Kube
2010 statistical leaders (* denotes returners)
Rushing: Spann (1,388 yards, 22 TDs)
Passing: Harnish*(189-of-292 for 2,530 yards, 21 TDs, 5 INT)
Receiving: Willie Clark* (602 yards, 7 TDs)
Tackles: Kube (81)
Sacks: Coffman (9.5)
Interceptions: T. Clark* (four)
1. Depth at receiver: Four of the team’s five leading receivers return, giving Harnish plenty of options. Perez Ashford had a nice spring, catching six passes for 70 yards in the spring game. Martel Moore caught the long pass of the game, a 57-yarder from Harnish. Da'Ron Brown and even converted quarterback DeMarcus Grady add plenty more.
2. Jasmin Hopkins atop the running back depth chart: The Huskies have some big shoes to fill with the departure of Spann, the MAC player of the year. There are plenty of candidates between Hopkins, Jamal Womble, Akeem Daniels and Leighton Settle, but Hopkins was the most consistent in the spring.
3. Harnish looks good: The Huskies didn’t implement their entire offense in the spring, but Huskies fans shouldn’t worry even if there is more of a no-huddle look under new coach Dave Doeren. Harnish picked up where he left off last season and had the spring everyone expected. He goes into the fall as the top choice for preseason offensive player of the year.
1. Doeren adjusts: No matter how much talent returns to the team, how it will play under a new coach and coaching staff will be a question mark until the season begins. Doeren has never been a head coach before, so there could be some bumps along the way.
2. Running back rotation: The Huskies have always been a team that relied on their running game. There is plenty of depth without Spann, but there are still questions about how Doeren is going to balance that depth. Will there be one player consistent enough to take the majority of the carries or will the Huskies be employing a running back by committee?
3. Defensive line, middle linebacker still undecided: With Devon Butler sidelined for the season, expect tough competition for the starting job between Mike Hellams, Cameron Stingley and Victor Jacques. The Huskies also have to replace their sack leader and emotional leader in Jake Coffman. Joe Windsor, Alan Baxter and Stephen O'Neal are in the mix.
With Chad Spann gone, the competition to replace him at running back has been intense. But as the Huskies prepare for their spring game Saturday, there is no clear-cut front-runner for the job.
Jasmin Hopkins, Jamal Womble and Akeem Daniels are all in the mix to become the starter. Coach Dave Doeren said there will be plenty more competition to be had at that spot come the fall. For now, the three are working on consistency, a key word Hopkins and Womble reiterated in separate telephone interviews this week.
“There couldn’t be a better situation for me,” said Womble, who enrolled at Northern Illinois in January out of Hutchinson (Kan.) Community College. “With Chad leaving, there are huge shoes to fill, and there will be a lot of pressure. But as a competitor, you want that pressure.”
Hopkins and Daniels were on the team last season and watched Spann dominate, rushing for 1,388 yards and a school single-season record 22 touchdowns en route to MAC Offensive Player of the Year honors and the MAC Vern Smith Leadership Award.
But then Womble entered the picture. A former four-star running back out of high school in Arizona, he initially signed with North Carolina. He broke his wrist his redshirt freshman season there and then ran into academic troubles, so he transferred to Hutchinson.
Then-coach Jerry Kill offered him a scholarship, and Womble was set to accept. But then Kill abruptly resigned to become head coach at Minnesota and Northern Illinois was out. What changed his mind? Tom Matukewicz was recruiting him, and he stayed on staff. Then he started thinking about what Doeren brings to the Huskies.
Doeren served as the defensive coordinator at Wisconsin, a traditional power run team that used three running backs last season in John Clay, Montee Ball and James White. Those three combined for 3,060 yards and 46 touchdowns in 2010. Clay and White each had more than 1,000 yards, while Ball finished 4 yards shy of reaching 1,000.
“Coach Doeren said nothing was going to change,” Womble said. “He said he would still run the ball and be a hard-nosed team.”
When Womble arrived, he was embraced by the other running backs even though he was their main competition. “There’s been no hostility, and that’s something I’ve appreciated since Day 1,” Womble said. “I didn’t know how people would react to me because there was hype. I came from a bigger school and maybe guys thought I would be coming in there taking their job. But it hasn’t been like that.”
Womble is a different type of running back than Hopkins and Daniels, bringing more power. Hopkins and Daniels are much quicker. But they have the advantage of playing experience at Northern Illinois. Hopkins is the top returning running back on the roster, with 366 yards and two touchdowns.
For Hopkins, the transition to yet another coaching staff has been tough. He also played at junior college in Kansas before arriving at Northern Illinois last year. But he learned enough from Spann to help him headed into this spring even though there are new coaches and new terminology.
“Being patient is one of the main things because when I first got here, I was seeing one thing and running sideline to sideline,” Hopkins said. “But in D-I, linemen and linebackers are just as fast as you so you can’t do that. He also taught me better technique that I had never learned before. I put it all together and it made me into a better player. I’m having a way better spring than I had last year.”
Chandler Harnish returns as quarterback, giving the Huskies yet another threat to run the football. With so many options, it appears the Huskies are in good shape headed into the fall, even without Spann leading the way.
“The competition has made us better,” Hopkins said. “We all know the starting job is open. Whoever is most consistent is going to play.”
Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich
You got to know some of them better than others this spring, but all of the following newcomers (in no particular order) established themselves as players' whose names you should remember come fall:
Virginia Tech TB Ryan Williams -- He quickly earned the spotlight with an 80-yard run on the first carry of his first spring scrimmage. In the spring game he had 10 carries for 85 yards, and two receptions for 66 yards, including a 56-yard touchdown on a middle screen.
Boston College TE Chris Pantale -- The 6-foot-5, 238-pound redshirt freshman from Wayne, N.J., had five catches for 45 yards - including a long of 17 yards in the spring game.
Florida State DE Brandon Jenkins -- He made plays every day, and probably had the most sacks of any of the Noles this spring. He also was constantly in the backfield. He probably won't start but may help replace some of the sacks Everette Brown took with him.
Maryland LB Demetrius Hartsfield -- The redshirt freshman is expected to be the starting Will linebacker in 2009. He's quick, athletic, and big enough (230 pounds) to be effective in the run game and yet fast enough to cover receivers coming out of the backfield. He was in the two-deep the second half of last season and nearly played, but held his redshirt. He ended a solid spring with seven tackles for the White team in the spring game.
UNC TB Jamal Womble -- He's a powerful runner built low to the ground who earned the No. 3 spot behind Shaun Draughn and Ryan Houston. He was the leading rusher in the spring game with 50 yards on seven carries and caught three passes for 12 yards. He proved this spring he could give the starters a breather.
UNC LB Zach Brown -- He reportedly ran a 4.26 with the strength and conditioning staff last week. He will be the starter at outside linebacker now that Quan Sturdivant has moved inside to middle.
Duke QB Sean Renfree -- He earned the confidence of coach David Cutcliffe and some playing time this fall with his strong performance this spring behind starter Thaddeus Lewis. Renfree threw for 210 yards and two touchdowns in the spring game.
Virginia WR Kris Burd and DB Rodney McLeod -- They're two players who showed the potential for breakout seasons. Burd saw action in all 12 games last year but caught only seven passes. With Kevin Ogletree gone, odds are that number increases.
McLeod was a true freshman last year and played almost exclusively in the nickel/dime packages from scrimmage. This year he's likely to be a starter at safety. He has great athleticism to complement h his football instincts.
Georgia Tech RB/SB Anthony Allen -- The junior transfer from Louisville is almost certain to figure into the crowded backfield this fall. He and Embry Peeples led all rushers in the spring game with 69 yards each.
Georgia Tech DL T.J. Barnes -- With three starters gone from last year's nine-win season, Barnes proved this spring he could become a dependable replacement. He had eight tackles, two tackles-for-loss and a forced fumble in the spring game.
Clemson QB Kyle Parker -- The dual sport athlete juggled his baseball responsibilities while competing with Willy Korn for the starting job, and wowed Tigers fans with his performance in the spring game. He completed 13-21 passes for 171 yards and a score, and also ran for a score.
NC State QB Mike Glennon -- He showed significant improvement this season and took advantage of the fact that starter Russell Wilson dedicated half of his spring to baseball. Glennon was 28-46 for 338 yards and three touchdowns with one interception in the spring game.
Wake Forest corner Kenny Okoro -- He's a long, tall athlete with the potential to replace Alphonso Smith. He made play after play this spring, tackles well and handles calls well. He'll continue to battle with Josh Bush this summer, but at the minimum will be used as a nickle back.
Miami WR Kendal Thompkins -- He's a smaller, speedy deep threat who caught two passes for 45 yards and has the potential to truly separate himself from the crowded group of receivers.
Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich
Spring ball is over. Spring meetings are over. Some positions have been won, others are still up for grabs. Let's see how the past two months shook up the pre-spring power rankings:
|John David Mercer/US Presswire|
|Virginia Tech's Tyrod Taylor (5) returns after throwing for 1,036 yards last season.|
1. Virginia Tech -- The Hokies stayed at the top, as they improved up front and solved their backup quarterback question. Ryan Williams also made a name for himself this spring and proved more than capable of adding to an already talented backfield. Kicker might be the biggest question.
2. NC State -- The development of Mike Glennon gives the Wolfpack a dependable backup, and the defense has continued the progress it was making in the last half of the season. Tailback Toney Baker's return will give the offense another boost. NC State has answers in all three phases of the game heading into Tom O'Brien's third season.
3. Florida State -- The offensive line and the young, talented running backs are going to carry this team. Backup quarterback E.J. Manuel didn't practice, the suspension of Rod Owens was another hit to an already troubled receiving corps, and Corey Surrency was denied another year of eligibility.
4. Georgia Tech -- The Jackets still have too many questions up front on both sides of the ball, and injuries this spring on the offensive line didn't help matters. All of their skill players return, but legitimate concerns remain about how well they'll fare in the trenches.
5. Miami -- The Hurricanes made progress and Jacory Harris has become a true leader. They also picked up a new tight end in Jimmy Graham and named a backup quarterback in Taylor Cook (at least for now). It's still a young team, though, and Miami has two new coordinators, including its third defensive coordinator in as many seasons.
6. North Carolina -- The young receivers still remain a huge question, as does the durability of quarterback T.J. Yates. Jamal Womble, the third-string running back, will be a strong addition, and Greg Little stepped up at receiver, but the defense will be the strength of this team.
7. Clemson -- The roster is still loaded with talent, and the Tigers will be better up front, but they still don't know who their starting quarterback will be. They also need another receiver besides Jacoby Ford to step up. First-year defensive coordinator Kevin Steele will have the already-stingy defense looking even better.
8. Maryland -- Those within College Park were very excited about Don Brown's new defensive scheme, and there were nine young wide receivers who each had their impressive moments. Can senior quarterback Chris Turner be more consistent, and how will the Terps fare in the equivalent of a 10 p.m. ET kickoff (at Cal)?
9. Wake Forest -- The Demon Deacons found a few answers on defense, but there's no substitute for game experience. This should be a breakout year for Riley Skinner, and several options emerged at wide receiver. They have to keep Skinner healthy, and the Deacs have an offensive line capable of it.
10. Duke -- The Blue Devils have one of the best quarterbacks in the ACC, and Thaddeus Lewis became more confident in the young receivers he was throwing to as the spring progressed. The return of Re'quan Boyette will make the offense a little scarier. Linebacker Vincent Rey has made tremendous physical strides.
11. Boston College -- There's still no answer at quarterback, and the Eagles suffered the devastating news that ACC Defensive Player of the Year Mark Herzlich has cancer. BC still has an excellent supporting cast, but nobody to lead it.
12. Virginia -- The Cavaliers lost a lot of talent on both sides of the ball, and are in the midst of a huge transition phase offensively. That's not to say there aren't any playmakers on the roster, and Gregg Brandon was an excellent hire as offensive coordinator, but progress this spring was slow.
Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- There is an unwavering sense of confidence that's easy to pick up on in Kenan Stadium, and it starts at the top. The players and staff talk about coach Butch Davis like he's got all the answers and a foolproof plan to elevate the program to a championship-caliber level.
These guys aren't afraid to get after each other in practice and try new things, throw the ball a little differently. They're really pushing the competition, and bringing in some top-notch players so that when, say, the entire receiving corps needs to be replaced, there's not a sense of panic. (Speaking of which, Josh Adams does NOT look like a freshman. He's tall, and lean and strong, but he's still learning and T.J. Yates has to hit him in the numbers).
"It's the culture coach Davis brings," offensive coordinator John Shoop said. "Everything is a competition."
The quarterbacks rave about Shoop, who can be seen in a full-sprint from one of the practice fields to another.
From the first to the second year under Davis, the Tar Heels became a smarter football team and played better situational ball. They improved on third downs and in the red zone last year. Two areas they're still looking for significant improvement in are two-minute situations and ball security.
"We practice purposely," Shoop said. "We don't just go out there and run plays. We know this is third down now. Everybody knows. We've got to do a little better two-minute wise. We've got to do a lot better holding on to the football. We coach a heck of a lot in terms of ball security with everybody that carries it. If we just eliminate some of those fumbles the last third of the year, we win some of those games. That's something we have to coach better and our players have to take more seriously.
"We're not careless with the ball, but we have to keep it high and tight every time. We don't throw careless interceptions, and we don't carry it loose, but we can do better."
Shoop said he expects the running game to be "a lot better." He seemed excited about freshman Jamal Womble from Arizona. He's a short, stocky player who looks like a powerful runner. Womble finished his senior season with 1,787 yards and 21 touchdowns on 170 carries, setting his high school's career and season rushing records. He also set a school record with five touchdowns in one game.
"We have a chance to be as strong as we've ever been there," he said. "Conceptually our entire offense has the concepts down. They know what's married to what -- the play-action pass that goes with the misdirection -- they totally get it. We can make the same things look different and different things look the same. We can do it. That's going to help us."