Written by Nick Chouteau
This Saturday, the Hoosiers will once again play for a homecoming win, Northwestern’s homecoming that is. The pair of teams comes into the contest sporting identical records both overall and in conference play: 4-3 and 1-2, respectively.
Northwestern and Indiana not only share the same record, but eerily, Indiana coach Bill Lynch and Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald received their head coaching duties in similar fashion.
Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald took the reins in 2006 when then Northwestern coach Randy Walker suddenly passed away. The next year, Bill Lynch was able to try his hand in a head coaching role when former IU head coach Terry Hoeppner sadly passed.
Both coaches are trying to get their teams back to a bowl game and a win Saturday would take them that much closer.
The Wildcats of Northwestern took one on the chin last week in East Lansing against the Michigan State Spartans.
Northwestern took a 7-0 lead into halftime and struck first in the second half, extending their lead to 14-0, but were unable to hold on in the end. A pair of costly turnovers by the Wildcats lead to 24 unanswered points by Michigan State and brought an end to the Wildcats' two-game winning streak.
Despite the loss, Northwestern quarterback Mike Kafka and wide receiver Zeke Markshausen hooked up 16 times for 111 yards, just one reception shy of the all-time Northwestern single game record. Kafka complete 34-of-47 passes in the game for 291 yards and two touchdowns, and rushed for 42 yards, totaling 333 yards of total offense.
Northwestern will be looking across the ball at an Indiana Hoosier team coming off a big win in their own homecoming last weekend against a struggling Illinois team. Big Ten co-Offensive Player of the Week, Ben Chappell, paced the Hoosiers to their victory, piling up 333 yards passing to go along with three touchdowns of his own.
The Hoosiers appear to have their hands full on defense this week and will need a team effort in slowing down Northwestern.
Once again, the Hoosier’s pair of senior defensive ends will need to put pressure on Northwestern quarterback Mike Kafka and force him to get rid of the ball before he’s ready.
Similar to the last few weeks, the Hoosiers will need to contain Mike Kafka when he breaks the pocket. Kafka’s rushing statistics are skewed because of sacks, but this season Kafka has 87 rushes for 141 yards and 4 touchdowns on the season. Kafka presents much more of a throwing threat than a running threat, however, completing 67.8 percent of his passes for 1755 yards, seven touchdowns, and four interceptions.
Much like the Hoosiers' three-headed attack from the running back position, the Wildcats will bring a rushing trio of their own Saturday. Arby Fields appears to be the most used, rushing 55 times on the year and totaling 195 yards and four touchdowns.
Second on the list for Northwestern with 45 carries this season is Jacob Schmidt. Schmidt is only averaging 3.5 yards per carry this season, bringing his season rushing total to 159 yards and one touchdown.
The back whom appears to be the most electrifying out of the group is Stephen Simmons, who has been called upon 38 times this season, averaging 4.6 yards a carry for 176 yards and two touchdowns.
When the Wildcats drop back to pass, Kafka will be looking for the aforementioned Zeke Markshausen as well as Drake Dunsmore and Andrew Brewer.
Brewer has a nose for the goal line and has big play ability, averaging 16.7 yards a grab and four touchdowns on the year.
Markshausen seems to be Kafka’s favorite target, pulling in 50 passes this season but just one touchdown. Markshausen seems to be a possession receiver, meaning he is sure-handed and picks up first downs. He’s averaging just under 10 yards a grab this year.
The key matchup on the defense for the Hoosiers is Zeke Markshausen going against the Indiana secondary.
Look for Indiana to play close to the line on Markshausen, challenging him to get a clean break off the line of scrimmage, throwing off the timing of his routes with quarterback Mike Kafka. Indiana must keep Kafka in the pocket, but close around him and block throwing lanes.
On offense, the Hoosiers appeared to have moved the ball well last week against the Fighting Illini. Quarterback Ben Chappell seemed to have found his groove, passing for a career high 333 yards and also a career high three touchdowns.
The Hoosiers need to take care of the ball and with the time of possession battle to keep the high-powered Northwestern offense off the field. Chappell will need to continue to look for wideout Tandon Doss.
Doss has big play potential every time he touches the ball. Expect Chappell to look toward Doss on quick slants and bubble screens before trying to go over the top of the Northwestern safeties.
The Hoosiers' running game is also essential to win this key conference game on Saturday. The Hoosiers will need to be able to run effectively in order to open up the passing game and play action passes. Look for Indiana to run Darius Willis and Demetrius McCray early and late in the game.
The key matchup for Indiana on offense are running backs Darius Willis and Demetrius McCray against the front seven of Northwestern. Northwestern is giving up 115.7 yards per game on the ground this season. With a secondary that has 10 interceptions on the year, the Hoosiers will need to run the ball effectively.
My Prediction: Indiana wins, 27-24.
IU will be missing starters Will Patterson (LB), Donnell Jones (CB), and Chris Adkins (CB) for this weekend's game. They are all out indefinitely. Darius Willis is listed as probable.
Northwestern will be missing starting safety Brendan Smith, and running back Alex Daniel is out for the year. They are also missing two other players. The other starting safety, Brad Phillips, is listed as questionable with a shoulder injury.