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Top 25 preview: Syracuse at Northwestern

The SportsXchange

KICKOFF: Saturday, 12 p.m. ET

GAMEDATE: 9/7/13

SITE: Ryan Field, Evanston, Ill.

TV: Big Ten Network

SERIES: Tied, 5-5

AP RANKINGS: Syracuse unranked, Northwestern No. 19

GAME SNAPSHOT

Quarterback Kain Colter, knocked out of last week's game at California, might not be available, but Trevor Siemian showed poise and executed in the clutch for Northwestern to grab a season-opening victory. Syracuse (0-1) lost to Penn State and will be looking for a better performance from quarterback Drew Allen.

KEYS TO THE GAME

The No. 19 Wildcats (1-0) open their home season Saturday against a Syracuse team with a new coaching staff and just one game's worth of video to try to draw some conclusions and chart a game plan.

"Like we had last week (we're facing) a new staff, new coordinators and one game of empirical data, not a lot to hang your hat on," Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said. "But I'm very impressed with the way they played (against Penn State). They played tough defense, physical on offense, they're very well coached fundamentally and they're going to present a lot more challenges."

Fitzgerald improved to 8-0 in season openers with the 44-30 victory at Cal, but his team was also banged up and lost at least one starter for the season.

Cornerback Daniel Jones suffered a season-ending torn anterior cruciate ligament. QB Kain Colter was listed as day-to-day after reportedly suffering a concussion while TB Venric Mark played sparingly last week due to a "lower extremity" injury and is also day-to-day.

Fitzgerald took exception to accusations that the Wildcats were faking injuries.

"If anyone were to question the integrity of myself, our program, or our players, I question theirs," he said. "If our guys get dinged up, they're instructed to go down ... not hobble off to the sideline."

Siemian entered early after Colter was knocked out of the game with a possible concussion.

"I wasn't expecting to go in that quickly," he said. "Coach (Mick) McCall told me about the third series he was going to try to work me in, but Kain got dinged up and I had to run out there. When they said Kain was done with the concussion thing, that's when I knew the keys were mine so I took it from there."

Syracuse is coming off a 23-17 season-opening loss to Penn State and looks to avenge last year's 42-41 setback to the Wildcats.

"We could have beat Northwestern last year," Orange coach Scott Shafer said. "We had a handful of plays here and there that hurt us (and) we have to do a really good job in our kicking game to contain a really good return man. We can't give them hidden yardage in the kicking game and we have to improve on things both on offense and on defense."

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Orange

--RB Jerome Smith didn't have a great day on the ground against Penn State, but he did do something he had a tough time accomplishing a year ago -- finding the end zone. Smith ran for touchdowns of 10 and one yards against the Nittany Lions. He managed only three rushing touchdowns in 2012 despite carrying the ball 227 times. The goal-line offense was a weakness a year ago; if Smith keeps finding the end zone, that won't be the case this season.

--QB Drew Allen showed a big arm against Penn State, but also an awful lot of rush. If he can hit the deep ball more often, it should open up room for the running attack and give Syracuse a diverse offense. He only hit one of those in the opener, however, and showed a propensity to overthrow receivers on short passes that could keep Syracuse sputtering if it continues.

--DE Robert Welsh was impressive in his first start, recording a sack and intercepting a pass that he returned 31 yards to the Penn State one-yard line. That ability to disrupt the action will be critical against a Northwestern offense that, if everyone is healthy, can hurt opponents in a number of different ways.

--RB Ashton Broyld again showed the type of impact he can have on a football game in the opener. In a game where neither offense had an easy time gaining traction, Broyld caught four passes for 46 yards, including one 27-yard catch-and-scamper. With a new offense that's still a work in progress, Broyld can expect to get a lot of targets as an option out of the backfield on passing downs.

Wildcats

--LB Collin Ellis made his first start since the 2011 season in grand fashion, helping Northwestern regain momentum with a game-breaking interception and 56-yard dash for a go-ahead score. He had another pick later in the game and returned it for another score and a 10-point Wildcat lead. He was named Big Ten defensive player of the week.

--QB Trevor Siemian was supposed to be part of a two-quarterback system but could be in for a solo start this week if Kain Colter is unable to play. Siemian took over in place of Colter early in last Saturday's Cal game and hit 10 of his first 11 passes and closed with 18-of-29 for 276 yards. On Tuesday, Fitzgerald said he expected Colter to be available.

--K Jeff Budzien hit field goals of 35, 19 and 32 yards and added five extra points to bring his career total to 190 points, good for seventh on Northwestern's all-time points list. He's now 28-of-33 on career field goal tries.

--RB Treyvon Green stepped in for the hobbled Venric Mark, rushing for a career-high 129 yards on 18 carries. He also collected two touchdowns, also a career first.

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