Homecoming weekend is finally here in Bloomington, and it couldnâ€™t have come at a more opportune time for Indiana as the Hoosiers look to break a five-game losing skid and notch their first conference win of the year. Their opposition is in a similar situation however, and is unlikely to back down without a fight.
The Opponent: Northwestern Wildcats (2-5, 0-4)
Northwestern is a curious case. More than anything else, they mirror the Indiana teams of the last couple of seasons in that they can score in bunches, but canâ€™t stop their opponents from doing the same. Their offense struggled early in the season, but since the return of senior quarterback Dan Persa, the Wildcats have averaged nearly 29 points per game in B1G play. In addition to Persa, Northwestern will likely design a few plays at quarterback for the explosive Kain Colter, a lightning-quick freshman who brings another dimension to the Wildcat offense.
Colterâ€™s impact is seen upon investigating Northwesternâ€™s rushing statistics, as heâ€™s carried the ball 30 more times than anyone else on the team and leads the Wildcats in rushing by more than 200 yards. Besides Colter, Northwestern uses a running back- by-committee approach. Adonis Smith, Treyvon Green, Jacob Schmidt and Mike Trumpy all average at least five carries per game and all have scored at least one touchdown.
As stated above though, Northwestern makes its living though the air. Jeremy Ebert is forth in the conference in receiving yards and has six touchdowns â€“ more than half of the Wildcatsâ€™ total through the air â€“ to his credit this year. Northwesternâ€™s other receivers are pretty interchangeable, as their game plan consists of spreading to ball around to multiple targets. Six other receivers have caught at least 10 balls this season, including Colter, who is actually third on the team in receptions, which further showcases his utility.
X-Factor: Scoring Defense
Itâ€™s hard to not list Kain Colter in this spot, but after diving into both of these teams, the Wildcats would likely be able to put up points regardless. Their performance on the other side of the ball is more likely to play a major role than any one offensive player could. As mentioned above, Northwestern is averaging nearly 29 points per game in conference play. Unfortunately for them, theyâ€™re allowing nearly 39. Unless the Wildcat defense improves upon its early performance, itâ€™s going to be difficult for them to win, no matter how many points they score. Northwesternâ€™s defense is its Achilles Heel, and if the Wildcats lose, the loss will likely fall on the defense.
Northwestern Cumulative Statistics (7 games)
Total Offense- 405.4 ypg (236.1 passing, 169.3 rushing)
Scoring Offense- 27.7 ppg
Total Defense- 423.6 ypg (247.9 passing, 175.7 rushing)
Scoring Defense- 30.6 ppg
Northwestern Individual Statistics
Passing- Â Â Â Â Dan Persa: 74.8% completion rate, 990 yards, 6 TDs, 6 INTs
Kain Colter: 66.7% completion rate, 493 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT
Rushing- Â Â Â Kain Colter: 77 carries, 421 yards, 6 TDs
Adonis Smith: 47 carries, 195 yards, 3 TDs
Treyvon Green: 47 carries, 179 yards, 2 TDs
Jacob Schmidt: 39 carries, 166 yards, 2 TDs
Receiving- Jeremy Ebert: 44 catches, 540 yards, 6 TDs
Drake Dunsmore: 22 catches, 216 yards, 2 TDs
Kain Colter: 15 catches, 164 yards, 1 TD
Christian Jones: 11 catches, 162 yards, 0 TDs
Indiana fans saw more than a glimmer of hope last weekend, as Tre Roberson, a true freshman, led the Hoosier offense to its most effective offensive performance of the season. Roberson (more on him later) finally appears to have some help on the ground, as Stephen Houston continues to emerge as a viable option out of the backfield. Since taking over as the full-time starter at running back, heâ€™s averaged about 85 yards per game and slightly fewer than five yards-per-carry. Heâ€™s powerfully built and Northwestern has allowed similarly built backs like Marcus Coker and Silas Redd to run effectively on them in recent weeks.
Receiver has been more of a question mark than it was expected to be early in the season, as an astounding nine receivers have totaled double-digit receptions this year. Still, dependable targets are beginning to emerge. Sophomores Kofi Hughes and Jamonne Chester have been dependable over the past couple of weeks and the true freshman Cody Latimer has improved his play as well. Latimer caught his first career touchdown last weekend and will get the start this week over the injured Damarlo Belcher.
The Hoosier defense suffers many of the same ailments that Northwesternâ€™s does and has actually been slightly worse this year â€“ allowing 15 more yards on a per-game basis, nearly 225 of those on the ground. Theyâ€™ve been dreadful at stopping big plays this season and have seemingly played worse each of the past three weeks. If there is a bright side, itâ€™s that Indiana is stronger comparatively against the pass than the run, which helps against the Wildcatsâ€™ pass-heavy attack.
X-Factor: Tre Roberson
As promised, Tre Roberson is going to get a little more coverage in this space. Northwestern has been absolutely gashed this season by duel-threat quarterbacks (Nathan Scheelhaase, Denard Robinson) and if Roberson showed anything last week, itâ€™s that heâ€™s definitely a duel threat quarterback. Word from the Hoosier camp is that Roberson has been practicing with more confidence since his start against Iowa and that heâ€™s eager to prove himself. If Indiana wants to have a chance against the Wildcats, the offense needs to put up plenty of points and thatâ€™s Robersonâ€™s responsibility. When he takes the field at high noon this Saturday, heâ€™ll be making only his second career start and carrying a great deal of pressure on his shoulders. If he plays to his capabilities both on the ground and through the air, the Hoosiers should score some points and have a chance.
Hoosier Cumulative Statistics (8 games)
Total Offense- 364.2 ypg (220.1 passing, 144.1 rushing)
Scoring Offense- 21.4 ppg
Total Defense- 438.6 ypg (214.2 passing, 224.4 rushing)
Scoring Defense- 33.4 ppg
Hoosier Individual Statistics
Passing- Â Â Â Â Ed Wright-Baker: 59.7% completion rate, 979 yards, 4 TDs, 4 INTs
Dusty Kiel: 47.6% completion rate, 427 yards, 3 TDs, 1 INT
Tre Roberson: 63% completion rate, 355 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT
Rushing- Â Â Â Stephen Houston: 92 carries, 426 yards, 4 TDs
Dâ€™Angelo Roberts: 45 carries, 194 yards, 1 TD
Matt Perez: 55 carries, 186 yards, 4 TDs
Tre Roberson: 40 carries, 146 yards, 1 TD
Receiving- Damarlo Belcher: 25 catches, 286 yards, 1 TD
Kofi Hughes: 19 catches, 286 yards, 2 TDs
Duwyce Wilson: 16 catches, 191 yards, 2 TDs
Cody Latimer: 11 catches, 132 yards, 2 TDs
Prediction- 42-31 Northwestern
Robersonâ€™s duel-threat capability gives Northwestern fits throughout the game, as the Hoosiers break the 30-point mark for the first time this season in B1G play. The Persa-led offense is too much to handle though, as Persa spreads the ball around and connects on a couple of long strikes to Jeremy Ebert, including one late to put the game out of reach.