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2021 Northwestern football position previews: Running Backs

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Porter and Hull need to preserve the momentum they finished with last season.

Vrbo Citrus Bowl - Auburn v Northwestern Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images

Overview:

Returning starters: Cam Porter (So.)

Key losses: Drake Anderson (Transfered Arizona), Isaiah Bowser (Transfered to UCF)

Returners: Connor Newhouse (R-So.), Raymond Niro III (Jr.), Evan Hull (R-So.), Marcus Cisco (R-So.), Jake Arthurs (So.)

Newcomers: Andrew Clair (Grad transfer, Bowling Green), Anthony Tyus III (Fr.)

Just looking at the key losses from this past season, one might see both Isaiah Bowser and Drake Anderson having decided to pick up and leave and grow worried about the running back position group. However, given what transpired at the end of the 2020 season, one might be less worried and more excited about the bright future of Northwestern’s running game, its potential falling at the feet of Cam Porter and Evan Hull, both of whom had explosive finishes to their 2020 campaigns.

Bowser and Anderson began the season as Bajakian’s go-to guys, both ripping apart Maryland’s offense on the ground with Anderson pulling in 103 yards on 10 attempts and Bowser netting 75 himself. However, the rest of the year proved to be up-and-down for the run game, forcing Peyton Ramsey to find targets through the air. Yet, NU’s prayers for a consistent run-game may have been answered, albeit late in the season, when Porter began to see some touches beginning with his appearance against Michigan State, where he pulled in his first touchdown for the ‘Cats and only found more successes from there.

Key Player:

Cam Porter

The true freshman may have arrived late on the scene last season, but he only needed one chance to truly establish himself as a breakout player for the foreseeable future, dominating in the Land of Lincoln matchup vs Illinois with 142 rushing yards and two touchdowns during a rainy day in Evanston. His performance against the Illini would earn him his first career start in the Big Ten Championship game before closing out the season with another solid performance in the Citrus Bowl, adding one touchdown per game in the process.

The Cincinnati native finished his first year leading the team with 333 total rushing yards and averaging 4.1 yards per carry. Though his most impressive single game box score came about against a weak Illinois run-defense, make no mistake, Porter is a powerful runner. He managed to pull in 61 yards against the Ohio State’s No. 6 ranked run-defense and his explosiveness and grit spoke for itself. What Northwestern needs this season is a consistent runner out of the backfield, and if Porter carries over his momentum from last year’s finale, he can be that keystone in Bajakian’s Wildcat offense.

Big Question:

Will inexperience be a problem?

There’s no doubt that Porter was impressive in his short string of appearances last season, but that’s what it was — a very short cameo. The question remains whether he can run as hard as he did for the duration of a full season, including matchups outside of the Big Ten. That being said, he is joined in the backfield by Hull, the redshirt sophomore who brings a bit more experience to the playing field.

Despite redshirting his freshman year, Hull did play in four games in 2019, totaling 286 yards, 220 of which came against UMass where he also tacked on four touchdowns. In 2020, though he saw the field mostly in garbage time, Hull still averaged a massive 8.4 yards per carry. While his biggest performances came against weaker opponents (UMass in 2019 and Illinois in 2020), Hull is someone Bajakian and Fitz can rely on to match Porter’s energy in the backfield when needed. Nonetheless, both prominent backs are still young, but this season brings the chance for each of them to prove themselves as forces to be reckoned with.

Depth Chart:

2021 RB Depth Chart

Depth Chart Player
Depth Chart Player
1st String Cam Porter
2nd String Evan Hull
3rd String Anthony Tyus/Andrew Clair