EVANSTON, IL — Northwestern got off to a fast start and used fantastic red zone defense to hold on for a 24-14 win over Indiana at Ryan Field. The Wildcats picked off Indiana twice and were able to hold on for a very important Big Ten victory.
The Wildcats got on the board early with an impressive opening drive, going 70 yards on 11 plays and using up 3:23. Clayton Thorson capped off the drive with a 17-yard strike to Solomon Vault. Thorson spread the ball to three different Wildcats and Jackson found ample space.
The Wildcats got a quick three-and-out and the offense took advantage once again, this time going 75 yards in five plays, including a big run from Jackson to set up a deep pass down the middle to (who else) Austin Carr. The Big Ten’s leading receiver found himself all alone and managed to stay on his feet for a 34-yard score. It was the senior’s ninth score on the year, and he has hauled in a touchdown reception in six straight games, the most in Northwestern history this millennium.
Indiana then capitalized on a short field after a Northwestern punt, but had to settle for a 21-yard field goal from Griffin Oakes. Then the Wildcats’ offense went on a tear again. Mixing five runs with four passes, the hosts covered 79 yards in 3:49, punctuating the drive with a beautiful throw from Thorson to Macan Wilson on the first play of the second quarter. It was Wilson’s first career touchdown (also, look at this protection!).
The Wildcat defense produced a couple highlights in the second quarter as well, including a big fourth-down stop near its own redzone and this fantastic interception from Montre Hartage:
Meanwhile, NU had a head-scratching decision to fake a field goal (which fell miserably incomplete) but managed a nice two-minute drill to add on a 19-yard Jack Mitchell field goal as the first half ended. The hosts led 24-3 at the break.
Out of the half, Indiana cut into the lead quickly, using a 33-yard pass from Richard Lagow to Nick Westbrook and a key 4th-and-5 conversion to move into the red zone. But once again, the defense stiffened, including a great breakup from Marcus McShepard (who had moved back to cornerback due to so many injuries).
After Indiana blocked a Northwestern punt, it seemed as if the tide was turning a bit. But Godwin Igwebuike came up with a huge stop on fourth down to keep Indiana at bay.
Meanwhile, the Northwestern offense had gone absolutely dormant. The Wildcats managed just 25 yards after racking up 371 in the first half. Indiana capitalized once again on a clearly tired Northwestern defense with a long touchdown drive capped by a Nick Westbrook two-yard dash on a reverse. Trailing by 12, the Hoosiers elected to go for two but failed.
The visitors opened the fourth quarter on fire, as they quickly moved into NU territory looking to make it a one-score game.
In stepped Ifeadi Odenigbo. The senior, who has been on a tear as of late, demolished the Indiana left tackle and took down Lagow. Griffin Oakes’ 53-yard attempt had no chance.
The teams traded scoreless possessions with generally no big plays until Kyle Queiro made perhaps the catch of the year on a leaping interception.
Queiro is playing with a cast on his other hand, so he was forced to go up one-handed. Watch for it on SportsCenter tonight.
But one play later, that excitement was completely gone after Clayton Thorson got knocked out of the game. The sophomore quarterback kept the ball on a designed run and got smacked by an Indiana defender on his way to the sideline. Matt Alviti entered and Northwestern punted two plays later. Thorson was able to return for the next drive after getting treatment on the sideline.
Indiana took the ensuing drive down the Northwestern six yard line, but Lagow missed his man wide on 4th-and-2, essentially ending a game that started off very well and ended very quietly.
Indiana got an extra two points from a late safety, as Northwestern felt more comfortable running out of the back of the endzone than punting it away. The points cut the lead to 10, but with only 15 seconds left it didn’t matter.
Most importantly for this team, it was another win. It was really, really ugly in the second half, but when the defense needed to step up (in the redzone), it did. Northwestern moves to 4-3.
- The incredible first half offensive display was nowhere to be found in the second. The Wildcats put up 371 yards and 24 points in the first half but had just 37 yards and zero points in the second. The play-calling got extremely conservative though still somewhat pass-heavy.
- This secondary is in panic mode. Alonzo Mayo, making his first career start, got hurt early in the game and didn’t come back, forcing Marcus McShepard, who was supposed to switch over to wide receiver this year, into action alongside Montre Hartage. If Lagow were more accurate downfield, he could have racked up huge yardage totals. The opportunities were absolutely there all afternoon.
- Still, give the defense credit, especially in the second half when it was on the field for essentially the entire time. The Wildcats bent but didn’t break. Two sacks (Odenigbo and Gaziano) and two picks (Hartage and Queiro) were crucial big plays.
- The offensive line dominated in the first half and really, really struggled in the second half. Justin Jackson ran for 55 yards in the first quarter but finished with just 94 on the day.