Evan Hull leads Northwestern’s offense in win over Indiana State


Joshua Hoffman/Daily Senior Staffer

Evan Hull evades a defender. The sophomore ran for 126 yards and two touchdowns in Saturday’s matchup against Indiana State.

Gabriela Carroll, Senior Staffer


Northwestern’s two touchdown drives came on its first two drives of the game.

Sophomore running back Evan Hull rushed for 51 yards and a touchdown on the first possession, and 106 yards in the first half.

Quarterback Hunter Johnson attempted just one pass, as Hull and his fellow running backs — graduate Andrew Clair and freshman Anthony Tyus III — moved the chains with ease. The signal-caller then capped off the Wildcats’ second drive with a 25-yard touchdown to junior wide receiver Malik Washington.

After racking up 172 yards in the first quarter, NU’s offense was in motion and looked to stay that way. However, the unit started to unravel. In a 24-6 win over Indiana State (1-1), the Cats (1-1, 0-1 Big Ten) generated just 103 yards of offense in the final three quarters for a total of 275 yards.

“When we targeted things right and executed, I thought we did a good job,” coach Pat Fitzgerald said of the offense’s struggles. “It’s the self-inflicted wounds that we had that we have to correct in practice.”

While Hull finished with 126 yards and two touchdowns, Johnson finished with 66 yards, a touchdown and his first interception of the season. He completed just four of his eight attempts in the second half — passing for just 17 yards — and recorded a fumble right after the NU defense forced one of its own.

Johnson’s missteps didn’t stop the Cats from taking home its first win of the season, but his regression was noticeable after a strong outing in the opener against Michigan State. Once Hull and the run game slowed down, the offense struggled to put points on the board and gain yardage.

“It’s very motivating for the offense, especially when (the defense) gives us so many short fields,” Hull said. “We come into the battle and we got that momentum going already, it is so important to capitalize on. Sometimes we didn’t really get it, but that’ll be one thing that we definitely try to buckle down on coming into next week.”

Fitzgerald credited offensive challenges to Indiana State being a tough scout. The Sycamores did not play in 2020, so NU relied on footage from their 2019 season and their matchup against Eastern Illinois in August.

“In 2019, they were a four-down defense, and you watch that tape and try to pull things out of it,” Fitzgerald said. “This year, they shifted to a three-down scheme, with one game of that against Eastern Illinois two weeks ago. A lot of the formations we like to run, (Eastern Illinois) doesn’t run. We really had no idea how they were going to use their personnel.”

But late in the game, the Cats finally broke through and Hull scored his second touchdown of the day on a 13-yard run. Hull ended the game with 126 rushing yards.

Part of this success was linked to NU excelling on punt returns. Sophomore safety Brandon Joseph fielded his first two punt returns of the season, returning them for a combined 111 yards. Joseph is the first Cats player since 2012 to return two punts for over 40 yards in a single game. Junior receiver Ray Niro III also returned two punts for a combined 55 yards.

Aside from a strong performance against UMass in 2019 — when Hull rushed for 220 yards and four touchdowns — and a 149 yard, one touchdown performance against Illinois in 2020, Hull hasn’t seen the consistent volume of carries he is getting now as NU’s number one running back.

The sophomore was the biggest offensive bright spot for the Cats on Saturday, and his strong performance helped him build confidence.

“I know what 20 carries feels like now,” Hull said with a smile. “I’m definitely more confident in just knowing my assignment and knowing what to do out there. Definitely a big jump from last year, in being able to be a catalyst for this offense.”

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