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Scouting the Wildcats' Week 2 Opponent: The Indiana State Sycamores

Here's everything you need to know about Northwestern's FCS matchup against Indiana State.

History

Indiana State football has been around since 1896 and currently plays in the Missouri Valley Conference, a mainstay at the FCS level. Under head coach Curt Mallory, the Sycamores have gone 12-22 overall since 2017, but the turnaround from Mallory's first year (0-11) to his second (7-4) earned him FCS Coach of the Year. The Sycamores did not play in 2020 due to the pandemic. However, they've started the 2021 season 1-0, logging a 26-21 victory over Eastern Illinois.

Indiana State Impact Players

  • RB Peterson Kerlegrand: The senior running back aims to build on a successful 2019 season in which he led the Sycamores' rushing game with 746 yards. He has big play ability, as illustrated by his 5.5 yards per carry average from 2019. Against Eastern Illinois, Kerlegrand ran for 73 yards and a touchdown.
  • QB Michael Haupert: While the Sycamores primarily use the redshirt sophomore quarterback for designed run packages, he is still a very effective overall player. He ran for 59 yards on only five carries -- a blistering 11.8 yards per carry clip -- against Eastern Illinois.
  • WR Dante Hendrix: Hendrix is a redshirt junior who was named First-Team All-Missouri Valley in 2019. He led the team in receiving yards in their Week 1 win and has been crucial to the Sycamores' success through the air.
  • DL Inoke Moala: Despite being rather undersized (6-foot-4, 250 pounds), Moala is a disruptive force for the Sycamores. The redshirt senior terrorized the Eastern Illinois backfield last Saturday, recording two sacks.
  • LB Heath Stephen II: The junior linebacker transferred from Monroe College (New York) and had an instant impact on the Sycamore defense. In last Saturday's outing, Stephen was second on the team in tackles while also recording a sack.

Defense

Defensively, they are a feisty group. Led by defensive coordinator Brad Wilson, they alternate between three and four down linemen. The defensive line isn't the largest the Wildcats will see, but they play with extremely high motors. Moala is the most disruptive of the group, but nose tackle Lucas Hunter is the key factor in that group. If he's able to be a force against the run, and occupy blocks without being pushed down the line of scrimmage, it will allow the linebacker group (led by Stephen II) to come and make plays.

The secondary is very opportunistic, however. Against Eastern Illinois, the Sycamores forced three turnovers, including a pick-six by safety Michael Thomas. Thomas also led the team in tackles last Saturday, so expect him to be around the ball at all times from his safety spot. He's normally around the line of scrimmage, playing over the slot receiver or tight end. Because the Sycamores live in man coverage most of the time, cornerback Mekhi Ware also plays an important role. He didn't show up in the box score, but his play on the outside is key to limiting opposing passing attacks.

When they go to four linemen, or three down linemen with a player standing up on the edge, be prepared to see blitzes. Brad Wilson is not afraid to turn up the heat on opposing offenses in those four down situations, which he uses primarily on obvious passing downs. The Wildcats will have to be sound up front.

Offense

Offensively, they run a two-QB system, with redshirt senior QB Anthony Thompson being the starter. The lefty who transferred from Northern Illinois threw for 87 yards in their season opener against Eastern Illinois. As a changeup, they'll bring in Haupert, who primarily runs the ball. Haupert had a 44-yard touchdown run in their victory over Eastern Illinois last Saturday.

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Despite being a more run-oriented team, they can pick defenses apart with their Run/Pass Option (RPO) and Play-Action (PA) passing game. Hendrix and senior receiver Rontrez Morgan were the two primary options in the passing game last week, catching 11 of Thompson's 13 completed passes. They use their split-zone and inside zone run to set up quick-hitting RPO's and then stretch the field with their PA passing game.

Overall, this is a game Northwestern most likely will win based off of talent alone. But, the Sycamores run a lot of similar stuff to Michigan State offensively, and with the evolution of the spread/RPO offense, the concepts the Wildcats defense will see are probably going to show up in conference play as well.

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