Opponent Preview: Indiana State
Northwestern will face off against the Indiana State Sycamores for its second game of the 2021-22 season on Saturday, Sept. 11 at Ryan Field. Kickoff at 11 a.m. CT on BTN.
By Davis Johnson
After (hopefully) gaining some early-season momentum with a big home win over Michigan State, the ‘Cats will again play in the friendly confines of Ryan Field on Sept. 11 for an 11 a.m. CT kickoff against the Indiana State Sycamores.
The Sycamores, hailing from the Missouri Valley Football Conference in the FCS, did not play in 2020. Their matchup with Northwestern will be only their second game in the last two years, as they will open their 2021 slate at home against Eastern Illinois.
Indiana State is led by head coach Curt Mallory, the son of Indiana University’s all-time winningest head football coach Bill Mallory. After a 2018 campaign that saw the Sycamores finish top-25 nationally in the FCS polls, Mallory was named the MVFC coach of the year. However, injuries derailed the Sycamores in 2019 as they finished with a disappointing 5-7 record. This includes a competitive 24-17 loss on the road to Kansas, their most recent FBS opponent.
It’s hard to say what one should expect from the Sycamores in 2021, given their year off from football. Some key contributors return for an offense that struggled in 2019, scoring under 20 points per game. This includes wide receiver and 2019 1st-team all-MVFC honoree Dante Hendrix, who led the 2019 team with 653 receiving yards, and leading rusher Peterson Kerlegrand (746 yards, three TDs in 2019). Redshirt junior Kurtis Wilderman should get the nod as the starting quarterback after completing 68% of his passes for 1170 yards and six TDs in nine 2019 games.
Defensively, the Sycamores were stout in 2019, only allowing 23 points per game. Sack leader Henrik Barndt returns to anchor the defensive line, while safety Michael Thomas is the team’s returning leader in total tackles and interceptions. However, the Sycamores will be trying to replace the hole left by departing linebacker and 2019 FCS 2nd-team All-American Jonas Griffith. The Sycamores are certainly more capable on the defensive side of the ball but should still be completely outgunned against the Northwestern offense.
What to Expect:
Northwestern will be aggressive through the air
Look for offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian to use this game to increase the confidence and chemistry between his starting QB and the new-look wide receiver corps. Coach Fitz likes the field-stretching potential of his young wide receivers and transfer Stephon Robinson Jr., so expect the ‘Cats to be aggressive and take some downfield shots against a decent and experienced Sycamore secondary.
Northwestern will find new playmakers on defense to rely on
With a new defensive coordinator and only five starters returning, Northwestern’s defensive rotation will be far from settled heading into this game. Expect Jim O’Neill to rotate players frequently and don’t be surprised if some younger players — such as redshirt sophomore cornerback Cameron Mitchell — get the opportunity to make some big plays against an overmatched offense.
Northwestern may start out a bit slow as they try to work out some early season kinks and deal with the first morning kickoff of the season. But the ‘Cats will start to pull away in the second quarter and get several new playmakers involved on both sides of the ball, creating some big plays in the process. At least two Northwestern QBs will get significant playing time in this one. Indiana State hasn’t played football in over a year and has one game to warm up for an FBS-level opponent. Good luck Sycamores!
Northwestern will cruise against its most overmatched opponent of the 2021 season.
Score Prediction: ‘Cats win, 45-7