NU eyes backup QBs in wet spring game

EVANSTON, Ill. -- Those Northwestern football fans who braved the rain and wind Saturday, ignoring the Chicago Bulls’ playoff opener for Northwestern's spring scrimmage, likely regretted their decision by the end of the day.

On Saturday, Northwestern unveiled some newcomers who could see the field next season, but previewed little else for their fans as the Wildcats closed out the spring football season.

Northwestern sat 24 players during Saturday’s scrimmage. Seventeen players missed the game due to injury, and seven more skipped it due to Wildcats coach Pat Fitzgerald’s decision.

Among those absent were some of the Wildcats’ biggest difference-makers, including quarterback Dan Persa, wide receiver Jeremy Ebert, defensive end Vince Browne, kick returner Venric Mark, superback Drake Dunsmore, cornerback Jordan Mabin and offensive tackle Al Netter.

Even the starters who did play on Saturday saw little action. Running back Mike Trumpy, who is expected to be the team’s top running back in the fall, carried the ball three times.

As Northwestern athletic director Jim Phillips said of Saturday’s scrimmage, “The key today is two words. No injuries.”

But Saturday was a big day for one group of Northwestern’s players -- the backup quarterbacks. Sophomores Evan Watkins and Kain Colter and redshirt freshman Trevor Siemian were again all given an equal chance to impress Fitzgerald.

Watkins had the most success throwing the ball Saturday. He completed 7 of 11 passes for 70 yards and one touchdown. Siemian was 5 of 14 for 46 yards and two touchdowns. Colter was 5 of 10 for 35 yards.

“I was trying to work on just raising my completion percentage, just making my reads and keeping the ball in our hands,” Watkins said. “It was good. I had a nice touchdown with Rashad [Lawrence]. I thought I played pretty well for the most part. I was pretty happy with the performance.”

Colter continued to show his mobility during the scrimmage. He rushed for a team-high 42 yards and scored a touchdown on a 28-yard run. Watkins ran for five yards and Siemian for one.

Fitzgerald wasn’t ready to make any decisions on the quarterback depth chart -- aside from Persa still being his starter -- after the scrimmage.

“It’s really hard to say who’s further along,” Fitzgerald said. “They’ve all had good days. They’ve all moved the offense. We’ve executed under all three of them. That’s probably what’s most encouraging to me.

“They’ve all done enough to get us beat. Today some of the decisions of Trevor holding onto the ball… Kain pitching the ball, that’s a turnover… Evan sailing the ball when we had a guy wide open. Enough to where none of those guys are ready today to go out there and be our starter, but they don’t need to be. They’ll keep working at it. The good news is we have this guy named Dan [Persa] who is in the mix, and he’s pretty good. I really like our situation at quarterback.”

Wide receivers Brendan Barber, Charles Brown and Lawrence accounted for three of the scrimmage’s four touchdowns. Colter’s run was the other.

Brown’s play was one of the highlights of the entire spring. Fitzgerald called him the team’s spring offensive MVP, and he had two catches for 20 yards on Saturday.

“I’ve just been working hard all spring,” Brown said. “I try not to really pay attention to the hype and all the stuff. I focus on myself, getting better, my teammates and performing. I want to be the best player I can be. I definitely have good hands, good speed, but just try to put them together and play.”

Jeravin Matthews was among the team’s spring defensive MVPs. After barely seeing the field last season and making a transition from running back to cornerback, Matthews played consistently throughout the team’s spring practices and will head into the fall as a starting defensive back.

“In these 15 spring practices, I think the thing was last spring, last bowl practice, this season’s bowl practice was me really just getting comfortable at the position, learning the defense,” Matthews said. “I think this spring was more of fine-tuning of the techniques that come with being a DB, and the stuff that’s going to set me up to be a great DB and play in the Big Ten.”

Kickers Steve Flaherty and Jeff Budzien made all of their extra-point opportunities. Flaherty kicked field goals from 30 and 38 yards. Budzien was good from 30 and 33 yards and missed a 38-yard attempt.