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On the young running backs ...

There is plenty to blame for Northwestern's loss to Cal. But the promising play of freshmen running backs Justin Jackson (above) and Solomon Vault offers a silver lining.

Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

A lot went wrong in Northwestern's ugly opening day loss to Cal. The playcalling was questionable at times. Trevor Siemian, Cameron Dickerson, Treyvon Green and Nick VanHoose all had bad games. But there is a silver lining: the play of NU's freshmen running backs.

With their upperclassmen teammates struggling, Justin Jackson and Solomon Vault played very well. They combined for 65 yards on just 12 carries and one touchdown. The touchdown, a seven-yard scamper by Jackson, came late in the third quarter and helped jump-start Northwestern's comeback. Jackson ran harder than anyone on the field, and for someone of his size and speed, his yards after contact were extremely impressive.

Jackson outplayed Green, who mustered just 37 yards on 13 carries for an average of 2.8 yards per attempt. And Vault looked explosive on the ground and showed off his receiving potential when he nearly hauled in a TD in the second half.

Coach Pat Fitzgerald clearly wanted to get Jackson and Vault involved early--both players got touches before Green. And I would not be surprised if Jackson and Vault see more action next week against Northern Illinois. Fitz understands how important these two backs are for this offense and for the future.