by Jonah Rosenblum (@jonahlrosenblum)
We quickly saw that Indiana will, as Pat Fitzgerald warned, pose a far greater offensive threat than any team Northwestern has faced this season, with the possible exception of Syracuse. Early on, the Hoosiers’ young wide receiver, Cody Latimer, somehow held onto a pass along the left sideline, despite a bone-rattling hit, an instant hit, by Jared Carpenter. Then, Kofi Hughes had a couple of steps on Northwestern’s backfield, and would have had a touchdown, but Cameron Coffman overthrew him by a step. The pass virtually glanced off of Hughes’ fingertips. Coffman and Hughes hooked up shortly thereafter, as Hughes made an incredible grab on a long pass down the right sideline. It quickly has become apparent that Indiana is the first team capable of testing Northwestern downfield since Syracuse.
Kain Colter looked comfortable back in his old role as wide receiver, showing off a pretty stop and turn on a five-yard route, but he was unable to gain any separation from Indiana’s linebacker corps. On the second drive, Colter did find some room in the middle of the field for a 16-yard reception. Northwestern then tried putting Colter behind center, which went less well, as he threw the Wildcats’ first pick of the season on his first attempt of the day. Still, Colter displayed remarkable athleticism chasing down Greg Haban as the Indiana cornerback looked to race up the field. And Colter quickly found his old openings in the middle of the field.
At wideout, Colter was frequently targeted. Siemian went for Colter on two consecutive passes in the second quarter, firing a laser off of Colter’s fingertips on the first throw before settling down and finding him with the second pass. Siemian followed with one of his best passes of the game, rolling left and showing off his strength with a nifty pass to Christian Jones sprinting toward the right sideline. Siemian found Colter again in the middle of the field on a third and 11 to move the Wildcats into the Hoosiers red zone. Siemian looked wild at times, but whether or not he deserved to play quarterback, Colter deserved to play slot receiver.
The Wildcats remarkably had just one pick all season after four games. They had picked off one pass and had yet to be picked off themselves. That changed in a hurry on Saturday. An interception by Nick VanHoose, just Northwestern’s second of the season, was quickly followed by an interception by Indiana cornerback Greg Heban. In other words, after 244:03 of nearly pick-free ball, there were two interceptions in the first 5:31 of Saturday’s game, with the two interceptions coming just a minute apart. There was nearly a third on the very next play, but Northwestern defensive end Dean Lowery’s batted ball was fumbled.
Dean Lowery had himself a big first half, particularly as Indiana approached Northwestern’s end zone in the first quarter. Lowery nearly had a big interception, but still recorded a pass breakup, and then on Indiana’s third and goal play, Lowery was part of the Wildcats’ perfect goal-line stand. When Coffman rolled left, he literally couldn’t find anyone. Indiana’s receiver in motion was unable to elude Northwestern’s linebacker coverage, and so Coffman rolled back right, only to find Lowery breathing down his neck. Coffman was forced to settle for the field goal, literally, tossing the ball between the uprights.
It’s hard to imagine how Mitch Ewald missed his 20-yard field goal attempt, but it looked to me like it was all on Ewald. The snap was a little bit low, but Mitchell Voss was able to get the ball upright in time. Ewald had the opportunity. He just couldn’t hit it. Too bad Indiana lacks Jeff “Mr. Perfect” Budzien.
The option is still alive and well in Evanston. Kain Colter got the offense going with a perfectly timed option pitch to Venric Mark, who sprinted up the right sideline for a first down. Kain Colter followed with two impressive rushes, moving the Wildcats down to the Hoosiers’ 16. After going with a more conventional offense on their first drive of the game, and trying Colter out as a wideout, Northwestern found success by going back to its tried and true option, using its two most explosive athletes out of the backfield, and relying on the confusion as to which one is actually going to run with it to pick up yards. More on that confusion later.
Also, it was a little surprising to see Indiana’s reliance on running back Isaiah Roundtree. The sophomore isn’t even listed on the Hoosiers’ depth chart. Indiana lists three running backs, Tevin Coleman as the starter, and D’Angelo Roberts and Stephen Houston as the backups, and Roundtree isn’t one of them. But he got five of Indiana's 15 carries in the first half.
Nick VanHoose is going to get a thumbs up for his play in the first half. Not only did he notch an interception by getting in front of his assignment on an underthrown pass, but he also delivered an impressive knockout blow on special teams, flipping Nick Stoner over literally right where he caught the ball. Stoner made it easy for him, freezing on the spot, and giving VanHoose a steady target to aim at.
Pat Fitzgerald had a secret all of last season. Little did everyone know what a weapon the seventh-year coach held behind his back. He rarely used him last year so the fans assumed he was a liability, a nothing. But this season, Fitzgerald has unleashed his mighty kicker, and Jeff Budzien has brandished his iron-clad foot, draining all 10 of his field goals this season, while nailing all 16 of his extra points. That streak included an impressive 44-yarder to put the Wildcats up 10 as well as a 34-yarder to put the Wildcats up 20.
Northwestern’s once maligned defense continued to show growth in the second quarter, keeping Indiana off the board, first with a thunderous hit by Ibraheim Campbell which dislodged the ball but also injured Campbell, then with a third down clamp down by the defensive line. In the past, quarterbacks would frequently find running room through the gaps in the Wildcats’ defensive line, but on third down, when Coffman tried to run, the front line closed the gaps and brought him down beautifully for a four-yard loss.
Indiana’s all-sophomore backfield clearly doesn’t come without its growing pains. How Rashad Lawrence was so open along the left sideline, particularly when he is hardly Northwestern’s fastest wide receiver, is pretty hard to figure. From there, Siemian just had to loft the ball 20 yards to Lawrence to move the Wildcats past midfield. And they had no answer to an effective slot receiver like Kain Colter, inexplicably allowing the junior to find openings in the middle of the field time after time, to the tune of 90 receiving yards.
Kain Colter’s touchdown run to put the Wildcats ahead 17-10 was something you had to see to believe. The junior quarterback stopped dead in his tracks, and looked to hand it off to Venric Mark, the whole stadium waited for Mark to run with it, but then Colter suddenly took off with it, leaving Mark standing there as he raced into the end zone. It was simply put an incredible juke.
If last year’s Northwestern team resembled Katy Perry’s “Hot and Cold,” with a five-game losing streak closely followed by a four-game winning streak, then this year’s team seems to resemble Bachman Turner Overdrive’s “Taking Care of Business” far more closely. Just consider Northwestern’s trip to Bloomington last season, when the Wildcats’ defense looked incredibly porous against Tre Roberson and Company. This season, the Wildcats dispelled the Hoosiers far more efficiently in the first half, just like they took care of their non-conference slate far more efficently than they did last season.
Northwestern could have a few impressive achievements in the box score this Saturday. First, Venric Mark appears poised to give the Wildcats an 100-yard rusher for the fourth consecutive week. He has 73 rushing yards on 15 carries after a half. Then, there's Kain Colter, who could also reach triple digits. He actually could potentially achieve his dream of a triple-triple, which he confessed to last year in Bloomington. 100 yards passing, 100 yards receiving and 100 yards rushing. He already is on pace for 100 yards receiving and 100 yards rushing, but it's hard to imagine him getting too many passing opportunities with a 20-0 lead in the second half.