Saturday, September 29, 2012. 11:00 am CDT
Game Preview: Indiana
by Jonathan Hodges
Northwestern Wildcats (4-0, 0-0) kick off their 2012 Big Ten slate by
finishing a four game homestand against the Indiana Hoosiers (2-1, 0-0)
who coming off of a bye after losing at home to Ball State two weeks
ago in a back-and-forth final quarter. The Hoosiers are once again one
of the youngest teams in the nation thanks to a continued restocking
effort by Head Coach Kevin Wilson (the previous NU OC under Coach
Walker) who is in his second year at the helm. Although there was some
early progress this season, the Hoosiers experienced a significant
setback when dual-threat QB Tre Roberson broke his leg in IU's week two
win over UMass, sending him out for the season.
Roberson, Indiana is not devoid of offensive talent, inserting junior
college transfer Cameron Coffman who has already passed for 410 yards
on the season, while also sporting RB Stephen Houston, who is averaging
5.3 yards per carry. The Hoosiers have managed to score 36.0 points per
game this season and will certainly put pressure on Northwestern's
defense. On the other hand, IU's defense continues to have issues after
a cellar level performance in 2011, giving up 41 to the aforementioned
Ball State which has been the only offense they have faced with a pulse
Opening Line: Northwestern by 14.5.
Who Should Win: Northwestern.
The 'Cats have the better overall team and a much better defense than
Indiana, and one should expect to see something like last year's 59-38
win by NU. In fact, the Wildcats could very well improve on that with a
defense that looks better than last season and the fact that this game
is being played in Evanston.
Indiana always seems to give Northwestern fits, with NU having to tough
out close wins over six of their last eight contests (one exception
being last year's win), and then there is the 2008 upset of a nine win
Wildcat squad that included NU's starting QB (CJ Bacher) and RB (Tyrell
Sutton) both going down with injuries. The 'Cats have benefited from a
+1.0 turnover per game margin so far in 2012 and if that tilts against
the 'Cats, anything can happen.
NU Offense vs. Indiana Defense:
Although Indiana's defense looks like it has improved in 2012, the
statistics can be deceiving since its two wins came against an FCS
school (Indiana State, who they beat by just a touchdown) and a school
that has just made the jump from FCS to FBS (Massachusetts, who many
rank as one of the worst teams in the nation). On the other hand, NU's
offense can also be deceiving as it ranks 27th nationally in rushing
offense at well over 200 yards per game but has likely been holding
back much of the passing game since the 'Cats have been able to run
their way to victory through much of the non-conference slate. Expect
NU to be able to move the ball with ease, and if they can limit their
mistakes they should also put up a lot of points.
NU Defense vs. Indiana Offense:
The Wildcat rush defense has been stellar so far this season, ranking
11th nationally in fewest rushing yards allowed. Expect that to
continue against a Hoosier squad that, while sporting a solid RB in
Houston, doesn't rely on the ground game as their primary offensive
weapon. Instead, NU's secondary and pass rush will be tested by the
nation's 13th ranked passing offense, now in the hands of Coffman with
freshman Nate Sudfeld also in play. Under Wilson, Indiana likes to
throw the ball and will certainly do so against NU. The defense must
put IU in precarious situations by shutting down the ground game and
getting pressure on the quarterback. Indiana will move the ball, but
the 'Cats should be able to force enough errors to hold back the tide.
Northwestern has received a boost from all areas of the special teams
this season: from punt returns at Syracuse, to field goals versus
Boston College, to punting against South Dakota. Although one would
hope NU will not need an edge in special teams to take down Indiana, in
Big Ten play one looks for any advantage they can get. Indiana,
meanwhile, has missed two FGs this season and is allowing 27.4 yards
per kickoff return, likely tilting this phase in NU's favor.
In 2011, Northwestern beat Indiana by 21 points for the second largest
margin of victory against an FBS team under Fitz, but in the seven
meetings prior to that, each game was decided by seven points or less.
Since 1995, NU is 10-3 versus Indiana with an average margin of victory
of 4.0 points per game and the Wildcats have scored an average of 32.5
points per game against the Hoosiers over that span. Under Fitz, NU is
9-1 as a favorite of 10 or more points, though the 'Cats are 3-7
against the spread in those games. NU has an active streak of 30
quarters and 211 pass attempts without throwing an interception (last
was in second quarter of last year's Minnesota game on 11/19/11). The
Wildcats have rushed for 885 yards and 9 TDs this season while allowing
just 291 yards and 2 TDs on the ground. Finally, NU has averaged 190.2
yards per game on the ground against Indiana under Coach Fitz and have
had three 100+ yard runners in those five games (Mike Trumpy, Jacob
Schmidt, and Tyrell Sutton).
Prediction: Northwestern 31 - Indiana 24
few mistakes will keep this game a little uncomfortable for the
Wildcats, but as they have been known to do NU will be able to pull out
a relatively close win thanks to a bend-but-don't-break defense and a
multi-threat offense that will put up points whenever it avoids mental
errors. The Hoosiers will move the ball on NU through the air but the
'Cats will force some errors from IU late in order to seal the win.
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