The depth and overall talent pool have improved at Northwestern, but the Wildcats took a hit in a bad spot Saturday.
Starting cornerback Daniel Jones went down with a knee injury late in the first half of the 44-30 victory at California and is expected to be out for the season. Defensive backfield was one of the team's biggest concerns and the 455 passing yards by Cal true freshman Jared Goff did nothing to ease those worries.
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"Well, losing DJ is going to hurt," said Wildcats coach Pat Fitzgerald on Tuesday. "Anytime you lose a starter -- there's a reason why he earned that role. So now it's up to the other guys to pick up some slack.
"We think we've got good depth at that position. We're going to have to play some young guys there, but we do believe they're talented. It's up to us as coaches to get them developed into what we do."
Stepping in for Jones will be redshirt freshman Dwight White. His father, Dwight Sr., played football at Prairie View A&M, but he appears to be no relation to the famed Pittsburgh Steelers lineman of the same name. White is one of several Wildcats from the Houston area.
The backup cornerbacks this week are true freshman Matthew Harris, from Lyons Township High School, and junior C.J. Bryant.
"He (White) went in and got a little baptism by fire," Fitzgerald said. "He got caught watching the paint dry, so to speak, on one route. For the rest of the game, I thought he was pretty solid. A young man going out and getting his first major college experience on the corner -- there's no doubt they went after him. We fully expect (Syracuse) Coach (Scott) Shafer and his offensive staff will go after him again. So welcome to Big Ten football."
Colter expected back:
As for two other high profile injured players, coach Pat Fitzgerald is expecting quarterback Kain Colter (concussion) and running back Venric Mark (lower body injury) to be ready to play Saturday against Syracuse (5 p.m., BTN).
Those are two positions where the Wildcats have some depth, with backup QB Trevor Siemian and RB Treyvon Green performing well at Cal.
"We expect Kain to play," Fitzgerald said. "Unless something changes throughout the course of the week, we expect to see him on Saturday.
"Kain's one of those guys that may not get a lot of reps today, but as the week goes along, we anticipate them progressing and getting hopefully healthy enough to play for us. We'll see how the week progresses."
Ellis a star from South:
At Monday's news conference, players were joking about how linebacker Collin Ellis, who returned 2 interceptions for touchdowns against California, is "country."
Ellis grew up near Baton Rouge, La., and enjoys the usual Louisiana outdoor activities, such as fishing and catching crawfish, probably.
Ellis was not recruited by many SEC schools. Until Northwestern came calling, Ellis seemed more likely to land at nearby Northwestern State. Coach Pat Fitzgerald credited assistant Randy Bates for the find.
"It seemed like he did everything on video," Fitzgerald said. "We invited him up to camp. Collin just performed unbelievably, had an incredible attitude. The camp evaluation married the video from the year prior. So very athletic kid and a great young person. To have him where he's at, it's pretty special."
Eye on the Orange:
The Wildcats had a memorable shootout against Syracuse last season. But head coach Doug Marrone left for the Buffalo Bills and most of the offensive stars graduated.
Under new coach Scott Shafer, the Orange offense struggled in a 23-17 loss to Penn State, producing 260 total yards and 3 turnovers. Quarterback Drew Allen, an Oklahoma transfer, completed just 16 of 37 passes, so he may not have a secure hold on the job. Running back Jerome Smith was the best offensive weapon, gaining 73 yards on 16 carries.
As expected, NU coach Pat Fitzgerald, expressed concern about the opponent.
"As we looked at the tape on the way home (Saturday night), there were things we made fundamental mistakes on, and some communication mistakes that are inexcusable," he said. "We put those on our shoulders as coaches.
"We've got to do a better job of getting our guys to understand the game plan and the concept and why we are doing things. We're playing a very physical football team on Saturday. We're going to have to play much better if we expect to win again."