As expected, Northwestern senior running back Venric Mark, who sat out the last three games after logging just 11 carries in the season-opener at Cal, will play Saturday. Were Mark’s return the most notable piece of information on Northwestern’s Thursday injury report, the Wildcats would feel pretty good, health-wise, heading into their game against No. 4 Ohio State.
Here in the real world, Northwestern must figure out how to deal with the news that junior defensive tackle Sean McEvily will miss Saturday’s game. McEvily, who has grown into arguably one of Northwestern’s best defensive players – he’s definitely one of its most important – cannot be easily replaced. Chance Carter and Will Hampton should start at defensive tackle, while reserve C.J. Robbins (and possibly Max Chapman, who can play end or tackle) should see increased playing time.
Defensive tackle is one of Northwestern’s weakest position groups, and losing McEvily, a space-eating anchor at the point of attack, is a huge blow. Backups will need to step up to fill the void, obviously, but Northwestern may also be pressed utilize its four-defensive end formation – which features Tyler Scott and Dean Lowry in the middle, and Deonte Gibson and Ifeadi Odenigbo off the edges – more often. That could make Northwestern more vulnerable against Ohio State’s run game, which ranks second in the Big Ten at 6.27 yards per carry, but it’s a risk the Wildcats – with very little proven depth behind Carter, Hampton and Robbins – might be forced to take.
Slowing the Buckeyes ground game was going to be a tall order with McEvily in the lineup. Without him? Sealing gaps and holding down Jordan Hall, Carlos Hyde, Ezekiel Elliot, Dontre Wilson, Braxton Miller and others will be an immense challenge.