Arby Fields in a rush to help Wildcats

EVANSTON, Ill. -- Northwestern running back Arby Fields may not read the newspapers or listen to what others are saying about him, but the sophomore's mom often relays to him what she sees and hears.

"My mom, she doesn't know, and she'll say to me, 'What are they saying about Northwestern's running game?'" Fields said just before the season. "Whatever people have to say negative or positive, OK, that's going to make me work harder. I want to prove people wrong.

"It's going to be a breakout season for Northwestern's running game."

After one game, that was far from the case. Fields did little against Vanderbilt to prove that this season would be different, running for minus-7 yards on 10 carries. Quickly, Fields found that all the questions he hoped to eliminate this year had reappeared.

Leading up to Saturday's game against Illinois State, Fields politely answered queries about his struggles, and he restated that he was confident in himself and Northwestern's ground game.

Then the always talkative Fields backed up his words with his play.

It began with a six-yard run on Northwestern's first play. Two plays later, he ran for seven yards. He rushed for six more on his next carry. Following a four-yard rush, he broke free for a 16-yarder.

Fields had officially moved on from last week, and at the end of the day had a career-high 96 yards and one touchdown on 22 carries in the Wildcats' 37-3 win over the Redbirds.

"We knew what we had to do," Fields said. "Everybody keeps talking about, 'We can't run the ball.' For me, I went about it the same way as I've always gone about it -- work hard in practice.

"Coach [Mick] McCall said, 'You're going to get the ball in your hands. Don't try to do too much, but go out there, have fun and run the ball.' I went out there and was having fun, the offensive line made great blocks and it worked out."

Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald was pleased with the improvement from Week 1 to Week 2.

"I thought we went out with a plan to run the ball, and I thought we executed that for the most part," Fitzgerald said. "I thought we executed pretty good up front, had pretty good pad level and Arby ran with pretty good attitude."

Illinois State's rush defense may not be comparable to the ones Fields will see against Big Ten teams in future weeks, but it was a good starting place for a running back who is looking to become that go-to guy that Northwestern has lacked since Tyrell Sutton graduated.

Maybe now Fields' mom can bring her son some good news.

Scott Powers covers high school and college sports for ESPNChicago.com and can be reached at spowers@espnchicago.com.