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Why Northwestern will/won’t beat Indiana

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Once again, a big question is whether the offense will be able to move the ball.

Indiana v Northwestern

The Wildcats (1-6, 0-5 B1G) will enter Memorial Stadium as 10.5-point underdogs Saturday against an upstart Indiana (6-2, 3-2 B1G) team. These teams haven’t played since 2016, and NU hasn’t traveled to Bloomington since 2011, but the ‘Cats are looking to keep their five-game win streak vs Indiana alive while ending their current five-game slide. Here are key reasons to determining whether Northwestern will be able to leave the Hoosier state victorious:

Why Northwestern will beat Indiana

The offense finds a rhythm against a suspect Indiana defense

Yes, we have seen this offense sputter against the most mediocre of Big Ten defenses. Indiana is not that different as it ranks eighth in the conference in many markers both on the ground and through the air. Nothing about the offense’s recent performances have given fans much hope, but they have also faced two stingy defenses (Ohio State and Iowa) over the past two weeks. With Isaiah Bowser out due to injury, I think Drake Anderson could have a big day against an IU front that isn’t too dominant, and I wouldn’t be shocked if Hunter Johnson makes an appearance in this game after what he said earlier this week. Nebraska hung 31 on this same Indiana defense, and that’s a Husker offense led by backup quarterback Noah Vedral.

Indiana will come out with too much energy

Bloomington doesn’t see night games very much. Bloomington also doesn’t see potential #9WINdianas very much. Combine the two and factor in a beatable opponent, and there’s a real chance the Hoosiers come out with too much energy and are trying to make too many plays. The best teams know how to handle success, and this is a big measuring stick for a program that has struggled for a while. The Hoosiers gave up over 500 yards on defense to Nebraska, and it’s that boom-or-bust mentality on defense that could lead to the ‘Cats getting points. On offense, it’s uncertain whether Michael Penix Jr. (injury) or Peyton Ramsey will be under center. Penix, the redshirt freshman, brings more explosiveness to the table, but Ramsey has been a solid replacement and has won games. Indiana has done a good job taking care of the ball, but in a game like this where emotions may run high, especially at the start, uncharacteristic things can happen.

Why Northwestern won’t beat Indiana

The Wildcats continue to turn the ball over

Pat Fitzgerald once again this week talked about losing the turnover margin and not taking care of the football. Whether it has been Aidan Smith or Hunter Johnson taking snaps, both have been prone to turning the ball over. In his run, Smith has thrown just one touchdown to six picks. While Indiana’s defense hasn’t been stingy in terms of total yards, it has come up with those timely turnovers that good teams force to win games. The Hoosier pass defense is right behind the ‘Cats, giving up just under 185 yards per game, and the windows for Aidan Smith will likely be small and infrequent. Fitz said the offense has struggled to take what defenses have given them, and if the decision making Saturday is similar to what it was against Iowa, good luck.

Indiana’s passing attack is too much

The NU secondary has been solid this year, giving up just 180 yards per game, and the emergence of Greg Newsome and Cam Ruiz in the absence of Trae Williams has been impressive. However, against a dynamic passing offense the defense struggled, like when it allowed Justin Fields to throw just five incompletions and four touchdowns. Indiana, especially when led by Penix, is the number one aerial attack in the conference, averaging nearly 313 passing yards per game. If Peyton Ramsey is playing, the task becomes a little bit easier, but the Hoosiers have shown they have playmakers on the outside. As Teddy Greenstein noted earlier this week, IU has six players in the Big Ten’s top 50 in receiving yards. A half-decent passing day by Indiana standards could be enough to lift them over a lifeless Northwestern offense.

In-game belief

Fitz said that after Northwestern gave up a preventable opening touchdown to Iowa, the morale on the sideline was not resilient, it was somber. At this point in the season, when the first two months have been nothing short of a major disappointment, it’s easy for players, especially on defense, to get down when the team goes down early. The offense has shown little penchant for moving the ball, and that can demoralize a defense that continues to fight its hardest but get little support and come up short. If Indiana strikes early and the offense continues to struggle, it becomes that much easier to mentally pack it up.