Northwestern came into their second game of the season looking to rebound from a disappointing loss against Michigan State at home. They did so in a solid way, defeating Indiana State 24 to 6. Here are five takeaways from the Wildcat victory.
1. Evan Hull Should Start at RB for the Rest of the Season
Hull began the day as the starting RB for the Wildcats and he didn't disappoint, running for 119 yards, racking up 105 yards at halftime. Hull brought an explosiveness and burst at the position that the team was lacking in the Michigan State game. Hull's vision and speed makes him one of the better big play backs in the conference, and Northwestern could ride him to success this year.
2. As Good as the Run Game Looked, the Passing Game Needs Serious Work
Northwestern's passing offense took a serious step back from Week One. Despite the victory, Hunter Johnson was erratic and indecisive for most of the game, opting to scramble instead of throw the ball downfield. Johnson finished the game with 66 passing yards, a touchdown and an interception. Johnson looked shaky under pressure, and seemed to not trust his arm to throw the ball accurately downfield. This partially falls on Offensive Coordinator Mike Bajakian. The offense has to scheme up some short to intermediate passes to get Johnson in a rhythm or else they're stuck calling deep, long developing passing concepts for a QB who may not be suited to that style of play. The passing game has to get in sync more, or the offense will struggle like they did in the second and third quarter.
3. Northwestern's Defense gets Their Swagger Back
Last week Northwestern was gashed heavily on the ground, to the tune of 264 yards by Michigan State RB Kenneth Walker III. This week, the Northwestern defense was swarming, holding a versatile Sycamore run game to 31 rushing yards on 22 attempts, a measly 1.4 yards per carry. Wildcat LBs Peter McIntyre and Chris Bergin were everywhere for Northwestern, finishing with 13 total tackles combined. The defense reset the line of scrimmage consistently, and gave the Sycamore run defense no gaps to run through.
4. The Wildcat Pass Rush has Serious Potential
Consider this the Adetomiwa Adebawore point. The Wildcat defensive lineman was a gamewrecker on the line of scrimmage, registering 1.5 sacks and three QB pressures. His relentless effort and power led a defensive line unit that swarmed Sycamore QB Anthony Thompson. Adebawore and fellow Northwestern defensive lineman Samdup Miller could be a formidable 1-2 punch for the Wildcats throughout this season, with Jeffery Pooler Jr. coming off the bench in passing situations.
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5. Putting the Special in Special Teams
Brandon Joseph was an AP All-American at safety last year. This year, he could be in the running for an All-American spot at punt returner as well. The standout safety returned two punts for 111 yards, including a 65 yard scamper that will go down as the longest punt return by a Wildcat since 2012. Not to be outdone, Northwestern wide receiver Raymond Niro had 55 yards on two punt returns, including one where he showed off his fancy footwork for a gain of 28 yards. If the Wildcat offense is going to continue to be anemic, getting positive plays from your special teams unit is going to be extremely important. Joseph and Niro can do that.
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