Sep 6, 2013
To preview Northwestern's home-opener vs. Syracuse (Saturday, 5 p.m. CT, BTN), Skip Myslenski caught up with the greenest member of Northwestern's defense unit, cornerback Dwight White, as well as the longest-serving Wildcats coach, secondary coach Jerry Brown. They discuss their approach for the game after White was thrust into the starting lineup due to last week's injury to Daniel Jones.
THE REALITY: Jerry Brown, the venerable vet who coaches the `Cats defensive backs, is discussing Dwight White, the redshirt freshman who is now starting at corner after Daniel Jones suffered a season-ending injury against Cal. Does he expect Syracuse to go after White Saturday at Ryan Field, he is asked?
"Yeah. Yeah," Brown says with a laugh. "He's the newbie. I'd do the same thing. And he knows it. He understands the game. He's a bright young man."
"I'm the young guy. Anybody who knows football, they know they're going to pick on the young guy," says White himself, proving his brightness. "They're going to throw the ball at me and I'm going to try and make plays. That's what I'm here to do. My coaches trust me, obviously. They put me on the field when a player went down. So I have to step up and do exactly what he was doing, or do it better. I have to go out there and make a statement."
FLASHBACK: Jones went down and White replaced him in the final seconds of the first half last Saturday and immediately, on the very next play, Cal went after him. The newbie won this battle, pinning Bear receiver Bryce Treggs along the sideline and allowing no separation. But then, on Cal's fifth play of the second half, Bear receiver Chris Harper ran a deep post against him and got two steps on him and caught a pass behind him that went for a 52-yard touchdown. "Like any football game," Brown will say of this play, "you catch a new guy out there, he's going to get baptized. And he did. I always tell him it's a great experience for him. Obviously, he's not going to believe me at the time. But all corners have to go through it."
Why is it a good experience?
"I think it's good for any guy to experience the ups-and-downs in the flow of the game, especially when it's your first opportunity," explains Brown. "For corners, they're going to get tested, it's a test of their mental strength. Now he finds out a lot about himself."
What did he find out about him?
"I think he's courageous enough to go back out there. He's fine."
How did you react when Coach Brown said it was a good experience for you to get burned, we are soon asking White.
"I'd heard it before," he says. "When it happened in practice or in the spring game, he says that when you're a young guy. He's letting you know you need to experience things like that basically because once you experience it, you know how it feels and you don't want to let it happen to you again. For a second, it's a devastating moment, obviously. Coach Brown understands that. I needed to experience it. I experienced it. Now I just need to bounce back and make plays."
Can he explain just how it did feel to get burned?
"I really can't explain it, actually. It happened so fast and literally seconds after it I had great teammates surrounding me and telling me to brush it off, play the next play, make things happen, you're out here for a reason, show people why you're out here."
THE CHANGE: Last Monday, while discussing White, Pat Fitzgerald said, "He went into the (Cal) game knowing he would probably be part of our dime package. Took a lot of reps in camp, but now all of a sudden he's thrust into a starting role. So one man's injury and really difficult time is another man's opportunity. This is now Dwight's opportunity. I think he learned a lot. As always, when you're out there for the first time, you're going to learn a lot about yourself, you're going to learn a lot about the attention to detail it's going to take."
"I learned you can never do enough," White will say when asked about his coach's comment. "You can always do more in the film room, with your teammates, just building up your confidence. Before going into a game, you can always prepare more in practice. I was working as hard as I could before, and now I realize I can work that much harder and be in the best position as possible going into the game. Mentally I'm really putting everything I have into it, making sure I know what's going on out there, making sure I know the plays, making sure the safeties and I are on the same page, making sure everybody's working together on defense."
QUICKLY NOTED: Quarterback Kain Colter took snaps during Wednesday's practice, the last open to the public. Later he said, "I plan to play this week. Right now it's a step-by-step procedure. There's a few more steps. But right now I'm on pace, so I'm planning to play."
Colter exited the Cal game after two plays and after, he said, "I got my bell rung a little bit." He never returned even though, he said, "I tried to talk my way in the whole game. I wasn't very persuasive." And now? "I've taken way bigger hits than that, and you can't play football scared. So I'll still be the same player," he said. "Don't expect me to go out there and truck safeties and linebackers. But I'm going to go out there and make all the plays I can make. I'm going to be the same player."
Syracuse, just like Cal, has a new head coach. His name is Scott Shafer, the former defensive coordinator who was promoted after Doug Marrone left to take over the Buffalo Bills. "I envision a hard-nosed team that's from a hard-nosed town," he said at his introductory press conference, which gives weight to Fitzgerald's analysis of the Orange. "I think they've taken on the persona of Coach Shafer. Hard-nosed is his mentality and that's what we saw from them in their opener (which they lost by six to Penn State)."
One interesting stat from that game: The Nittany Lions were just 1-of-16 (6.3 percent) on third-down conversions.
Syracuse's new defensive coordinator is Chuck Bullough, who held down various positions with the Bears from 1999 through 2003.
Asked about the Orange defense, Colter said, "They like to blitz a lot. I know they have a new defensive coordinator. But when you've got a defensive guy calling the shots, I'm pretty sure they're going to blitz like they did last year. . .
'Cuse quarterback Drew Allen, who transferred in after spending three seasons at Oklahoma, made his first career start against Penn State and ended it 16-of-37 for 189 yards with two interceptions.
Shafer and `Cat superbacks coach Bob Heffner were on the Northern Illinois staff together in 1996. `Cuse offensive coordinator George McDonald and `Cat wide receiver coach Dennis Springer were on the Ball State staff together in 2000.
AND FINALLY: White, on what allows him to play corner, where he is (as the old saying goes) on an island: "I have a fire within me, I guess, from what I learned as a child. You don't let anybody beat you. Every defensive back should have that mentality. I think that's what's going to help me play out there. Just having that I'm-out-here-for-a-reason mentality. I'm out here to make plays. Let's do it."
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