Post-Game Analysis: Indiana
by Jonathan Hodges


Northwestern (6-2, 2-2) fell flat on its collective face against Indiana (3-5, 1-4) as the 'Cats lost by a final score of 19-21.  The Wildcats had 5 turnovers (2 Bacher interceptions, 3 fumbles) to 0 for the Hoosiers, and it was the turnovers that decided the game: NU pulled within one late in the 3rd quarter but the Wildcat offense failed to finish the job in the last period.  With the loss, NU essentially played its way out of any chance at a New Years' Day bowl game and put itself in a difficult position to keep themselves out of Detroit, with matchups against ranked Minnesota and Ohio State coming up next.  Meanwhile, Indiana fought its way to a win to pull out of a 5 game slide, despite having its starting QB Lewis held out with an injury.

On the injury front, Sutton went out with what appeared to be a wrist problem mid way through the third quarter, which was followed by a Bacher hamstring injury just before he threw his second and final interception of the game.  These injuries undoubtedly hurt the 'Cats chances on its final drive which featured Kafka hitting a 9 yard pass before throwing the ball backwards to the 5 yard line and then fumbling NU's final chance away on the following play.  The ability of Sutton and Bacher to return from these bumps will be vital down the stretch as the 'Cats don't seem to stand a chance without them (Bacher, in particular).

While the defense missed Arrington, Williams did a nice job filling in, and the Wildcat defense found a way to contain Indiana's running game to only 72 yards (2.0 yards/carry).  The defense held Indiana to 3 TDs - 2 of them on long "trickeration" plays: one was a fake end around (where McManis bit on the run, leaving the receiver open) and the other was an end around pass (where Phillips and Mabin bit on the run).  The other TD was a Chappell run just before halftime where the entire DL was fooled by the fake handoff.  Outside of these plays, though, the D did an admirable job, and got the ball back to the offense multiple times in the fourth quarter.  While the defense didn't come up with turnovers, they did put the 'Cats in a position to win the game.

The Northwestern offense managed to move the ball down the field but couldn't finish the job when it mattered; CJ threw a red zone interception in the first quarter and another when NU was driving for a go-ahead score.  Sutton lost the ball on the NU 34 yard line, which resulted in an Indiana TD.  Simmons lost the ball on a kickoff return, giving the Hoosiers the football at the NU 40.  And Kafka completed the cavalcade of errors with a fumble on the 'Cats' final offensive play from scrimmage on the day.  The fact is that these turnovers are what killed the 'Cats on this ominous October day.

Player of the Game: Indiana QB Ben Chappell (21 of 34 for 219 yards passing, 1 TD; 13 carries for 1 yard rushing, 1 TD)  Chappell stepped up big-time as he had a virtually mistake-free game for Indiana, leading the Hoosiers for just enough offense to pull off the win.  After throwing an INT in his only attempt last year against NU (which was returned for a TD), he more than made up for that error with a solid day against the 'Cats.

Northwestern Honorable Mentions:
- P/K Stefan Demos (3 punts, 48.3 yards/punt, 2 inside 20; 5 kickoffs, 65.8 yards/kick)  When called upon, Demos once again executed some excellent kickoffs and punts, nailing two punts inside the 20, with one downed at the one yard line.
- S Brad Phillips (8 tackles, 5 solo, 2 PBUs)  Phillips once again showed his hard-hitting tackling skills and even contributed a pair of pass break-ups.  Although he had one play he would like to get back, as mentioned earlier, he had an overall solid game and helped the defense make important stops late in the game to get the ball back for NU.
- DT John Gill (6 tackles, 3 TFLs, 2 sacks)  Gill had a very solid game and contributed to NU's excellent run defense on the day and created some pressure in the pocket.

What to Work On:
- CJ Bacher:  First off, CJ must get healthy - he apparently pulled his hamstring while running for a first down in the fourth quarter.  In fact, his running on the day was pretty good: 7 rushes for 64 yards and a TD (9.1 yards/carry), although the hamstring injury severely damaged NU's chances on the potential game-winning drive: on the following play, he was under pressure and was forced to throw off of his back leg as he didn't have much scrambling ability left.  The resulting throw was short and was intercepted, virtually ending the Wildcats' chances for a win.  And the trend continues, CJ threw 2 INTs on the day, and moves his record to 3-11 when throwing 2 or more INTs in a game (he's 11-0 when throwing less than 2).
- Running Plays: While it was great to see more designed QB running plays with CJ utilizing his running skills, and Northwestern showing a commitment to running the ball with 47 rushing attempts on the day (Sutton had 27 attempts for 77 yards and a TD before leaving in the third quarter), many of those attempts went nowhere (3.2 yards/carry).  In the first quarter, Sutton had 8 carries for 45 yards (5.6 yards/carry), but the Hoosiers' defense made the appropriate adjustments and never really let NU unleash its rushing attack.
- Downfield Passing (or lack thereof):  NU was hampered by an ineffective rushing attack for most of the game, and the passing attack wasn't exactly getting the job done with that being the case.  When the D is keying in on the running game, things should open up downfield, and the fact is that that just didn't happen.  McCall's offense is focused on short, higher-percentage passes in order to set up manageable 3rd downs (NU did go 10 of 19 on 3rd down confersions), but the fact is that it doesn't provide many downfield opportunities.  And with the 'Cats playing from behind for much of the game, that kept NU from making a quick strike to get back in the game or to take the lead late.
- Defense Preventing Big Plays: The NU D played an overall solid game, but gave up 2 game-changing TDs on passes of 43 and 28 yards - as mentioned earlier, one from a fake end-around and one on an end-around pass.  And that 43 yard pass was set up by an accidental 4th down conversion: the snap was high and Conteh had a beat on the block, but the punter pulled the ball down and ran 17 yards for a first down.  The defense must focus on preventing these type of plays that put NU behind the 8-ball against the Hoosiers.

Random Observations:
- Motivation: Although Indiana's fans had all but given up on the season, the football team sure had not as it put in an inspired performance and took advantage of NU errors to pull out the victory.  Despite a banged-up OL (that featured even more guys coming out of the game) and a backup QB starting, the offense played essentially error-free.  And the DL came up big when it mattered - stopping NU's running game in the second half and putting pressure on CJ and forcing him to make some poor decisions.  Meanwhile, the Wildcats made a littany of errors and looked like they just weren't focused on the task at hand, and now find themselves with their back against the wall in their final 4 games of the 2008 season.
- Bowl Picture: Wisconsin's 10 point win over Illinois moved them a step closer to bowl eligibility, Minnesota's 7th win all but guarantees them a bowl as the Gophers find themselves with the inside track to a January 1st bowl game, and NU's loss puts it in a tough position, having to fight to stay out of Detroit.
- Penalties:  NU played disciplined football and used Indiana's penalties against them (NU had 2 for 30 yards - both personal fouls coming on hits after the whistle; IU had 8 for 73 yards).  NU's second penalty of the day came on a very questionable call that helped Indiana to hang onto the ball late in the 4th as Mabin tackled a receiver just after the ball was dropped - Mabin obviously couldn't see that the WR dropped the ball and made the right play by going for the legal tackle.  But while the 'Cats played disciplined football and had the penalty advantage, they couldn't turn that into a win.

Final Thought:

While not as disconcerting as NU's 2007 loss to Duke (remember, Indiana did go to a bowl last year and fielded what should have been a respectable team this season), this loss is a difficult pill for Northwestern fans to swallow.  A win would have meant virtually locking up a bowl berth and staying in contention for a big-time bowl and would have set up a big matchup against 7-1 Minnesota next week in Minneapolis.  Instead, NU watched its national ranking evaporate, its bowl hopes hang in the balance, and any momentum built by last week's big homecoming win wither away.  Until this game, NU was looking like a team that could win the games it should and be competitive in others in order to propel the 'Cats to a big bowl berth.  Unfortunately, the loss to Indiana verifies the opinions of many that NU plays down to competition and can't win all of the games that it should.

Now NU must once again regroup and focus on the next task: Minnesota, a team that has come a long way from its one-win season last year, posting a 7-1 record so far and eying a big-time bowl berth.  The Wildcats must improve by avoiding errors (turnovers) and must prevent the big play on defense.  Also, much will hinge on the health of Bacher as he works to recover from his hamstring tweak; getting Sutton back from his wrist issue will also help the 'Cats' cause.  The next two weeks are huge and if the 'Cats can pull off a win against a ranked opponent, the buzz experienced earlier in the year may very well return.

Go 'Cats!!!

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

Previous jhodges commentary