Game Preview


Indiana at Northwestern
Ryan Field
Saturday, Nov. 10.  Time: 11:00 am CST
TV: ESPN Classic
WGN radio internet coverage.

Game Preview: Northwestern vs. Indiana
by Jonathan Hodges

In its final home game of the 2007 season, Northwestern (5-5, 2-4) will face Indiana (6-4, 2-4) who has surprised many to become bowl eligible with 2 games remaining to play this season.  This game has a lot of bowl implications, though, as Northwestern must win its final 2 games to have a legitimate shot at a post-season berth, while Indiana needs that 7th win to secure a solid bowl position.  Both teams feature a potent offense, although Indiana's seems to be able to put points on the board more often that NU's.  The focus of the game will be on Indiana's dual threat QB Kellen Lewis who, along with stud WR James Hardy, presents a not-so-rosy scenario for NU's porous defense.

It is a win-able game for Northwestern, although that doesn't mean it's an easy game as Indiana looks a lot different than the Hoosier squad that faced NU back in 2004, the last time these two teams met.  This team not only presents an offensive threat, but also has a mean pass rush, which ranks 4th nationally in sacks and 18th in tackles for a loss - meaning they get into the backfield and make things happen.  They are also tied at 14th nationally having gained 24 turnovers on the year, meaning that they can force mistakes.

On Northwestern's side, Indiana is vulnerable to the run, as they are actually statistically worse than NU against the run (NU is tied for 65th nationally, while Indiana is 67th), and in a game against MSU earlier in the year, Indiana was blown out when facing a solid running attack.  Also, Indiana is prone to missteps on offense as they rank 88th nationally in sacks allowed and are 107th in turnovers lost, having given up the ball 25 times this year, including 12 over the past 3 games.

The key to the game will be the play of both offensive lines.  If one team is able to get the the opposing QB on a regular basis and force mistakes (sacks, turnovers) the tide could turn in their direction.  Meanwhile, if both defenses are able to cause disruptions, then this game could change from a shootout into an ugly mess.

Line: Indiana by 2.

Who Should Win: Indiana, although it's very close.  They have the more effective offense as they have been able to put points on the board - Indiana ranks 4th in the conference with 32.4 ppg while NU is 10th in the conference with 25.7 ppg (even though NU has outgained Indiana in total offense by an average of 31 yards/game).  On defense, Indiana is dangerous as they have created a lot of turnovers and have a lot of sacks - both vulnerabilities of the NU offense, especially in recent weeks with the OL unable to effectively protect Bacher.  This is Indiana's game to lose as they are already bowl-eligible and need that 7th win to secure themselves a bowl bid (especially with a tough regular season finale against Purdue).

Upset Factor: Northwestern has beaten Indiana 3 straight times, including the last 2 in overtime, and once again this year NU has shown it can win games that go down to the wire (although uncharacteristically it has also lost 4 games where it was either in the lead or within one score in the final quarter).  In any case, this looks to be a close game that could go either way, and all NU needs is that one turnover or big play to go in its favor and the 'Cats could come out victorious.  This is NU's final home game of the year and it's senior day.  Also, Northwestern has shown the ability to effectively stop one dimension of the offense any given game (Iowa's running game, Michigan's running game, Purdue's passing game) so if they step it up against Indiana's passing game and manage to contain Lewis' running, they could make it interesting.

What to Look For:

Northwestern Offense/Indiana Defense: The NU offensive line is the key.  Indiana, as previously noted, forces a lot of turnovers and gets a lot of sacks.  The problem starts with the Indiana DL, who has been very good at pass rushing - especially Greg Middleton, but also Ryan Marando and Jammie Kirlew.  Tracy Porter provides a threat in the secondary, and again, this defense is good at grabbing turnovers, so NU needs to be careful, especially if Indiana is getting pressure on CJ Bacher.  The easiest way to be effective against the Indiana defense is to run the football - meaning Tyrell Sutton better be receiving a lot of handoffs come Saturday.  Illinois, Michigan State, and Wisconsin all racked up wins by running the ball well against the Hoosiers.  Sure, NU should still pass the ball, but a run/pass mix with a concentration on Sutton runs should help Northwestern control the tempo of the game and score points once they get into the red zone - Sutton averaged over 5 ypc against Purdue and Iowa after his return from injury, so if anyone should get the ball, it's him.  Also, NU needs to take care of the football, and what better way to do that than run.  17 of NU's 20 turnovers this season have come in losses - and NU has lost every game in which they have more turnovers than their opponent.

Northwestern Defense/Indiana Offense: They key is getting to Lewis and disrupting the passing game.  Indiana's OL has been dinged up, and even when healthy has not been able to protect Lewis that well when passing.  Also, in recent weeks teams have been able to grab turnovers against Indiana - and they have given up 25 on the season.  Northwestern needs to get its pass rush going - and things started to look promising last week with 6 NU sacks.  The key is to not give Lewis much time in the pocket yet to contain him so he can't hit the edge and run a long way.  Therefore, NU needs an LB to "spy" on the QB since running quarterbacks have caused problems for the 'Cats in the past.  Indiana doesn't have much of a running game to speak of after Lewis, as their top rusher is indeed Lewis, and their primary RB (Thigpen) has only 372 yards on the season.  If Northwestern can disrupt Lewis and the passing game while containing his running abilities they should give themselves an opportunity to pick up turnovers and take advantage of errors.  Don't expect the 'Cats to shut them down, but NU has been able to contain one dimension of opponents' offenses in the recent past, and now is the time for them to step up and do it again.

Special Teams: The biggest threat is Indiana's punt return unit, who ranks 28th nationally, but the fact is that last week NU faced the nation's 21st ranked punt return team in Iowa and limited them to zero punt return yards, mostly thanks to NU's unique punt formation and rugby-style bouncing line drive punts from Demos which have been highly effective thus far.  NU must also keep containment on kickoffs, as new kickoff man (and NU goalie) Justin Pines has taken over those duties - his shorter but high kickoffs have helped the NU coverage team get down the field.  Also remember NU has not given up a special teams TD this season, which has helped the 'Cats cause.  The biggest area lacking for NU is on field goals, with one missed and one blocked last week - as Northwestern needs to score points when given the opportunity.  Villarreal has shown he can hit FGs, though, and hopefully he can get in sync and hit the important ones.

- Rushing Defense: NU and Indiana's run defenses are very close, with NU giving up 159.0 ypg and Indiana giving up 162.2 ypg, ranked 65th and 67th nationally, respectively.
- Offenses: While Indiana is 9th in the conference in total offense at 398.7 ypg, they are 4th in scoring offense at 32.4 ppg.  Meanwhile NU leads the conference in total offense with 429.7 ypg but is 10th in the conference in scoring at 25.7 ppg.
- Previous Meetings: NU has a 3 game winning streak over Indiana, with the last 2 wins coming in overtime and the win prior to that being by 4 points.  NU is 8-2 in the last 10 meetings, with the only losses coming in 2001 and 1999 over that span.
- Penalties: Both teams are rather disciplined, with NU averaging 4.8 penalties/game (7th nationally) and Indiana averaging 5.4 penalties/game (23rd nationally).
- Statistical Rankings: NU is ranked 10th or lower in the conference in 11/17 main statistical categories (and ranked 1st in 2 categories), while Indiana is only ranked 10th or lower in one (although not ranked first in any category).

Injury Report:
Northwestern: RB Conteh (questionable - ankle; did not dress last week), Out for Season: Brewer (WR), Smith (S), Diaz (OL), Hamlett (DB).
Indiana: CB Majors (probable - foot; did not play last week), OL Saxon (questionable - shoulder), OL Wyss (questionable - foot), OL Moses (questionable - knee), DT Kremer (questionable - leg), RB McCray (doubtful - foot).

Prediction: Northwestern 31 - Indiana 28.

This one was tough to predict and it should be a close game either way, but I see NU's defense stepping it up and the offense making full use of Sutton in order to give the 'Cats a final shot at a bowl game.

Go 'Cats!!!

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

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