Now that the season is over and the coaching cycle is spinning, it’s a good time to look back and review each position group. Next on the list: the running backs.
Overall Grade: B
It’s early on in the position reviews, but I imagine a B will be amongst the highest any position group receives. After all, this was an offense that produced a conference-low 13.8 points per game.
That being said, the rushing attack is not the main culprit for the lack of dynamism on the scoreboard. The rush offense finished middle-of-the-pack among the Big Ten and there were a few bright spots in the RB room.
Last year’s leading rusher, Evan Hull, led the way again this year and showcased his dual-threat ability. Outside of Hull, there was less to celebrate. Cam Porter, Andrew Clair, Anthony Tyus III and Joseph Himon II all got opportunities in various roles, but there are several questions as to who will shoulder the bulk of the workload in a post-Hull world.
This group gets a B for being the best overall unit on the offense. Although the statistics are middling and not hyper-efficient, it is important to remember the degree to which the passing offense held back the rushing attack at points this season. In several games this season (Ohio State and Purdue come to mind as prime examples), the aerial attack was absent, allowing the opposing defenses to play to the run. If a more balanced offense had been feasible, I believe these runners would’ve had more opportunity to shine.
Evan Hull: A-
Stats: 221 carries, 913 rushing yards, five rushing touchdowns, 55 receptions, 546 receiving yards, two receiving touchdowns
After Saturday’s loss to Illinois, Evan Hull announced he has played his final snap in purple and white. It’s hard to blame Hull for not returning for his senior season. He was the best skill position player on a dismal team. Hull may have a chance to become a late-round NFL draft pick in April.
When pro scouts take a look at Hull’s tape, the first thing that will jump out is his improvement as a pass catcher. The junior runner developed into a true versatile back and verifiable threat in the pass game. He finished as Northwestern’s second-leading receiver behind only Malik Washington. A large portion of his 546 receiving yards came in the Duke contest, where Hull finished with 14 receptions for a whopping 213 yards (no need to mention Hull’s final play of the game, which in hindsight, was the start of the cursed season).
Hull got off to a hot start, recording 150 or more all-purpose yards in each of the first three games of the season. Although he tapered off as the season went on, the Minnesota native still managed to put together a stellar season featuring five 100-yard rushing performances.
On the negative side, Hull fumbled the ball three times (one was recovered by the ‘Cats) and did not have a rush of 30 yards or greater. In a conference with several special running backs, Hull belongs in the second tier of runners, behind the likes of Blake Corum, Chase Brown and Mohamed Ibrahim. Regardless, Hull will hopefully get an invite to the NFL Scouting Combine and a chance to showcase his talents to the NFL after a fantastic career in Evanston.
Cam Porter: C+
Stats: 87 carries, 286 rushing yards, two rushing touchdowns, seven receptions, 50 receiving yards
After missing the entirety of the 2021 season due to an ACL injury, Cam Porter made his triumphant return in 2022. Unfortunately, a serious injury like that is difficult to return from at full strength. Porter slightly regressed from his freshman season, finishing with only 3.3 yards per carry and three fewer touchdowns.
Porter started the season on a strong note, recording 19 attempts for 94 yards and a touchdown against Nebraska in Dublin. For the rest of the season, the junior back saw nowhere near that level of usage, never getting more than 13 touches in any contest. Over time, Evan Hull chipped away at Porter’s already secondary role.
With Hull out of the picture, Porter should grow into an expanded role in 2023 and may have the chance to be the featured back in Northwestern’s run-first offense.
Andrew Clair: B-
Stats: 18 carries, 94 rushing yards, one rushing touchdown, six receptions, 25 receiving yards
The sixth-year senior did not have a massive season statistically, but Clair was a team captain and remained a crucial leader for a team that easily could have folded down the stretch. Clair was effective as a third option, averaging 5.2 yards a carry and performed admirably in his limited role.
Anthony Tyus III: C
Stats: 19 carries, 56 rushing yards, five receptions, 49 receiving yards, one receiving touchdown
After what was considered a successful freshman season, the sophomore from Michigan was not given an opportunity to improve on his first year in Evanston. Tyus only had 19 carries compared to his 50 from the year prior. In the small sample, Tyus averaged only 2.9 yards a carry. He did have one long reception against Nebraska and the lone touchdown for the ‘Cats in the Wisconsin game. He should see more chances with Hull and Clair out of the fold in the future.
Joseph Himon II: Incomplete
Stats: four carries, 31 rushing yards
The freshman from Little Rock, Arkansas got two carries in each of the final two games of the season and looked explosive in the teaspoon-sized sample we saw of him. Himon will look to break out in his sophomore season.