You've heard plenty about the Big Ten's best running backs this season with players like Jonathan Taylor, J.K. Dobbins, Miles Sanders, and Karan Higdon all in the spotlight. There's also been a ton of well-deserved fanfare surrounding true freshman playmaker Rondale Moore and the impact he's made in West Lafayette.
There's another true freshman who may be on the cusp of becoming one of the Big Ten's top running backs, and while Northwestern's Isaiah Bowser isn't a household name quite yet, he's been putting on a show during the second half of the 2018 season.
A year ago the 6-foot-1, 216-pounder was leading the offensive charge for the Sidney Yellowjackets all the while maintaining a 4.2 grade point average. A three-star prospect with a number of MAC offers in addition to Harvard and Yale, some schools actually preferred the Ohioan as a safety or linebacker prospect.
As a senior he rushed for 2,684 yards and 29 touchdowns. His career totals include 5,470 yards and 68 touchdowns on the ground. He added another six scores as a receiver and ended up as the 33rd-ranked player in the state for the Class of 2018. His finest moment came against Xenia when he rumbled for 413 yards and found the end zone six times.
Besides being an Ohio native who's getting the opportunity to square off against his home-state program, Bowser also has a bit of a unique – and tragic – life story that he'll always carry with him.
When he was just shy of two years old, Isaiah's mother (Melissa) briefly left him in her boyfriend's care while she went to run some errands. Upon her arrival back home, she discovered that something terrible had happened.
When she came home, Isaiah’s hands were badly burned. Melissa’s boyfriend had doused Isaiah’s hands in hot water because the child was misbehaving. The man later went to prison for the incident. Isaiah and Melissa spent a couple weeks in the hospital, and Isaiah’s hands still bear the scars of the incident from over 15 years ago. Via
Bowser has discussed what happened to him as a child and how he's overcome the traumatic experience. Initially there was a sense of embarrassment which is certainly to be expected for someone growing up and looking a bit different than his peers. He's now grown past it and learned that it's always going to be a part of who he is.
Sidney head coach Adam Doenges and athletic director Mitch Hoying spoke with the Dayton Daily News about their former star player and some of the things that make him special.
“You could spend a lifetime in education and you’d be lucky to get one or two Isaiahs in all those years. He’s an incredibly good kid. He’s the best combination of athletic accomplishment, mental and physical maturity and academic prowess. I don’t care where you’d go, you’d be hard pressed to find anyone better.”
Now in Evanston, the true freshman – along with the program as a whole – have also dealt with some adversity on the field. Pat Fitzgerald's ground game hasn't exactly been dominant all season with an average of just 115 yards per game, which checks in at No. 120 in the country. However, a deeper dive into the situation does help to explain things.
Jeremy Larkin entered the season as the Wildcats' starting tailback, but a neck condition forced him to retire from football after just three games. In Northwestern's first three games Larkin was putting on a show with 346 rushing yards and five touchdowns. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, he was done.
It would be a vast understatement to say that Northwestern had some troubles running the football after Larkin's injury. In the following three games against Michigan, Michigan State, and Nebraska, the Wildcats totaled just 68 yards rushing. Sixty-eight yards in three Big Ten football contests. Not good.
Bowser only got one carry during that putrid three-game span. Then, on Oct. 20th against Rutgers, he officially took over as the Wildcats' starting tailback. He ran for 108 yards and scored two touchdowns in his first meaningful collegiate action. He followed that up with 117 yards and a score against Wisconsin and then nearly hit the century mark again against a top-ranked Notre Dame program. Bowser dashed for 165 and a score in the win in Iowa City and then went for 166 last week against the Illini.
His new-found role as Northwestern's starting tailback has paid off in a big way for Pat Fitzgerald. Following a rocky start that included three losses in September, the Wildcats have stormed back en route to the upcoming appearance in Indianapolis. Clayton Thorson is an experienced leader under center, but finding a threat on the ground was also a vital part of the team's success.
Ohio State's defensive woes have been a concern all season and the rushing defense is currently ranked No. 62 in America. Teams that utilize more of a spread attack seem to cause more problems than the traditional offenses and we saw that recently against Maryland. Unfortunately the Wildcats do spread things out and have a system that has given the Buckeyes fits in the past.
Isaiah Bowser isn't someone we've spent much time talking about this year – and there are definitely other key contributors for Northwestern – but he's certainly someone the Buckeyes are paying attention to leading up to Saturday night's showdown in Indy.