KENOSHA, Wis. -- It's always difficult to determine how a team looks in an intrasquad tussle, and that was even more true during Northwestern's scrimmage on Saturday as six defensive starters were held out of the action and starting quarterback Mike Kafka played just one series.
Coach Pat Fitzgerald, however, was pleased with his team's overall effort in the 100-play scrimmage, played in front of about 500 fans at Tremper High School's Ameche Field.
"I saw a lot of positives," said Fitzgerald, who added that he liked what he saw from many of the young players forced into action as the Wildcats rested starters by choice.
Among the defensive starters, end Corey Wootton and tackle Corbin Bryant were both sidelined, as were cornerbacks Sherrick McManis and Jordan Mabin, and safeties Brad Phillips and Brendan Smith.
Still, the three defensive units were able to force four three-and-outs in nine offensive series, force four fumbles and create one turnover.
WildcatReport watched the action from the press box and walked away with these observations.
Play of the Day
Many would think that linebacker Ben Johnson's 62-yard pick-six was the highlight of the game, but WildcatReport is going with a play that wasn't -- John Plasencia's near-miraculous touchdown catch. The freshman superback was draped by rookie safety Cooper Gerami in the end zone but somehow managed to reach around Gerami's body and get his hands on Evan Watkins' pass behind Gerami's back. (Gerami was facing away from the throw.) Plasencia then batted it in the air a couple times - all with his arms behind Gerami's No. 36 jersey - before it fell to the ground, just beyond his outstretched hands as the two became untangled.
It went down in the book as an incomplete pass but it drew the biggest "ooh" of the day from the crowd, who also applauded Plasencia's effort.
The following Wildcat players stood out during the scrimmage:
Johnson: The Kenosha-bred sophomore made the home crowed happy by jumping in front of an ill-advised Kafka pass -- he was trying to throw an out-pattern across the field -- and then weaving his way 62 yards through traffic to score on the offense's first possession of the contest. Johnson cut back twice on the return and then stiff-armed Jeravin Matthews before diving across the goal line. Johnson's play redeemed his earlier blunder: he drew an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for blasting punt returner Andrew Brewer while the ball was still in the air.
Dan Persa: The sophomore backup quarterback looked sharp in leading two scoring drives and finished 8-for-11 for 87 yards and two touchdowns. He also showed his wheels on a 13-yard run after he was flushed out of the pocket. Persa showed that he will be ready to lead the offense should something happen to Kafka this season.
Watkins: Watkins looked comfortable while leading the third-team offense, and that's about as big a compliment that can be paid to a freshman quarterback experiencing his first true "game" action. He completed 6-of-10 passes for 73 yards and also took off running four times, picking up 36 more.
Arby Fields and Scott Concannon: These two seem to be rising up the charts in the Wildcats' crowded backfield. Once Stephen Simmons was pulled after just three carries, Concannon was the first back off the bench and Fields followed him shortly thereafter. Fields carried the ball seven times for 27 yards, while Concannon ran four times for 13. Both players also caught a pass. (WildcatReport interviewed running backs coach Matt MacPherson and Fields after the game; look for a story soon.)
Patrick Ward: People are expecting a lot from Northwestern's only Rivals four-star recruit, but few would have thought that he would take the field with the first team to start the game. Ward got reps with the first, second and third units during the contest, showing that the coaching staff thinks highly of him and could be preparing him for action this fall. (WildcatReport interviewed Ward after the game; look for a story soon.)
Zeke Markshausen: The senior caught two passes for 20 yards, including a 9-yard scoring strike from Persa. The former walkon seems to have a solid hold on a starting spot at the H-wide receiver position.
Roderick Goodlow: The freshman safety had the hit of the day, blowing up tailback Alex Daniel and forcing a fumble, which the offense recovered.
Nate Williams: The middle linebacker was the co-leader with three tackles and seemed to be everywhere when he was in the lineup. The junior returing starter even blocked Steve Flaherty's 37-yard field goal attempt.
Jacob Schmidt: Schmidt's performance may not earn him playing time this fall, but the sophomore from Wisconsin led the Wildcats with 45 yards rushing and scored a touchdown. Schmidt steamrolled safety Davion Fleming on one play, and his TD run was a testament to second effort as he managed to plunge across the line after the defensive line seemed to have stopped him cold.