Siemian, Wildcats open home slate in style

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Siemian, Wildcats open home slate in style

EVANSTON -- It was a little bit of deja vu for coach Pat Fitzgerald and the Northwestern Wildcats in the home opener Saturday.

A week after Trevor Siemian led a late drive to sneak out of Syracuse with a one-point win, the sophomore quarterback was back at it against Vanderbilt in a 23-13 win over the Commodores at Ryan Field.

The Wildcats' offense had sputtered all game until Siemian made his second appearance in the contest with his team down 10-6 in the third quarter. He completed 5-of-6 passes and engineered an 86-yard drive, ending in Venric Mark's seven-yard touchdown scamper.

The Commodores (0-2) promptly marched down the field on the next drive, but the Northwestern (2-0) defense held up in the red zone and forced a field goal.

Rain started to trickle down as Siemian took the ball on the Wildcats' next drive, which seemed to be fizzling out as the clock ticked down under four minutes. But on a third-and-15, the 6-foot-3 Florida native fired a pass toward wide receiver Rashad Lawrence on the sideline, who appeared to come down with the catch before losing control of the ball and fumbling out of bounds.

The referees reviewed the play and after a few tense moments, confirmed the call on the field that it was, indeed, a 34-yard reception and -- more importantly -- a first down.

"I didn't think he held on to it, to be honest with you," Siemian said. "And then it took a while and I thought maybe they're gonna swing it our way. Credit to Rashad. He made a heck of a catch. For him to be able to stick that one was huge for us."

Siemian finished the march down field and Jeff Budzien kicked an 18-yard field goal, his third of the day.

On the ensuing possession, Northwestern defensive end Tyler Scott forced a fumble from Vanderbilt quarterback Jordan Rodgers -- the younger brother of Packers superstar Aaron Rodgers -- and the Wildcats recovered, all but ending the game.

"As a defense, we said we weren't done," Scott said. "We wanted to go out there and get some pressure on Jordan and cause him to throw the ball away or do something. It turned out even better."

Wildcats quarterback Kain Colter put the final stamp on the victory with a 29-yard dash to the endzone after he appeared to be trapped on another third-and-15. Colter finished with 66 yards on the ground and 42 through the air.

"Great to get a win. Very appreciative of our students. The crowd tonight was great," Fitzgerald said of the 31,644 fans in attendance, many of whom stuck around despite the fourth-quarter rain.

"It was the largest crowd we've had for a non-conference opener in a long time. To see the amount of students today with us not being in class yet was something special. You play for that, hopefully represent them the right way and I was just very appreciative of them coming out."

The fans didn't have much to cheer about in the first half, as the Wildcats put up just 85 yards of offense, only 10 of which came through the air. Colter and Siemian combined for an ugly 3-for-10 completion rate.

"Offensively, we fought ourselves today for a while," Fitzgerald said. "I'm not trying to discredit Vanderbilt. They played well and they had a great plan. But we have to throw the ball better, we have to catch the ball better and we've gotta execute better if we're gonna win moving forward.

"That was probably my biggest disappointment going into half, was the plays we left out there...I think we can be better than that. I really do. That's what we talked about at halftime."

Whatever Fitzgerald said apparently worked, as Northwestern outscored the Commodores 20-3 in the second half, including 17 fourth-quarter points. Siemian finished 10-of-16 for 91 yards while Mark racked up 158 all-purpose yards, including 123 rushing.

Rodgers finished with 217 yards, but only 86 came in the second half and 55 of those came on one big play during Vanderbilt's lone scoring drive after halftime.

The Wildcats held the Commodores to just three yards per carry on the night and forced the only two turnovers of the game.

"The defense played outstanding," Mark said. "They kept getting stops and the offense struggled, but once again, the defense stopped them. We finally got it clicking on all cylinders."

Fitzgerald agreed.

"I thought our defense gave us a chance to stay in the ballgame," Fitzgerald said. "I thought we played very well, very sound...We got good pressure on the quarterback and we affected him. There's no question about that."

The Wildcats will be home for the rest of September and head into next week's matchup with Boston College undefeated, no matter how close -- or flawed -- the victories were.

"The Wildcat Way is the way we play," Mark said. "Coach always harps on playing with passion and because we represent the Big Ten, we don't take any opponent lightly. We're going to come every week ready to play the game."

Notre Dame sorting through safety options after Max Redfield's dismissal

Notre Dame sorting through safety options after Max Redfield's dismissal

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Brian Kelly had to chuckle a bit when asked what he could tell a larger-than-normal media contingent about Devin Studstill, the true freshman and presumptive favorite to replace Max Redfield at free safety Sept. 4 against Texas. 

“We’ll have a true freshman on the road playing against a talented team,” Kelly said with a bit of a laugh that, given the circumstances, sounded a bit nervous.

No matter how confident Notre Dame players and coaches are in Studstill, there’s still that unknown part of leaning on a safety who will play his first college football game in front of an exected sellout crowd of about 100,000 people in primetime at Darrell K. Royal Stadium in Austin. 

Kelly described Studstill as a “natural” as the Florida native took first-team reps away from Redfield during spring practice. Linebacker and captain James Onwualu said Studstill’s transition back into the first-team defense has “gone smoothly” with only a handful of practices left until Notre Dame heads to Austin. 

“He was here in the spring, which helped a lot,” Onwualu. “He came in ready to work from Day 1 and you gotta respect that. He’s been working his craft, working his game and there’s not much of a drop-off. He’s got a lot to learn. He’s still young, obviously, so (we) try to push some knowledge on him and continue to talk the game and show him as many looks (as possible).”

Kelly used “talented” and “confident” to describe Studstill this time around. But it won’t be just him at free safety, Kelly cautioned. 

“I think we’ll have to play a few guys at that position,” Kelly said. “I don’t think he’s going to go out there and take every snap.”

At the top of that list: sixth-year graduate student Avery Sebastian, who broke a bone in his foot in Week 1 against Texas last year and missed the rest of the season. The 5-foot-10, 200 pound Cal transfer, who also missed nearly all of the 2013 season with an injury, started six games for the Golden Bears from 2011-2014. 

In exchange for the experience Sebastian brings to the position, Notre Dame would slide a guy who’s more of an in-the-box strong safety over to free safety. The other options at free safety are freshman Jalen Elliott, a former four-star recruit, and sophomore Nicco Fertitta, who saw action on special teams last year. 

Kelly said there haven’t been any conversations about moving an offensive player to free safety to manufacture more depth.

“We feel like we’ve got enough back there that we’ll be solid,” Kelly said. 

Notre Dame’s defense is peppered with first-time starters, which creates plenty of unknowns heading into the 2016 season. In losing Redfield, a player who Kelly said was starting to put everything together after a few inconsistent seasons, another question mark was added to VanGorder’s defense. 

That doesn’t mean that Studstill and whoever else is back at free safety are destined to fail. Maybe Studstill and/or Elliott clears their first-year hurdles and is a solid player and Sebastian winds up being a reliable option there, too. 

But Notre Dame’s defense very likely was going to be better off with Redfield as a starting safety. 

“Max was an outstanding player, and he was having a great, great camp,” Kelly said. “He had a great spring. He’s athletic, he’s fast. So you’re taking a really good player off your defense. But we’ll be able to plug in a guy there that I think will get the job done for us.” 

CSN Preps Power Rankings: No. 1 Loyola Academy

CSN Preps Power Rankings: No. 1 Loyola Academy

CSNChicago.com preps reporter "Edgy" Tim O’Halloran spotlights 100 high school football teams in 100 days. The first 75 team profiles focus on teams making strides across Chicagoland and elsewhere in the state. Starting Aug. 1, we’ll unveil the @CSNPreps Top 25 Power Rankings, leading up to kickoff on Friday, Aug. 26. View Edgy Tim's other football previews here.

School: Loyola Academy

Head coach: John Holecek

How they fared in 2015: 14-0 (4-0) Chicago Catholic League Blue Conference. Loyola Academy made the Class 8A state playoff field. The Ramblers defeated West Aurora, Stevenson, Homewood-Flossmoor, Palatine and Marist to capture the 8A IHSA state football title. 

Biggest storyline in 2016: Can the Ramblers repeat in Class 8A?

Names to watch this season: TE Jake Marwede, DB Ian Swenson

​​​​​[PREPS: Edgy Tim's Countdown to Kickoff series]

Biggest holes to fill: Loyola will need to find answers at a handful of key spots including quarterback and running back.

EDGY's early take: Despite having to replace 14 starters from last year's title team, look for Loyola to reload once again. Holecek has some headliner names in place, along with a very talented and deep roster this season. If Loyola can find some answers early on offense, the defense usually plays at a very high level and can help the offense. 

Ramblers schedule:

Aug. 26 at Milwaukee Marquette (7:30 p.m.)

Sept. 3 vs. Maine South (1:30 p.m.)

Sept. 9 vs. Mount Carmel *at Gately* (7:30 p.m.)

Sept. 17 vs. St. Francis (1:30 p.m.)

Sept. 23 vs. Fenwick *at Triton College* (7:30 p.m.)

Oct. 1 vs. St. Rita (1:30 p.m.)

Oct. 7 vs. Leo (7:30 p.m.)

Oct. 15 vs. Providence Catholic (1:30 p.m.)

Oct. 21 at Brother Rice (7:30 p.m.)

Fire fail to hold another lead at home, but reason why was different

Fire fail to hold another lead at home, but reason why was different

Holding onto leads at home has not been a strong suit for the Fire this season.

Wednesday’s 2-2 draw against the LA Galaxy was the fifth time this season the Fire have been unable to get a win at home in a match they led. In four of those, including Wednesday, the Fire had leads in the second half.

In the previous cases, the Fire dropped deep defensively and tried to simply hold onto the lead or hope David Accam could score on a one-man counter.

“I think once we’re up in the result I think we have to make sure that we kill the game off because there’s been too many times where it’s that 1-0 or that 2-1 and we’re kind of holding there and the next thing you know they’re tying the game at the end of the game,” midfielder Arturo Alvarez said. “We got to keep pushing for that third goal to make sure that we kill things off.”

The game against LA was different. The Fire had multiple quality chances to score a third goal and take a two-goal lead. One opportunity featuring Accam, Luis Solignac and an open net seemed like a sure goal as it was developing.

However, the Fire didn’t find that two-goal lead and LA managed to come back.

“I think we created a lot of chances,” Alvarez said. “We went up 2-1 and unfortunately that third goal didn’t want to go in at the right time and then LA got that bounce.”

[SHOP: Get your own Fire jersey here]

Even though the result didn’t show it, the Fire may have actually turned a corner in terms of how to play with a lead. In the win at Montreal on Saturday, the Fire scored that extra goal to take a two-goal lead, something the team hadn’t done all season in an MLS game.

Against the Galaxy, the Fire actually had more possession in the second half (56 percent) than the first half (46 percent). LA’s only shot on goal in the second half was the tying goal while the Fire put three shots on target in the second 45 minutes.

The Fire did fail to close out another match at home that they had a lead in, but the way it happened was different and maybe that’s a positive sign going forward.

“I think it’s starts from the offense,” Accam said. “If we could have scored then we could have killed the game. The defense did really well. We just need to keep finishing chances and then opponents won’t have the chance to attack us.

“I think we played one of the best games we played this season, but we need to take our chances and today I would say we are disappointed that we dropped two points at home. For me also we created so many chances that on another day we could have taken it. It’s kind of a mixed feeling for me.”