Wildcats' run game turns to Trumpy

First, Northwestern turned to Stephen Simmons, but he got hurt.

The Wildcats then tried Arby Fields. And Scott Concannon. And Jacob Schmidt. And Simmons again. The result was a rushing attack that ranked eighth in the Big Ten and 95th nationally in 2009.

Northwestern went back to Fields and Schmidt in the 2010 season opener against Vanderbilt, but only got fumbles and short gains. Through the first four games, Northwestern has had four lost fumbles from its running backs and no runs of longer than 20 yards, a problem that has carried over from last season.

The hard truth: Since Tyrell Sutton graduated, Northwestern has had a major hole in its backfield.

But there's hope this week as the undefeated Wildcats open Big Ten play at Minnesota.

Redshirt freshman Mike Trumpy gets his chance to become the answer for Northwestern's rushing issues. Trumpy, who missed all of 2009 because of injuries, provided a lift last week against Central Michigan with 53 yards on 12 attempts, all in the second half of a 30-25 victory.

His performance elevated him to co-starter status with Schmidt on this week's depth chart.

"Michael, really the first time being healthy here a couple weeks ago, has put a couple good weeks of practice together," Wildcats coach Pat Fitzgerald said. "He ran hard for his first real opportunity of getting some carries besides mop-up duty. His role is going to increase based on the production that he has."

At 6-foot and 210 pounds, Trumpy gives Northwestern a little extra size at running back. The nephew of former NFL star Bob Trumpy ran hard between the tackles against Central Michigan and most important, he held onto the football.

Northwestern on Saturday faces a Minnesota team ranks last in the Big Ten and 97th nationally against the run (187.8 ypg). Northern Illinois' Chad Spann gashed the Gophers for 223 yards and two touchdowns in last week's win.

It's a good opportunity for Trumpy to help himself in a wide-open backfield. If he's not the answer, Northwestern might not have one, unless it wants to use true freshman Adonis Smith, an increasingly unlikely possibility.

"We've made no secret we want to try and be much more efficient running the football," Fitzgerald said.

Fitzgerald knows that as good as quarterback Dan Persa and the wide receivers have been, a one-dimensional offense can only go so far in Big Ten play.

If the Wildcats plan to turn their quick start into a special season, someone needs to answer the call at running back.