The UMass defense hasn’t been able to keep anyone out of the end zone this season, and Evan Hull was not about to become the lone exception.
With Northwestern holding onto a 24-6 third quarter lead over the lowly Minutemen of the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, Andrew Marty, Northwestern’s third quarterback to enter the game on Saturday, handed the ball off to the true first-year Hull, who found a hole thanks to a nice block from tackle Ethan Weiderkehr.
“I saw it open up. It was an outside zone play. I gave the guy on the edge a little stiff arm. I saw the guy coming and just kept running,” Hull said after the game.
The young back tip-toed along the sideline for 46 yards all the way to the end zone in what would be his third of four touchdowns on the day.
In the face of an incredibly disappointing season for the Northwestern offense, the former three-star seemingly came out of nowhere to force his way into Pat Fitzgerald’s plans for Saturday’s game. Before this contest, the Minnesota native had previously rushed for 15 yards over just 8 carries, appearing against Nebraska, Indiana, and Purdue.
This weekend, he broke out for 220 yards rushing across 24 carries in what would prove to be the best individual offensive performance of any Wildcat this season.
His total yardage on the ground is the most since Justin Jackson’s 224 yards on 32 rushes during the 2016 Pinstripe Bowl—a game the ‘Cats won 31-24 over a Nathan Peterman-led Pittsburgh Panthers squad. No Northwestern player had rushed for 4 touchdowns in a game since Kain Colter in 2012.
Perhaps this breakout campaign was due for the pride of Maple Grove, Minnesota. He was rated as the 6th best prospect in the state by 247Sports and had a decorated high school career, setting his high school’s all-time rushing record with 4,140 total yards.
With Isaiah Bowser, Jesse Brown, John Moten IV, and Kyric McGowan all dealing with lingering injuries throughout the season, Hull capitalized on the opportunity to step into the running back role. Despite earning the starting role midweek, it looked as if he would split carries with Drake Anderson throughout the game, but an early fumble from the redshirt first year landed Anderson in Pat Fitzgerald’s doghouse, thus paving the way for Hull to make a name for himself.
“We’re obviously depleted in that position,” Pat Fitzgerald said. “He played really well in practice this week and earned the starting role and went out there and played really well.”
Hull’s first touchdown of the game (and his career) came from six yards out midway through the second quarter, as he cut up the middle into the end zone to extend the ‘Cats lead to eight. On, the ensuing possession, with the ‘Cats backed up inside Northwestern’s ten-yard line, Hull exploded for a 50-yard run. A few plays later, on a third-and-five from the Minutemen 38-yard line, the first-year exploded up the middle yet again for six more points.
“I put a lot of work into this, so just to have that happen for me was a very good feeling,” he said. “Big props to [the offensive line]. I’m just thankful they had my back out there.”
Perhaps the momentum picked up in this win can spur the ‘Cats forward as they host a Minnesota team looking to clinch the Big Ten West and upstart rivals Illinois. UMass is arguably one of the worst FBS teams this season, but this win, spurred by a huge performance from a promising first year, should positively affect the morale of this team.
According to NUsports.com, Hull has now seen action in four games, meaning he will lose his redshirt eligibility should he appear in one of the team’s final two contest. But after Saturday’s breakout performance, and with NU injury-ridden at the position, it’s hard to imagine Fitz will decide not to use Hull and burn his chance at a fifth season.
Either way, the prospect of a healthy Isaiah Bowser, Drake Anderson, and Evan Hull for the next couple of seasons should provide some sense of security among Wildcat fans, who can be confident that the program has a young, tough and versatile backfield coming up the pipeline.