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Rapid reaction: Northwestern shuts down Indiana State’s offense en route to 24-6 victory

This was a morale booster.

NCAA Football: Indiana State at Northwestern David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

EVANSTON, Illinois — Led by a dominant defensive performance and early rushing production, Northwestern (1-1, 0-1 B1G) bounced back with a win against FCS opponent Indiana State (1-1, 0-0 MVFC) 24-6.

The running game was the story offensively. Sophomore running back Evan Hull led the way with 23 carries for 119 yards. Meanwhile, first-year Anthony Tyus III and graduate transfer Andrew Clair bounced back from lackluster debuts against Michigan State, as Tyus rushed for 71 yards off of 10 attempts, and Clair tacked on an additional 22 yards.

Senior quarterback Hunter Johnson did not create much production through the air and finished going 9/16 for 66 yards and a touchdown. Junior receiver Malik Washington was the leading receiver with two receptions for 27 yards and one touchdown.

On defense, senior Chris Bergin ended with eight tackles to lead the team. The star of the show was junior defensive end Adetomiwa Adebawore, who finished with 1.5 sacks, a forced fumble and three quarterback hurries.

Northwestern opened the game by running it down the Sycamores’ throats for an 11-play, 75-yard drive. Hull opened the game with two 12 and 18-yard bursts down the field. Andrew Clair’s then scampered 18 yards to the Indiana State three-yard line set up the Hull score the next play. The ‘Cats got production from the entirety of the Hull-Tyus-Clair trio and ended the drive with 79 rushing yards.

Indiana State opened their offensive day with a fourth down conversion on their own 37-yard line. They drove into Northwestern territory thanks to a 17-yard reception by Rontrez Morgan, but a third down fumble from Thompson forced by Adebawore ultimately led to the Sycamores punting the ball back to the ‘Cats.

On Northwestern’s second possession, Hull and Tyus went back to work. The former broke off a 20-yard run while the latter followed with runs of 16 and 15. It was ultimately the aerial attack that would lead Northwestern to pay dirt, however, as Johnson found Malik Washington for a 25-yard pass to cap the seven-play, 92-yard drive that put the ‘Cats up 14-0 before the first quarter concluded.

Indiana State would not go down quietly, though. The Sycamores got the ball and were again able to force their way into Northwestern’s half off of a third down conversion by Thompson to Haupert. ISU began to see their drive develop thanks to high percentage throws by Thompson, but the Wildcat defense again became too much to handle for the Sycamores, who were once again forced to punt at the Northwestern 37-yard line.

Once again, the Northwestern offense was forced to open their drive deep in their own territory at the eight-yard line. It was Hull again that broke the ‘Cats out of that hole. He rushed three consecutive plays for 22 yards. The offense stalled quickly, but the special teams unit stepped up. Sophomore linebacker Xander Mueller recovered a muffed punt by Haupert that set the Wildcats up at the Indiana State 32-yard line. Just three plays later, however, Johnson would have a fumble of his own and Indiana State would get the ball right back, erasing the memory of their own blunder.

The remainder of the half continued to be unproductive for both offenses and the two sides went into halftime with Northwestern leading 14-0. The ‘Cats finished the half with 159 yards rushing, with the majority of the production coming from Hull’s 105 yards. Johnson remained relatively quiet outside of the touchdown throw to Washington and finished the half 5-for-8 for 49 yards. Indiana State sat at just 90 total offensive yards at the 30-minute mark.

The Northwestern defense picked up right where they left off when the second half opened up with an ISU three and out. Once again, the special teams for Northwestern would be making plays. Joseph, who filled in at punt returner for the injured Coco Azema, returned the punt 46 yards to the Indiana State 27-yard line. The return eventually set up a 47-yard field goal by kicker Charlie Kuhbander that tied his career long.

From there, it was deja vu all over again. Indiana State struggled to gain any ground, and Joseph returned the punt for 65 yards to set up Northwestern in the red zone at the Indiana State 18-yard line.

Later on in the third, Northwestern would drive to the middle of the field, but ultimately Johnson would be intercepted for the first time this season by Tyreeon Hambright. Nothing would come of it, and the song and dance of middling offense continued.

After over 19 minutes of stalled action and continuous punting, the Wildcats finally put more points on the board. Ray Niro III’s 19-yard punt return to the Indiana State 30-yard line put Northwestern in yet another prime position to score. The five-play, 30-yard drive was made up entirely of Hull runs and ended with the sophomore scoring his second touchdown of the day from 13 yards out.

The Sycamores weren’t done yet. Late in the fourth quarter, Indiana State managed to march down the field and convert on their first touchdown of the game after being stifled for the majority of the game. They attempt a two-point conversion and failed, making the score 24-6, where it would stay for the remainder of the game.

Next week, the Wildcats head down to Durham, North Carolina to take on Duke at 3 p.m. CT on ACC Network.