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Field Hockey: Two Cats earn Big Ten honors, NU rises in polls

by Cole Paxton 0 Comments

Junior forward Pascale Massey was named Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week and freshman midfielder Saar de Breij was named Big Ten Freshman of the Week, the conference announced Tuesday. Separately, Northwestern moved to No. 6 in the NFHCA rankings, also released Tuesday.

Massey led the Wildcats with 3 total goals last weekend, helping NU beat both then-No. 4 Penn State and then-No. 6 Maryland. She scored the eventual game-winning goal in Friday’s 5-3 win over the Nittany Lions, then added both the opening goal and the winning score in Sunday’s 3-2 victory against the Terrapins.

It was a breakout weekend for Massey, who, despite starting every game this season on the forward line, had scored only 1 goal entering Friday. She had tallied just 3 goals in her first two seasons in Evanston, one of which was cut short by an injury.

de Breij, meanwhile, scored a goal in each game off the bench. Her Friday tally completed a 2-minute stretch in which the Cats scored 3 goals. On Sunday, she gave NU a brief 2-1 lead with an early second half score.

The Cats, who moved up five spots from No. 11 in the coaches poll, rose more than any other team this week. Penn State, now No. 5, remains ahead of NU despite the Cats’ head-to-head victory, though NU is now ranked above No. 8 Maryland. No. 9 Michigan is the fourth Big Ten team in the top 10.

Men’s Basketball: 2017-2018 home games to be played in Allstate Arena during Welsh-Ryan renovations

Men’s Basketball: 2017-2018 home games to be played in Allstate Arena during Welsh-Ryan renovations
(Source: Northwestern Athletics)

One Northwestern team has found a home during renovations to Welsh-Ryan Arena, as the athletic department announced in a release Tuesday that the men’s basketball team will play its home games in the 2017-2018 at Allstate Arena in Rosemont, Illinois.

The arena, which is a half-hour or more drive from the Wildcats’ Evanston campus, is the current host of DePaul’s basketball teams. With the Blue Demons planning to move into a new downtown arena in the fall of 2017, NU will temporarily take their place as Allstate Arena’s college basketball tenant.

Athletic department spokesman Paul Kennedy said venue size and proximity to Evanston were major factors in the decision to move 2017-2018 home games to Allstate Arena, which seats roughly 18,500. Additionally, he said that the arena’s past experience hosting college basketball games and its ability to commit to a number of necessary open dates played a part in the decision.

Tuesday’s announcement did not discuss arrangements for game-day transportation for students to the arena. Kennedy said providing transportation from Evanston for students is a priority, but a plan to do so isn’t in place yet.

Additionally, Kennedy said that details about plans for the other teams displaced by the renovations, the women’s basketball, volleyball and wrestling teams, will be made public soon.

In June, the athletic department announced plans for a “complete renovation” of Welsh-Ryan Arena, slated to cost roughly $110 million and take place from the end of the 2016-2017 basketball season until the fall of 2018.

This post has been updated with comment from Paul Kennedy.

Men’s Golf: Observations from a day at the Windon Memorial Classic

Men’s Golf: Observations from a day at the Windon Memorial Classic
(Lauren Duquette/Daily Senior Staffer)

Underneath the American flag and flag with the club’s logo, a purple-and-white Northwestern “N” flew over North Shore Country Club in Glenview, Illinois as the 20th annual Windon Memorial Classic began Sunday.

After completing two rounds on the first day of action, the Wildcats are in fourth place with a score of 2-over as a team and are lead by junior Dylan Wu, who finished the day tied for fifth, shooting 3-under in 36 holes.

The course at the North Shore Country Club hosted one U.S. Open in 1933, as well as the Western Open and the U.S. Amateur twice.

The tournament, which is free and open to the public, had an informal feel to it. There were no rope lines, meaning spectators were free to get close to the action — as long as they watch out for any stray balls. With sunny skies and temperatures in the 70s and 80s for much of the day, numerous purple-clad spectators came out to the course.

Players are responsible for carrying their own bags and report their scores to volunteers every three holes. The only people responsible for enforcing the rules are a few rules officials roving in golf carts spread over the 7,103 yard course.

On the manicured course, the primary sounds are of the thwack of drivers hitting golf balls, the slightly quieter sound of iron shots and the faint roar of occasional airplanes flying overhead.

The players are primarily competing against the course and not each other, meaning there is little antagonism shown to the other competitors in the three-person pairings. When Purdue’s Austin Eoff sunk a long iron shot for a birdie on the 10th hole of the first round, junior Dylan Wu acknowledged, “that was a sick shot.” Graduate transfer Conor Richardson was oddly paired with his former roommate from Florida, and the two were chatting throughout the round.

But just because the players are not in direct competition with one another does not mean passions could not be inflamed, as many players became visibly frustrated after bad shots or near misses. With one round remaining in the tournament, those feelings could be magnified tomorrow.

The third and final round of the tournament begins Monday morning.

Rapid Reaction: Nebraska 24, Northwestern 13

Rapid Reaction: Nebraska 24, Northwestern 13
(Jacob Swan/Daily Senior Staffer)

Northwestern just didn’t have enough on Saturday night.

Its offense struggled with efficiency, its defense struggled to get off the field, and No. 20 Nebraska’s offense, led by senior quarterback Tommy Armstrong, Jr., put up 556 total yards in a 24-13 Wildcats defeat.

The game started with a strange play on the Cornhuskers’ first drive, as Nebraska running back Terrell Newby broke free for a 49-yard run but fumbled the ball as he dove untouched for a touchdown. The ball rolled out of the back of the end zone, resulting in a touchback and NU possession.

The Cornhuskers eventually drew first blood, however, after nailing a 23-yard field goal to take a 3-0 opening lead early in the second. The Cats struck back, though, when Thorson got to the edge on a designed quarterback run and turned on the afterburners on a 42-yard touchdown to give NU a 7-3 lead.

That lead stood briefly after a goal-line stand ended with junior safety Godwin Igwebuike ripping the ball away from Nebraska running back Devine Ozigbo and the Cats recovering the fumble. But on the ensuing drive, the Cornhuskers finally broke through for a touchdown after a 59-yard reception by receiver Alonzo Moore set up a short Newby run for six. NU had a chance to tie with a 40-yard field goal at the end of the half but instead chose to attempt a fake, which was unsuccessful.

The Cats got the ball to start the second half, but a Thorson interception on a throw to the end zone stopped a promising drive. Nebraska marched back down the field on the next drive, and Armstrong hit on a four-yard touchdown pass to Cethan Carter on third down to take a 17-7 lead.

NU responded quickly, with Thorson hitting senior wideout Austin Carr for a 24-yard touchdown, but senior kicker Jack Mitchell missed the extra point, leaving the score at 17-13. Mitchell continued his nightmare start to the season after a missed field goal in the first quarter.

From there, Nebraska controlled the game, constantly finding holes in the Cats’ defense through the air and wearing it down on the ground. An end-around touchdown by receiver Jordan Westerkamp late in the third quarter gave Nebraska an insurmountable lead, as NU’s offense couldn’t find a way to score for the rest of the game.

Stats to know

Northwestern:

  • Thorson: 24-for-37, one touchdown, two interceptions; 10 carries for 43 yards and one touchdown.
  • Justin Jackson: 20 carries for 79 yards
  • Austin Carr: Career-high eight catches for 109 yards and one touchdown; 392 yards for the season is more than any NU receiver had in 2015
  • Igwebuike: 15 tackles, forced fumble
  • Mitchell: 0-for-1 on field goals, 1-for-2 on extra points; now 1-for-4 on field goals for the season.

Nebraska:

  • Armstrong: 246 yards passing with one touchdown, 132 yards rushing
  • Newby: 10 carries for 69 yards and one touchdown
  • Kevin Maurice: Two sacks

Half-N-Half: Optimistic and Pessimistic Outlooks for Week 4

by Max Gelman 0 Comments
Half-N-Half: Optimistic and Pessimistic Outlooks for Week 4
(Daily file photo by Zack Laurence)

Each week, two Daily writers will debate the upcoming football matchup. One will take a glass half-full view and the other glass half-empty. Here is the Half-N-Half for Northwestern’s contest against the Nebraska Cornhuskers.

1. Will Justin Jackson run for more than 100 yards?

Max Gelman (half-full): Jackson has an excellent chance to break the century mark against the Cornhuskers. Though he only tallied 40 rushing yards at Nebraska last season, Jackson is still the elite running back we all know him to be.

Last week against the Blue Devils, Jackson had nearly 70 rushing yards in the first quarter as the Wildcats opened the game with a near-perfect drive. That has been a common theme for NU throughout the first three games — good opening drives and then a faltering offense. I don’t believe the offensive line troubles will last the whole season and if the line improves, which should be the case going forward, then Jackson should reach 100 again this week.

Tim Balk (half-empty): With the exception of a three-game lull in the middle of the season, Justin Jackson was almost a lock to hit triple digit rushing yards each week in 2015. Through three games this year, those days seem to be over.

Jackson missed the mark for the second straight week against Duke in Week 3, as offensive line problems continued to dog NU. With those problems unresolved, and the Cats’ offense forced to lean pass-heavy, it’s hard to imagine Jackson putting up big numbers against Nebraska, particularly in light of the fact that the Cornhusker defense was one of three — along with Michigan and Iowa — that managed to shut down “The Ball Carrier” during his mid-season slump last fall.

Against a quality defense that will gameplan for the run, it’s unlikely Jackson will be a major factor.

2. Will the Cats out-possess Nebraska?

Balk (half-empty): This one is easy.

Nebraska has out-possessed all three of its opponents. NU has been out-possessed by two of its three. Nebraska managed to chew up clock against Oregon. The Wildcats’ offense struggled to stay on the field against an FCS team. You get the picture.

NU can beat Nebraska even without controlling possession if the defense bends more than it breaks, and the big offensive plays that materialized against Duke keep on coming. But, more than likely, Nebraska’s multidimensional offense will spend a majority of the night on the field.

Gelman (half-full): In order for NU to beat the Cornhuskers, it will need to sustain lengthy drives and keep the defense on the field. With the recent play of sophomore quarterback Clayton Thorson, that will be entirely possible.

In the first three games of the season, Thorson has averaged 6.9 yards per attempt — not overwhelming by any standard but enough to get the job done. He spread the ball around beautifully, completing passes to eight different receivers, and has the deep ball working. It would be a shock if Thorson can’t move the Cats down the field against Nebraska.

Furthermore, NU currently has the second-best punter in the Big Ten in Hunter Niswander. Pinning the Cornhuskers within their own 20 repeatedly will be key to a Wildcat win.

3. Will Hunter Niswander punt like it’s the Western Michigan game…or the Duke game?

Gelman (half-full): I am all in on the Niswander for Heisman campaign.

After finishing 2015 with the most punts in the Big Ten but the lowest average yards, Niswander has vastly improved his game so far this year. NU and Nebraska always manage to play close games, and Niswander’s punting could play a huge role if this game turns into a battle of field position.

Against Western Michigan, Niswander averaged 51 yards per punt, easily the highest of his career. All he has to do to continue that progress is get a nice stretch before the game, and he should be golden.

Balk (half-empty): Max has taken to tweeting #Heiswander after punts from the junior punter. And, at least so far, it hasn’t been good luck. After kicking the leather off the ball on each of his three punts Week 1, Niswander has come back to earth. Against Duke he managed a respectable but unspectacular 42.9 yards per punt and lofted two into the end zone for touchbacks.

Which is not all that surprising, because Niswander appears to have developed into a respectable but unspectacular punter. That’s still good news for NU, which has struggled in the punting game in the past; Niswander will likely have to punt plenty this week. But it’s more likely he’ll be solid than Ray Guy worthy.

Through the Tape: Big plays add new dimension to Northwestern offense against Duke

by Max Schuman 0 Comments
Through the Tape: Big plays add new dimension to Northwestern offense against Duke
(Daily file photo by Jacob Morgan)

Last year’s Northwestern offense was undeniably punchless, something that needed to change coming into 2016.

In particular, big plays in the passing game were particularly hard to come by last season. The Wildcats’ offense, led by then-first-year quarterback starter Clayton Thorson, rarely put together explosive plays through the air. Coach Pat Fitzgerald has mentioned in multiple press conferences this season that taking more shots downfield is a big part of the team’s plan in 2016.

It took a few weeks for that vision to materialize, but Saturday’s game against Duke might have marked the arrival of the big-play passing attack Fitzgerald is looking for. NU had just 12 pass plays go for 25 yards or more last season. It had five such plays against Duke, including all three of the Cats’ touchdowns.

A lot of pieces need to come together to make a big play happen. The offensive line needs to hold the pocket together long enough for the play to develop, the receiver on the other end needs to get open and the quarterback needs to throw the ball accurately and on-time down the field. Too often last season, one of those components failed, but on NU’s first touchdown of the night against the Blue Devils, everything went according to plan.

The Cats’ offensive line, much maligned following the loss to Illinois State, keeps a clean pocket for Thorson (No. 18) on the play. Junior superback Garrett Dickerson (No. 9) uses a nice burst to get open in the seam, and Thorson hits on the throw for a 26-yard score.

Duke frequently sent blitzers from all over the field to get after Thorson, leaving its secondary stretched thin on some plays. Last season, against heavy pressure, Thorson rarely looked to make the defense pay downfield. But on this play, he stands tall in the pocket and delivers a 44-yard strike with a free rusher bearing down on him.

Junior wideout Solomon Vault (No. 4) is on the receiving end of this touchdown after beating the Blue Devils’ coverage over the top. The kick return specialist adds a speed element on the outside that NU was missing last season, and on this play he demonstrates his potential as a vertical threat taking the top off the defense.

Sometimes, a good design for the defense you face can manufacture a big play, like on the Cats’ final touchdown play in the fourth quarter.

Duke brought the house, rushing seven men and leaving only four back in coverage. NU counters by running crossing routes with senior receiver Austin Carr (No. 80) and sophomore receiver Flynn Nagel (No. 2) from the slot at the top of the screen, hoping to confuse the few defenders left to cover on the play and create an opening. The Blue Devils oblige, as two defenders move towards Nagel, leaving Carr wide open for an easy 58-yard touchdown.

These plays demonstrate a big-play ability through the air that was simply lacking last season. For a few plays Saturday night, the offensive line held up just long enough. Receivers, either through personal talent or smart play design, got open. And Thorson embraced Duke’s pressure and stood tall to make throws down the field.

The passing offense wasn’t perfect by any means, and neither was Thorson, who went just 18-for-39 and threw two picks on the night. But hitting on big plays gives the Cats a margin for error they didn’t have a year ago, and with the defense appearing to be rounding into form, that might be enough to surprise the rest of the way.

Football: Flynn Nagel revives dormant Northwestern punt return unit

Football: Flynn Nagel revives dormant Northwestern punt return unit
(Leeks Lim/The Daily Northwestern)

Northwestern’s kick return unit electrified fans in 2015, with then-sophomore Solomon Vault taking two kicks to the house in two especially high-leverage moments.

But the Wildcats punt return unit failed to offer any kind of balance. The combination of then-freshman Flynn Nagel and then-senior Miles Shuler ran back just 13 punts all year, ranking 10th out of 14 teams in the Big Ten. All too often NU’s punt returners wouldn’t even field the ball, letting it bounce for a few extra yards instead calling for a fair catch.

Nagel changed that Saturday against Duke by running back five punts, the most in a game for the Cats over at least the past nine seasons. He didn’t bust a long one, but Nagel’s returns were consistently positive. That he was trying to return them at all was a welcome sight to many fans.

“Our guys always have a green light,” coach Pat Fitzgerald said. “I can’t jump in their heads and say, ‘catch it and run.’ … But we tell the guys to be aggressive, we tell them to err on the side of being aggressive and catching them.”

Nagel has clearly taken that to heart, and his assertiveness in fielding punts Saturday brought back memories of NU’s best punt returner in recent memory: Venric Mark.

A dynamic running back in his own right, Mark truly shined when he dropped back deep to field a punt. After his junior season in 2012, Mark received first-team All-America honors as a return specialist thanks to the two punts he returned for scores that year.

When Mark got ready to field a punt, everybody in the stadium held their breath in anticipation. Nagel has yet to bust a long return and doesn’t inspire the same kind of fear, but that he tries at least offers some hope.

“This week, I think we just had a lot of guys doing a good job blocking their guy, so it gave me a little bit of time back there,” Nagel said of his performance. “As long as everybody keeps doing their job I’m going to try to keep being aggressive.”

That aggressiveness, Fitzgerald said, is key to being a “dude” — somebody like Mark who can make defenders miss and turn nothing into something on a punt return. Nagel obviously isn’t at that level yet, but Fitzgerald seems encouraged by the early returns.

“He was pretty fearless on Saturday,” Fitzgerald said. “It was pretty cool.”

Men’s Basketball: Wildcats finalize tip times and television coverage

With the release of ESPN’s Big Ten programming this year, Northwestern finalized its tip times and television coverage for this upcoming season.

The Wildcats will have 19 games on the Big Ten Network over the course of the season. In addition, NU will have 3 games covered by ESPN. The Cats’ two match-ups against Rutgers on Jan. 12 and Feb. 18 will both be on ESPNU, while their game at Penn State on Dec. 27 will feature on ESPN2.

The schedule this year poses some different challenges for NU this season. After taking out Wisconsin at home in arguable their strongest win of the season, the Cats will have to travel to Madison to play the Badgers on the road this year. In addition, NU will lose its home-court advantage that it had against Michigan State last season, as the Cats will travel to play the Spartans on Dec. 30.

However, Northwestern does have some home games that may play to its advantage. In changes from last season, Iowa comes to Evanston to play at Welsh-Ryan Arena on Jan. 15, and NU will get Michigan at home this year late in the season on Mar. 1.

Until then, the Cats will look to tip things off in their home opener against Mississippi Valley State on Nov. 11 at 7:00 p.m.

Advance Scouting: Nebraska

by Ben Pope 0 Comments
Advance Scouting: Nebraska
(Daily file photo by Bobby Pillote)

Four of the last five meetings between Northwestern (1-2) and No. 20 Nebraska (3-0) have been decided by three points or less, including a 30-28 triumph by the Wildcats on the road last year.

But the Cornhusker team that NU will face in this year’s Big Ten-opening game is significantly more experienced and confident than the one that struggled mightily in close games en route to a 6-7 season in 2015.

Almost all of Nebraska’s offensive weapons — including quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr., running backs Devine Ozigbo and Terrell Newby and receiver Jordan Westerkamp — are back this season and helped the Cornhuskers upset then-No. 22 Oregon 35-32 last week to vault to No. 20 in the national rankings.

The “Big Red” will ride that momentum into Evanston this Saturday in the two Big Ten West foes’ conference opener.

Nebraska’s biggest strength: Dual-threat quarterback Armstrong has been dangerous both on the ground and through the air throughout his career.

Armstrong threw for over 3,000 yards and 22 touchdowns and added an additional 529 yards (excluding sacks) and seven touchdowns rushing in 2015, after posting similar stats in 2014. He threw it 48 times against the Cats but completed only half of those attempts for 291 yards.

Now entering his third and final season at the helm for Nebraska, Armstrong has been much more mistake-free in his passing — he’s thrown only one interception in three games after 16 last year — and had one of the best rushing games of his career against Oregon with 95 yards.

Armstrong is complemented by a pair of excellent receivers: longtime No. 1 wideout Westerkamp and emerging deep threat Alonzo Moore (26.4 yards per catch so far).

Nebraska’s biggest weakness: The pass rush struggled to generate pressure and the secondary showed holes in 2015, giving opposing quarterbacks the time to find open receivers and opposing receivers the time to get downfield.

That equated to the 121st-ranked pass defense (out of 127 teams) and 60 opponent completions of 20 or more yards, the fourth-most allowed in the nation.

Those major issues have yet to show themselves so far this season, but Oregon tried to pass just 23 times against them — the Cornhuskers’ coverage hasn’t been tested much.

Only one defensive lineman, end Ross Dzuris, has recorded a sack, and the rest of the line has been largely quiet on the stat sheet. The secondary also lost two of its four starters from a year ago.

Nebraska’s biggest question: Can the Cornhuskers stay focused after upsetting Oregon?

Nebraska coach Mike Riley said at his team’s press conference Monday that it would be the last time he would talk about the Oregon game, and Westerkamp said he was confident he and his teammates would be able to focus solely forward on Northwestern.

But the Cornhuskers haven’t picked up a win as big as Saturday’s triumph over the Ducks in years, and a matchup against the 1-2 Cats might not inspire the same intensity. Nebraska lost at home to NU last year the week after a big 23-point road win over Minnesota.

Women’s Soccer: Northwestern enters Top 25 on heels of sixth-straight shutout

Women’s Soccer: Northwestern enters Top 25 on heels of sixth-straight shutout
(Daily file photo by Leeks Lim)

After taking out Purdue 2-0 for their ninth-straight victory on Sunday, the Wildcats jumped to No. 21 in the NSCAA Coaches Poll released Tuesday.

This is the highest Northwestern has been ranked all season, as the team ranked 24th on Sept. 6 before dropping out of the rankings last week. The Cats joined Minnesota, Penn State and Rutgers as Big Ten teams among the Top 25.

NU has been on a tear recently and hasn’t allowed a goal in the month of September. The only goal the Cats have allowed all season was in a 2-1 win over DePaul on Aug. 25 in their third match.

As it begins to enter the heart of Big Ten play, competition should heat up for NU. On Friday, the Cats will take on No. 22 Rutgers, their first ranked opponent of the year. NU managed to take out Rutgers 1-0 at home last year, but the Scarlet Knights have already proven their might this year, as they topped No. 23 Connecticut 2-0 on Aug. 28, and are coming off a national semifinals appearance last season.

After finishing up a six-match home-stand with the win over the Boilermakers, NU will be on the road for the next two weeks as it look to keep up the momentum from its perfect start to the season.