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2019 Northwestern football position previews: Running Backs

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Bowser and co. will try to continue 2018’s second-half production uptick.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: AUG 30 Northwestern at Purdue Photo by Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Overview:

Returning starters: Isaiah Bowser (So.), John Moten IV (Sr.)

Key Losses: Chad Hanaoka, Jeremy Larkin (retired during 2018 season)

Returners: Drake Anderson (R-Fy), Jesse Brown (Jr.)

Newcomers: Evan Hull

Despite graduating Justin Jackson and losing Jeremy Larkin to a medical retirement just three games into the season, the Northwestern running game was one of the team’s strengths across the totality of 2018. First-year running back Isaiah Bowser burst onto the scene midway through the season, emerging as one of the top young running backs in the conference by averaging 91.9 YPG in Big Ten play.

With the exception of the occasional Chad Hanaoka cut block on third-down, the Wildcats aren’t losing much in the way of on-field production from their 2018 running corps. A healthy John Moten IV will look to make an impact in his senior season after battling injuries for much of 2018, and Drake Anderson/Jesse Brown should battle for their fair share of carries as well.

Key Player:

John Moten IV

Bowser is obviously Northwestern’s #1 RB option heading into his second season in Evanston, but the production the Northwestern offense gets (or doesn’t get) out of Moten could define this unit’s overall impact in 2019.

As we saw in the Big Ten Championship Game, the senior possesses a raw speed and playmaking ability that Bowser failed to show despite a remarkable 2018 campaign. Motel’s 77 yard score last December was the only highlight of his that people will remember from the past two seasons, but we shouldn’t forget what the St. Louis native showed he can do in what was a quietly strong freshman season backing up Justin Jackson.

Moten averaged 6.1 yards per carry on 54 rushes behind JJTBC in 2016, including this 43-yard TD scamper. Sure, it was against Illinois, but there’s definitely no question the dude is fast.

The senior said he’s ready to compete for the starting job heading into the 2019 season during spring practice, and while those goals might be lofty, a solid campaign could be vital to the overall success of the Wildcat offense.

“I feel great. I feel like I’m in the best shape of my life honestly,” he told Inside NU in the spring. “I want to be one of the guys my team can depend on.”

Barring an injury, Moten will have the chance to become that. Bowser will still likely bear the brunt of the carries, but the hits he takes will eventually pile up and Moten will certainly be given the opportunity to make an impact given what he’s shown he can do in the past. Expect him to primarily feature in runs outside the tackles or short passes where he can get the ball in his hands in the open field.

Big Question:

How will a new offensive line/quarterback impact Northwestern’s running scheme?

At times last season, it felt like Bowser was the entire offense. His 100+ yards against Rutgers, Wisconsin and Iowa were critical in getting the Wildcats to Indianapolis, and his bruising downhill running ability gave NU a much-needed offensive identity when Clayton Thorson struggled to connect on his throws.

With Northwestern set to undergo a change at quarterback for the first time in four seasons, you’d have to think some kind of change is coming to Mick McCall’s offensive scheme. Whether it’s fewer inside runs due to the loss of three starters on the line or more scrambles outside the pocket given Hunter Johnson’s mobility, the running game will almost certainly be transformed in some way. Until this NU team takes the field in August, though, we won’t know what exactly that will look like.

Depth Chart

2019 Running backs

1st String Isaiah Bowser
1st String Isaiah Bowser
2nd John Moten IV
3rd Drake Anderson
4th Jesse Brown