Football: Sutton ‘a lot closer’

Matt Baker

While junior running back Tyrell Sutton’s return to play is questionable for Friday’s game against Eastern Michigan, his presence on the practice field the last three days has already made the offense feel more comfortable.

“It’s always fun to have Tyrell back,” junior wide receiver Eric Peterman said. “He’s such a great player, and he brings that much more to the huddle. A playmaker like that, it’s tough when you lose a guy like that, and with his attitude, he’s just always joyful, always uplifting people’s spirits, and it’s just great to have him back around, especially at practice.”

After sitting out practice the last few weeks with a high ankle injury, Sutton returned to the field Monday and practiced without a red jersey indicating limited contact. The team’s leading rusher each of the past two years, Sutton has missed the last five games.

He worked out in individual and 7-on-7 non-contact drills and played on the scout team Tuesday and practiced all of Wednesday.

Coach Pat Fitzgerald said the strategy has been to use practice time to see how Sutton’s endurance holds up after a month without seeing game time.

“We’re trying to gas him,” Fitzgerald said. “We’re trying to gas his legs and gas him mentally and see where it goes.

“He looked a little tired at the end of practice. Realistically, even if he does play this weekend, if we play 80 plays, there’s no way for him to be even close to playing that much.”

Fitzgerald said he will not make a decision on whether Sutton plays until game day, and junior quarterback C.J. Bacher said the offense is preparing for Eastern Michigan with Omar Conteh and Brandon Roberson as the starters.

“I’d rather be a week late than a week early, and that’s usually what you try to do with injuries,” Fitzgerald said.

Despite the uncertain prognosis, Peterman said Sutton looks better rushing and making cuts, and Fitzgerald said the running back’s progress is noticeable.

“He’s a lot closer than he was a week ago, I know that,” Fitzgerald said. “A lot closer to playing.”

BACHER EARNS BIG TEN HONORS

Bacher’s 470-yard, five-touchdown game last week against Minnesota earned him Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week honors for the second-straight week. He was also named one of four AT&T All-America Player of the Week nominees for the second time in a row.

He passed for a school-record 520 yards in Northwestern’s overtime win at Michigan State two weeks ago.

“I think the biggest thing is I have such a big trust in my teammates,” Bacher said. “They’re executing at a very high level, and it’s making it really easy on me. The offensive line is giving me so much time in the pocket, and the receivers are getting open. I just have to deliver the ball.”

While Bacher’s 990 passing yards over the last two weeks have gained him conference and national accolades, he hasn’t been named the team’s most valuable offensive performer by the coaches.

They have given that honor has gone to the offensive line.

After allowing four sacks against Michigan, the offensive line has given up just one sack over the last two games.

“I think the biggest thing is they’re getting used to each other,” Bacher said. “It takes a while for them to learn what the other guys are going to do in certain situations. I think there was a little bit of a transition period, but they’re really playing very well right now.”

Reach Matt Baker at [email protected]