The Indiana Hoosiers and Northwestern Wildcats meet in a clash of 3-3 teams trying to keep their names and trying to get better bowl positioning.
When: Sat. Oct. 22, 2016; 12 p.m. ET
Where: Evanston, Ill.; Ryan Field (47,130)
All-Time Series: Northwestern leads 46-34-1
Last Meeting: Northwestern won 44-29 (2012)
Line: Northwestern (-1.5)
Northwestern and Indiana are of the same family. They are identical in many ways.
Their talent is imperfect, but good enough to compete in nearly every game. Yet not good enough to blow any teams out or win games comfortably. These are, as many of us at Talking 10 like to say — Team Chaos East and Team Chaos West.
Both Northwestern and Indiana have had ups and downs this season.
The Wildcats lost at home to Western Michigan and then, inexplicably, to Illinois State with an anemic offense that was going nowhere.
Typically the Hoosiers are the ones playing without defense and putting up video-game scores. Indiana though has found some defensive identity and have hung tough at times.
They, like the Wildcats, are now at 3-3. Both teams have bowl dreams in their sights. But both could easily fall off the wagon and into the abyss.
That makes Saturday’s game between the two at Ryan Field in Evanston, Ill., all the more exciting. It is not just a meeting of two recently revived programs and teams. It is a meeting to set the tone for the rest of their respective seasons and perhaps surprise the big boys in their division in the second half of the season.
1 Burning Question: Which defense wins?
Indiana has never been known for its defense since Kevin Wilson took over. The Hoosiers passed and hoped to outscore you. A throwback to the Randy Walker days at Northwestern — and there is a decidedly Northwestern influence on Indiana’s roster.
This year’s Hoosiers team feels different though. The Hoosiers are giving up 25.3 points per game (about how much they score, actually) and just 372.5 yards per game. Indiana’s defense is actually decent.
Surprisingly, the Hoosiers have the 30th best defense according to Football Outsiders S&P+. Last year, they were 105th. That is quite the turnaround.
Indiana’s rise to 3-3 has been in large part due to this defensive emergence. The Hoosiers are a tough team to score again. Just ask Nebraska, who had trouble gaining distance against Indiana in Bloomington last week. The Hoosiers’ close games have been in the 20s rather than in the 30s and 40s.
Indiana does not have to outscore anyone anymore.
Northwestern had its defensive revival last year. The Wildcats were one of the top defenses in the entire country. They are not as good as they were last year on that end, but still have plenty of talent that can change a game.
The Wildcats defense has slipped, particularly in the secondary where injuries have ravaged the team. But the Wildcats still have talent and the ability to lock a team down for a while.
Whoever wins this game will be the one to control the line and get the key stops on defense.
2 Key Stats
–92: That is the number of points Northwestern has scored in its last two games. The Wildcats posted 38 points against Iowa and 54 points against Michigan State in their last two outings — both on the road. To comprehend how crazy it is for Northwestern to score 92 points, consider NU scored only 65 points in their first four games this season (16.3 points per game). This looked like the worst offense in the conference (even Rutgers, maybe not Rutgers). Now, the Cats are seemingly an offensive juggernaut.
–0: Indiana’s defense has given the team’s offense a bit of a cushion. And nowhere is that seen more than in the team’s turnover differential. The Hoosiers have created 11 turnovers and given up 11 turnovers, including nine interceptions from quarterback Richard Lagow. Turnovers always help turn the tide in any game. Indiana has to win this battle to win the game.
3 Key Players
–Austin Carr, Northwestern WR: What has Austin Carr not done for Northwestern this year? Carr leads the Big Ten with 595 yards on 43 catches. He has scored a touchdown in the last five games for the Wildcats. And he is virtually the Wildcats’ only consistent receiver. He averaged 99.2 yards per game — the next highest receiver catches 35.3 yards per game. Even when teams know Northwestern is giving it to Carr, he still finds a way to get open.
–Devin Redding, Indiana RB: Justin Jackson will certainly get all the accolades for the running back position. The Hoosiers should feature a pretty pass-heavy attack against the Wildcats’ still-struggling secondary. But they will have to establish a decent ground game to complement. Redding has had an up-and-down season in rushing for 548 yards and one touchdown at the midpoint of the season. That is certainly a sign he can pick up yards though, even against a stout Northwestern run defense.
–Tegray Scales, Indiana LB: The Hoosiers will have a tough task to stop the Wildcats’ suddenly multi-faceted offensive attack. That always falls on the linebackers to do everything. And Scales has largely done that. He has a pick, two sacks, 12.0 tackles for a loss and a team-high 57 tackles. Scales will have to contain Jackson and be active in the pass game as Northwestern has worked underneath much more during this offensive revival.
4 Staff Predictions
Andy: Northwestern 28-24
Dave: Indiana 35-34
Phil H.: Northwestern 24-21
Philip R-R.: Indiana 31-28