It was close, stressful and ugly at times, but Northwestern got its third-straight win against a BCS opponent thanks in a large part to success on the ground.
The Wildcats racked up 309 rushing yards as a team, and had a 100-yard rusher for the second week in a row. This time, it was Mike Trumpy stepping up in place of Venric Mark, who went down in the second half with a lower body injury.
“It was his turn, his opportunity, and he did a great job of just doing what Mike does,” Pat Fitzgerald said of Trumpy, who is returning after tearing his ACL last season. “He really embraced, as he was getting healthy, spending time in the weight room… The pile’s going the way we want it to go every time he touches it.”
Trumpy had 107 yards on 16 carries, including a crucial touchdown to secure victory late in the game. All of Trumpy’s carries came in the second half, after Fitzgerald said the coaches decided to commit to the ground game.
“We felt like, especially with the way the flow of the game was going, that we could control the line of scrimmage,” Fitzgerald said. “And we made a full commitment to run the football. And it’s a credit to our offensive line.”
For the offensive line, the coaches deciding to commit to the run is both a compliment and a motivator.
“It’s awesome, it means that they have enough confidence in you to put the game, it’s an expression, on your back,” center Brandon Vitable said. “They wanted us to take over and execute our blocks and do our fundamentals and what we’ve been taught. To get the coaches confidence like that, it’s pretty awesome in a game as close as it was.”
Vitable, Fitzgerald and quarterback Kain Colter attributed much of Northwestern’s success running the football to fitness. Colter called the offensive line “the best-conditioned line in college football,” and he has a legitimate argument. The ‘Cats offense racked up 100 plays.
“A lot of those calls are coming in real quick, a lot of those running plays we’re able to get good yards,” Colter said. “And the line has just battled their butts off … They work on that in the offseason, we’re able to go out there and run the ball repeatedly at a high tempo and it really takes a toll on the defense.”
Boston College linebacker Kevin Peirre Louis admitted as much. Pierre-Louis, who had 17 tackles, said the team was “tired, some of us. Not the whole defense – we knew they ran the hurry-up offense.” He also said the BC defense was “out-executed” on the Trumpy touchdown.
And in a wacky moment, the offensive line contributed to the run game in a much less conventional way – Vitable caught a Mark fumble and ran it for 5 yards, which Fitzgerald described as “bumblin’, stumblin’ and rumblin’.”
“Just a right place at the right time kind of thing,” Vitable said of the play. “Trying to get my block down, just popped up and grabbed it. It’s every lineman’s dream. You see the ball you’ve gotta go get it.”
As good as NU was rushing the football, the defense was equally good preventing BC from gaining much on the ground. The Golden Eagles had just 25 yards rushing on 21 carries – a 1.2 yard per carry average.
“We take a lot of pride in that,” said linebacker Chi Chi Ariguzo, who led NU with 10 tackles. “We just take pride in just being able to shut down the other offense, just keeping our team in the game. Doing what we can do just to keep our team in the game, just to keep building momentum just to help the offense out.”