Hoosiers hoping to spoil Homecoming

Danny Daly

Moreso than any other game, one stood between Northwestern and a 10-win regular season in 2008: a 21-19 loss at Indiana, the Big Ten’s worst team, on its Homecoming.A year later, the Wildcats’ season is at a crossroads going into its own Homecoming game, coincidentally against the Hoosiers. And NU has not forgotten the debacle in Bloomington, Ind.

“There’s a lot to take from it and learn,” coach Pat Fitzgerald said. “A year ago, we turned the ball over five times, and that hurt. It gave them an opportunity to have a short field. We turned the ball over late in the first half that led to a touchdown that really killed the momentum we had.”

Indiana is much improved on both sides of the ball from last season. The Hoosiers rank in the top 30 nationally in categories like turnovers gained, tackles for a loss and sacks allowed and have the fifth-best red zone defense. Defensive ends Jammie Kirlew and Greg Middleton provide steady pressure on the quarterback, recording 5.5 and three sacks, respectively.

On offense, Indiana features junior quarterback Ben Chappell, who started against NU last year. Unlike some quarterbacks the Cats have faced recently, Chappell is not a threat on his feet.

“When we’re facing a quarterback that’s not as mobile as other quarterbacks, we can do some different stuff with our pass rushes,” senior defensive tackle Adam Hahn said. “(Against scrambling quarterbacks), we have to worry about pass rush lanes and keeping contain on things.”

As for the Cats, the running game remains ineffective. Fitzgerald has been encouraged by his offensive line’s play of late, but an average of three yards per carry is among the worst in the country. The air attack has tried to make up for it, and wide receiver Zeke Markshausen is second in the Big Ten in receptions after his 16-catch performance last weekend in East Lansing, Mich.

The Cats are 4.5-point favorites against the Hoosiers. With games against Penn State and at Iowa on the horizon, it might be the last time NU gets points at home this season. Both teams are two victories away from bowl eligibility, and the loser of Saturday’s contest will most likely be at home for the holidays.

“Guys are hungry, and sand is running out of the hourglass fast,” Fitzgerald said. “We have sense of urgency to continue to improve.”

Recent history suggests the outcome should be close. The last five games between these two teams were decided by six points or fewer.

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