The 2010 season yielded many near-miss moments for the Hoosiers, but none was as bitter as IU's 29-28 loss to Northwestern in Evanston. The Hoosiers held a 28-3 lead in the first half, but scored no more, and NU kicked the game-winning field goal with just a few seconds remaining. I did not watch this game live, and declined to watch it on my DVR. I was away from TV that day and watched NU chip away at IU's lead by hitting "refresh" on my Blackberry. Since 2002, NU and IU has been a very competitive series. The two teams have played six times since then, and no game has been decided by seven or fewer points. It's amazing how these streaks come and go. The six game nailbiter streak followed a 15-game run in which every game, whether won by IU or NU, was decided by 13 or more points. IU won 11 of those 15 games, including 9 in a row from 1985-1993. The nailbiters have been less kind to IU: the Wildcats have won five of those six games. IU's only win, oddly enough, came in 2008, when NU had its best team of the last eight years and IU had its worst. So, if recent history is any guide, this one could be crazy.
Northwestern will be replacing quarterback Mike Kafka, whose backwards fumble for a huge loss was one of the key plays of IU's surprising 2008 win. Redshirt junior Dan Persa is the new starter. While Persa played quite a bit, he mostly ran the ball. Persa's most meaningful action came in the upset win at Iowa 5-9 passing, 67 yards rushing) and a loss to Penn State. NU's rushing attack was by committee. Arby Fields led NU with 302 yards. Jacob Schmidt and Steven Simmons also return, having run for just over 200 yards. Tight end Drake Dumsmore and WR Sidney Stewart, with 470 and 226 yards, respectively, are the top returning receivers. In other words, on offense, generally the strength of Northwestern, the Wildcats will be searching for production from those who haven't provided it before. NU's defense has been solid in the last two years, of course, and return eight starters from last year's above average unit.
Northwestern has put together a nice run under Gary Barnett, Randy Walker, and current coach Pat Fitzgerald, but IU has managed to compete nearly every time the two schools have played in the last decade. If IU has any hope of postseason play this year, the Northwestern game, at home, appears to be key.