Game Preview


Ryan Field
Saturday, September 29, 2012.  11:00 am CDT
WGN Radio

Game Preview: Indiana
by Jonathan Hodges

The 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.

Without 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 in 2012.

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.

Upset Factor: 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.

Special Teams: 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.

Notes: 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
A 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.

Go 'Cats!!!

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

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