With a bowl victory in hand, some Northwestern players are looking into the next step of their football careers.
Senior receiver Austin Carr finished his year with a program single season record 1247 yards receiving and will begin his preparation for the pros right away, he said. Carr has already accepted an invitation to the East-West Shrine Game, a postseason showcase to be played Jan. 21.
“The NFL has always been a dream of mine,” Carr said. “Hopefully I’m going to be drafted, God willing.”
Juniors Godwin Igwebuike and Anthony Walker have a year of college eligibility remaining and face the decision of whether to leave school early. Each will receive feedback about their pro prospects from the NFL draft advisory board, according to a report by the Chicago Tribune, though neither has made a final decision.
“I’m still thinking it over,” Walker said. “It’s not going to be a decision that’s made today or tomorrow, so I’m going to take some time, sit down and get all the information that I need.”
Despite an excellent season of his own, junior running back Justin Jackson denied rumors he would be leaving school early, saying he intends to finish his degree. Jackson has never redshirted and has been at NU for just three years; Igwebuike and Walker each redshirted their first season and have been at NU four years.
The deadline to declare for the 2017 NFL draft is Jan. 16.
Senior receiver Austin Carr has been named to the All-America third team, the Associated Press announced Monday.
Carr, a former walk-on, easily had the best season of his career, leading the Big Ten with 84 receptions, 1,196 receiving yards and 12 receiving touchdowns. Carr’s bond with sophomore quarterback Clayton Thorson also boosted Northwestern to the fourth-best passing offense in the Big Ten.
Additionally, Carr finished as one of three semifinalists for the Biletnikoff Award, given out annually to the best receiver in the country.
Carr was the only Wildcat named to any of the three AP All-America teams.
Syracuse receiver Amba Etta-Tawo shares third-team honors with Carr. The two receivers finished behind Oklahoma receiver Dede Westbrook and Western Michigan wideout Corey Davis (first team), as well as East Carolina pass-catcher Zay Jones and Washington receiver John Ross (second team).
For the list of the full AP All-America teams, click here.
After possibly the best statistical season by a receiver in school history, senior wideout Austin Carr won the Big Ten’s Receiver of the Year award, the conference announced Wednesday.
The former walk-on put up massive numbers in his final year at Northwestern, showing an impressive rapport with sophomore quarterback Clayton Thorson that formed the backbone of the team’s offense. Carr led the Big Ten in receptions, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns, finishing with a final line of 84 catches for 1196 yards and 12 touchdowns. He is also one of three finalists for the Biletnikoff Award, given annually to the nation’s top receiver.
From Sept. 10 against Illinois State to Oct. 22 against Indiana, Carr caught a touchdown in six straight games to set a program record. With the Wildcats’ bowl game still remaining, Carr currently is tied for NU’s single-season record in touchdowns and is second in school history in single-season receptions and yards.
Carr was joined on the media’s All-Big Ten first team by junior running back Justin Jackson. Jackson, who was also named to the coaches’ all-conference second team, led the Big Ten in rushing with 1300 yards and scored 12 touchdowns on the ground this season.
Thorson, sophomore guard Tommy Doles and junior superback Garrett Dickerson all received all-conference honorable-mention nods from the Cats’ offense as well. In total, ten NU players were named to All-Big Ten teams or were given honorable mentions.
Senior wide receiver Austin Carr left the Wildcats’ game against Minnesota with about five minutes left in the third quarter.
Carr was injured on the play and walked off the field gingerly after taking a hit from Minnesota defender Duke McGhee. It is unclear where Carr was injured, though McGhee was ejected from the game for targeting. The ejection was McGhee’s third this season for targeting.
Coming into the game, Carr led the Big Ten in receptions, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns. He was named one of ten semifinalists for the Biletnikoff Award, handed out to the nation’s top receiver, earlier this week.
Northwestern senior Austin Carr was named a semifinalist Monday for the 2016 Biletnikoff Award, given out annually to the best receiver in the nation.
Through ten games, Carr leads the Big Ten with 75 catches, 1,102 receiving yards and 12 receiving touchdowns. On Saturday against Purdue, Carr tied the Northwestern single-season record for touchdowns and needs 144 more receiving yards for the program record in yards.
The Biletnikoff Award is handed out every year by the Tallahassee Quarterback Club Foundation to the nation’s top receiver, which can include anyone who catches passes such as running backs and tight ends. However, all ten semifinalists for the 2016 honor are wide receivers.
On a week-by-week basis, Northwestern and Indiana have been complete opposites this season.
The Wildcats (3-3, 2-1 Big Ten) have lost, lost, won, lost, won and won. The Hoosiers (3-3, 1-2) have won, won, lost, won, lost and lost.
But even polar opposite first halves of their respective regular seasons have brought the two Big Ten foes to the same point — 3 wins, 3 losses — with potential to break out as solid teams in the second half.
A mere 1.5-point spread separates the two teams entering this Saturday’s homecoming matchup in Evanston, when Indiana will seek to end a four-game losing streak against NU that dates back to 2009.
Indiana’s biggest strength: Its defense. Under the eye of new defensive coordinator Tom Allen, the Hoosiers’ defense has been one of the biggest surprises of the Big Ten this season, moving from 121st in the nation last season to 49th this season.
Although the team lost its last two games, both against elite opponents — 38-17 vs. No. 2 Ohio State, then 27-22 vs. No. 8 Nebraska this past weekend — its defense recorded arguably its best two performances yet. The unit allowed just 19 completions combined for Heisman Trophy candidates J.T. Barrett (9-for-21 for 93 yards, 1 touchdown and 1 interception vs. Indiana) and Tommy Armstrong (10-for-26, 208 yards, 1 touchdown and 2 interceptions).
Led by linebacker Tegray Scales, who ranks fifth in the country in solo tackles, and cornerback Rashard Fant, who ranks third in the country with 10 pass breakups, the Indiana defense is improving with each week and will pose a stiff challenge for Clayton Thorson, Justin Jackson and Austin Carr.
Indiana’s biggest weakness: The offensive side of the ball, long the staple of Indiana football, has faded almost as quickly as its defense has risen.
The offensive line lost four starters from last season and has struggled in the big, physical trench battles of the Big Ten. That’s hurting the Hoosiers’ run game, as former 1,000-yard running back Devine Redding has begun to slow down (135 yards in the last two games vs. 245 in the first two) and the Hoosiers have sorted through a half-dozen other runners without finding anyone particularly effective.
Meanwhile, first-year starting quarterback Richard Lagow has proven interception-prone: he’s tossed nine picks in his last four games, including five in an ugly 33-28 home loss to Wake Forest on Sept. 24. Lagow does, however, still rank second in the conference in passing yards to date.
Indiana’s biggest question mark: Can the Hoosiers take advantage of their steady improvement and soft second-half schedule to jump into the Big Ten’s upper echelon?
A long, bleak period of Hoosier football — which includes just one winning season (a 7-6 campaign in 2007) in the last 21 years — appears to be on the verge of giving way to a much brighter era.
Indiana stands at .500 with just one more tough game (at Michigan), should-win games against Maryland, Rutgers and Purdue and could-win games against NU and Penn State comprising the rest of its remaining schedule. A strong closing stretch, starting with a win in what should be a well-matched showdown on Saturday against the Cats, could launch the Hoosiers into unprecedented realms of success.
But will Indiana be able to overcome its lack of experience and capitalize on the opportunity to change the reputation of the program moving forward?
After opening the season with a pair of unexpected, narrow losses, NU rebounded under the lights Saturday against Duke, winning 24-13 at Ryan Field.
The Cats benefited from an improved performance from its offensive line, which opened up enough holes to allow junior running back Justin Jackson to carve out 94 rushing yards, and provided solid pass protection for sophomore quarterback Clayton Thorson, who set a career-high with 320 passing yards.
The Cats set the tone for the win with a quick 10-play, 75 yard drive to open the game. Thorson ended the drive with a 26-yard touchdown pass to junior superback Garrett Dickerson. After the first drive, though, the Cats’ offense stalled for the remainder of the half, with a late drive ending in a missed 34-yard field goal. The Cats headed to the locker room locked in a 7-7 tie.
Duke threatened to score on its opening drive of the second half, but an Anthony Walker forced fumble snuffed out the drive at NU’s 21 yard line.
Later in the quarter, a botched punt snap gave the Cats offense the ball at the 44-yard line. NU struck on one play as Clayton Thorson connected with junior Solomon Vault for a 44-yard touchdown pass that gave the Cats a 14-7 lead they would not surrender.
NU extended its lead to 17-7 with a 40-yard field goal from Jack Mitchell with 12 seconds left in the third quarter.
Clayton Thorson connected with senior Austin Carr for a 58-yard touchdown pass with 4:56 left in the contest, further padding the Cats’ lead. Carr finished with six catches for a career-high 135 yards.
Duke would add a touchdown in garbage time on a one-yard run from Shaun Wilson, but the Blue Devils missed the extra point, giving the game its final score.
NU finishes its three game non-conference having won just one of its three contests before Big Ten play.
Northwestern stats to know:
Justin Jackson: 28 carries for 94 rushing yards; 3.4 yards per carry.
Clayton Thorson: 18-of-39, career-high 320 passing yards. Tied a career-high with three passing TDs. Threw two interceptions.
The Wildcats’ receiving corps has lost a vital component.
Former superback Dan Vitale graduated in the spring and joined the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, leaving a gap in the passcatchers’ lineup that will be difficult to fill. Northwestern’s receivers struggled last year, ranking 115th in receptions and 120th in receiving yards in the FBS, making his loss that much more crucial. Vitale led the team by comfortable margins in both those categories last season.
With Vitale out of the picture, senior Austin Carr, who had the second most receiving yards last season and the highest average yards per reception, is pretty much guaranteed the top spot on the depth chart. Carr started in four games last season and saw playing time in nearly every contest. He also has had time to develop a strong rapport with sophomore quarterback Clayton Thorson, which will squarely position him as the leader of the receiving pack this fall.
The ensemble cast, however, proves a bit trickier to trace, especially with the graduation of former starting receivers Christian Jones and Miles Shuler.
It seems likely that junior Garrett Dickerson will find a home at superback, a position devised by NU coaching that combines the roles of a fullback and tight end into one all-purpose offensive powerhouse. Dickerson is largely untested on the field, although he appeared in flashes in nearly every game last season and caught at least one pass in nine of those games. Senior Andrew Scanlan, who appeared in nine games last season, also seems a likely contender for one of the three starting wide receiver slots.
In February, Coach Pat Fitzgerald announced some position changes that brought in juniors Solomon Vault and Marcus McShepard, and redshirt-freshman Steven Reese, at the wide receiver position in attempt to shore up depth.
Vault, formerly a running back, has had some experience with Cats passing plays and could prove an interesting asset. His speed earned him two touchdowns on kickoff returns last season — the most return touchdowns any NU player has had in a single season. His three career touchdown returns also make him the all-time program leader in the category. Considering the talent he’s already displayed, and that Vault saw playing time at the wide receiver position during the Outback Bowl, it seems likely Vault will be tapped to start this fall. He’ll fit in well out of the slot as the Z-receiver as a speedy and evasive route-runner.
McShepard and Reese, formerly defensive players, face a steeper learning curve and are unlikely to make much of an impact, at least immediately, on the offense.
Without Vitale, and to a lesser extent Jones and Shuler, the Cats’ receiving corps is pretty thin. Look to Carr for reliability and a glimmer of receivers’ past, and watch Vault for an explosive play or two, but generally, Wildcats fans should expect to hear a lot of “Justin Jackson the ball carrier!” this fall.