Evan Hull breaks 200 yards in Northwestern’s 35-6 win over Ohio

By John Volk

After a week of questions about the quarterback, Pat Fitzgerald changed the subject.

Led by an Evan Hull masterclass, Northwestern unleashed the full force of its run game Saturday to the tune of a 35-6 beatdown of Ohio. Hull slashed through the Bobcats’ defense all morning at Ryan Field, racking up 216 rush yards on 22 carries. The sophomore running back also punched in two touchdowns, the second of which he took 90 yards to the house for Northwestern’s longest rush since 1961.

Fitzgerald was effusive in his praise for Hull post game, calling him a “complete back” who can run, catch and block, while also noting the job he’s done to step up in place of the injured Cam Porter.

“He’s a guy that really embraces being a feature back, and his work ethic is incredible,” Fitzgerald said. “I think he’s playing at a really high level, and we’re gonna need him. If he continues on this path, he puts himself in the conversation of being an All-Big Ten level back.”

The necessary caveat is the strength of the opponent. Ohio, a MAC team still searching for its first win, entered Saturday’s game allowing 253.7 rush yards per game, ranked 124th out of 130 in the FBS. Hull has also looked dominant against non-Power 5 teams in the past, famously recording 220 yards and four touchdowns against UMass in 2019. Just two weeks ago he dropped 126 yards and two touchdowns on Indiana State.

However, Hull also ran for 149 yards versus Illinois last year, and it’s worth noting that he operated behind a Sam Gerak-less offensive line this week. The biggest question for Northwestern now becomes whether or not he can string together these types of performances over the remaining Big Ten schedule.

Quarterback Ryan Hilinski started for Northwestern for the first time, getting the nod over the benched Hunter Johnson and the injured Andrew Marty. Hilinski went 12-of-20 passing for 88 yards with no touchdowns and no interceptions. Aside from one mistake midway through the second quarter, a dropped pick on third down from his own seven-yard line, Hilinski managed to take care of the ball enough to get the win.

That was Northwestern’s mantra on Saturday: pound the rock and play mistake-free football. Behind Hull, graduate transfer Andrew Clair and first-year Anthony Tyus III looked like quality complements, picking up 71 and 51 yards on the ground, respectively. The ‘Cats never turned the ball over while forcing three Ohio turnovers, including Northwestern’s first two interceptions of the season.

It wasn’t all perfect. A second-quarter false start penalty on fourth-and-one at the goal line forced Northwestern to attempt a field goal that Charlie Kuhbander kicked wide. On the other side, the defensive backups allowed a 55-yard rushing touchdown on the final play of the game to lose the shutout. But overall, the ‘Cats laid the blueprint for how they can win games in 2021.

Northwestern resumes Big Ten play on the road next week in Nebraska. Live coverage of the game will begin on WNUR Sports about 20 minutes before the kick at 6:30 p.m. CT.