NMU football: Wildcats turn to the ground game, led by Jurasin

MARQUETTE – The Northern Michigan University football team has put together better statistical rushing performances this season than Saturday’s 33-21 victory over Wayne State at the Superior Dome in Marquette.

The difference Saturday, however, was the bulk of the yardage came from a running back, not the quarterback.

It’s what Ostrowsky envisioned last season when he chose redshirt freshman pocket passer Ryan Morley as his starting QB.

“Offensively, it’s what I’ve done in my past that has been the most successful,” NMU head coach Chris Ostrowsky said.

NMU sophomore Wyatt Jurasin out of Ishpeming High School became Northern’s first running back of 2013 to rush for over 100 yards, gaining 127 of the Wildcats’ 172 rushing yards in the 33-21 victory over Wayne State.

Prior to the win over the Warriors, injured junior quarterback Dustin Thomas was the lone 100-plus-yard rusher for NMU this season, gaining 131 of the Wildcats’ 160 yards in a loss against Hillsdale.

“I thought our players really responded, running backs and offensive line,” Ostrowsky said. “The whole deal really was really nice to see.

“It’s blocking on the perimeter by the wide receivers, its understanding where they are fitting defensively and where’s a good spot to put them. It’s about a running back who sees it and hits it hard. It’s a lot of different components than hand the ball off and see.”

The Wildcats opponent Saturday at the Superior Dome – Northwood – ranks 14th out of 15 teams in the GLIAC in rushing defense, opening the door for NMU to continue to grow its rushing attack when the two sides kickoff at 1 p.m.

Leading up to last week’s win over WSU, NMU had rushed for a combined total of 73 yards in its previous two games, both losses at Michigan Tech and Grand Valley State.

“We were pretty banged up for a few weeks,” Jurasin said. “We had it going and we had a few key injuries that slowed us down toward the middle of the season.”

NMU began with a decent rushing attack in its first two weeks of the season with senior starting quarterback Cody Scepaniak rushing for 95 of the 187 yards in a win over Findlay in Marquette. He followed that by gaining 99 of NMU’s 186 yards in a home loss to Ohio Dominican.

Jurasin was unable to outrush Scepaniak in both games, but he did post 82 yards against UF and 88 yards against ODU.

After that, his best game before the win over Wayne State was 42 yards at GVSU.

“The linemen blocked out of this world good,” Jurasin said. “The quarterback didn’t hit the ground a single time the entire game. The holes were huge and we just executed.”

Jurasin is averaging 52.7 yards per game, but 4.1 yards per carry with three touchdowns.

Spelling him is redshirt freshman Keon Collier, who also has three touchdowns, but a modest 29 yards per game average and 2.9 yards per carry average. He season-high is the 71 yards he gained against Hillsdale. NMU rushed for 156 total yards that day.

The Wildcats will need both to continue to increase their yardage over the final three games with true freshman Shaye Brown at quarterback.

Unlike Scepaniak and Thomas, Brown is not a running QB. He’s a pocket passer.

He’s also an 18-year-old rookie in college football, who needs running backs that can take some pressure of his back.

“If you have a young quarterback, you better be able to run the football,” Ostrowsky said.

NOTES: NMU had two different running backs go for 100 or more yards in five games last year. Senior Casey Cotta, who suffered a season-ending injury before the 2013 season started, had three of those games, including a season-high for the team of 130 yards. … All military personnel and their families get free admission to Saturday’s home finale. NMU will be honoring veteran’s during the game and the Michigan Army National Guard will an interactive display for fans. … Saturday’s home finale is also Senior Day for 11 Wildcats players. A luncheon to honor the Class of 2013 will be held at 11:45 a.m. today at the University Center.