Football: Fitz shakes up backfield

Colin Becht

Coach Pat Fitzgerald is getting tired of talking about Northwestern’s running back situation.

“I’m looking forward to the day when you move on to something else,” Fitzgerald told the media at practice Tuesday.

Unfortunately for Fitzgerald, until the Wildcats finally prove they can run the ball, plenty of questions linger about the backfield.

“I’m not going to talk about who I’m going to play and when I’m going to play them and where I’m going to play them,” Fitzgerald said. “We’re going to play all of our running backs. How does that sound?”

While Fitzgerald may be ready to change the topic, the running back situation is once again in the spotlight for NU after Fitzgerald altered the depth chart.

Listed in the first team running back spot are both junior Jacob Schmidt and redshirt freshman Mike Trumpy. Sophomore Arby Fields and senior Stephen Simmons share the second team position. Past depth charts listed Fields and Simmons as sharing the first string and Schmidt as the second stringer. Trumpy was not even on the depth chart.

Trumpy’s rise onto and to the top of the chart comes after he ran 12 times for 54 yards on Saturday in NU’s 30-25 win over Central Michigan.

“(Trumpy) stepped up when he got his chance and he ran hard,” junior quarterback Dan Persa said.

For Trumpy, who saw action earlier in the season when NU had games well in hand, the game against Central Michigan was his first opportunity in competitive play.

“Mike ran with an attitude,” Fitzgerald said. “He ran hard and was decisive.”

Fitzgerald said that some of the runs that were most impressive were plays in which Trumpy only picked up a yard or two.

“Those were his most productive runs because we didn’t set ourselves behind the chains and there’s a big difference between second-and-12 and second-and-8,” Fitzgerald said. “Those four yards are huge in whether or not we can be successful.”

Fitzgerald said plays where Trumpy gained a few yards against Central Michigan had gone for losses in previous weeks, although he did not specify another running back.

In practice Tuesday, Trumpy and Schmidt split time with the first team offense and occasionally both played when the Cats practiced dual running back formations. For Trumpy, this week has been his most extensive time with the first team in practice.

“I did get some reps (before this week), but not a significant amount,” Trumpy said. “I just had to continue to be ready and just stay focused and keep working.”

With four running backs on the depth chart and Fitzgerald’s stated commitment to play them all, there is certainly competition for carries.

“We’re all competitive people, competitive athletes and we want to be that guy to be on the field making the plays,” Schmidt said.

While Trumpy took a redshirt last year, Schmidt is used to a crowded competition to be the number one back, though he said this year’s is different from last year’s contest.

“It definitely seemed to be more specialized last year,” Schmidt said. “Third down was kind of my down. We had Arby (Fields) and Scottie (Concannon) on first and second. This year, it’s more who’s doing well that day, who’s seeing the holes, who’s making the plays.”

When the Cats travel to Minnesota this Saturday, it will be a golden opportunity for one – or several – of the backs to step up and take the starting job. In a 34-23 loss to Northern Illinois last week, the Golden Gophers gave up 304 rushing yards, including 223 yards on 15 carries to Northern Illinois running back Chad Spann.

“We’re excited. (Spann) proved that they can be run on,” Schmidt said. “That’s our goal. To come out Saturday and shove it down their throat.”

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