When your injury report reads like a grocery list, you know it’s been a rough year.
Followers of Northwestern football are undoubtedly aware that the injuries have been piling up, but hearing coach Pat Fitzgerald list the players that would be out if the Wildcats had a game this Saturday is shocking.
Stephen Buckley…Collin Ellis…Treyvon Green…Jimmy Hall…Will Hampton…Venric Mark…Tony Jones…Dean Lowry…Warren Long…Sean McEvilly…Mike Trumpy…Nick Van Hoose…Tyler Scott…Jalen Prater
If you’re keeping count at home, that’s seven players who began the season as starters. At one position, running back, that’s the first, second, third, fourth, and fifth string—all out. At one point this past Saturday, the Cats had their seventh-string running back in the game.
“If you would have told me in August that we would be playing Nebraska with Timmy (Hanrahan) playing tailback for us, I would have thought you were crazy,” Fitzgerald said. “Not because of Timmy but just because of the injury situation.”
The injury list looks particularly jarring when compared to last season: they missed only five starts due to injury all year, two on offense and three on defense. This year, they have lost more than 20 starts.
“For us, it’s kind of been a recurring theme since we started Big Ten play, it seems like we’re losing two, three, four guys (every game),” Fitzgerald said. “It just is what it is. There’s not a whole lot we can do. You just keep trudging on and it’s the next man up mentality. That’s all you can do.”
All of the injuries affect not only the product on the field but also the depth of the playbook, A playbook is built around the team’s best playmakers, and two of NU’s best—quarterback Kain Colter and running back Venric Mark—have sat out multiple games this year.
“You can always match what you do in all three phases to the talent and what the guys do best and play to their strengths, (but) there’s definitely some limitations there,” Fitzgerald said.
To compensate for the multitude of injuries, some coaches might use players who would otherwise take a redshirt year, but Fitzgerald said that wouldn’t be a good decision for those players or the team.
“We wouldn’t do that. I think that would be a big mistake for those guys individually,” Fitzgerald said. “We talked about it as coaches with the NCAA that we’d like to have the flexibility to play our redshirts in at least four games. That would really help. This week, I think I’d empty the tank if I could but how can you predict these things going into the year and things of that nature? Unfortunately, we’ve had to do it in the past and it’s just not a good situation when you have to do that.”
Fitzgerald summed the situation up nicely: “If we didn’t have bad luck, we wouldn’t have any luck at all.”