The Daily Northwestern

Football notebook: New NCAA redshirt rule giving more NU freshmen chances to play

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 Greg Newsome makes a tackle. The freshman cornerback is among several NU players who could take advantage of the new redshirt rule.

Greg Newsome makes a tackle. The freshman cornerback is among several NU players who could take advantage of the new redshirt rule.

Daily file photo by David Lee

Daily file photo by David Lee

Greg Newsome makes a tackle. The freshman cornerback is among several NU players who could take advantage of the new redshirt rule.

Ben Pope, Gameday Editor

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The NCAA’s new rule that players can play in up to four games and still redshirt — thus essentially gaining a fifth year of eligibility down the road — has opened the door for more roster flexibility at Northwestern.

Freshmen running backs Isaiah Bowser and Drake Anderson have appeared in three games and one game, respectively, due to the sudden medical retirement of starter Jeremy Larkin that dealt a big blow to the positional group’s depth. Yet coach Pat Fitzgerald said after last Saturday’s win over Nebraska, in which neither played, that the new rule is allowing him to hopefully maintain their redshirts nonetheless.

Fitzgerald then doubled down on his praise of the change Monday.

“It’s terrific. I wish it was around when I was playing,” he said. “I was the best worst freshman in the country and I played like eight games and was terrible. I would’ve liked to play in four and maybe got a graduate degree. It’s a great rule: it gives us access to our entire roster.”

On the other side of the ball, defensive end Devin O’Rourke and defensive backs Greg Newsome and A.J. Hampton are among a handful of true freshmen who have made several appearances already but are still eligible — for now — to be redshirted.

O’Rourke has played in four games, meaning his redshirt status will be burned if he appears again over the remainder of the season, and said he isn’t sure if he will see the field or not. But he still had positive words to say about the new rule.

“Every freshman has the same opportunity to go in and play, and if they don’t play past their four games, they can still take advantage of the redshirt rule, so I think it’s affecting everyone in a positive way,” O’Rourke said. “It’s not really affecting my mindset, it’s just a nice advantage to have.”

The Big Ten accompanied the nationwide redshirt rule change by adjusting conference policy and allowing teams to bring 74 players to road games, up from 70 previously.

Fitzgerald said he hopes that traveling player limit will eventually be abolished completely.

“I watch our basketball team and they take everybody — the third nutritionist gets to go too, it’s crazy,” Fitzgerald said. “And we’ve got 112 guys on the team and (38) have to stay home. It doesn’t make sense to me.”

Wildcats not overlooking Rutgers, despite Scarlet Knights’ record

NU (3-3, 3-1 Big Ten) will travel this week to face a Rutgers (1-6, 0-4) team that has lost five of its last six games by 21 points or more, including a 34-7 beatdown at Maryland last weekend in which the Scarlet Knights totalled five interceptions and eight passing yards.

That has been par for the course under coach Chris Ash, who has gone 3-19 in the Big Ten during his three years in Piscataway. This year, Ash’s squad has particularly struggled offensively, ranking 119th in the country in passing yards, 106th in rushing yards and 130th — dead last — in points per game.

Still, senior defensive tackle Jordan Thompson said the Cats will try their best not to look past Saturday and toward upcoming bigger contests against Wisconsin and Notre Dame.

“Rutgers is in the Big Ten, they’re a good team,” Thompson said. “Everyone has ups and downs, but that’s not an excuse to overlook them.”

Brown close to returning; Vault ruled out

Sophomore running back Jesse Brown, who rushed nine times for 64 yards and two touchdowns a year ago, has been sidelined all season so far with an undisclosed injury but practiced Monday and may return to game action soon, Fitzgerald has indicated.

The Cats’ body-lacking, success-starved backfield suffered another discouraging setback Thursday when senior Solomon Vault was ruled out for Saturday’s game. Meanwhile, junior John Moten, who departed the Nebraska game with an injury, was cleared by the athletic training staff for the Rutgers game, an athletic department spokesman told The Daily.

Email: benjaminpope2019@u.northwestern.edu
Twitter: @benpope111

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