Aug. 26, 2014
Full Northwestern Weekly News Conference (All-Access)
The Skip Report: Hard Work Pays Off for Ellis
EVANSTON, Ill. -- For the first time since 2009, Northwestern Football takes the field for a season-opener on its home turf at Ryan Field, kicking off its 127th season of intercollegiate competition against the University of California Saturday. The 'Cats are setting their sights on a home-and-home sweep of the Golden Bears, whom Northwestern defeated, 44-30, when the teams opened last season under the lights in Berkeley.
Northwestern's season-opener will be played under the watchful eyes of the ABC network cameras, broadcasting to a national audience with an ESPN2 mirror. Fans can also choose to watch the game online or on their mobile devices via WatchESPN. On the radio, the game can be found on 87.7 FM The Game in Chicago or TheGameChicago.com, with the veteran tandem of Dave Eanet and Ted Albrecht in the Ryan Field radio booth and Jordan Bernfield on sideline.
Northwestern Game Notes
Now in his ninth campaign as the head coach of his alma mater, Pat Fitzgerald
on Saturday will attempt to maintain his undefeated record (8-0) in season-openers. The last four have come on the road against BCS-conference opponents (at Vanderbilt, at Boston College, at Syracuse, at Cal). All told, the Wildcats are riding a nine-game winning streak in lid-lifters, with their last season-opening loss coming in a 48-45 defeat to TCU in 2004.
Saturday against California, Northwestern will be putting an impressive home winning streak on the line. The Wildcats have won their last 16 home games vs. nonconference opponents, a stretch that began with their 2008 season-opening win vs. Syracuse. The 16 straight wins are tied for the seventh-longest active streak among FBS teams, behind only LSU (40), Wisconsin (29), Boise State (29), Texas Tech (25), Auburn (23) and Alabama (18).
Following the graduation of the dynamic Kain Colter, Northwestern will be turning to a quarterback with just three career starts under his belt. Fortunately for Wildcats fans, that quarterback is Trevor Siemian, who has compiled more than 3,700 passing yards and 20 touchdown passes in his already successful career as an "understudy" to Colter. Although slowed by a nagging injury during the 2013 Big Ten season, Siemian showed off his ability to spread the ball around in last year's season finale at Illinois, racking up 414 passing yards -- the 10th-best single-game effort ever by an NU signal-caller -- and four touchdown passes.
Siemian will be taking snaps from one of the most experienced offensive linemen in the country in senior Brandon Vitabile. Vitabile has started all 38 games of his NU career, making him one of only eight offensive linemen in the country with an active streak of at least 38 games started. Along the way, the New Jersey native has played 2,816 career snaps, fourth-most among active FBS O-Linemen.
Now in his seventh season at Northwestern, veteran coordinator Mike Hankwitz returns plenty of experience on his side of the ball, with nine starters back from a defense that learned how to play in close games a year ago. Despite losing All-Big Ten defensive end Tyler Scott, the Wildcats' front four has the potential to again be a disruptive force thanks to explosive ends Dean Lowry, Deonte Gibson and Ifeadi Odenigbo. Lowry (6-6, 280 lbs.) and Gibson (270 lbs.) combine speed and power on the edges, while the passing-rush specialist Odenigbo looks to build on the impact he made as a redshirt freshman when recorded only 9.0 total tackles but made them count, with 6.5 TFLs and 5.5 sacks.
Sophomore Jack Mitchell emerged from training camp with the starting place-kicking role, and although he has yet to enter a game on the gridiron for the Wildcats, Mitchell has played for the last two seasons on the baseball diamond for NU. As one of six Division I baseball players last spring who also were members of their school's football team, Mitchell started 21 games in the outfield in 2014 and batting .257 with 10 RBI and 10 runs scored. This fall, he'll do his part in replacing 2013 All-American Jeff Budzien, who graduated as Northwestern's all-time leader in points scored and field goal percentage.
The Last Meeting
August 31, 2013
No. 22 Northwestern Roars By California, 44-30
Hitting the gridiron in the state of California for the first time since the 1996 Rose Bowl, 22nd-ranked Northwestern pulled away from California, 44-30, Saturday night (Sunday morning).
Northwestern and California are meeting on the gridiron
for only the third time in their programs' histories, completing a home-and-home series that brought them together for the first time since clashing in the Rose Bowl on Jan. 1, 1949. In that game, the Wildcats -- who were making their first-ever bowl appearance that day under head coach Bob Voigts -- scored a touchdown with 2:59 remaining and intercepted a pass inside their own 5-yard line in the final minute to earn a 20-14 win, capping an 8-2 season.
Last year, NU and Cal were locked in a tight contest typical of a season-opener, but Northwestern prevailed thanks to two interceptions returned for touchdowns by Collin Ellis as well as 129 yards and two TDs on 16 carries by running back Treyvon Green.
Prior to 2013, Northwestern had not faced a team from the Pac-12 since meeting UCLA in the 2005 Sun Bowl (El Paso, Texas), a 50-38 win for the Bruins. The Wildcats' 2013 win vs. Cal also was its first 'W' vs. a Pac-12 team since a 1974 victory over Oregon (10 games).
Northwestern features nine California natives on its roster, including true sophomore tailback Warren Long.
California arrives in Evanston ready to begin its second season under head coach Sonny Dykes, who brought with him to Berkeley one of the most explosive offensive systems in college football today. Known as the "Air Raid" offense--or, if you're a Cal fan, the "Bear Raid"--the pass-heavy attack helped quarterback Jared Goff throw for more than 3,500 yards as a true freshman in 2013. Joining Goff in the backfield once again this season is another promising true sophomore, Khalfani Muhammad, who led the Bears with 445 rushing yards in his rookie campaign.
Even with Goff's prolific season, however, Cal struggled to a 1-11 season a year ago, and today is looking to snap a run of 16 consecutive losses to FBS opponents. Should the Golden Bears come up short against Northwesterna, their next chance for an FBS win will come in their Pac-12 opener when they travel to Arizona on Sept. 20.
On defense, Cal is led in part by senior safety Michael Lowe, whose 18 starts are tied with linebacker Jalen Jefferson for most among active Cal defensive players. A native of Maryland, Lowe is Cal's active career leader with 150 tackles, four interceptions that he has returned for 67 yards, eight pass breakups and two fumble recoveries that he has returned for 19 yards.
Click the links at the top of the page to access complete Northwestern and California game notes.
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