Northwestern sets new record in victory over Indiana

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Northwestern sets new record in victory over Indiana

It started ugly and got interesting late, but in the end Indiana had no answer for the Northwestern offense.

The Wildcats set a school record with 704 yards of offense in a 44-29 win over Indiana Saturday afternoon at Ryan Field to begin the Big Ten season.

Kain Colter amassed 292 yards of offense, including 161 yards and four touchdowns on the ground, Venric Mark added 139 rushing yards of his own and quarterback Trevor Siemian threw for 308 yards in the Wildcats' Big Ten opener, moving them to 5-0 on the season.

But the record-setting day didnt start well. Colter threw an interception on Northwesterns second possession and attempted just three passes all afternoon, but made up for it on the ground and through the air. His 144 all-purpose yards in the first half helped the Wildcats to four scoring drives to race out to a 20-0 halftime lead.

I think theres a lot of ways we could go with this, Colter said, regarding his versatility. We finally decided to bring it out this week, and it was something we had planned for throughout the season. It worked pretty well today, I think we had season-highs in a bunch of different categories.

Siemian looked early and often for Colter, especially on third down. The two connected six times in the first half, including five times on third down, for 90 yards which all went for first downs. Colter finished with nine catches for 131 yards, while Siemian also fed wide receivers Christian Jones and Rashard Lawrence for four catches apiece.

Siemian finished 22-of-32 for 308 yards and an interception, and also had a touchdown pass dropped by wide receiver Demetrius Fields in the fourth quarter. Fitzgerald was pleased with what he called Siemians first start, due to the game plan to utilize Colter as a receiver and runner.

But it was Colter who carried Northwesterns momentum out of halftime and into the second half, scoring on a 15-yard touchdown run, his third of the game, to extend the lead to 27-0.

But the Hoosiers responded with their first score of the game, a 20-yard touchdown scamper from running back Stephen Houston, who finished with 91 yards on 11 rushes.

Less than two minutes later, a Mark fumble following a 25-yard run into enemy territory gave the Hoosiers the ball. Back-up quarterback Nate Sudfeld, who played most of the second half in place of starter Cameron Coffman, then found Kofi Hughes on a 35-yard touchdown pass to pull within two scores, 27-14.

We took some shots down the field and they made some incredible plays, Sudfeld said of his receivers. It was awesome to see just how great of plays they could make. They made me look a lot better than I was playing.

Sudfield finished 9-of-16 for 157 yards and a touchdown, while Coffman finished 13-of-23 with 109 yards and an interception.

Mark atoned for his fumble on the next possession, capping a seven-play, 75-yard drive with a 1-yard touchdown run to extend the lead back to twenty.

But the Hoosiers struck again quickly, with Tevin Coleman going 96 yards on the ensuing kickoff for a touchdown, cutting their deficit to 13 points. The Wildcats settled for a Jeff Budzien field goal on their next drive, his third of the game and 10th straight to begin the season.

The scoring barrage continued into the fourth quarter when Indiana's D'Angelo Roberts found the end zone to again cut the Hoosiers deficit, this time to 10, less than a minute in. An end-around to Hughes for a two-point conversion made it a one-possession game.

Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald said the change in play from the first to the second half was a bout of his team losing itself rather than being outplayed.

I thought the only thing that really slowed us down today was us, he said. We had a plan, I thought the guys were executing it pretty well. One-man breakdowns, not picking things up that we expected to see, turnovers. You lose the turnover battle, you give up explosion plays, kickoff return yards like we did. We dodged a bullet today.

With the Wildcats on the move again midway through the fourth quarter, the Indiana defense came up with a rare second half stop when cornerback Alexander Cobb intercepted a Siemian pass intended for Colter. The halted drive set up the Hoosiers for a potential game-tying drive, but the Wildcats defense, behind Damien Proby's team-high 14 tackles, stepped up to force a three-and-out with less than nine minutes to go.

But as was the case much of the afternoon, the Hoosiers could not get a defensive stop when they needed it. Colter led an eight-play, 62-yard drive, capped off by his 22-yard rushing touchdown, to give the Wildcats a 15-point lead with less than six minutes to play.

Northwestern wins with heavy hearts

Before taking questions at his postgame press conference, Fitzgerald spoke about the hardships the team has gone through this week with the deaths of three Northwestern community members.

First and foremost, very difficult week around not only our football program, but around campus here, our football family and the greater Evanston community. We'd like to express our thoughts and prayers to the young Evanstonian, to our student and to Leon Brockmeiers family.

We dedicated the game on Monday to Leon's family and we want to lift them up in our thoughts and prayers. Obviously taken from us too soon. I know a lot of his teammates got together with his wife down in Florida today and were watching the game. Hopefully we made them proud and we've got two little guys and a beautiful woman that we're gonna need to support as we move forward. Very difficult week for our university and for our entire Wildcat family.

What pushed Theo Epstein over the edge in making Miguel Montero decision: ‘It screamed out’

What pushed Theo Epstein over the edge in making Miguel Montero decision: ‘It screamed out’

WASHINGTON – Cubs president Theo Epstein watched the Washington Nationals run wild on his iPad on Tuesday while visiting the Class-A Myrtle Beach affiliate. As Epstein did some work in his hotel room later that night, he got a text message from general manager Jed Hoyer alerting him to Miguel Montero’s explosive comments.  

Epstein’s management style is to not overreact or worry about the next day’s headlines. He generally believes in second chances, tries to keep an open mind and looks at the problem from every angle, occasionally to the point of paralysis by analysis.

But Epstein said it took “probably 10 seconds” before he realized the Cubs needed to designate Montero for assignment after the veteran catcher pointed the finger at Jake Arrieta – a Cy Young Award-winning, All-Star pitcher – for Washington’s seven stolen bases.    

“It screamed out as something that we should do,” Epstein said.     

As Montero’s rant caught fire on Twitter, Epstein called Hoyer and spoke to Montero on the phone, but he wanted to sleep on it and consult with some players before making Wednesday’s final decision, which could cost approximately $7 million. Epstein could not envision this as a team-building moment after Montero’s mea culpa and clearing the air with Arrieta.

“That was not my read on it, knowing the dynamics, present and past,” Epstein said. “This was not something that we would benefit from – trying to pursue a path of putting it all back together again.”

The Cubs pursued Aroldis Chapman after the New York Yankees closer began last season serving a 30-game suspension under Major League Baseball’s domestic-violence policy. The Cubs cautiously didn’t judge or unconditionally support Addison Russell after a third-party abuse accusation on social media triggered an MLB investigation this month. The Cubs tolerated Tommy La Stella’s refusal to report to Triple-A Iowa last summer, allowing him to chill out at home in New Jersey.

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But Montero doesn’t have a 100-mph fastball. Montero isn’t an All-Star shortstop. Montero isn’t being preserved for one hypothetical pinch-hit at-bat in the playoffs. The Cubs are hovering around .500 now – no longer the World Series favorite – and all those variables become part of the calculus.   

“I just came to the conclusion that now more than ever we really need to be a team,” Epstein said. “This was an example of someone being a bad teammate publicly, and that we’d be better off moving on and not standing for it, because we do hold our players to a higher standard than that.

“In our role as the front office, we can’t always be in the clubhouse and push the right buttons to help everyone come together as a team. But we certainly are in a position – when we see something that could fracture the group – to try to fix the situation and remove that issue.

“Miggy’s not to blame at all for the issues that we have as a team right now. He should not be a scapegoat for what’s going on. This was just an example of someone publicly not being a good teammate and making comments that weren’t accountable and weren’t supportive and weren’t in furtherance of the team concept. And we felt we had to act on it.”

There is a chicken-or-the-egg mystery to clubhouse cohesion. But Montero probably would have had a longer fuse – and the bosses would have had a longer leash – if the Cubs were 24 games above .500 the way they were at this time last year. Montero could also get away with a lot more when he was a two-time All-Star for the Arizona Diamondbacks and playing in a sleepy market. 

“Had we been in a spot where this group had already formed its identity and was clicking on all cylinders,” Epstein said, “and had already overcome adversity together and come together completely as a team and we’re rolling in those respects, maybe it could have been handled differently by the group without sort of action from above.

“But I think you have to factor in where the team is and what the team needs and how close we are to reaching our ideal and how close we are to living up to all the values that we have as an organization.”

The Cubs Way isn’t exactly making it up as they go along. But there are always double standards and rationalizations in a bottom-line business. It sounds like Epstein did his due diligence without giving it a second thought: Montero wasn’t worth the trouble anymore. 

“There aren’t that many opportunities for people out of uniform to positively impact the group or nudge it in the right direction,” Epstein said, “or underscore the importance of team or emphasize the values that we try to embody as a group.

“This was one that made sense, given the history, the group dynamics, all the factors involved.”

Can Leonard Floyd break out in 2017? The Bears like the early signs

Can Leonard Floyd break out in 2017? The Bears like the early signs

The Bears believe Leonard Floyd will make the leap from being a promising rookie to a breakout second-year player, the kind who can be a centerpiece of a defense as soon as this fall.  

The Bears in 2016 totaled 37 sacks —12th in the NFL — despite dealing with a rash of injuries and not having a standout player in terms of getting to the quarterback. Willie Young led the team with 7 1/2 sacks, which tied him for 31st in the league last year, while Floyd and Akiem Hicks each had seven. 

Sixteen players recorded double-digit sacks last year. That’s not the end-all benchmark for Floyd in 2017, but for a former top-10 pick with elite skills and, as his coaches and teammate said, the right mentality, it’s not out of the question. 

“With most players, you go from your freshman year to sophomore or rookie to second year, … it slows down, they understand it, they're not thinking, they're reacting,” coach John Fox said. “And so I'd expect that and I've seen that already even in the off-season.”

Floyd, earlier this month, talked about how much more comfortable he feels after a full year of practicing and playing at the NFL level. 

“Everything was just fast when I got here last year,” Floyd said. “This year’s it’s way slower and I feel like I’m doing pretty good this year.”

There are two issues with Floyd that won’t go away until he proves they’re not problems in the regular season, though: His weight and his concussions. 

The weight issue is one Floyd has heard for a while, joking with reporters during veteran minicamp that he was surprised it wasn’t the first thing he was asked during his session with the media. He said he “definitely gained some weight” without revealing how much he’s put on, only saying he feels like he’s in much better shape now than he was as a rookie.

“It’s like night and day compared to last year,” Floyd said. 

The concessions are a far more serious — and scary — issue given it took Floyd two months to fully recover from the second concussion he suffered in 2016. 

The Bears believe Floyd’s concussion issues are correctable, though, given they were the product of poor tackling form made worse by collisions with Hicks. The crown of Floyd’s helmet was too low, so he and defensive coordinator Vic Fangio worked with tackling dummies and sled machines in an effort to fix that issue. 

The hope is that Floyd can stay healthy and marry his skills with a better knowledge of the game to put together a breakout year in 2017. His teammates sounded confident during the offseason program that everything was falling into place for the former ninth overall pick. 

“He’s a great competitor,” Hicks said. “Great energy, fast, athletic, he’s everything you want in an outside linebacker, right? Nonstop motor — I can give you all the cliche terms, but I just feel like as far as the defensive line or an outside linebacker, another year under his belt is only going to make him better.”

Added linebacker Jerrell Freeman: “That guy is going to be good for a while.”