Football: Sutton to see more plays on Saturday

Matt Baker

What a difference a week made for junior running back Tyrell Sutton.

Northwestern’s leading rusher each of the last two years was relegated to the scout team last week, lining up at wide receiver as often as he did at tailback, and watching the first team work from the sidelines.

After playing three downs in last week’s 26-14 win over Eastern Michigan – his first action since he suffered an ankle injury against Nevada in the second week of the season – Sutton’s workload increased this week during practice.

He took handoffs from junior quarterback C.J. Bacher. He rushed up the middle. He rushed outside. He made cuts to the inside and to the sideline. He showed bursts of speed.

He looked, in short, like NU’s fifth all-time leading rusher.

“I saw him playing real well,” coach Pat Fitzgerald said after Tuesday’s practice. “I like where he’s at right now today. I thought he had a real good practice.”

Earlier in the week, NU placed Sutton alongside junior running back Omar Conteh at the top of the depth chart for Saturday’s game at Purdue (6-2, 2-2 Big Ten).

While Fitzgerald did not directly name Sutton the starter against the Boilermakers, he said Sutton’s role will likely increase from the one touch he had last week against the Eagles.

“We’re going to go through the week, but as we move forward, I would fully anticipate seeing Tyrell and Omar play quite a bit,” Fitzgerald said. “If we play 100 plays, Tyrell is not at a conditioning level to go 100 plays, so you’re going to see them both play quite a bit.”

Conteh has picked up most of the carries since Sutton’s injury and has led the Wildcats in rushing yards in five of the six games Sutton did not start. Conteh tops the team with 437 yards on the season.

But Sutton’s shifty rushing style creates mismatches against the defense. Even though his status was uncertain when Ohio State beat the Cats last month, the Buckeyes’ defense, ranked No. 2 nationally against the run, feared his play-making abilities.

“We’re preparing 100 percent for him,” Ohio State defensive backs coach Paul Haynes told the Columbus Dispatch before the game. “Even him at 80 percent is very good, because he is very good.”


At the end of Tuesday’s practice, NU ran through some plays near the end zone opposite members of the media. A group of reserve players lined up to block observers’ views of the action.

Were the Cats working on some secret plays?

“Super secret,” Fitzgerald said.


Freshman Stephen Simmons has replaced senior Brandon Roberson on the depth chart as the kick returner alongside sophomore Sherrick McManis. Simmons had NU’s lone special teams touchdown of the year on a 99-yard kickoff return against Ohio State. … Senior Eddie Simpson is back as the starting outside linebacker after recovering from a leg injury. He replaces junior Maclolm Arrington, who had an interception and a blocked punt playing in Simpson’s spot.

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