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Five things we learned from Northwestern’s comfortable win over Indiana State

The defense and special teams hath awoken.

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

After a truly disappointing loss to Michigan State last Friday, the Wildcats remained at home this weekend and played host to the Indiana State Sycamores, a middle of the road FCS team. Northwestern did away with any potential for an upset early on, going up 14-0 by the end of the first and never letting the Sycamores get within three scores after adding a field goal later. Here are five things we learned from the Wildcats’ win over Indiana State.

Evan Hull will be the go-to running back

After the Wildcats failed to establish a run game in last week’s loss to the Spartans, Evan Hull decided it was time for a change. The sophomore running back finished the game with 23 carries for 119 yards and two touchdowns, practically carrying the entire offense for the first quarter.

Needless to say, Hull was absolutely dominant for Northwestern’s first two drives of the game. On the first, he accounted for 51 of the Wildcats’ 75 total yards, and on the second, he tallied another 27 yards. His production slowed a bit as the game went on, but given the fact that he out-carried Anthony Tyus III and Andrew Clair by a combined 10 carries, it’s clear that Hull will be Northwestern’s No. 1 back going forward.

Brandon Joseph may be NU’s new punt returner

Just prior to kickoff, it was announced that Coco Azema, the backup safety for Northwestern who doubles as a punt and kick return specialist, was inactive.

Ultimately, it was unclear who would be back returning kicks and punts for the ‘Cats. Initially, it was Bryce Kirtz who received them, but he didn’t get any real opportunities for returns and was then taken out of the game due to a minor injury.

That’s where All-American safety Brandon Joseph stepped in. Joseph, who later said postgame that he had some experience returning punts in high school, almost took back two different punts for six points, only to be stopped about 20 yards short each time. He finished the game with two punt returns for a combined 111 yards. While the Wildcats were playing a far inferior opponent, his vision and burst during said returns was extremely impressive.

The ‘Cats have some consistency issues offensively

As previously mentioned, Northwestern was dominant in the first quarter, with Evan Hull, Anthony Tyus III and Andrew Clair forming a three-man wrecking ball crew and running down the Sycamores’ throats.

After the first quarter, however, the offense scraped to a halt. Indiana State made some adjustments to slow down the run game, and the ‘Cats failed to ever really get anything going through the air aside from a 25-yard touchdown pass from Hunter Johnson to Malik Washington. If you go by quarter, Northwestern recorded 172 yards of offense in the first, then just 36, 38 and 29 yards of offense in the second, third and fourth quarters, respectively. Overall, it was a very disappointing showing for NU offensively.

Indiana State’s Adrian Thompson can sling it

Let’s give some credit to Indiana State’s Adrian Thompson. While the Sycamores’ offense was largely shut down by the ‘Cats, Thompson was a bright spot, completing 21 of his 34 attempts for 132 yards and one touchdown. Overall, his reads were solid, and while he had a few overthrows, he never made any throws into super tight coverage or ones that put his team in a bad position. While Indiana State flatlined, Thompson did not.

Northwestern may be struggling to get motivated

After being blown out on its home turf against a conference opponent, you’d think NU would be a bit more motivated to make a statement win the following week to show everyone that it still means business.

That wasn’t really the case for the Wildcats, who got off to a quick start but soon fell into shambles offensively. After going up 14-0, they didn’t score another touchdown until the fourth quarter. It felt like the ‘Cats sleepwalked through this one, as they once again struggled in the red zone and gave up a garbage time touchdown late. While that’s okay to do against an FCS team that didn’t pose any kind of serious threat, that type of play can, and will, prove costly in more competitive games.