KENOSHA, Wis. - They've handled the most difficult preseason hurdles: The double sessions. The endless meetings. Even the bellyflop contests.
But the Northwestern Wildcats needed Saturday's scrimmage at Carthage College in order to get the best indication of whether they're ready for the Aug. 30 opener against Syracuse.
"It was good enough for a dress rehearsal, yes," said senior running back Tyrell Sutton. "This was the closest to a game situation as we're going to get before Syracuse because our practices are very demanding and they're a lot faster than the games are.
"I think guys did a great job of adjusting to the calls that the coaches were giving and to the defenses that they were bringing."
Though the first-team defense had the better of the play during the few moments when the Wildcats went "good on good," senior quarterback C.J. Bacher and his endless corps of receivers started rolling soon thereafter.
Bacher clicked with senior Eric Peterman for a 48-yard touchdown pass, freshman Jeremy Ebert for a 56-yard score and senior Ross Lane for a 17-yard TD.
Bacher hit 10 of 17 passes for 192 yards and 3 TDs. Sutton rushed three times for 13 yards and turned a short pass into a 17-yard gain before taking an early seat to let backups Omar Conteh and Stephen Simmons have their turns.
"I saw some young guys making a lot of plays," Bacher said. "They're not really getting as many reps as they may be wanting to get in practice. You know, we come out here to scrimmage and they're getting a lot of reps and making a lot of plays."
Young guys didn't limit their influence to the offensive side of the ball.
The first-team defense yielded no points despite playing without cornerbacks Sherrick McManis and Justan Vaughn.
Redshirt freshmen Justin Mabin and Mike Bolden and senior David Oredugba performed well in their absence.
"I liked the way the corners looked," said third-year coach Pat Fitzgerald. "I liked to see Bolden and Mabin run around, not only on defense but also in the kicking game. They stood out to me today."
The Wildcats pack up their equipment trucks and their luxury buses Tuesday morning for the return to Evanston.
But there's still some crucial work to be accomplished at their Wisconsin-Parkside complex. Today's meetings will review Saturday's scrimmage in excruciating detail - and then there's Monday's double sessions.
"We've got an important week ahead of us," Fitzgerald said. "Tomorrow's probably the most critical day of camp."
But here's what the fans need to know with a fortnight to go until the Orange come to Ryan Field.
"I'd say we're farther along than we've ever been, and that's with two new coordinators," Fitzgerald said. "I'm proud of our players. They did a great job from Day One, when Mick (McCall) and Mike (Hankwitz) got here, to really buy in to what they're teaching. - I felt we had a lot of continuity from spring practice."