Post-Game Analysis: Indiana
by Jonathan Hodges

Credit Northwestern for persevering when it mattered most, coming up with a game-winning drive late in the game as the Wildcats (6-5, 3-4) beat Indiana (6-5, 2-5) by a final score of 31-28 on Saturday in NU's final home game of 2007.  Oh, and if that final scores sound familiar, just scroll back to my prediction for the game, which happened to end up being the exact final score, and while you're doing that let's see the key points to the game that I made and how NU did:

- NU OL is key: allowed zero sacks.
- Run the football: Sutton had 33 rushing attempts for 141 yards and a TD.
- Get to Lewis (and contain him): 3 sacks and only 36 net rushing yards on the day.
- Turnover margin: NU lost the turnover battle 2-3 yet overcame some errors to keep the win (all 3 of NU's turnovers came relatively deep in Indiana territory - 2 in the end zone).

So, despite some errors (2 end zone interceptions, 1 missed makeable field goal, another interception in Indiana territory, and a kickoff TD allowed), Northwestern overcame it all to go on a game-winning drive in the 4th quarter and coming up with a key turnover on Indiana's last gasp drive to seal the win.  And Fitz took time after the game to gather the team to congratulate them on playing all 60 minutes and winning the game before coming over to celebrate with NUMB and the students/fans.

The game also featured some key play by NU's seniors, with RB Roberson throwing the second TD pass of his career to Kim Thompson who caught the pass despite the ball being slightly deflected by a defender and catching the ball while falling near the edge of the end zone.  Also, LB Adam Kadela had the game-sealing fumble recovery as Indiana was attempting a last-gasp drive to tie or win the game.

This game, coupled with Illinois' upset of previously #1 ranked OSU on Saturday, sets up one of the biggest Sweet Sioux Tomahawk matches in recent history, with both teams playing for something.  Northwestern must win its final regular season game to keep its bowl hopes alive.  But, Northwestern has set itself up to play for something in that game, which is a feat considering that NU has lost 4 tough games which it put itself in a position to win this year.

Player(s) of the Game: Northwestern Offensive Line (Thiry, Crum, Rees, Belding, Mattes): allowed zero sacks and very little pressure on CJ all day while clearing just enough running room for Sutton to grab 141 rushing yards on the day.  All this was against Indiana, who came into the game ranked 4th nationally in sacks and within the top 20 in TFLs.  The OL answered the call, despite having a rough game last week, and put Northwestern in a position to win.  And on senior day, it was a nice way to go out for Thiry, Crum, and Rees.

NU Honorable Mentions:
RB Tyrell Sutton: 33 rushes for 141 yds, 1 TD and 6 catches for 72 yards.  He was given the ball early and often and did exactly what Northwestern needed in order to control the game tempo.  Also, he had a few KEY third down conversion receptions.  All this guy does is make plays, and he obviously wants to contribute and to win.
WR Kim Thompson: 6 catches for 78 yards, 1 TD.  He has really turned it on in the second half of his final season at NU and is finally living up to high expectations for him.
Northwestern Defensive Line (especially David Ngene): The NU DL got 3 sacks on the day and generally did a nice job containing Lewis, who was potentially a big scrambling and running threat - he had only 36 net running yards on the day.  Ngene finished things off nicely in his final home game, racking up 2 sacks and a forced fumble that ended up sealing the game.
LB Eddie Simpson: Got NU back in the game in one play with an INT that was returned for a TD.
OC Garrick McGee: Did a nice job with a mix of play calls, especially staying with Sutton on the ground despite only getting one long run on the day.  The solid running game allowed Northwestern to get manageable 3rd downs (NU converted 12 of 17) and to control the tempo of the game.  Also a lot of credit must be given for some great play calls during NU's game winning drive, including a couple CJ Bacher runs that picked up much-needed yardage on the way to the winning TD pass to Lane.  Oh, and don't forget the Statue of Liberty/RB pass play which ended with Roberson's 2nd career TD pass.

What to Work On:
Finishing Drives: Once again, NU left points on the field.  The 'Cats went 4-7 in the red zone with 2 end zone interceptions (one on a dropped pass and another on a poor audible/pass execution) and a missed field goal.  Northwestern has shown a great ability to rack up yards by moving swiftly down the field only to come away empty.  Fortunately, NU overcame these gaffes against Indiana, but they must execute better to have a chance to beat a solid Illinois team next week.
Special Teams: A kickoff was returned for a TD against NU and a chip-shot field goal was missed.  Such breakdowns are tough to overcome, and up until now both of these aspects of special teams have shown flashes of brilliance - now they must obtain some consistency.

Random Observations:
- Officiating: The game featured a really solid officiating crew, including one of the best refs at the college level, Dave Witvoet, as there were 3 key video reviews that he took his time to talk over and get right (fortunately for NU, all 3 went in the 'Cats' favor).  And, of course, NU helped itself by not committing many penalties, with none of them proving to be extremely costly.
- Lewis' Injury: Indiana QB Lewis had to come off the field for one play (by rule) after being tended to due to an injury (he ended up being fine and returned to the game), but the one play he missed was a big one - the backup QB threw an INT on his one pass attempt of the game that was returned for a TD by NU's Eddie Simpson.
- CJ's INTs: One turnover wasn't his fault, with Lane dropping a pretty well thrown ball in the end zone into the awaiting arms of a defender.  Another was due to a poorly executed pass, with Thompson going on a deep slant CJ didn't throw it far enough leading Kim and it was intercepted.  Finally, his second end zone INT was a bad audible, as CJ changed the play at the line and threw a fade pass to Thompson, but left the pass well short and not high enough, putting the defender in a perfect position to intercept the ball.
- Defensive Secondary Coverage: The NU secondary did an admirable job against the receiving threats of Indiana.  Hardy had over 100 yards and 2 TDs, but was mostly contained as McManis was moved around the field in order to cover Hardy on virtually every play.
- Return TD Allowed: The kickoff return TD by Indiana was the first return TD (punt or kickoff) allowed by Northwestern under Coach Fitz (a blocked punt was returned for a TD last year, though).  NU had a couple of opportunities to tackle the return man but failed to do so, which ended up putting NU in an early hole.
- Seniors: Battle, Crum, Dixon, Jones, Kadela, Koehn, Malleo, McPherson, Ngene, Pines, Rees, Roberson, Rothrauff, Shanks, Simpson, Thiry, and Thompson - all made contributions to win their final home game, with especially big games from Ngene, Simpson, Thompson, Roberson, and Crum/Rees/Thiry.
- Attendance: Listed as a sparse 20,466, one of the lowest attended Big Ten games at NU in years (last year's Illinois game was a previous low but had over 22,000).  Attendance was definitely an issue for NU over this season, with 2 games under 20,000 attendance and an average of only 24,589/game, the lowest average attendance since at least the mid-90's, potentially since the 70's.  In fact, the total attendance at NU home games in 2001 exceeded this year's number with 2 fewer home games (172,125 this year versus 173,715 in 2001).
- Non-NU Bonus Observation: How did Illinois beat OSU?  Well, Boeckman was definitely off in his throwing with 3 INTs on the day, and without the passing game OSU had a hard time moving the ball against a solid Illinois defense.  The real reason they lost, though, was the defense which got behind early and then tried the rest of the game (especially on Illinois' final time consuming game-ending drive) to make the big play - and instead got caught overpursuing and getting out of position to make any play.  Illinois' handoff fakes in the backfield seemed to really confuse OSU defenders as they spent a lot of effort going for the decoy.  Obviously the Illinois offense is contain-able (see Iowa who did not allow a TD to Illinois), and NU must play well-disciplined defense in order to have a shot at the win next week.

Final Thought:
It was great to see Northwestern finally get over the hump and come up with a 4th quarter victory (even after losing its fourth quarter lead), and both the NU offense and defense deserve congratulations for making it happen, as they both contributed heavily to the win.  It wasn't pretty at times, but Northwestern racked up its 6th win of the year and heads into the final regular season finale against Illinois with something to play for.

Go 'Cats!!!

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

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