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NU running game looks to get rolling at Minnesota
By Lindsey Willhite | Daily Herald Staff

Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald signals from the sidelines during the second quarter of an NCAA college football game against Central Michigan in Evanston Sept. 25. Northwestern won 30-25.

 

Associated Press

Northwestern wide receiver Jeremy Ebert celebrates after scoring a touchdown Sept. 25.

 

Associated Press

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Published: 9/28/2010 2:22 PM | Updated: 9/28/2010 3:50 PM

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As Northwestern begins preparing for Saturday's Big Ten opener at Minnesota, the Wildcats have shuffled the depth chart at running back.

Last week, sophomore Arby Fields and senior Stephen Simmons showed up as either/or starters.

On Monday, junior Jacob Schmidt and redshirt freshman Mike Trumpy shared the top spot. It's a reflection of their performances in Saturday's 30-25 win over Central Michigan.

Schmidt delivered his first 2 touchdowns since the 2009 opener earning the team's offensive player of the week award in the process while Trumpy made his first appearance in crunch time and produced 53 yards in 12 second-half carries.

That marked an important breakthrough because NU's other three tailbacks average 3.2 yards per carry.

"Mike ran with an attitude," said NU coach Pat Fitzgerald. "He ran hard. I thought he was decisive. I think some of the previous games, some of the looks (for the running backs) were very similar and we had maybe zero gain or a negative gain.

"There were a couple of runs where I thought he got a 1-yard gain or 2-yard gain that were his most productive runs because we didn't set ourselves behind the chains.

"It was now a second-and-8 instead of a second-and-12 and those 4 yards are huge. Those are huge, huge differences in whether or not we can be successful."

Minnesota's run defense has been spectacularly unsuccessful to date. With help from Northern Illinois senior Chad Spann's 223-yard effort Saturday, the Gophers rank last in the Big Ten as they allow 187.8 rushing yards per game.

Schmidt allowed that the NU backs are aware of Spann's success, which was built equally on massive holes punched by the line and multiple tackles broken by Spann.

"The Northern Illinois guy proved that they can be run on," Schmidt said. "Obviously we're going to prepare this week and that's our goal: To come out Saturday and shove it down their throat."

Beware of Gophers: Minnesota might have lost three home games in the last three weeks, but Pat Fitzgerald hasn't lost any respect for Gophers coach Tim Brewster and his staff.

And, no, that has nothing to do with the fact Fitzgerald and Brewster are friendly when they see each other on vacation in Naples, Fla.

"(It's) because I watch them the tape," Fitzgerald said. "Schematically, they do an outstanding job in all three phases- They're a play away here, a play away there, a tipped ball. There's a lot of different little things that have happened."

According to Jeff Sagarin's USA Today ratings, Minnesota has faced the nation's 31st-toughest schedule while Northwestern swept the nation's No. 96 schedule.

"This is the best team we've played," Fitzgerald said. "They've got great athletes all over the place. Timmy has recruited outstanding- (Senior quarterback Adam) Weber has been there for 18 years. He's been there forever."

Secondary issues: Sophomore safety Jared Carpenter isn't on the depth chart after missing the last two weeks with a lower back problem.

Carpenter, however, looked like he was moving OK on Northwestern's sideline on Saturday. While not mentioning Carpenter specifically, Pat Fitzgerald said he hoped to get a few guys practicing more this week.

That also bodes well for junior safety David Arnold's return. He has been out all season with a foot problem.

Prime number: Northwestern stands plus-7 in turnover margin, which ranks second in the Big Ten (to Ohio State) and sixth nationally.

The Wildcats are one of seven teams with at least 8 interceptions this season.