Budzien's record day lifts Northwestern

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Budzien's record day lifts Northwestern

EVANSTON The Northwestern Wildcats are figuring out their identity during their non-conference schedule.

At this juncture, the identity is incomplete.

The Wildcats have yet to play a complete game, and Saturday they had trouble scoring touchdowns.

Despite racking up 560 yards of offense and going 4-for-5 in the red zone, Northwestern scored just one touchdown in its 22-13 victory over Boston College on Saturday afternoon at Ryan Field.

The Wildcats (3-0) are the lone college football team to beat three BCS teams, but they kicked five field goals before scoring their touchdown on their 100th and final offensive play with 1:37 left.

At the end of the day, weve got to get six points instead of three, quarterback Kain Colter said. A lot of that comes down to me. A lot of that comes down to a bunch of guys, but weve got to go out there and execute. At the end of the day, were 3-0 and were not nearly playing our best football. Thats the encouraging thing. We can go out and play a lot better. I can play a lot better. Thats something to look forward to.

Jeff Budzien tied a school record kicking five field goals, from 19 yards to 42 yards, but the offense struggled to finish drives, losing two of their three fumbles.

At the end of the day, weve got to turn those threes into sevens, coach Pat Fitzgerald said. Weve got to finish drives. A lot of those issues we had on drives were self-inflicted by drops, by penalties, by not hitting guys who were open. So, were still a work in progress on both sides of the ball.

Northwestern hung on without its top play maker. After fumbling in the third quarter, Venric Mark left the game with an ailment described only as a lower body injury by Fitzgerald and never returned. He rushed for 77 yards on 18 carries. But Mike Trumpy stepped up to rush for a team-high 106 yards on 16 carries and scored on a 27-yard run.

He did great, Colter said. Thats what we expect out of all our running backs. They do a great job. Everybody is in competition. Everyone wants to play. When one guy goes down the other guy gets his opportunity.

The Wildcats continued with a two-quarterback system, as Colter and Trevor Siemian finished with almost identical statistics. Colter started and finished, completing 16 of 20 passes for 144 yards and rushing for 66 yards. Siemian went 14 for 20 for 123 yards.

Fitzgerald said using two quarterbacks is a good situation, and both have shown they can be effective.

Im not in the business of keeping people happy. Im in the business of winning football games and doing it in whatever way we can, Fitzgerald said. I would say both guys are happy because were winning. I would say going 30 for 40 and the way we didnt score touchdowns, I would say both guys are not satisfied with the way they played.

Both quarterbacks lost fumbles. As the offense sputtered overall, Budzien enjoyed a milestone day. He has nailed eight field goals this season, two more than all of last season. But even he wants to see touchdowns.

Its great to get field-goal reps. I work on that quite a bit in practice, Budzien said. Its nice to put that in a game aspect and help the team out like that. But in a time like that we need touchdowns, (and) its great to see the team put seven points up. Its a great job by Mike Trumpy and the offense closing the deal.

After Boston College (1-2) was forced to punt on fourth-and-10 with under three minutes left, the Wildcats drove 44 yards on four plays to set up Trumpys 27-yard touchdown for a 22-13 lead.

But after outgaining the Eagles 293-25 in rushing yards and finishing with 560 total yards to Boston Colleges 316, the Wildcats feel unsatisfied. Northwestern will have a chance to improve with a favorable schedule for the rest of the month, as the Wildcats will face South Dakota and Indiana in home games.

It was frustrating for us because were thinking were moving the ball at will, and we just get down to the red zone and hit a brick wall, center Brandon Vitabile said. So, for us, it was very upsetting. We kept saying, Weve got to finish, weve got to finish because thats what we build our program on, but we werent able to do that today until the end.

Weve got to take a look at it and get better and move on.

Jay Cutler remaining Bears starter not assured when he returns from thumb injury

Jay Cutler remaining Bears starter not assured when he returns from thumb injury

Lovie Smith was clear: “Rex is our quarterback.”

Phil Emery was clear: Jay Cutler is an “elite” quarterback.

John Fox isn’t so clear: When Jay Cutler is cleared to return from his thumb injury, Cutler is not automatically still the Bears starting quarterback.

"I don't think there are any givens and that's not an indictment on anybody,” Fox said on Monday. “This is a day-to-day, week-to-week, what-have-you-done-for-me-lately league and so we’re just trying to get the best 11 guys out there regardless of the position to where we can play a full 60 minutes and get a victory.”

Tough love is arguably the most effective management style with Cutler. Unlike the contracts and praise heaped on Cutler by prior administrations, current coaches and the organization withheld judgment on him after taking over in 2015. Cutler, who typically played worse after getting contract extensions and gaudy compliments, responded with the best season of his career.

Cutler watched from the sidelines as the Bears were beaten 31-17 by the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday behind Brian Hoyer, who was able to give the Bears some production in the second half for the first time this year, albeit only after the Bears were down 24-3.

“I thought [Hoyer] made good decisions,” Fox said, then qualified, “Not all of them. I think the very first play of the game didn’t go quite as smooth as we’d like. I thought he did some good things. I thought the pass-pro and some of those things helped the situation. I think we did have some explosive runs — we had more explosive plays in this game than we did in the prior two. We’ll evaluate that as we move forward and prepare for Detroit.”

The ultimate question is not whether Brian Hoyer is as good as Jay Cutler.

The evaluation will be whether Hoyer had success because the pass protection and run game worked better, or the bigger question, did those phases of the offense work better because of Hoyer. Offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains has stated that a primary job of a quarterback is to get the other 10 players on the huddle to do theirs well. If the evaluation process, which could include another game next Sunday when the Detroit Lions come to Soldier Field, points to the offense functioning better for Hoyer, the Bears will have a major decision to make.

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Cutler has been benched because of performance only once in Chicago, late in 2014, for one game. He started the following week because Jimmy Clausen sustained a concussion.

Some perspectives on Bears QB switches

Back in 2005, while over at a social event during Super Bowl week in Detroit, a prominent member of the Bears’ defense vented on a decision that in his opinion cost the Bears their season. That decision was to go back to Rex Grossman as quarterback from Kyle Orton, who had been the quintessential game manager as a fourth-round rookie filling in while Grossman worked back from a broken ankle suffered in preseason.

“We’d’ve been here [in the Super Bowl] if we’d’a stayed with Kyle,” the Pro Bowl defender said.

That didn’t happen in the “Rex is our quarterback” phase of Smith’s tenure.

Josh McCown by his own assessment was not as good a player as Cutler in 2013 when the best-chance-to-win decision had to be made between those two. Coaches wanted to stay with McCown, the GM insisted on Cutler; the team stayed on course with Cutler, accelerated that direction actually, letting McCown leave for Tampa Bay and giving Cutler the “Jay is our quarterback” max contract.

But while Smith was invested in Grossman, who did get the Bears to the Super Bowl the next year, and Phil Emery invested in Cutler, who has won just one playoff game in his seven Bears seasons, coach John Fox and GM Ryan Pace have not gone all-in on quarterbacks they inherited. They stayed with Cutler without any real alternative last year, and Fox admitted that Cutler was perhaps one of the biggest positive surprises coming out of last season, when then-coordinator Adam Gase was the loudest voice in the room on that quarterback decision and the organization stayed with the quarterback to whom millions were guaranteed.

Now there is an alternative, who like McCown was vis’a’vis Cutler, is not Cutler’s football equal physically (“Have you seen him throw?” McCown answered one reporter asking what Cutler did that he, McCown, couldn’t).

Whether the Bears take that alternative will play out in practice and possibly a game over the next seven days.

Blackhawks: Abbott happy to be back after season in Sweden

Blackhawks: Abbott happy to be back after season in Sweden

Spencer Abbott enjoyed his short stint in Rockford, which came after he was acquired by the Blackhawks in February 2015. At the time, he thought staying here was his most likely plan.

Then he got an offer Frölunda in Sweden.

“I thought, ‘why not give it a shot? Maybe it’ll be a good experience and bring it back with me,’” said Abbott on Monday. “It was worth it, for sure. I have no regrets.”

Abbott, who’s back with the Blackhawks, had never been to Europe prior to getting that Frölunda offer. But his first trip across the pond was a good one as Abbott was part of Frölunda’s run to its Swedish and Champions hockey league titles. Abbott had 14 goals and 21 assists in 51 regular-season games. Abbott got plenty out of the games, but not nearly as much as he did in the team’s training camp.

“The first month and a half you’re over there, you’re there from 8 [a.m.] to 4 [p.m.] every day. I think over here there’s a rule against being here for more than 3-4 hours, but not over there. It’s like a 9-5 job for a month and a half, a lot of working out, a lot of bike riding. So for me, that was good because I had never been in that kind of shape before,” said Abbott, who added he’s trying to incorporate some of that into his routine here. “Training camps here are hard but they’re just different over there. There’s a lot of ice, bigger ice [overseas], so they really condition you. So my conditioning may be a bit better.”

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As much as Abbott loved his time in Sweden, he ultimately wanted to be back in the NHL. So when the Blackhawks offered him a one-year deal, he jumped at it. He’s gotten off to a good start this training camp, scoring a few goals in the team’s early scrimmages.

“I wasn’t sure how it would play out, to be honest. I’m 28 and pretty early in the summer they were showing interest,” Abbott said. “This is one for the places I really wanted to come, because I did l really like the organization when I was here for that brief period of time. Now I get the full effect as long as they’ll have me. It’s such a good organization.”

Abbott probably could have kept playing overseas but he wanted another chance in the NHL. He’s happy it’s once again coming in the Blackhawks’ organization.

“It’s overwhelming. There are so many places to play hockey nowadays in Europe. There are tons of leagues over there. But it didn’t interest me,” he said. “I wanted to come back and give it one more shot.”