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NU offensive line has work to do
By Lindsey Willhite | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 9/6/2010 8:39 PM

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Northwestern boasts three offensive linemen who started at least 22 games for bowl-bound teams, which suggests that group ought to be one of the team's strengths.

But when Pat Fitzgerald and his staff reviewed the tape of Saturday's 23-21 win at Vanderbilt, most of the line wasn't in midseason form.

Junior left tackle Al Netter was nominated for offensive player of the game, but as for the rest of the fellas ...

"We gave (Vanderbilt credit for) 11 tackles for loss, which is the most we've had in a long time," Fitzgerald said. "About half of those were where we targeted the wrong person (with our blocks), so we had somebody on the perimeter free which was a little disappointing."

Fitzgerald, per his custom, distributed the blame equally. He suggested NU's running backs need to cut their losses occasionally and run north-south when an outside play gets strung out.

He also contemplated the possibility that the coaches over-did their jobs with so much time to prep for the Commodores.

"We knew they were going to knife underneath us on the perimeter a few times," Fitzgerald said. "We allowed that to happen. Unfortunately, we didn't see anything we didn't prepare for.

"We thought as coaches maybe we overprepared our guys. Maybe we had too much on their plates. We had the whole off-season to study every game."

Injury watch: Backup defensive tackle Niko Mafuli injured his right knee when he was chopped as cornerback Justan Vaughn intercepted a pass. Mafuli won't be out for the year, but he won't play this week against Illinois State (11 a.m., BTN). True freshman Will Hampton takes his spot on the depth chart.

Starting outside linebacker Bryce McNaul, who missed the opener with a shoulder injury, remains off the depth chart.

Center Ben Burkett, who left with two minutes to go after getting rolled up in a pile on Jacob Schmidt's fumble, remains in line for his 28th consecutive start.

Players of the week: Quarterback Dan Persa lost out to Michigan's Denard Robinson for the Big Ten's offensive player of the week honor, but he settled for NU's award.

Defensive tackle Jack DiNardo (5 tackles, 1 TFL) won the honor on the other side of the ball in his first career start.

Junior receiver Jeremy Ebert (offensive big playmaker), senior middle linebacker Nate Williams (defensive big playmaker) and redshirt freshman punter Brandon Williams (special teams) also earned recognition from the coaches.

NU's graduate assistants singled out three true freshmen for their scout-team work: quarterback Kain Colter (offense), safety Ibrahim Campbell (defense) and linebacker Collin Ellis (special teams).

A Letter apart: It's a big week in Illinois football this week as Illinois State travels to Northwestern and Southern Illinois goes to Illinois.

Of course, the Redbirds and Salukis play in the Football Championship Subdivision. Among other differences, FCS schools get 22 fewer scholarships than Football Bowl Subdivision teams.

Don't try to tell Pat Fitzgerald there's a significant difference between the FBS and FCS levels.

"Levels are totally irrelevant," Fitzgerald said. "Just ask Ole Miss. Ask me against New Hampshire. Trust me."

Jacksonville State shocked Mississippi 49-48 in double overtime on Saturday, while Northwestern lost 34-17 to New Hampshire in Fitzgerald's second game as head coach.