Of course, though, the changes from Iowa went beyond that. An offense led by Kain Colter focused on specific targets, and the running game continued its gradual facelift. Injuries, progress and other factors have led to the current lineup, which looked much different this week.
Harris to the starter's role
True freshman corner Matt Harris supplanted Dwight White for the second starting role. After the secondary struggled–particularly with vertical passing plays–NU opted to speed up Harris's development. The former Lyons Township HS (Ill.) standout demonstrated enough maturity and physical readiness to play right away this season, burning his redshirt in California. This afternoon, it culminated in his impressive complete debut as starter, as he showed far more promise than White.
"I thought there were some really positive plays," Fitzgerald said of Harris. "I don't think the ball went very far after it got close to Matt. I'll have to watch the tape but I thought he played pretty well."
Easily the team's impact freshman of the year, Harris also accepted kickoff return duties with great success. He's comfortable, quick and appears to be an excellent tackler. Though it was an imperfect opener (he allowed some catches), Harris flashed the potential that will make him the team's future at corner.
Buckley in order
The first question: Where's Treyvon Green? The first answer: Just watch Stephen Buckley. The redshirt freshman ran for 99 yards today, including one outside run with breakneck speed. Buckley demonstrated his lofty upside throughout fall camp, lapping Malin Jones on the depth chart. With Venric Mark out, he's the most explosive option, and it's not even close.
Green must be suffering from some sort of injury or serious benching. Mike Trumpy fumbled twice in what should be his last major opportunity for carries. Ever since his fumble at Cal, Buckley has risen up the depth chart — and that's without tapping into his potential as a receiver out of the backfield.
Buckley's essentially the unofficial starter at this point, with two straight excellent performances. NU figures to rely on the ground game for the next several years, making his elevated role something to note. Even if he holds up, there's this local guy named Justin Jackson who might challenge him immediately.
Snap back to short range
Well, this looked like the year of the Northwestern receiver. In the Syracuse game, which feels like four months ago, Trevor Siemian and Kain Colter picked apart the opposing secondary en route to the dominant win. The once-revitalized passing game took a quieter route Saturday, resembling last season's run-heavy attack.
It all makes sense, but it did cost the receivers some vital opportunities. Tony Jones, Christian Jones and Rashad Lawrence–the team's three top receivers–combined for only five catches in the 17-10 loss. Although Kain Colter played well in his return, he's not consistently effective at spreading the ball.
That left room for Dan Vitale's "mixed results." He looked comfortable in the passing game, hauling in four catches for 52 yards and an easy score. Offensive coordinator Mick McCall clearly considers the superback an essential part of the unit. Though he had an extremely costly late-game penalty, Vitale might be used even more often after his first successful outing of the Big Ten season.