Without Mark, Buckley, RBs still geared up

Brian De Los Santos on Northwestern's running back roulette.

Northwestern oddly found one of its greatest strengths in something that has become its biggest challenge this year. The roulette that's been the Wildcats backfield has showcased its depth — even if the numbers haven't always been there.

The Wildcats, still searching for their first conference win and still hoping for bowl eligibility, will need that depth this week when the team hosts a much-maligned Michigan team at Ryan Field on Saturday.

"It's definitely tough, but we just have to take it on with positive attitude and go from there," Mike Trumpy said. "I haven't seen anything like it, with this many injuries. Even the guys that are healthy are really banged up."

However, Northwestern isn't a team to make excuses, even if the team continues to lose player after player — and even if head coach Pat Fitzgerald ruefully listed 20 players on the injury report during last week's press conference.

"It's huge. When we're faced with adversity, you have to have a positive attitude," Trumpy said. "And it starts with seniors and having that attitude."

That being said, last week's bye seemingly came at the right time. Players such as Trumpy and running back Treyvon Green are starting to rip off the bandages. The injuries have even paved way for guys who are getting chances in different positions, such as the ever-versatile Malin Jones.

"We're trying to find a way to get [Malin] on the field," Fitzgerald said. "When he walked out of camp, we didn't project him to be on the field at running back. And he's been on the field a lot, so right now he's kind of in the position to be able to play multiple spots."

But for a team so reliant on its rushing attack, the numbers have been hard to come by as the season's progressed. Northwestern currently holds the eighth-best rushing offense in the Big Ten, averaging 189 yards per game. Last week, Green was the team's first 100-yard rusher since he reached the mark in Week 3 against Western Michigan.

The Wildcats hope to get that same production out of the backfield against the Wolverines, but consistency hasn't been on Northwestern's side this year. And with a Michigan defense that keys on their opponent's strength, Trumpy, Green and the rest of the running backs could face a stiff test.

"Schematically they are going to try and pressure you from a standpoint of taking away what you do well," Fitzgerald said. "Get you to your second read, or your hot read. So, they do a nice job."

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