What to watch for when Northwestern takes on Cal

What to watch for when Northwestern takes on Cal
August 29, 2014, 12:15 pm
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Vinnie Duber

The Wildcats open their season Saturday with an 2:30 p.m. matchup against Cal. Here’s what you should be paying attention to when Northwestern takes the field.

Rush order

Much like last season, the Wildcats are abruptly without running back Venric Mark, who shockingly transferred after missing most of last season due to injury. That means another round of filling his void, and that means another opportunity for Treyvon Green to show what he can do. The good news for the Cats on this front is that they have had a bit more time to prepare for life without Mark this time around. He transferred a while back, plus Pat Fitzgerald & Co. knew he’d miss at least a couple games with a suspension earlier this summer. It’ll be up to Green to show he can be feature-back material. He’ll have help in Warren Long, No. 2 on the depth chart, and Stephen Buckley. And Fitzgerald said we’ll see true freshmen Solomon Vault and Justin Jackson. So, like last year, there’s a whole cast of characters who can step in for Mark. Saturday, we’ll start to see which ones can actually do it.

[MORE BIG TEN: The good, the bad, the B1G: Rutgers 41, Washington State 38]

He’s the guy

Aside from Mark’s stunning departure from the program — and that whole unionization thing — the talk of the offseason has been Trevor Siemian and how the senior quarterback will far now that he’s Northwestern’s only quarterback. For the past two years, we could expect to see a mixing of Siemian and Kain Colter, one passing, one rushing. It worked well in 2012. It didn’t in 2013. Now a more traditional method will take over, and it’s time for Siemian to show what he can do taking every snap. Mark’s absence means there could be an even bigger focus on the passing attack than previously believed. And though he’ll be without top target Christian Jones all season, Siemian could flourish. His numbers were fine last season, but the overall play seemed shaky at times. Chalk that up to an injury that was really bothering him. Siemian tore apart the Cal defense last year, so let’s see if he can do it again Saturday.

[MORE BIG TEN: The good, the bad, the B1G: Gophers 42, Eastern Illinois 20]

Bad blood?

Northwestern defeated Cal in last season’s opener on the West Coast. It was an extremely entertaining shootout, but it ended on a sour note, as Cal head coach Sonny Dykes confronted Fitzgerald during the postgame handshake, accusing Northwestern players of faking injuries to slow down Cal’s fast tempo. Fitzgerald took offense, and he’s made some thinly veiled comments this offseason about wanting to beat Dykes a second time. Northwestern should be favored, as despite a disappointing season last year in Evanston, Cal went just 1-11.