Sept. 20, 2013
Veteran scribe Skip Myslenski provides quick-hit looks at the recent play of Malin Jones on offense and Ibraheim Campbell on defense and also tells Northwestern fans what to expect from the Maine Black Bears Saturday.
Northwestern vs. Maine Game Preview
THE FORGOTTEN MAN (NOT!): His numbers are miniscule. But, of course, Pat Fitzgerald says stats are for losers. His contributions this season have not been evident to the casual observer. But, of course, there is more to it than that, which is why Fitzgerald says this of redshirt freshman running back Malin Jones. "He's got a great skill set to fit our offense," he will say. "He's doing a lot of things and doing a lot of things well. He's got a lot on his plate. I know you look at the stat line and you don't see 25 carries for 200 yards or nine catches for 189 yards. But I'm really pleased with the way Malin Jones is playing. I'm very excited about Malin."
For meetings, Jones sits in the running back room.
"So," he says, "I'm officially a running back." But, he adds in the next breath, "They've also got me doing a lot of H back." Then there are those duties he fills on both the punt and kick return teams. "It's a lot to learn," he finally says. "You've just got to focus and trust what the coaches are saying to you, put in more extra time than they allow you with the coaches. It's not going to come with just that. You've got to get in your playbook outside of the football facilities and things like that."
THE APPROACH: Ask Malin Jones the last time he was not the star of his team and he chuckles. Turns out he has always been just that. "All through middle school, youth league teams, high school, I've always been the guy playing both ways, special teams, everything. I've enjoyed it."
So how does he handle the adjustment to filling lesser roles?
"For me, it's not very hard," he says. "I was raised to be humble and raised to be a person that accepts the role they've given themselves. I believe that I can choose the role I'm going to get and based on the way I perform, I'm given a role. And they're very fair here. I've never seen [the coaching staff] giving someone a role they don't deserve, either less or more."
And what must he do to increase his role?
"Something Coach Fitz tells us is everybody has a role and if you're uncomfortable with your role, do something about it. So if I'm uncomfortable with where I am right now, I have to do something about it. How you get that (increased) role is do something about it. You got to go out there and perform and show the coaches you need to be in a different role from where they have you."
THE THIEF: Fitzgerald talks often of the process a player must go through for his career to progress, which is the reality Jones is experiencing now. It is also the same reality once confronted by junior safety Ibraheim Campbell. He was thrust into a starting role as a redshirt freshman in 2011, struggled through half a season, steadied himself, reached a comfort level and since then has only continued to improve.
Now he is not only the quarterback of the `Cat defense. He also enters Saturday's meeting with Maine with an interception in five consecutive games.
"From the minute he stepped on the field, he's been a playmaker for us," Fitzgerald says of him. "Now I think he's taking those steps to become an All-Big Ten-level player.
"Ibs is kind of what you want as a coach. He's the first guy to show up, the last guy to leave, he's a ringleader as far as getting guys to voluntarily come in and watch tape. He's kind of a pro. He does the little things in your craft that it takes to be a really solid football player."
KID'S STUFF: Campbell's streak also elicits this from his coach. "He's got terrific ball skills, and that's somewhat of a lost art in secondary play," he says here. "Nobody plays 500 anymore. Remember that game? You hit the ball up in the air, you catch it, you get x amount of points? Kids don't do that anymore. So you're seeing a lot of DB recruits who can't judge the ball well. They don't play multiple sports anymore. Guys just play one sport. Ibraheim's the other way around. He's on our depth (chart) as a return man. He's got really good ball skills. He's got a knack of tracking the ball, then arriving at the ball and making big plays."
QUICKLY NOTED: True freshman Matt Harris introduced himself last Saturday when he returned the opening kickoff 47 yards. This Saturday he could well get more exposure playing corner, where he took some reps with the starters during practice.
Harris, you may recall, got dinged on the opening kickoff of the `Cats season opener with Cal. That kept him out of practice until the next Thursday, which delayed his insertion into the corner rotation. "We would have liked to have gotten him more reps where we could have gotten him a little more experience, but (his injury) prevented that," explained `Cat defensive coordinator Mike Hankwitz. "Last week we got him in there and hopefully we can get him more reps (this week) to where we feel confident when he's out there.
Hankwitz's scouting report on the 5-foot-11, 180-pound Harris: "He's got a great demeanor, he likes the game, he competes and he can run. We like his size and speed, so we're excited about his future."
The `Cats have forced 19 punts, yet here's the anomaly. They have yet to register a punt return. "We've seen three opponents really not kick us the ball," explained Fitzgerald. "I guess that's a sign of respect. I don't know. But it'll come. It'll come."
It can't some soon enough for current punt returner Tony Jones, who said, "I'm still eager to return one. I just got to keep being patient, keep practicing, and hopefully we'll get one one of these weeks."
Running back Venric Mark, normally the `Cats punt returner, is listed as questionable for Saturday's game on their weekly injury report.
Maine, like the `Cats, is undefeated, its victories coming over Norfolk State, Massachusetts and Bryant.
In their first three games, the `Cats faced coaches in their first year at their respective school. Maine coach Jack Cosgrove, in stark contrast, is in his 21st season leading the Black Bears. "This is a team and a staff that have been together now for a long time," Fitzgerald said, noting the difference that makes. "So even compared to last week, P.J. (Fleck) and their staff are trying to teach Western (Michigan) how to win and win their way. But this is a team that's further along down that road. Maine knows how to win."
The Bears' catalyst is their senior quarterback Marcus Wasilewski, who is averaging 311 yards of total offense a game. As a passer he is 58-of-88 (65.9 percent) for 739 yards and five touchdowns with a pair of interceptions. . . The Bears' defense is surrendering an average of 14 points a game.
AND FINALLY: In its previous games with Big Ten schools, Maine lost by 18 to Nebraska in 2005 and by 43 to Iowa in 2008.
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