IU opens the Big Ten season with a visit to Northwestern at Ryan Field. The Hoosiers have very few winable games left on the schedule, but this might be one they could steal.
Northwestern is 4-0 and while they haven't been a dominant team all season. They are much better than many people have given them credit for and another couple wins could see them landing in the top 25.
Let's take a look at some of the key factors going into the game.
Northwestern rotates sophomore Trevor Siemian and junior Kain Colter at the position. Siemian is more of a traditional passing quarterback while Colter is involved in a lot more runs plays. Colter is also the teams second leading rusher and has nearly a five yard average per carry. Don't confuse Colter as just a running QB, his stats are almost identical to Siemian. Even with the two QBs, Northwestern only manages 186 passing yards per game. Neither QB has thrown an interception but the two only have three passing touchdowns
The Line of Scrimmage
Northwestern is exceptional at running the ball and stopping the run. The Wildcats average 221 yards rushing per game while holding opponents to just a 73 yard average. IU has a young offensive line but still manages to average 212 yards rushing a game (but just 135 yards on the ground against Ball State). Northwestern's front seven are very talented and very disciplined. They excel get getting tackles for a loss and maintaining gap control. IU will struggle to run the ball up the middle and might find success running off tackle. In reality, the Hoosiers will find running very difficult and should have a game plan that incorporates a lot of passing.
IU only has one road win (against Massachusetts) under coach Kevin Wilson. This is a young team that will more than likely continue to struggle away from Bloomington. While this should be a competitive game, it's very unlikely that IU will earn it's first road win here.
While Northwestern is stout against the run, they struggle against the pass. Northwestern is last in the Big Ten in terms of yards allowed through the air. They have given up an average of 294 yards per game. Indiana currently leads the Big Ten is passing with a 326 yard average. This might not mean anything come game day, but IU should be able to find success through the air when the ground game falters.
So far this season, Northwestern has given up 10 sacks over four games. IU has only given up five sack over three games (despite the young offensive line). The Wildcats have yet to really find a pass rush and have only generated six sacks this year. IU on the other had has eight. This may be confusing but IU should be able to generate pressure on Northwestern's quarterbacks. Cam Coffman isn't as mobile as Tre Roberson was, but he is good at getting the ball out early and avoiding a coverage sack.
On paper, this looks like a game the Hoosiers could win. The bye week should have helped IU not only get healthy, but also shore up some of the inconsistencies with the offensive line and come up with a better scheme for the defense.
What people should look for the rest of the season is not wins, but competitiveness. Is the team getting better week to week? Are individual players showing improvement? Are the coaches making good adjustments? These are the benchmarks of a young team that is being rebuilt.
Some people have already started saying that Wilson is on the hot seat. It is far too early to make this kind of call. And if anyone suggests that IU should shut down the football program is ignorant and doesn't understand how the finances of a college athletics program work.
With all that said, IU will fall to Northwestern, 27-21.
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