Coming into the season, the Northwestern receiving core was possibly the most hyped group of receivers the program can remember.
With the Kyle Prater transfer, Christian Jones with a year under his belt, and the experience of Rashad Lawrence, Tony Jones and Demetrius Fields, there is plenty of talent to go around. But so far, that hasn’t really been on display.
Though in the past Northwestern has been a pass-heavy offense, this year it’s the run game that leads the way.
“We’re gonna always take what the defense gives us and if they’re gonna sit there and do some things we’re gonna take full advantage of it and run the ball,” Pat Fitzgerald said.
And though the receivers haven’t been a major part of the offense, they aren’t sitting on the sidelines moping.
“I feel like it’s also important to establish our run game, so we’ve been focusing on that,” Rashad Lawrence said.
That doesn’t mean that the receivers aren’t ready to be in the action.
“At the same time, we haven’t been asleep as a receiver core,” Lawrence said. “We’ve been working on our craft, we’ve been polishing so when the time comes that we have to spread the ball around more, we’re still ready.”
So far this season, the Wildcats have racked up 744 yards while attempting 118 passes. The three passing touchdowns, however, all came in the first game. The ground game is far outpacing the pass game, with 199 runs for 885 yards and 9 touchdowns.
“It’s kind of like a challenge,” Christian Jones said. “We’re out there blocking all the time and we take our shots when we get them and it makes us put more focus on our craft to get even better when those chances come to take them.”
Jones added that the fact that NU hasn’t done a lot of passing may be an advantage, as opponents won’t have as much tape of the passing game to prepare.
“It leaves a lot to be known, definitely,” he said. “They don’t have everything that we’ve ever done on film so they can’t really practice that, they don’t know anything about us. They know we block well, they know that, but they don’t really know anything about us so it leaves a lot of room for us to come out and shock everybody and make ourselves known.”
Lawrence said the group doesn’t necessarily feel anxious waiting for the moment when the passing game opens up, but is instead confident in their abilities.
“We know what we’re capable of, so we know what we have in store,” he said. “Even though we haven’t shown much passing like that, I think we’re still working on it, we’re still ready.”
In the press conference following the South Dakota game, Kain Colter emphasized that the run game is working, but seemed slightly frustrated by the lack of passing.
“In football if you can dominate the run game, you have a great chance of winning,” Colter said. “Would I like to throw a whole bunch of touchdown passes? I mean, yeah. But right now, the running game is working for us so we are going to stick with that.”
This week is the beginning of Big Ten play and Lawrence suggested that the team will need to spread the ball around a lot more than it has thus far in order to have success in the conference.
And that means the receivers may be put to the test a lot more in the coming weeks.