The running back rollercoaster

The running back rollercoaster

Tracking the strange Northwestern running back situation through the 2013 season.

Northwestern entered the season "loaded" at running back, with five capable options. True freshman Godwin Igwebuike chose to play safety, giving the younger core an opportunity to climb the depth chart. Of course, Venric Mark figured to dominate the carry ratio despite sitting out for the majority of fall drills. The media and fan base was unaware that Mark suffered a hamstring injury on the second day of camp.

Meanwhile, Treyvon Green made an impressive statement in Kenosha, and returned to take several first-team reps. Once considered the fifth-best running back on this team, Green showed considerable toughness and perseverance. Redshirt freshmen Malin Jones and Stephen Buckley tried to prove themselves, with Jones earning significant praise.

Game 1: California

Treyvon Green: 15/129
Venric Mark: 11/29
Mike Trumpy: 5/27
Stephen Buckley: 1/4
Malin Jones: 1/-3

NU made an inexplicable decision and cleared Mark to play at California. He looked anything but healthy–struggling through 11 carries–and did not return until the game against Ohio State. Green filled in admirably, and his effort carried the Wildcats to a satisfying opening week victory. Pat Fitzgerald praised Green after the game; he was a major role in helping the team overcome Colter's concussion and Daniel Jones' season-ending knee injury.

Game 2: Syracuse

Green: 14/66
Trumpy: 11/36
Buckley: 5/15
Jones: 1/0

After being listed as "questionable," Venric Mark did not play against Syracuse. That led to another heavy dose of Treyvon, with Trumpy adopting his signature power back role. But Buckley quietly moved ahead of Jones—as evidenced by him taking a greater number of reps. Jones, the Joliet HS (Ill.) product, struggled to find any carries in the crowded backfield. Before the Western Michigan game, PurpleWildcats.com suggested that Jones was in the process of transitioning to superback—which was true.

Game 3: Western Michigan

Green: 20/158
Trumpy: 8/46
Long: 2/13
Buckley: 6/10
Jones: 1/1

PurpleWildcats.com also observed that true freshman Warren Long "appeared set to burn his redshirt for the 2013 season." Long took special teams reps, one of the factors hinting at Matt Harris losing his. This could have resulted from the collision of many factors, but Long appeared mentally ready for the task—so they put him in the mix for carries. Against Western Michigan, though, Green cemented his feature back role in the continued absence of Venric.

Game 4: Maine

Trumpy: 17/94
Buckley: 7/53
Green: 9/51
Long: 2/4

Against the cupcake FCS opponent, Trumpy reminded us of his value, carrying the quiet offense. Buckley saw an enhanced role, and put forth his first successful college effort. At this point, many expected that NU held Mark out for precautionary reasons, and because the team was facing Maine. His hamstring, though, was still undergoing the healing process before a crucial GameDay matchup.

Game 5: Ohio State

Mark: 17/60
Green: 5/19
Trumpy: 3/7

The statistics are deflated because of the Ohio State front seven–dominant as always–but Mark demonstrated his unbelievable toughness. He broke off an impressive screen pass gain as well, showing the complete package. Green immediately returned to the second back role—and the younger options were not used.

Game 6: Wisconsin

Buckley: 3/19
Long: 3/17
Michael Odom: 3/17
Mark: 3/8
Green: 3/6
Trumpy: 1/5

Mark went down again, this time with an ankle injury, throwing the depth chart into disarray. Offensive coordinator Mick McCall abandoned the run in a 35-6 loss. Again, you see the startling stat above: No running back had more than three carries.

Game 7: Minnesota

Buckley: 9/58
Green: 9/34
Trumpy: 3/4

In his short appearance, Buckley dominated, torching the Minnesota defense en route to an early touchdown. After that, the NU offense seemed comfortable relying on its inconsistent passing game. Trumpy continued his struggles, with his three-game numbers totaling seven carries for 16 yards.

Game 8: Iowa

Buckley: 17/99
Trumpy: 13/51

Fitzgerald said on Monday his team had only two available running backs. Green could have played in emergency, Fitz said in a teleconference, but was limited during practice. Still, Buckley and Trumpy had considerable workload—with one succeeding and the other flopping. Even with Treyvon Green looking set to return, there's one developing question. Can Venric Mark get a medical redshirt? It's all part of the running back rollercoaster—one that's partially defined this Northwestern football season.

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