Cats prepared to match Hoosiers' quick pace
September 28, 2012
Indiana is coming off a loss to Ball State in which it gave up 41 points. The Hoosiers are playing without their starting quarterback, Tre Roberson, who broke his leg against Massachusetts. The betting line favors Northwestern by 11 points.
Don't count coach Pat Fitzgerald among those who are assuming the Wildcats are already 5-0.
"(Indiana coach Kevin Wilson) has been one of the most dynamic offensive minds now for over a decade," Fitzgerald said of the former NU assistant coach. "They put a lot of stress on you from what they do tempo-wise."
Despite the loss of Roberson, the Hoosiers have proven they are still an offensive threat, posting 39 points in that loss to Ball State. Quarterbacks Cameron Coffman and Nate Sudfeld combined for 423 yards passing with four touchdowns and no interceptions, completing more than 67 percent of their passes.
"They obviously had a tough setback when they lost Tre," Fitzgerald said. "But Cameron and Nate picked up right where they left off."
The quarterback duo's favorite target was wide receiver Cody Latimer, who caught four balls for 115 yards and two touchdowns, including a 70-yard score on a pass from Sudfeld. Latimer ranks third in the Big Ten in receiving yards per game, averaging 74.3 yards per contest.
"I really felt in preseason that we had a really good young player that was going to be ... a diamond in the rough kind of guy," Wilson said of Latimer on the Big Ten coaches teleconference this week.
An added complication for NU is that Fitzgerald and his staff have just one game of tape to study Coffman and Sudfield, who have had an extra week to prepare for Saturday's matchup after Indiana's bye last week. The limited amount study material will force the Cats to prepare to be unprepared, Fitzgerald said.
"We're going to have to do a lot of adjusting on Saturday defensively," he said. "We anticipate that."
Those adjustments will likely have to come on the fly as new Indiana offensive coordinator Seth Littrell has shown he likes to work fast. Under Littrell this season, the Hoosiers have run a play every 21.4 seconds. That fast-paced attack has paid dividends for Indiana, which is ranked 10th in the NCAA in total offense racking up 538.33 yards per game.
Fitzgerald said he expects his team will be able to handle the up-tempo Indiana offense because the NU defense practices against a high-octane attack every day.
"I would like to think that we've prepared for it because that's what we do," Fitzgerald said. "We're not a believer in having guys out there that are steak-puff, marshmallow men. If we recruit guys that are in good shape in high school and play with a great motor in high school, then getting them with our strength and conditioning program, hopefully they're going to be the same way."
The Cats' contest with Indiana marks the first of four games against conference opponents that are coming off a bye, giving them an extra week to prepare and get healthy. However, from 2002 to midway through 2010, Big Ten teams went 17-32 in games after bye weeks, according to the Wall Street Journal.
"Hopefully at the end of the run we say it wasn't an advantage," Fitzgerald said. "At times it's been a benefit to us, and at other times we haven't come out of the bye and played very well ourselves."
NU enters Saturday with the morale of a team that did exactly what it hoped to do in non-conference play, winning all four games. The Cats seek to start 5-0 for just the third time since 1962, a feat most recently accomplished in 2010.
"We've just built up a lot of confidence in ourselves through the first part of the season," senior left tackle Patrick Ward said. "We just trust in ourselves."
That's a much improved attitude that last year's Big Ten opener when NU limped into a matchup with Illinois coming off of a disappointing 21-14 loss at Army. Still sophomore quarterback Trevor Siemian said the same mentality that the Cats tried to use to get past the loss to Army applies to moving on from their undefeated non-conference record this year.
"Win or lose, we have a 24-hour rule," Siemain said. "We just try to flush whatever happened last week or the week before. It's 1-0 this week."
A win on Saturday would cap a perfect 4-0 record in NU's homestand, its first streak of four straight home games since 1934.
"I kind of feel like the White Sox with a four-game homestand here," Fitzgerald said. "We need to finish the homestand."