Northwestern Passing Attack breaking in new QB, WRs

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During his time at the podium at Big Ten Media Day, Northwestern Head Coach Pat Fitzgerald discussed how his team’s appearance in a New Year’s Day bowl is changing the program’s national image.

“I believe our system is quarterback friendly. It’s amazing, when you come out of the Outback Bowl, I get a bunch of calls from quarterbacks nationally saying:  So you throw the ball 79 times?  Cool.  Okay.  So obviously it’s pretty quarterback friendly from the standpoint of development, too.”

Ah yes, the 2010 Outback Bowl, it was certainly one for the ages. Nine FBS and/or NCAA records were set in that 38-35 overtime loss to Auburn. A game where NU out-gained the Tigers by nearly 200 yards, and QB Mike Kafka set a NCAA record for offensive plays (78 passing, 20 running) compiling 562 yards. He also threw for a school (and Outback Bowl) record 532.

By Paul M. Banks

northwestern passing

That game wasn’t just “Kafkaesque.”

It was “basketball on grass,” the ’90s Houston Oilers/Atlanta Falcons/Detroit Lions run ‘n’ shoot and 2000s Texas Tech rolled into one.

“A lot of things go through the quarterback, but we’d rather not throw 80 times a game, and try to stay a little more balanced, but if it comes to it, we’ll do what it takes,” new NU starting QB Dan Persa told me at media day.

Last year, the Wildcats had to replace Eric Peterman, Ross Lane and pretty much all their contributing receivers who graduated in ’08. The ’09 group was dubbed the “no-name receiving corps,” until Andrew Brewer emerged as a deep threat, Drake Dunsmore stepped up underneath, and Zeke Markshausen emerged as a Wes Welkerlike primary option who always kept the chains moving.

Unfortunately, Markshausen and Brewer were seniors, so you know what that means: rebuilding (or reloading) time at the position again. “No Name Receiving Corps” part deux?

Here’s what Fitzgerald said:persa

“I hope we don’t know anything about them so we can do even better than we did last year. You start with Drake Dunsmore, I think that catch and run he had against Auburn was one of the best plays of the bowl season and a statement of the athleticism he has.

He came into last year without really having an offseason, without being able to train, and it was probably the Indiana game where he got in game shape and could play his full role. I thought the last half of the season and the bowl game was probably the best ball he’s played.

Jeremy Ebert has played a lot of ball for us, missed all of last offseason due to injury but he’s as strong as he’s ever been and has had a strong start to camp. Three more players who have played a lot for us, Sidney Stewart, Charles Brown and Demetrius Fields.

Also at superback we have Josh Rooks who has been in somewhat of a starting role the last three years. I think we have solid depth there with eight of our top 10 receivers returning. Over the last couple years, we lose Eric Peterman, Ross Lane and Rasheed Ward so up come Zeke Markshausen and Andrew Brewer. Who are those names going to be this year?

We’ll wait and see.”

I asked Persa about who the new Zeke will be, or if there will be a new Zeke. I knew full well I wouldn’t get an actual straight answer on this. Nor should I really. Quarterbacks shouldn’t be saying who the top targets in their offenses are, but I still asked the question and got the answer I expected.

“It’s going to be a little bit of everything. I think the catches will be spread out, that’s how it is in the offense anyways, but whoever steps up will get the ball more,” Persa responded.

Written by Paul M. Banks, President and CEO of The Sports Bank.net , a Midwest focused webzine. He is also a regular contributor to Chicago Now, the Chicago Tribune’s blog network, Walter Football.com, the Washington Times Communities, Yardbarker Network, and Fox Sports.com

You can follow him on Twitter @thesportsbank and @bigtenguru

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