Post-Game Analysis: Indiana
by Jonathan Hodges

The game played out just as many expected as the Northwestern Wildcats (3-5, 1-4) finally notched their first conference victory of the season as they defeated the Indiana Hoosiers (1-8, 0-5) 59-38 in a high-scoring contest. Northwestern didn't punt until 11:28 remained in the game after scoring on their first six possessions of the game (touchdowns on five of those) and then coming out in the second half and opening with three straight TD-scoring drives. Although the NU defense was certainly porous (488 yards yielded and the aforementioned 38 points), they did just enough to pull out the win thanks to Brian Peters' third interception of the season and somehow forcing five Indiana punts.

The 'Cats' defensive woes may be somewhat explained by injuries with starters Bryce McNaul (LB), Tyler Scott (DE), David Arnold (S), and Demetrius Dugar (CB) ruled out for the game and oft-used reserve Jared Carpenter also out. One certainly hopes that these players will be back and ready for action in Lincoln, Nebraska this coming Saturday as NU will need as much help as it needs to face the Big Ten's top team in this week's BCS standings (10th). But, thankfully in this game at least, the offense put the pedal to the metal for the majority of the game and came out with a somewhat comfortable win: Northwestern's biggest win over an FBS team since beating Purdue by 22 in 2008 (and also Fitz's second-largest margin of victory over an FBS team as head coach; that Purdue game ranks as the largest in his tenure).

First Half Summary

Northwestern started out somewhat slow, but, somehow, that usually leads to good things for the 'Cats. NU let Indiana take the opening kickoff and drive 77 yards for a quick and easy score, followed by an NU drive that stalled at the Indiana 20, forcing the 'Cats to settle for a FG to trail 7-3 with just under four minutes off the clock. But, the Wildcat defense would show immediate progress, allowing NU to amass a lead that they would maintain throughout the game. It started off with an interception by NU S Brian Peters, with that drive being capped by a nice 29 yard TD pass to Jeremy Ebert from Kain Colter (both of his pass completions on the day went for TDs). NU then forced two consecutive punts and scored TDs on those drives as well to take a 24-7 lead and would not allow Indiana to put together any scoring runs for the entire day. NU concluded the first half with QB Dan Persa having thrown three touchdown strikes and NU holding a 38-21 edge, and the 'Cats would have the opportunity to receive the second half kick to boot.

Second Half Summary

NU received the kick and promptly drove 60 yards in six plays taking just 1:43 for Colter to find Dusmore again (a reception that would set the NU record for TD catches in a game, four) to give the 'Cats a 24 point advantage. Northwestern had to continue to play, though, as the defense couldn't really finish off the Hoosiers until forcing a punt early in the fourth quarter. Thankfully, NU RB Jacob Schmidt came out to play and helped the 'Cats eat clock, gaining a career-high 110 yards on 15 carries that included two TDs and a career-long 32 yard carry in which he broke through the first line of defense and was caught looking around with no defenders around to make the tackle. The Wildcats would end the game with a clock-churning 17 play drive that ticked off the final 9:08 and ended in victory formation after the 'Cats rotated through their RBs and allowed Trevor Siemian to take snaps at QB and kneel to end the game.

Player of the Game

NU SB Drake Dunsmore (7 receptions for 112 yards, 4 TDs) Dunsmore was NU's primary target in the red zone, and right fully so as he seemingly always finds ways to get open and/or make fantastic catches. Two of his TD grabs were highlight-reel material, as he hauled in one pass with one hand and a defender right in front of him, and another saw him dive for the catch and keep his feet inbounds as he raced towards the sideline, maintaining possession as he went to the ground. He certainly has a knack for spectacular catches (remember the amazing TD catch and run in the Outback Bowl and his nice one-handed catch in the back of the end zone at Penn State a year ago), and it's great to see him make a place for himself in the Northwestern record book.

What Happened

"Indiana, on the other hand, just can't stop the bleeding with opponents averaging 5.4 yards per carry on the ground and 1.6 rushing TDs per game; they just don't have the personnel on defense to slow down anyone at this point."

The 'Cats averaged 5.7 yards per carry and scored 3 TDs on the ground, but were able to score early and often thanks to an extremely balanced offense (317 rushing yards, 299 passing yards) that was effective all day long (NU punted just once on the day). The only thing that really slowed down the 'Cats were themselves: Persa was pulled after NU scored its final TD with three seconds gone in the fourth quarter, and the Wildcats attempted just one pass in the fourth quarter (an incompletion).

"The key to a win here will be avoiding a costly turnover while also methodically driving and putting points on the board throughout the game.

Northwestern certainly succeeded here, with the offense avoiding any turnovers (NU's only turnover on the day was a fumbled punt), while the 'Cats certainly did put up points throughout the contest (38 in the first half, 21 in the second while milking the lead). This offensive effort certainly won the game for Northwestern.

"if they can force Roberson to throw the ball, they will be in a much better position given that he is a true freshman and will likely make a mistake or two. If the defense can replicate its performance over the second half of last week's game while also getting some health (hopefully) in the form of Scott and Bryce McNaul, it should increase their chances of doing that."

Unfortunately, both Scott and McNaul were out for the game (along with the other aforementioned defenders), and the defense was porous and did not look the unit that allowed under 100 yards in the second half of the PSU game. But, they did enough to win, grabbing a takeaway and forcing five punts (very helpful when NU only punts once). Hopefully the unit can get healthy for the upcoming game against Nebraska, where the 'Cats are going to need all the help that they can get.

Northwestern Honorable Mentions

RB Jacob Schmidt (15 carries for 110 yards, 2 TDs; 1 catch for 20 yards) Schmidt had a career game on the ground, averaging a nice 7.3 yards per carry and finding paydirt twice for the 'Cats in the second half as they looked to maintain their lead and bleed the clock. The senior former walk-on certainly deserved a game like this for the effort he has put into the program over the years as he provided a nice boost for the ground game.

QB Dan Persa (16-of-20 passing for 261 yards, 3 TDs, 0 INTs; 4 carries for 41 yards) Despite the turf toe that held him out of one practice leading up to the game, Persa came out and looked just fine, completing 80% of his passes including finding the end zone through the air three times. He also had his longest carry of the season (22 yards) and was not sacked for the first time this season since returning from his Achilles' tendon injury. In Big Ten play (conference games only), he now leads the league in passing yards, completion rate, passing touchdowns, completions, and passing yards per game.

QB/WR Kain Colter (2-of-3 passing for 38 yards, 2 TDs, 0 INTs; 5 carries for 38 yards; 6 receptions for 115 yards) Colter led NU with 153 all-purpose yards and showed off his speed on a 57 yard catch and run pass from Dan Persa; he is clearly a huge weapon for NU on offense and will be utilized in a variety of ways down the stretch and he should be fun to watch.

What to Work on


Earlier in the year, the NU defense was failing in coverage and communication. But, in this game, it was just an inability to tackle that led to many of the Hoosiers' yards; IU averaged 6.5 yards per carry with two players eclipsing the 100 yard mark. As mentioned earlier, this has some to do with a rash of injuries on all levels of the NU defense, from which the 'Cats will hopefully recover quickly. But the guys that were on the field certainly failed in this regard, thereby allowing Indiana to stay in this game until the 'Cats finished them off with a 9+ minute drive to end the game. The 'Cats were more effective against the pass, though, allowing just 169 yards through the air while generating two sacks and grabbing an INT.

Defense: Getting off the field

The 'Cats' defensive woes on third down have continued even against Indiana with NU allowing them to convert 53.3% of their third downs; on the year, NU is allowing opponents to convert exactly 50% of their third downs (111th nationally). Although the NU offense is doing rather well in that category (49.6% conversion rate), it is tough to win games when one allows opponents to pick up that many first downs. Another contributing factor: NU is also 111th in fourth down defense, allowing a 72.7% conversion rate.

Random Observations


For the first time all season, Northwestern's QBs were not sacked all game, while NU's defense racked up its first multi-sack game since October 1 at Illinois. This propelled the Wildcats to a 3-0 record when tallying more sacks than its opponent (NU is 0-5 when they do not accomplish that feat).

Northwestern Offense in Big Ten Play

Northwestern currently ranks third in Big Ten conference games in scoring offense (34.6 points per game) despite having faced four of the top six scoring defenses in the conference (including the top two). Two of NU's remaining conference foes rank eighth or lower in Big Ten scoring defense. Also, NU is easily first in the conference in passing offense at 288.8 yards per game through the air, over 50 yards per game ahead of its next closest competition. Finally, the 'Cats are averaging 25.6 first downs per game to lead the conference (3.1 above the next closest team).

Northwestern Records Set

NU equaled its school record for TD passes in a game with 5 (vs. Minnesota 1973 and vs. MSU 2007), while SB Drake Dunsmore set the school record with 4 receiving TDs. The 'Cats also just missed some other records: 59 points just missed the modern-era record of 61 (vs. Illinois 2000), 616 yards of total offense came close to the record of 674 (vs. Wisconsin 2005), and 38 first-half points were 3 shy of most in a half (41, vs. Wake Forest 1991 and vs. Wisconsin 2005). Also, there were some personal accomplishments: Brian Peters moved into a fourth place tie on the NU all-time INT list (10), Dan Persa moved to ninth on NU's career total offense list, Jacob Schmidt had his first 100 yard game on the ground, and NU had its first game with two 100+ yard receivers (Dunsmore and Kain Colter) since the 2010 Outback Bowl.

Also of note: Pat Fitzgerald notched his 37th win as head coach of the Wildcats, putting him into a second-place tie on the NU all-time list with Randy Walker; he is now 12 away from Pappy Waldorf's record of 49.

Final Thought

A win is a win, and the 'Cats showed that they are indeed at least a step above the bottom of the Big Ten while clinging onto their dim bowl hopes. Now comes a tough matchup as NU must head to Nebraska to face the "team of the week" in the Big Ten (who polished off a W against their predecessor, MSU, this past Saturday). Northwestern will need to get healthy on defense and play a solid game while hoping that their offense continues to manufacture plenty of yards and points against a sound unit. If they can pull off a big upset here the prospects for the remainder of the season suddenly become much brighter. One hopes that the team can finally find a way to put together a "complete" performance in all phases of the game (which they'll need to grab a W here).

Go 'Cats!!!

e-mail: j-hodges@alumni.northwestern.edu

Previous jhodges commentary