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GAMETHREAD: Indiana at Northwestern

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Having lost three of their last four, Indiana looks to get back on track against the Wildcats.

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Who? Indiana Hoosiers (3-3, #44 S&P+) at Northwestern Wildcats (3-3, #60 S&P+)

When? Saturday, 10/22, 12:00 PM, Evanston, Illinois
Channel? Big Ten Network
Vegas? INDIANA +3

S&P+ Projection? INDIANA, 28.2 - 25.9 (55%)

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Northwestern

Here's what Kyle Swick told you about the Wildcats in this week's Game Preview:

The Wildcats are, arguably, a little difficult to peg statistically because they've such a bizarre season. They played really well to open the year against a Western Michigan team that now finds itself in the top-10 of the S&P+ ratings. They followed that up with a horrible performance and loss to FCS Illinois State, a reasonably decent effort and loss to Nebraska, a great effort and win over Iowa and then an extraordinarily flukey game against Michigan State that they managed to win despite most stats suggesting they shouldn't have.

But there's no denying the most important statistic of them all and Northwestern has 92 of them in the last two weeks. Granted, Michigan State is no longer anything special defensively but the Hawkeyes are fielding a comparable unit to Indiana's and they had no answers for the Wildcats' offensive renaissance. Justin Jackson is a bona fide stud out of the backfield, and if the Wildcats' line was a little better, he might be unstoppable. He's averaging close to five yards per carry and an otherworldly 5.9 highlight yards per opportunity, but his offensive line only gets him into that kind of space less than a third of the time, among the worst in the country.

Quarterback Clayton Thorson isn't far behind him, with 5.3 Hlt Yds / Opp providing the same dual-threat that Tommy Armstrong Jr. did last weekend that Indiana acquitted itself well against. As a passer, it's a bit of a mixed bag. He's only averaging 5.9 yards per throw and has been sacked 17 times. He's completing 58.3% of his passes with 11 touchdowns and 5 picks. The vast majority of his passes head toward Austin Carr, who has twice as many targets (61) and three times as many catches (43) as the next closes guy on the team. He's turned that into 595 yards and 8 scores, catching 70.5% of his targets and turning them into successful plays 65.6% of the time.

As a unit, the Wildcats' defense isn't in the same league as what the Hoosiers have seen the past few weeks but there are a certainly playmakers on that side of the ball. Senior defensive lineman Ifeadi Odenigbo has 14 combined sacks and tackles-for-loss along with two forced fumbles while junior linebacker Anthony Walker Jr. has 5.5 along with 2 pass break-ups and a forced fumble / recovery.

Northwestern's defensive line is the only part of the defense with a Havoc Rate that isn't below-average, ranking 43rd in the country. More troubling for the Wildcats is their defense appears to wear down significantly as the game goes on, ranking 20th in S&P+ in the 1st quarter, 46th in the 2nd, 79th in the 3rd, and 95th in 4th. Essentially, Northwestern begins the game as Houston but ends it as East Carolina.

They are 4th in the country at limiting big plays in the run game, but given that they're also 84th in Success Rate against the run and 90th in success rate against the pass, it's difficult to reap the benefits of that. Also, it's not as if the Hoosiers rely on big plays in the run game to succeed, as they've sunk to 70th in that category despite Devine Redding finally busting loose for a long touchdown against Nebraska.

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