Football: High-flying Cats head south

Josh Walfish

For the first time in a long time, Northwestern’s offense was firing on all cylinders in its victory over Indiana on Saturday.

The Wildcats piled up 616 yards and 59 points against the worst defense in the Big Ten, but they will face a far greater challenge this coming Saturday, when they take on the Blackshirts. While Nebraska ranks only seventh in the Big Ten in total defense, the Cornhuskers held Kirk Cousins and the Michigan State offense to 187 yards and three points in their victory last week. Coach Pat Fitzgerald said the key to keeping the offense consistent is to avoid what he termed “next game hangover.”

“We got to start fast,” Fitzgerald said. “There’s no secret to what (Nebraska’s) success level has been at Memorial Stadium You’ve got to be able to shut (the distractions) out and execute in all three phases.”

NU’s offensive output against Indiana was remarkable in many aspects. The Cats entered Saturday’s contest averaging just 169.3 yards on the ground, but they exploded for 317 rushing yards against the Hoosiers. The big surprise in the running game was the presence of three running backs atop NU’s rushing attack for the first time since its win over Illinois State last season. Drake Dunsmore said the Cats need to be physical in order for the running game to be successful.

“(The key is) just physicality,” the senior superback said. “(It starts) with the (offensive) line and coming all the way out to the perimeter with the receivers.”

In the passing game, the Cats were their usual effective selves, completing 78 percent of their passes. However, only five receivers had receptions, the lowest total they’ve had since four players caught passes against Illinois on Oct. 1. Typically, NU quarterbacks have spread the wealth. The Cats have 11 different receivers who have multiple catches this season, with seven boasting double-digit reception totals.

Dunsmore, who had a career game against the Hoosiers with seven catches for 112 yards and four touchdowns, is the second-leading receiver on the team. His four touchdowns tripled the amount he had entering Saturday’s contest and set a new school record. His seven receptions tied a season-high he set against Michigan while his 112 receiving yards represents the second time in Dunsmore’s career he eclipsed the century mark. Dunsmore said the similarity between the Nebraska and Indiana defenses should help him replicate his performance against the Hoosiers.

“They play similar schemes,” Dunsmore said. “The biggest thing is sticking to our gameplan and not letting them take us out of it.”

The Cats’ numbers against the Hoosiers are staggering compared to where they stood entering the game against Indiana. NU entered Saturday averaging 3.9 yards per carry. Against the Hoosiers, the Cats ran for almost six yards per attempt. In the passing game the Cats came in averaging just more than 10 yards per completion. Against the Hoosiers, that figure was almost 17 yards per completion. Overall NU averaged just fewer than eight yards in the 79 plays they ran against Indiana, after averaging a mere 5.4 yards per play in its previous seven games. In order to put up these kinds of numbers up against the Cornhuskers, the Cats will need to stick to their plan.

“(Nebraska is) a really sound defense,” Dunsmore said. “The biggest thing for us is being physical and not getting out of our game and playing to our gameplan.”

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