Northwestern spring game recap

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Northwestern couldn't expect to solve all of its skill-position questions during 15 spring practices, but the Wildcats emerged from Saturday's scrimmage feeling a bit better about their ground game.

Three running backs combined for 207 rush yards and four touchdowns as the Wildcats offense scored 49 points against a banged-up defense.

The competition to replace four-year starter Tyrell Sutton will spill into preseason camp, but sophomore Jeravin Matthews stated a strong case this spring. The converted wide receiver, one of only two true freshmen to see the field last fall, racked up a game-high 90 rush yards and a touchdown on 15 carries. Redshirt freshman Alex Daniel added 70 rush yards and two touchdowns on 10 carries.

The 5-11, 170-pound Matthews might not have the size to be an every-down back in the Big Ten, but his speed has to be maximized this fall. Daniel brings a little more bulk and could emerge as more of a featured back. But Northwestern likely will use a combination of Matthews, Daniel, junior Stephen Simmons and possibly an incoming freshman.

The absence of All-Big Ten defenders Corey Wootton and Brad Phillips can't be ignored when evaluating Saturday's rushing attack, but head coach Pat Fitzgerald had to be pleased with Matthews' development.

Other items from Northwestern's spring game:

  • Senior quarterback Mike Kafka, the projected starter, had a decent day, completing only 12 of 21 passes for 134 yards and a touchdown with no interceptions. There are still questions about Kafka's consistency as a passer, but his running ability, showcased on a limited basis in the spring game, will be big for Northwestern. Kafka still gets the nod for the starting job, but backup Dan Persa had arguably a better spring and completed 8 of 9 passes for 65 yards in the spring game.

  • Senior wide receiver Andrew Brewer accounted for the day's only big pass play, hauling in a 55-yard reception from Kafka. The outside receiver spot better suits Brewer, who struggled with injuries as a slot receiver.

  • It was a pretty dull day on defense. Redshirt freshman safety Jared Carpenter led the way with eight tackles (1 for loss), and linebacker Ben Johnson had two pass breakups.

  • Northwestern and Illinois announced their new rivalry trophy Saturday. The two teams will compete annually for the Land of Lincoln Trophy, which still must be designed but will coincide with the celebration of Abraham Lincoln's 200th birthday.