The loss to Army? Heartbreaking. Against Illinois? Soul-crushing. However, with Michigan coming into Evanston this weekend, all the spirit-squashing, joy-sucking misfortune of the ‘Cats' last two games has a chance to be reversed and turned into glory. In order to pull off the upset, though, NU will need several players who have been hot lately to continue to step up, while others may see a diminished or altered role.
1. Treyvon Green, RB: With Mike Trumpy out for the remainder of the season with a torn ACL, freshman Treyvon Green will have a chance to become the Wildcats’ feature back. Although Adonis Smith and Jacob Schmidt will undoubtedly be in the mix, Green received the majority of carries against the Illini, gaining 67 yards on 17 carries. Green has shown glimpses of potential in other games as well, compiling 70 yards and a touchdown on 14 carries against Eastern Illinois. The ‘Cats have placed more emphasis this season so far on the running game — they are 24th in the nation in rushing offense — although it is quarterback Kain Colter that leads the team in that category, and he presumably won’t see much playing time now that Dan Persa is back under center. Whether Green will become the feature back for the ‘Cats is still up in the air at this point, but we should get a glimpse this Saturday against Michigan.
2. Jeremy Ebert, WR: The senior receiver has been a key asset to the Northwestern offense the last two games, reeling in five touchdowns combined against Army and Illinois. Northwestern quarterback Dan Persa’s return alone has Jeremy Ebert’s stock rising. If Persa’s rejuvenated health — who connected with Ebert for three touchdowns against the Illini — allows the ‘Cats to put a heavier emphasis on the passing attack, Ebert will surely be the primary target. Against a shaky Michigan secondary, the Persa-Ebert connection could once again be a big factor.
3. Dan Persa, QB: The newly-healthy quarterback makes the list by default after a four touchdown passing performance in his 2011 debut game. With Persa in the game against the Illini, the ‘Cats looked outstanding and jumped out to a 28-10 lead. However, Persa suffered a minor injury in the second half, leaving the game early after attempting just 14 passes. That said, Persa is Northwestern’s biggest asset in competing with the Big Ten’s best teams if he can stay on the field.
1. Mike Trumpy, RB: As Northwestern’s leading rusher last season, Trumpy was expected to play a key role on offense this year, but his season ended after he tore an ACL against Illinois. Trumpy, NU’s second leading rusher behind Colter, had his best game against Boston College, when he picked up 85 yards and a touchdown on 15 carries. It will be a long road back to the field for Trumpy following the devastating injury, but he should certainly play an important role on the team next season.
2. Kain Colter, QB: Though Colter performed well in the ‘Cats first two games, Dan Persa's return means a reduction in Colter's game time. Coach Fitzgerald may still use Colter occasionally at wide receiver (as he did against Illinois), but Persa’s return clearly means Colter will be seeing more from the sidelines.
3. Jeravin Matthews, CB: Matthews was torched this past Saturday by Illini receiver A.J. Jenkins, who caught three touchdowns while collecting 268 receiving yards on 12 receptions. It must be noted that a receiver of Jenkins' caliber probably warrants double coverage, and Matthews was generally stuck in one-on-one matchups – a tough task for any cornerback. Still, Jenkins had by far the best game of his career and proved he was a step ahead of Northwestern’s defensive backs. With a number of talented receivers on Northwestern’s conference schedule, the pass defense as a whole – not just Matthews – will have to improve if Northwestern is to have a chance at success.