Northwestern has not had a 1,000 yard rusher since Tyrell Sutton hit that number exactly during the 2006 season. At the Big Ten Kickoff Luncheon in July, Wildcat coach Pat Fitzgerald was quoted as saying that the team was looking for a bell cow. He referred to former Wildcats Noah Herron, Sutton, Jason Wright and Darnell Autry. He somehow left off NU’s season record holder Damian Anderson.
Although the Wildcats finished a respectable sixth in the Big Ten in rushing last season, no Wildcat ranked in the top ten in rushing in 2010. Quarterback Dan Persa led the ‘Cats with 51 yards rushing per game. His net rushing yards were 177 yards more than first string halfback Mike Trumpy.
Jacob Schmidt and Mike Trumpy are listed as co-starters on the depth chart for week 1 according to ESPN.Com’s Adam Rittenberg. Trumpy succeeded Schmidt as the starter at the end of the 2010 season. Jacob Schmidt went down with an ankle injury against Michigan State and missed the last six regular seasom games. Schmidt returned for the Ticket City Bowl against Texas Tech.
Trumpy’s 116 carries and 530 yards led the running backs. He is the most likely candidate to be the “bell cow”. He nearly doubled any of the other running backs in carries.
Adonis Smith put on 25 pounds in the off-season. The added weight has increased his ability to push away tacklers. He should be able to carry a bigger load this year in the bigger frame. After not playing in the first four games last season, Smith had ten carries for 44 yards in his third collegiate game against Michigan State. The sophomore’s 4.8 yards per carry last season led the running backs. While Trumpy and Schmidt are likely to be the steady backs that see more goal line carries, Smith is more of a threat to break a long run.
Persa and backup Quarterback Kain Colter are both adept at carrying the ball. Kolter rushed for 105 yards in the loss to Texas Tech in the Ticket City Bowl. Persa, Kolter and Watkins accounted for 734 yards on the ground combined. That made up 36 percent of the teams’ total.
Fitzgerald proclaimed that a Big Ten Championship and a Division Title are his goals for the season. If Northwestern hopes to reach those goals, they are going to need a more diversified offense. The running backs must carry a bigger load this season. If they don’t, opposing defenses will be able to focus more on the passing game and the Quarterbacks specifically. That will make opposing teams game plans much easier and tougher for NU to move the ball. How well the running backs play could go a long way towards determining how well NU controls the game tempo and ultimately their season.