After starting the season 0-2, the Northwestern Wildcats are back above .500 on the season with their Homecoming win over Indiana at Ryan Field Saturday. The ‘Cats scored 24 points, all in the first half, and held on to beat the Hoosiers, 24-14. Northwestern travels to Columbus this weekend to take on the Ohio State Buckeyes, but first let’s take a look at the good, the bad and the ugly from the Wildcats’ win over Indiana.
Northwestern put together one of its finest offensive performances of the season in the first half against Indiana, racking up 371 yards on 56 plays for an average of 6.62 yards per play. 5 of the ‘Cats 8 drives in the first half went for 8 or more plays, as Northwestern dominated the Hoosiers offensively, chewing up more than 18 minutes of the first half. Northwestern’s offense spread the ball out and continued its success from the Michigan State game, giving the Hoosiers a deep hole to climb out of in the second, one they were not able to overcome.
Indiana came into Ryan Field as the No. 15 passing offense in the nation, but the Wildcats held the Hoosiers to just a 5.4 yards per attempt average through the air, preventing Indiana from beating them with the big play. Though Indiana did gain 319 yards through the air, they had zero plays for more than 20 yards. Without Trae Williams, and after Alonzo Mayo departed early on due to injury, Northwestern’s secondary put together a pretty solid game, especially Marcus McShepard, who filled in for Mayo.
Anthony Walker Jr. really struggled early on in the season for Northwestern, but as of late, the ‘Cats middle linebacker has really come on with some huge performances. Walker Jr. has 28 tackles over the past three weeks, including 11 against the Hoosiers and 2.0 tackles for a loss. Both of Walker Jr.’s tackles for a loss came on third down in the second half against Indiana, as he helped make some key stops for the Northwestern defense. With Walker Jr. captaining the defense, Kyle Quiero and Godwin Igwebuike in the secondary and Ifeadi Odenigbo along the defensive line, Northwestern’s defense might actually be one of the better defenses in the Big Ten, ranking No. 7 in the Big Ten in scoring defense, especially moving forward.
After an improved performance against Michigan State last weekend, the Wildcats’ offense line regressed against Indiana this week, especially in the second half. Northwestern averaged just 2.8 yards per carry on the ground as Justin Jackson was held under 100 yards and without a score for the fourth time this season. And in the passing game, Clayton Thorson and Matt Alviti were sacked three times and hit five more, under pressure for most of the second half. With big games against Ohio State and Wisconsin coming up, teams with fearsome front sevens, Northwestern’s offensive line will have to shape up or risk dropping the next two.
Whereas Northwestern put together a terrific performance offensively in the first half, the second half was the complete opposite. Northwestern gained just 37 yards on 32 plays, averaging 1.15 yards per play – an absolutely atrocious number. Northwestern could not get anything going offensively in the second half, with every drive but one ending in a punt and 4 of 7 going for just four plays or less. The ‘Cats fell apart offensively, Clayton Thorson and Matt Alviti were sacked three times and Northwestern moved across midfield just once. Had Indiana figured itself out offensively or the Wildcats’ defense not come up with some key stops, Northwestern might have lost. But the ‘Cats were fortunate enough to pull out a victory.