Stephen Buckley— Well, one of our preseason predictions turned out. Throughout fall camp, Buckley emerged as an interesting playmaker—though his experience lagged behind other options. With Mike Trumpy struggling outside of his niche (the short yardage run) and Treyvon Green failing to make an impact in consecutive games, Buckley should adopt an enhanced role. Venric Mark was not listed on this week's depth chart, prompting long-term concerns. The surprise redshirt freshman earned significant respect with his nine-carry, 58-yard performance in the losing effort.
Collin Ellis— I thought Ellis was outstanding on Saturday. He's an outwardly motivated player, seeming unfazed by the team's poor stretch. He picked up nine tackles–including 1.5 per loss–and continues to reaffirm the coaching staff's decision to place him in the starter's role. Healthy at long last, Ellis is the proverbial bright spot in an otherwise dismal start. This entire linebacker corps will be crucial to NU's success in the coming weeks.
Tony Jones— I'd agree with the "underachieving" label placed on this group of receivers. Sure, they're excellent in terms of well-rounded focus—emphasizing the importance of blocking. Still, aside from T. Jones, C. Jones and some flashes from Rashad Lawrence, it's hardly the deep group we often envisioned. (It doesn't help that Dan Vitale has been very, very mediocre this year.) Jones' numbers, though, speak to his impressive development. He added eight catches for 84 yards on Saturday, with his season totals surpassing those of last season. He's been the primary weapon, no doubt, and deservedly so.
Kain Colter— I made the Colter-to-wideout argument this offseason, fully believing that Trevor Siemian could develop and become a strong starting quarterback. Siemian showed flashes of improvement, especially near the beginning of the season, but that wasn't sustained. He was quite awful against Minnesota, throwing two egregious picks. That came just one week after his uninspired showing in Wisconsin. Colter's valuable under center, can move the ball with his trademark zone read, and might have reinvigorated the dying offense. Saturday made us appreciate his value.
O-line— False hope, anyone? In the first few weeks, despite the poor opponents, the Northwestern offensive line looked very strong. And in August, the starting five was obvious: Geoff Mogus, Ian Park and Paul Jorgensen could try to fill the void as three major contributors. They've collapsed in the past few weeks, their inexperience clearly showing. Jack Konopka has arguably regressed from last season, with Brandon Vitabile perhaps the lone bright spot at center. I grew convinced that the unit could survive; they have not.
Mike Trumpy— Surely they can use him more effectively than this. He's forced into screen passes, read options and other situations that seem uncomfortable to the senior back. He excels in the power run game, which extends beyond the standard third-and-one carry that frustrates NU fans. He hasn't yet found his 2013 moment, with last year's game against Boston College reflective of his potential impact. Instead, he's stuck in running back purgatory—always the second or third choice. In the three losses, Trumpy has seven total carries for a combined 16 yards.
Dwight White— It's another stubborn decision from this coaching staff. They refuse to start true freshman Matt Harris, who's clearly a better player despite his relative inexperience. The true freshman, even in limited stints, has shown more potential than White—the speedster struggling to find his way. But rather than embracing the new, Pat Fitzgerald and Jerry Brown are trying to survive with White. He was burned again in the Minnesota game, just like in every one before. Though he did make progress in the OSU and Wisconsin games, he's not the best choice right now. It's growing difficult to argue otherwise.
Dan Vitale— I don't get the hype. His primary value arrives from his pass-catching ability. When that's not happening, Vitale becomes the liability. Since his strong start, with nine catches for 143 yards in two games, Vitale has caught 12 passes in the last five. He dropped two against Minnesota, ran some deep routes in past weeks that even I could tell were bad, and of course, struggles in every facet of "blocking." The superback position dipped in recent weeks, as the offense faded into oblivion. They need sharper, more refined play from Vitale.