Bears

Budzien's record day lifts Northwestern

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Budzien's record day lifts Northwestern

EVANSTON The Northwestern Wildcats are figuring out their identity during their non-conference schedule.

At this juncture, the identity is incomplete.

The Wildcats have yet to play a complete game, and Saturday they had trouble scoring touchdowns.

Despite racking up 560 yards of offense and going 4-for-5 in the red zone, Northwestern scored just one touchdown in its 22-13 victory over Boston College on Saturday afternoon at Ryan Field.

The Wildcats (3-0) are the lone college football team to beat three BCS teams, but they kicked five field goals before scoring their touchdown on their 100th and final offensive play with 1:37 left.

At the end of the day, weve got to get six points instead of three, quarterback Kain Colter said. A lot of that comes down to me. A lot of that comes down to a bunch of guys, but weve got to go out there and execute. At the end of the day, were 3-0 and were not nearly playing our best football. Thats the encouraging thing. We can go out and play a lot better. I can play a lot better. Thats something to look forward to.

Jeff Budzien tied a school record kicking five field goals, from 19 yards to 42 yards, but the offense struggled to finish drives, losing two of their three fumbles.

At the end of the day, weve got to turn those threes into sevens, coach Pat Fitzgerald said. Weve got to finish drives. A lot of those issues we had on drives were self-inflicted by drops, by penalties, by not hitting guys who were open. So, were still a work in progress on both sides of the ball.

Northwestern hung on without its top play maker. After fumbling in the third quarter, Venric Mark left the game with an ailment described only as a lower body injury by Fitzgerald and never returned. He rushed for 77 yards on 18 carries. But Mike Trumpy stepped up to rush for a team-high 106 yards on 16 carries and scored on a 27-yard run.

He did great, Colter said. Thats what we expect out of all our running backs. They do a great job. Everybody is in competition. Everyone wants to play. When one guy goes down the other guy gets his opportunity.

The Wildcats continued with a two-quarterback system, as Colter and Trevor Siemian finished with almost identical statistics. Colter started and finished, completing 16 of 20 passes for 144 yards and rushing for 66 yards. Siemian went 14 for 20 for 123 yards.

Fitzgerald said using two quarterbacks is a good situation, and both have shown they can be effective.

Im not in the business of keeping people happy. Im in the business of winning football games and doing it in whatever way we can, Fitzgerald said. I would say both guys are happy because were winning. I would say going 30 for 40 and the way we didnt score touchdowns, I would say both guys are not satisfied with the way they played.

Both quarterbacks lost fumbles. As the offense sputtered overall, Budzien enjoyed a milestone day. He has nailed eight field goals this season, two more than all of last season. But even he wants to see touchdowns.

Its great to get field-goal reps. I work on that quite a bit in practice, Budzien said. Its nice to put that in a game aspect and help the team out like that. But in a time like that we need touchdowns, (and) its great to see the team put seven points up. Its a great job by Mike Trumpy and the offense closing the deal.

After Boston College (1-2) was forced to punt on fourth-and-10 with under three minutes left, the Wildcats drove 44 yards on four plays to set up Trumpys 27-yard touchdown for a 22-13 lead.

But after outgaining the Eagles 293-25 in rushing yards and finishing with 560 total yards to Boston Colleges 316, the Wildcats feel unsatisfied. Northwestern will have a chance to improve with a favorable schedule for the rest of the month, as the Wildcats will face South Dakota and Indiana in home games.

It was frustrating for us because were thinking were moving the ball at will, and we just get down to the red zone and hit a brick wall, center Brandon Vitabile said. So, for us, it was very upsetting. We kept saying, Weve got to finish, weve got to finish because thats what we build our program on, but we werent able to do that today until the end.

Weve got to take a look at it and get better and move on.

Looking deeper to understand how John Fox still commands Bears trust through bad times

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USA TODAY

Looking deeper to understand how John Fox still commands Bears trust through bad times

I’ve always placed great stock in the drama tenet, “Action is character.” What an actor/person does in significant part defines their character, or lack of same.

Conversely, in some situations, what someone doesn’t do can be equally defining or revealing. A couple of those involving the Bears are worth noting, because they suggest things about John Fox and and his staff, and perhaps a bit of what players think of them.

Nothing stunning, just a case of when you pull the camera back for a little wider angle, a broader picture forms out of seemingly separate or isolated incidents. Fox has never lost his teams through three generally miserable seasons, those teams consistently played hard through bad times. A handful of specific situations offer some insight into perhaps why:

The Cohen conundrum

Fox and offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains came in for scalding criticism for their recent seeming under-utilization of running back Tarik Cohen. The closest either came to laying out the real reason was a reference to concerns about the rookie’s pass-protection capabilities, no small issue against Green Bay and coordinator Dom Capers’ blitz proclivities; coaches want to see Mitch Trubisky wearing a Bears uniform, not Clay Matthews.

Cohen may be the Bears’ leading receiver, but if a back can’t present the viable option of pass protection, the offense is limited even more than it already is anyway with a rookie quarterback.

Come forward a week: Overlooked in the aftermath of the loss to Detroit, in which Cohen was not part of the hurry-up offense driving for a winning or tying score, was the fact that Cohen simply didn’t know the plays well enough in that situation. Fox didn’t say so. Neither did Loggains.

Cohen did.

Asked afterwards what he wasn’t solid with, Cohen owned it: "Probably the hurry-up plays at those positions. I know certain plays at those positions, but to open up the whole playbook with me, I’ll have to learn all of those plays.”

Should he have been up to a faster speed in week 10? That’s another discussion. But like it or not, his coaches were not going to be the ones to out him.

The Howard hassle

Jordan Howard finished 2016 second to only Dallas’ Ezekiel Elliott in rushing yardage. He began the year inactive for game one and lightly used in games two and three. The reason Loggains gave from the podium was that coaches didn’t really know what they had in Howard.

Yes. They did. But Loggains didn’t cite Howard for not being in shape to carry the load the offense needed. Neither did Fox.

Howard did.

“I should’ve been in better shape,” Howard said at the outset of training camp last July. “I should’ve been playing earlier if I would’ve handled what I had to do.”

Some very effective coaches have used public embarrassment for motivation; Mike Ditka assessed that he wasn’t sure Donnell Woolford could cover anybody, and Buddy Ryan summarized that “No. 55 [Otis Wilson] killed us,” for instance.

Fox and his staff don’t do that and they’ve have taken the heat for their players, which does frustrate those tasked with accurately reporting sometimes hard information.

Medical restraint

Fox’s tenure has been awash in major injuries to pivotal players. He has made points in his locker room by shielding those players and their issues whether outsiders like it or not.

That started back with Kevin White and the infamous stress fracture that Fox was accused of knowing about and lying that he didn’t. The real situation was that medical opinions (and the Bears had gotten a bunch) were divided to the point where the Bears opted against surgery until it was conclusive that the shadow on an x-ray was indeed a fracture. Fox refused to call the injury a stress fracture with the doctors so divided, and he was pilloried for it. But not in his locker room.

The organization very much needed Pro Bowl lineman Kyle Long this season for an offense that certainly wasn’t going to live on the arm of Mike Glennon. Long was testy and combative during training camp, and “honestly I’ve been champing at the bit to get back,” he conceded, “but they’ve done a good job of pulling the reins a little bit and making sure that I understand that it’s a long season.”

Small things, not necessarily connected, but as Fox’s third season winds down, what his team shows will factor into decisions on his future. The Bears right now, after the Green Bay and Detroit losses effectively ended the “hope” part of their season, are entering that dreary phase of a year when effort will be critiqued as critically as performance.

The on-field results now will say something about character, Fox’s own and the collective one he has worked to instill since January 2015.

How to watch and/or stream the IHSA football state finals this weekend

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How to watch and/or stream the IHSA football state finals this weekend

It's Thanksgiving weekend, which among other things, means the IHSA football state finals are taking place.

NBC Sports Chicago has live coverage of the finals of all eight classes and is streaming every telecast, including surrounding pre/postgame coverage, to be made available to authenticated subscribers on NBCSportsChicago.com/WatchLive and via the NBC Sports app.

Check out the action taking place in Huskie Stadium in DeKalb, beginning at 10 a.m. on Friday with the Class 1A final and concluding Saturday night with the Class 8A final and a special recap edition of High School Lites following the final game. Highlights from each of the games will be available on our website throughout the weekend.

The live streaming service is currently available to customers of Comcast/Xfinity, DIRECTV, DISH Network, AT&T U-verse, Mediacom, RCN, WOW!, Time Warner Cable and Charter among numerous other carriers.  In addition, NBC Sports Chicago is also available on numerous digital streaming services including DIRECTV NOW, Hulu, fuboTV, Sling TV, CenturyLink Stream, PlayStation Vue, and YouTube TV.  For a full list of carriers and more information about NBC Sports Chicago’s live streaming service, viewers are urged to visit nbcsportschicago.com/live-faq.

Here is the full schedule for the weekend's games and broadcast coverage:

Friday, November 24

LIVE NOW: Class 1A: LENA-WINSLOW (Lena) [13-0] vs. TUSCOLA [13-0]

1:00 PM – Class 2A: GIBSON CITY-MELVIN-SIBLEY (Gibson City) [13-0] vs. MAROA-FORSYTH (Maroa) [12-1]

4:00 PM – Class 3A: IC CATHOLIC (Elmhurst) [12-1] vs. PLEASANT PLAINS [10-3]

7:00 PM – Class 4A: MORRIS [11-2] vs. ROCHESTER [13-0] (NOTE: This game will air on NBC Sports Chicago+; please visit our CHANNEL FINDER for the exact channel location in your area)

Saturday, November 25

10:00 AM – Class 5A: PHILLIPS (Chicago) [13-0] vs. DUNLAP [13-0]

1:00 PM – Class 6A: PRAIRIE RIDGE (Crystal Lake) [13-0] vs. NAZARETH ACADEMY (LaGrange Park) [12-1]

4:00 PM – Class 7A: BATAVIA [12-1] vs. LAKE ZURICH [13-0] (NOTE: This game will air on NBC Sports Chicago+; please visit our CHANNEL FINDER for the exact channel location in your area)

7:00 PM – Class 8A: LINCOLN-WAY East (Frankfort) [13-0] vs. LOYOLA ACADEMY (Wilmette) [12-1] (NOTE: This game will air on NBC Sports Chicago+; please visit our CHANNEL FINDER for the exact channel location in your area)

Further information is available at this link. Edgy Tim previewed each of the eight games here and has players to watch for the weekend.