The Northwestern Wildcats (2-0, 0-0) are facing off against Syracuse on Saturday night in New York but are also facing a series of injuries in just the third week of the 2009 season.
As reported previously, RB Alex Daniel is out for the year. Joining him listed as out for the Syracuse game are LB David Arnold (who did not fully dress for the first two NU games) and WR Sidney Stewart (who was out for the Eastern Michigan game as well).
Fortunately, NU has some depth at the linebacker position, and Arnold was in the midst of a transition from safety (where he played in limited backup time last season). And although Stewart was expected to be a major contributor for NU in 2009 (he did have one catch for 19 yards against Towson), there are plenty of other receivers to pick up the slack (including Demetrius Fields, who had four catches for 25 yards last week).
The problems begin to mount, though, when looking at the questionable list: RB Jeravin Matthews (ankle), CB Sherrick McManis (hamstring, pictured), RB Stephen Simmons (leg), and CB Justan Vaughn (leg). Matthews and McManis were held out of last week's game, while Vaughn had to leave in the fourth quarter.
Without McManis at cornerback last week, EMU routinely picked on what was his side of the field with Vaughn on the field. Once Vaughn came out of the game, it left redshirt freshman Demetrius Dugar in that CB slot, which means NU is really running out of options in that position.
Syracuse has talent at the WR position, particularly Mike Williams, who basically requires McManis' proven coverage abilities. Although QB Greg Paulus has only played two collegiate games, he's plenty smart enough to pick on NU's depleted cornerback position, so hopefully the Wildcats' DC Mike Hankwitz will have some tricks up his sleeve to counteract any losses at CB.
At the running back position, Simmons is Northwestern's most experienced weapon and he has been the 'Cats' most consistent in 2009. Simmons is currently ranked second in the conference in all-purpose yardage as he has also been an effective receiver out of the backfield as well as solid on kickoff returns. If he can't play, he will be missed, as he has the speed to make opponents wary.
Arby Fields will need to really pick up his game at running back to make up for the loss of Simmons if indeed he can't go, especially after a lackluster week two that included just five net yards and a lost fumble.
Although Jacob Schmidt and Scott Concannon have performed fairly well so far, don't expect them to be the answer at the running back season on a consistent basis.
Although the Wildcats responded to numerous injuries in 2008 as the season progressed, racking up this many injuries that have held guys out of games in only the third week of the season is not a good sign.
For even the best teams, they must get lucky in the injury area in order to win a lot of games, and Northwestern can't afford many at all given the fact that they just don't have as much talent depth as other Big Ten squads.
Thankfully, these injuries don't seem to be serious and the players should be able to recover soon (with some maybe even able to go this week; Coach Fitz has listed McManis as probable as late as Wednesday), and NU's level of competition is not what it will be for the second half of the season.
The Wildcats don't have a bye week in 2009, so hopefully these are just overcautious measures that will keep the 'Cats as healthy as possible.
Hopefully Northwestern will have enough healthy weapons on offense (especially at RB) and have sufficient backups to provide cornerback coverage against Syracuse. The 'Cats should be okay, but along with the second half performance last week against EMU and the disappointing showing from the D in 2009, it's another reason to worry about the game this Saturday.