Much like its quarterbacks, Northwestern has little interest in giving 60 minutes of reps to one player. The way the Cats recruit brings in a host of different players each with slightly tweaked skill sets, and every down presents a new situation that caters to different talent. When Venric Mark left Saturday's game with an ankle injury, Treyvon Green didn't assume the rest of the carries; Michael Odom and Stephen Buckley took the same number of handoffs as Northwestern's former top running back.
It's unlikely we see much of Odom on Saturday — so long as the score doesn't get too out of hand in either direction. But Buckley, who played the majority of the third quarter in Madison, presents an interesting matchup against an aggressive Minnesota front seven with a big interior line. With Mark far from 100 percent, Buckley makes sense supplementing Green on outside runs and in the screen game, and with Northwestern's reluctance to go with one starter in the backfield for more than a few series, he could be poised for an increased role this weekend. Buckley's the latest PW Hype Machine.
At just 180 lbs., Buckley won't be able to make much of an impact in between the tackles the way Green can, especially with Minnesota's two defensive tackles measuring at 6-5 and 6-6 with some combined 600 pounds. But a two-year high school letterman in track can more than make up for it split out wide or as an option in the flat, and he already has more receptions than Green this season despite seeing considerably less playing time. In nonconference play, Buckley's role was being steadily carved out; after just one carry in Cal, the redshirt freshman notched five against Syracuse, six against Western Michigan and seven against Maine before being essentially silenced in Northwestern's two Big Ten losses. After talking to Treyvon Green Wednesday, it's apparent that the Wildcats are looking to return to some of that nonconference style of play, and getting Buckley going again to reclaim a stable running game and improve upon the terrible short passing from a week ago should do Northwestern some favors.
Minnesota's defense plays similarly to Wisconsin: both are stout up front and are allowing just about the same number of plays per game (the Badgers' 65 to the Gophers' 65.5). Another slow-tempo defense will force Northwestern to get creative in the early going, and Buckley's positional flexibility needs to be exploited Saturday. It also should be noted that against the Golden Gophers last year, Mark was able to hit the edge easily all afternoon, going off to the tune of 182 yards and two touchdowns on only 20 carries. That's not to say we expect the same from Buckley, but if there's a way to attack Minnesota's defense, it's certainly on the outside, where without Mark and Kain Colter at full strength, Buckley is Northwestern's best option.
Buckley shouldn't see double-digit carries, but enough reps as a change of pace will keep Minnesota on its toes after Northwestern was painfully predictable last week. Without Mark entirely healthy, someone needs to step up, and I like Buckley's chances after a good week of practice. Now get hyped.
Game 1: Collin Ellis — Two interceptions returned for touchdowns
Game 2: Traveon Henry — Eight tackles, interception
Game 3: Rashad Lawrence — Zero receptions
Game 4: Dean Lowry — Interception returned for touchdown, sack, forced fumble
Game 5: Jack Konopka — Sack allowed, left game injured
Game 6: Cameron Dickerson — One reception, 13 yards