Northwestern will play in the Big Ten football championship game for the first time Saturday, an opportunity that might not exist if not for a freshman from the Miami Valley.
That would be Isaiah Bowser, the unexpected leading rusher for the surprising Big Ten West champions.
To be fair, those who watched Bowser run for more than 5,000 yards at Sidney probably figured he would be a big contributor for the Purple — just not so soon.
Tom Archdeacon: Hands down, Sidney’s Isaiah Bowser is something special
Jeremy Larkin, another Ohio native who starred at Cincinnati LaSalle, was expected to take over for all-time leading rusher Justin Jackson, but Larkin was forced to give up football in September because of a neck injury.
In three games after Larkin was sidelined, the Wildcats totaled only 68 yards on the ground.
Although Northwestern won two of those games, it required a Herculean effort from senior quarterback Clayton Thorson, who threw for 373 yards against Michigan State and 455 against Nebraska (both wins).
Thorson has only gone over the 200-yard mark once since, but the Wildcats won five of their six games, the only loss coming to undefeated Notre Dame.
What’s the difference?
Bowser stepped into the lineup in game seven against Rutgers, ran for 108 yards and two touchdowns and has not looked back, averaging 122.3 yards per outing.
He has 736 yards on 161 carries and six touchdowns on the season despite not playing in three games and having only a total of two carries for two yards in three others.
“Early on we came out intending to be balanced and we were, especially with Jeremy back there,” Thorson said. “When Jeremy had to medically retire, we leaned more on the passing game for a few games.
“Then when Isaiah Bowser started to really step up we became more balanced. I would say we’re pretty balanced. We’re a run and a pass offense.We can really spread out a defense and diagnose it well. I think our coaches do a great job getting us in good positions but our run game has really excelled the last few weeks and our pass game has been really efficient as well.”
Of course folks in Shelby County know all about Bowser.
He had one of the finest football careers in area history, culminating with 2,617 yards rushing in 11 games last season as the Yellow Jackets advanced to the second round of the playoffs. That came after he ran for 1,877 yards as a junior and 910 as a sophomore.
The Buckeyes will get a close-up look at him Saturday night.
Haskins leads Ohio State conference award winners
Quarterback Dwayne Haskins, offensive lineman Isaiah Prince and receiver Parris Campbell all received first-team All-Big Ten honors this week.
Haskins was also named the Big Ten’s best quarterback and top offensive player on Wednesday.
“Winning awards is awesome, but to be able to go out here and play in my first year the way I’ve played, I’m just really blessed and thankful for my teammates and my coaches to put me in opportunity to go out there and ball the way that I did,” Haskins said Tuesday when asked about the potential of winning major Big Ten awards.
“I’ll feel more accomplished by beating Northwestern than I will about winning anything else,” he added.
Running back J.K. Dobbins and center Michael Jordan made the all-conference second team while receiver K.J. Hill and guard Demetrius Knox landed on the third team and receiver Terry McLaurin, running back Mike Weber and offensive linemen Malcolm Pridgeon and Thayer Munford received honorable mention.
The only Ohio State player to make the All-Big Ten first team on defense was tackle Dre’Mont Jones while end Chase Young and safety Jordan Fuller made the second team while
Wayne grad Robert Landers, a redshirt junior defensive tackle, earned an All-Big Ten honorable mention along with end Jonathan Cooper; linebackers Tuf Borland, Malik Harrison and Pete Werner; and cornerbacks Damon Arnette, Jeffrey Okudah and Kendall Sheffield.
Despite playing only three games, Nick Bosa also received honorable mention. The junior end suffered a core muscle injury against TCU and later left the team to focus on preparing for the NFL draft.
Sophomore punter Drue Chrisman also made the all-conference second team.