Football: McGowan joins depleted Northwestern running back corps

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Football: McGowan joins depleted Northwestern running back corps

Kyric McGowan races upfield. The junior receiver has recently joined Northwestern’s running back rotation.

Kyric McGowan races upfield. The junior receiver has recently joined Northwestern’s running back rotation.

Joshua Hoffman/The Daily Northwestern

Kyric McGowan races upfield. The junior receiver has recently joined Northwestern’s running back rotation.

Joshua Hoffman/The Daily Northwestern

Joshua Hoffman/The Daily Northwestern

Kyric McGowan races upfield. The junior receiver has recently joined Northwestern’s running back rotation.

Jonah Dylan, Gameday Editor

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In a season where running backs have dropped like flies, it was only fitting that Northwestern’s running backs coach joined his players in the recovery room.

Lou Ayeni — himself a former NU running back — tore his bicep while picking up a bench during NU’s loss to Nebraska in October and has since had surgery.

“Just kinda had something extremely heavy, lifted something extremely heavy, and all of a sudden, I felt this rip pulling in my bicep,” he said. “It was crazy. I’m looking at my arm like, ‘I think I just ripped my bicep.’”

But Ayeni still had to be on the sideline and give signs to the offense, so — like he did when he was a player — he pushed through the pain and did his job.

NU’s backs can certainly relate to that. Sophomore Isaiah Bowser has battled injuries since the opener against Stanford and has been ruled out of Saturday’s trip to Indiana. Jesse Brown started against UNLV, rushed for 79 yards in less than a half, promptly left with an injury and hasn’t played since.

So Pat Fitzgerald and his offensive staff have turned to a new but familiar face — wide receiver Kyric McGowan. The junior has shown explosiveness throughout his career but has only 75 yards receiving on the year. After NU’s loss to Wisconsin on Sept. 28, the coaching staff approached McGowan and told him they wanted to work him in with the running backs.

“He’s explosive,” Fitzgerald said. “He’s really talented. He’s a guy that we’re just trying to find ways and creative ways to get touches and get the ball in his hands. I’m really proud of him because he’s got a lot on his plate mentally and he hasn’t made one mental mistake yet. So I’m really proud of him for that. He’s just adding depth at a position we haven’t been healthy all year.”

McGowan said he spends about 30 percent of his time with the running backs and has been working overtime to learn all the things that go into playing running back.

“It’s reading a lot of the linebackers,” McGowan said. “Reading that can be a little challenging because what you see is not always what you should take. So trusting my pullers and trusting my double teams, even when it doesn’t look like it’s there, to still hit it. Stuff like that, I think, is still something I need to work on.”

McGowan first featured in the backfield against Ohio State, carrying the ball twice for 14 yards. With Bowser out again, McGowan could play a significant role in NU’s rushing attack alongside redshirt freshman Drake Anderson.

Anderson has paced the Wildcats with 436 yards this season, but he had just five carries in Saturday’s loss to Iowa. After what looked like a breakout performance against UNLV, where he tallied 141 yards and a touchdown, his production has dropped off. In every game since then, Anderson’s rushing yardage has been progressively lower.

Fitzgerald, Ayeni and offensive coordinator Mick McCall have all talked about the importance of establishing a consistent running attack, especially in a season with so much uncertainty at quarterback.

“Everybody’s goal is to stop the run,” Ayeni said. “And everybody’s goal is to run the ball. So as long as we can be consistent in there doing that and get the run game going, it should open some things up passing wise, it should open things up with your offense, with play action.”

Email: jonahdylan2020@u.northwestern.edu
Twitter: @thejonahdylan

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