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Ringer a big test for Northwestern
By Lindsey Willhite | Daily Herald Staff

Running back Javon Ringer and Michigan State visit Northwestern on Saturday.


Associated Press

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Published: 10/9/2008 12:00 AM

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Here's how good Michigan State's Javon Ringer has been leading up to his intriguing visit to Northwestern on Saturday:

If Ringer continues the pace he set during the first half of the season with 164.7 yards and 2 touchdowns per game on the ground, he will break Ron Dayne's single-season Big Ten record for yards (2,109) and tie Anthony Thompson's and Ki-Jana Carter's record for touchdowns (26).

While Ringer's game-breaking abilities are a separate concern of their own, it's the old-school methods the 19th-ranked Spartans use to set up Ringer that really concern the unbeaten Wildcats.

"They're the most physical football team we've faced this year," coach Pat Fitzgerald said.

While eight Big Ten teams have adopted some version of the spread offense, the Spartans have gone in the opposite direction.

Everyone else likes using four wideouts and one back? Michigan State hits you with formations calling for two tight ends and a fullback. On occasion, they'll have two or three fullbacks on the field to crack skulls on Ringer's behalf.

"They do some similar things to Iowa (NU's opponent in its Big Ten opener), but they take it to another level," said Northwestern defensive coordinator Mike Hankwitz. "We spend all spring and all fall camp defending 'basketball on grass.' Wide-open stuff.

"Now, when you get Iowa and this kind of (Michigan State) stuff, it's harder. First of all, our offense doesn't do that, so you don't see it unless you create it with your scout team."

Northwestern's scout team has spent this week trying to mimic the Spartans' powerful game plan, but it can only prepare the Wildcats so much.

In the end, it will be a numbers game as the defense tries to maneuver as many people to the point of attack as the Spartans do.

"They'll have two tight ends and a fullback," Hankwitz said. "Then they'll motion a tight end over (to the strong side), so it'll be like they have an extra blocker. It takes the power scheme to another level.

"You have to have great 'fits' and great run keys to get people where they need to be. That's where they make it hard. If (our) people get out of one gap, then Ringer's going to find it."

Hardeman's time: Illinois started to recruit Donsay Hardeman almost from the day Ron Zook and his staff arrived in Champaign in December 2004.

Hardeman hails from Jacksonville, Fla., which has developed into an Illini recruiting stronghold since co-defensive coordinator Dan Disch was born there and spent 16 years as the head coach of powerful Ed White High School.

But Hardeman had to go the junior-college route, so the Illini had to wait two years for their prize. That was the first delay.

The second delay came when Hardeman couldn't arrive in January so he could spend spring practice getting the defensive schemes cold and be in the starting lineup for the Missouri opener.

Then, in Camp Rantoul, came delay No. 3 as Hardeman needed arthroscopic knee surgery.

He finally made his major-college debut two weeks ago at Penn State but started to come into his own in Saturday's win at Michigan. Hardeman finished with 8 tackles, 1 behind Brit Miller's and Vontae Davis' team lead.

"I had a pro scout tell me he looked better with every play," Zook said. "I think that's true: He is getting better with every play.

"He's a big guy; he's a tough guy. He missed a tackle on the second kickoff and he came right to me and said, 'Coach, it's my fault.'

"So it's important to him. He's in here watching tape and putting in extra time. He's in the training room taking care of his body. That's why he's going to be a good football player."

Harnish in the green: Opening-day quarterback Chandler Harnish has taken the necessary steps to be on the field when Northern Illinois hosts Miami Ohio on Saturday (3 p.m., Comcast Sports Net).

Harnish, who hasn't played since spraining his right foot in the first quarter at Western Michigan on Sept. 6, has taken snaps each of the last two days.

On Wednesday, wearing a green mesh jersey that signifies a formerly injured player can go, Harnish ran some rollouts and did other things crucial to operating NIU's attack.

Though the redshirt freshman appeared to be reluctant to put pressure on his foot while throwing from the pocket, Harnish said that's simply his style.

"That's the way I throw," Harnish said. "You can't baby it."

With senior Dan Nicholson out with a left shoulder injury - he started the last three games - Harnish and/or DeMarcus Grady needs to carry the load.

"I think I'll be available," Harnish said.

He completed 19 of 33 passes for 384 yards, 2 touchdowns and no interceptions before catching his toes in the turf at Western Michigan and feeling his foot pop.