The Northwestern Wildcats (0-1) host the FCS Indiana State Sycamores Saturday morning. Saturday's game will begin with an on-field tribute to 9/11 heroes, and Northwestern will debut their American-themed jerseys. Below is everything you need to know to stay up-to-speed on game day.
Northwestern vs. Indiana State
Date: Saturday, September 11, 2021
Time: 11:00 am CT Kickoff
Location: Ryan Field; Evanston, IL
Watch: Big Ten Network
Listen: WGN Radio 720
ESPN Football Power Index: The Wildcats have a 98.3% chance of winning.
Spread: Northwestern -26.5
How to Bet: Find the latest odds and place your bets on the Wildcats to cover the spread at SISportsbook.
Follow @SIWildcatsDaily on Twitter for live game updates and exclusive content throughout game day.
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Northwestern Offense vs. Indiana State Defense
Northwestern’s offense heading into the season has had its fair share of question marks with the amount of roster turnover. And even last year the Wildcats were nowhere near an offensive powerhouse. The team ranked 10th in the Big Ten in points, averaging only 25 a game. The Wildcats finished 7th in the conference in rushing yards per game with an average of 162.8 per game, and their passing didn’t fare much better as it finished 10th in passing yardage per game. With that being said, in Northwestern’s first game of the year against Michigan State senior quarterback Hunter Johnson put up numbers that would vault the Wildcats north of where the passing offense ended last season. Johnson finished the season opener with 275 passing yards (which is 80 yards more than their 2020 average), three touchdown passes and zero interceptions.
How will that stack up against Indiana State’s defense? The Wildcats should see a fair share of opportunities both on the ground and in the air. In 2019 (Indiana State opted out of the 2020 season), the Sycamores allowed the third most rushing yards per game in the Missouri Valley Conference and in its first game against Eastern Illinois the defense allowed 125 rushing yards, which is the fifth most in the conference.
In terms of passing defense, Indiana State was actually one of the best passing defenses in its conference back in 2019. They allowed the second fewest passing yards per game, however, that past performance from a couple years ago didn’t translate to their win against Eastern Illinois when the team allowed 253 passing yards in their first game. That was the fourth most passing yards allowed in the conference so far.
Northwestern Defense vs. Indiana State Offense
Now we get to Northwestern’s biggest strength …. Or at least that’s what we thought before watching Michigan State junior running back Kenneth Walker III tear up the game plan and set it on fire in the season opener. Overlooking the disappointing opener, Northwestern did have the best defense in the Big 10 last season and allowed the fewest points per game (15.9), but even when the team possessed the best defense in the conference it still struggled to defend the run. They allowed opposing teams to run 4.5 yards per carry, which was the fourth most in the conference, but the defense did only allow 146 rushing yards per game which was eighth in the conference. Where the Wildcats defense really shined was defending the pass. The team allowed the fewest amount of yards in the air last season, only allowing 195.3 yards per game.
The bad news for Northwestern is the Sycamores will likely test that run defense early and often. This could be the defining question of the entire game: Can Northwestern adjust its defense to stop the run? Indiana State relied heavily on the rush back in 2019, the Sycamores were sixth in the conference in yards per rush, and with senior running back Peterson Kerlegrand returning for his final season the Sycamores will likely aim to get him the ball on the move often. In the team's first game of the season against Eastern Illinois Kerlegrand had 19(!) carries, albeit for only 73 yards. Expect him to get a lot of run in this matchup.
The Sycamores ranked ninth in their conference in 2019 in passing yards per game, racking up 166 passing yards per game. However, in its first game back in nearly two years the production through the air was largely nonexistent, as redshirt senior quarterback Anthony Thompson finished with only 87 passing yards.
Ultimately the most interesting aspect to watch out food in this game will be what adjustments Defensive Coordinator Jim O’Neil makes to defend the run. With that being one of Indiana State’s main forms of attack, it could be a perfect storm for an upset.
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