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
Top 25 Players in the Big Ten for 2017: No’s. 10-6
We are almost done with our 2017 preseason Top 25 players list. Who made it inside the top 10, but just out of the running as the best player in the conference heading in to the season?
It is almost time for pads to start popping and helmets to start cracking together…and that means football season is right around the corner. Here at talking10 it also means the release of our annual Big Ten Preseason Top 25 Players list.
We’re 10 players deep, with 15 to go on the countdown. Let’s just hop right back in to the Top 25 players list as the season grows closer and closer.
No. 10. — Akrum Wadley, RB (Iowa)
2016 Season Stats: 1,081 yards, 10 TD’s, 6.4 ypc; 36 receptions, 315 yards, 3 TD’s
Best Game: 23 carries, 115 yards; 5 receptions, 52 yards, 1 TD
Patience has certainly paid off for the now-senior running back for the Hawkeyes. Wadley showed flashes of brilliance early in his career, but he had to share the spotlight with others. That included fellow 1,000-yard back LeShaun Daniels last season.
Wadley comes in to 2017 as the lone featured back for the first time in his career and it could be a very interesting season ahead. He also come back as one of just three returning running backs to crack double digits in rushing touchdowns last season. If Iowa is going to weather the changes at quarterback in 2017, it will do so on the back and legs of Wadley. If history tells us anything, he’s likely up to the challenge.
No. 9. — Clayton Thorson, QB (Northwestern)
2016 Season Stats: 3,128 yards, 58.6 comp. %, 22 TD’s, 9 INT’s
Best Game: at MSU – 27-35 passing, 281 yards, 3 TD’s, 1 INT
Few quarterbacks came in to 2016 as a bigger question mark than Clayton Thorson did entering his sophomore season. After becoming one of just four quarterbacks to top 3,000 yards passing in 2016, the questions have turned in to just how good can Thorson really be. Well, considering he went from mistake-prone and INT-prone to one of the coolest passers in the league, it is safe to say he is high up on our list heading in to 2017.
This season, it may be a case of Thorson also needed to add a bit more to the ground game. He picked up just 98 yards on 97 carries last season. That was following a promising start to his career with his feet. Northwestern doesn’t need him to be J.T. Barrett on the ground, but expanding that part of his game to go with the established passing attack could give Pat Fitzgerald and the Wildcats plenty of ammo on offense.
No. 8 — Rashan Gary, DE (Michigan)
2016 Season Stats: 24 tackles, 5.0 tackles for loss, 1 sack, 6 QB hurries
Best Game: vs. UCF – 6 tackles, 2.0 tackles for loss, 1 sack
Michigan snapped up the No. 1 player in the 2016 recruiting rankings, so expectations were high for Gary. He rose to the occasion and got himself in to the mix on a loaded and deep Wolverines defensive line. He showed power off the edge and a capability to be very disruptive at the line of scrimmage. Gary’s game is far from perfect, but if he works at the rate he did in 2016, look for him to be one of the best pass rushers in the Big Ten when 2017 is all said and done.
His length, athleticism and strength at his age are just incredible. Will he be able to live up to the hype and the increased attention on and off the field in 2017? That’s his real challenge.
No. 7. — J.T. Barrett, QB (Ohio State)
2016 Season Stats: 61.5 comp. %, 2,555 yards, 24 TD’s, 7 INT’s; 845 yards, 9 TD’s rushing
Best Game: vs. Nebraska – 65.1 comp. %, 290 yards, 4TD’s passing; 39 yards rushing
It is hard to believe that one…J.T. Barrett is still in college football, and two…that is hasn’t won a Heisman Trophy yet. We’re pretty sure if you asked 2014 versions of ourselves if that was possible we would’ve told you you were nuts. But, we are blessed with one final season from Barrett in the OSU colors.
Some of those same 2014 folks would be surprised to see him this low on the list. There’s no doubt that the talent is there, but his passing numbers have steadily declined and somehow Barrett has actually become a less accurate passer over time. Still, he’s arguably the most dangerous dual-threat quarterback in the league and one of the best on-field leaders as well. His intangibles and ability to literally will a team to victory can’t be overlooked and that’s why he’s in our top 10.
No. 6. — Tegray Scales, LB (Indiana)
2016 Season Stats: 126 tackles, 23.5 tackles for loss, 7.0 sacks, 1 INT, 1 TD, 1 FF, 2 PBU, 4 QB Hurries
Best Game: vs. Penn State – 9 tackles, 4.0 tackles for loss, 1 sack
No player benefited more from a coaching change in 2016 than Indiana linebacker Tegray Scales did. Tom Allen’s unique 4-2-5 system actually made Scales the focal point of the defense and he delivered in a big way. The stats are certainly impressive, but it is the how it all happened that makes him one of the most intriguing players to watch this upcoming season.
Don’t be surprised to see his name mentioned with some of the best in the country at linebacker. He simply makes plays and does it wherever and however asked to by the coaching staff. A sign of his quality? Two his best games came in losses to Penn State and Northwestern, where Scales did everything he could to will his team to victory but just couldn’t get the offensive help needed. He’ll have more parts around him this season and that should make things really fun to watch.
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