Football: Northwestern hangs on for 24-14 homecoming victory over Indiana

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Lauren Duquette/Daily Senior Staffer

Austin Carr runs after a catch. The senior receiver caught his ninth touchdown of the season in Saturday’s win over Indiana.

Bobby Pillote, Assistant Gameday Editor


Football


October is turning out to be Northwestern’s month.

In front of a homecoming crowd, the Wildcats (4-3, 3-1 Big Ten) rode another offensive outburst to a 24-14 win over the Indiana Hoosiers (3-4, 1-3) to stay undefeated this month. The victory is NU’s first in its homecoming game since 2012, breaking a three-year homecoming losing streak.

“I thought we started the game the right way, especially based on the last two games that we did not start the game very fast,” coach Pat Fitzgerald said. “Very solid team win. …That was a physical battle, and we found a way to get it done.”

A 54-point explosion last week on the road against Michigan State proved a tough act to follow for the offense, but NU’s suddenly vibrant passing attack continued its midseason renaissance in the first half.

Sophomore quarterback Clayton Thorson was sharp from the start of the game, leading the Cats to an early 7-0 advantage on an 11-play, 70-yard scoring march on their first possession of the day. His 17-yard strike to junior receiver Solomon Vault to finish the drive was a harbinger of things to come, with Thorson tossing two more touchdowns before the end of the half.

The offense slowed considerably after the first two quarters, gaining just 37 yards after halftime, but 24 first-half points ended up being enough to carry the Cats to victory.

“Everything worked well for us in the first half,” Thorson said, explaining the offensive disparity. “Right before halftime, we had thrown for a bunch of yards, we ran for a bunch of yards, really balanced. … In the second half, a lot of missed opportunities, just little things here and there.”

Thorson finished 24-of-43 for 285 yards and three touchdowns, with seven of those completions going to senior receiver Austin Carr. The leading receiver in the Big Ten in catches, yards and touchdown receptions coming into this week, Carr padded his stats, racking up 125 yards and yet another score. He’s now managed at least one touchdown in each of NU’s last six games.

And though he didn’t sniff the end zone, junior running back Justin Jackson remained his usual, reliable self by rushing 28 times for 94 yards.

For the third time this season a Cats defensive back called his shot before the game, and for the third time he was right.

Following in the footsteps of junior Godwin Igwebuike and sophomore Jared McGee, junior Kyle Queiro tweeted “Thanks for the INT” prior to the game — a bold move for somebody playing with a cast on his left hand. But the prophecy came true in the fourth quarter, when Queiro reached back with his right arm to come down with an impressive one-handed pick.

That interception, combined with another acrobatic pick by sophomore Montre Hartage in the second quarter, masked an otherwise uneven performance by the NU defense. Junior linebacker Anthony Walker led the way with 11 tackles, two for loss, and defensive ends senior Ifeadi Odenigbo and redshirt freshman Joe Gaziano chipped in a sack apiece, but the defense struggled at times to maintain consistency.

“We came in with a mindset that we wanted to put a whole, complete defensive game together,” Walker said. “For the most part we played complete defense, but there were still some spots we can always correct.”

NU suffered yet another loss to its already-depleted corps of defensive backs, with redshirt freshman cornerback Alonzo Mayo exiting the game in the first quarter with a lower body injury. Depth has become so thin that junior Marcus McShepard, moved to receiver from cornerback before this season, saw himself pressed back into duty in the secondary.

McShepard and Hartage struggled to contain Indiana’s wide receivers, though Hoosiers quarterback Richard Lagow often failed to take advantage of openings downfield. Playing from behind the majority of the game forced Indiana to stick with an erratic Lagow, who ultimately compiled 319 yards passing on 59 passing attempts.

It ended up an ugly second half slog, but the Cats held on for their third straight Big Ten victory to turn around their season after a 1-3 start.

“You win because you win with fundamentals,” Fitzgerald said, “and we were not doing that at all the first two games. And you can do two things: you can pout, or you can fix it.”

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Twitter: @BobbyPillote

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