Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald claimed last week he would know more about his own team after the season opener at California than any other coach in the Big Ten.
So what exactly did he learn in Saturday's late-night 44-30 victory over Cal?
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Nothing groundbreaking, really. A few suspicions were confirmed, both positive and negative.
The best news: a nice display of the team's depth and speed, two big parts of the program's steady improvement. Also, there appears to be a large number of Northwestern grads living in the Bay Area. The tech campuses will be buzzing Tuesday.
Starting quarterback Kain Colter was knocked out of the game on the team's second offensive play with a concussion, which meant Trevor Siemian took 100 percent of the snaps. Siemian played reasonably well, hitting 18 of 29 passes for 276 yards, 1 touchdown and 2 interceptions.
"We've had starter 1A and 1B for a couple of years," Fitzgerald said after the game. "Although he (Siemian) doesn't go out there on the first play, he still operates as if he's the starter."
Running back Venric Mark (11 carries, 29 yards) played sporadically and was seen riding an exercise bike on the sideline. After the game, Fitzgerald said Mark has been "dinged up as of late."
So the most welcome fill-in performance of the night was turned in by Treyvon Green, who gained 129 yards on 16 carries. It's easy to forget after Mark's breakout last fall that Green was expected to be the Wildcats' lead running back in 2012.
During an early practice session last August, though, Green was tackled by teammate Ibraheim Campbell, hit the ground hard and temporarily lost consciousness. After 15 tense minutes on the ground, he was loaded into an ambulance and later said he lost feeling in his hands.
Green ended up getting just 22 carries last season, so this was a welcome return in more ways than one.
The two biggest highlight plays for Northwestern were a pair of interceptions run back for touchdowns by linebacker Collin Ellis. This is where speed became a factor, because great athletes tend to make big plays, and the Cats needed both of them.
The first interception came after a pass was deflected by defensive end Dean Lowry. Ellis caught it and raced 56 yards to put Northwestern ahead 27-24 late in the third quarter.
The second interception had more to do with good fortune. Cal freshman quarterback Jared Goff threw a perfect pass that bounced off receiver Darius Powe's hands and into Ellis' waiting arms. The 40-yard return put NU ahead 37-27 with 7:57 remaining.
"Coaches are always preaching tips lead to picks, so when they're there you have to snag them and take off running," Ellis said.
Northwestern's rebuilt offensive line, with three new starters, played very well. The Cats gave up just 1 sack and clinched the game with a brilliant 91-yard, all-run touchdown drive. Green busted a 55-yard run and Mike Trumpy added a 25-yarder on the next play.
On the negative side, there was every reason to feel worried about NU's suspect pass defense. Goff, a true freshman, threw for 445 yards -- second most in Cal history. To make things worse, starting corner Daniel Jones was taken off the field with an apparent leg injury and could be out for a while.
"We're far from a finished product, and you always know that going into the opener," Fitzgerald said. "We gave up too many yards. We gave up too many explosion plays."
Northwestern plays its home opener against Syracuse on Saturday at 5 p.m.
While Northwestern lost Colter, Jones and cornerback Matthew Harris in the first half Saturday, California complained that the Cats were faking injuries in order to slow down the Bears' no-huddle offense.
Fitzgerald addressed the issue after the game.
"If anyone were to question the integrity of myself, our program, or our players, I question theirs," he said. "If our guys get dinged up, they're instructed to go down. I have a hard time with that. They're instructed to go down, not hobble off to the sideline."
Huskies and Hawkeyes:
Here are some quick thoughts about Northern Illinois' 30-27 win at Iowa:
It was interesting that while the Hawkeyes designed their defense to stop NIU quarterback Jordan Lynch from running (56 yards on 22 carries), Lynch showed vast improvement with his passing.
The senior from Mount Carmel High School completed 25 of 41 passes for 275 yards, 3 touchdowns and no interceptions.
The Huskies' new receivers stepped up, with Da'Ron Brown grabbing 7 catches for 92 yards.
NIU still needs a running back to emerge, though. Starter Akeem Daniels didn't play because of a foot injury but could be back soon.
For Iowa, there were plenty of positive signs, including big plays from the defense and a powerful running game with two healthy backs. Quarterback Jake Rudock looked good in his first college action, hitting 21 of 37 passes for 256 yards.
Of course, Rudock made a devastating mistake late in the game. He underthrew a sideline pattern, and Jimmie Ward's interception set up NIU's game-winning field goal.
There's no shame in losing to NIU these days, and the feeling here is Iowa will be better than last season. But for a fan base tired of watching the Hawkeyes lose close games under coach Kirk Ferentz, that might be small consolation.