Football: Northwestern outplayed again as Indiana wins 34-3

Aidan+Smith+is+tackled+by+an+Indiana+defender.+The+junior+quarterback+rushed+for+a+team-high+34+yards.+

Noah Frick-Alofs/Daily Senior Staffer

Aidan Smith is tackled by an Indiana defender. The junior quarterback rushed for a team-high 34 yards.

Peter Warren, Print Managing Editor


Football


BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — The worst drought in the history of the United States never reached the level fields of central Indiana, but the worst drought of the 2019 college football season stormed through Memorial Stadium on Saturday.

While the Dust Bowl of the 1930s primarily affected the Great Plains region, Northwestern’s touchdown drought has now made its way from the High Plains of Nebraska to the shores of Lake Michigan to the northern region of the Ohio Valley.

The Wildcats reached the red zone once against Indiana, but weren’t able to dive over the final white line. The Hoosiers (7-2, 4-2 Big Ten), on the other hand, found the promised land four times and had its 34-3 victory secure before the end of the first half.

NU (1-7, 0-6 Big Ten) has now not scored crossed the goal line in over 206 minutes — that’s over three games, 13-plus quarters and 44 offensive possessions of touchdown-less football.

“I think there’s a saying, ‘when it rains, it pours,’” senior center Jared Thomas said. “This season, it’s been a common theme that things just haven’t been going our way.”

After missing last week’s contest due to injury, Indiana quarterback Michael Penix Jr. returned in a big way. Penix leading the offense was like Buddy Rich keeping a beat on the drums — neither missed a note. The Hoosiers opened the game by pacing down the field to the tune of 11 plays for 67 yards before Logan Justus kicked a field goal.

On the other side of the ball, junior quarterback Aidan Smith started the game with one of his best runs of the season — a 22-yard keeper — but he fumbled the ball at the end of the run. Indiana recovered.

With the ball back, Penix continued to click, tossing two passes to Westbrook for 10-plus-yard gains. On the ground, Stevie Scott III had three rushes, including a two-yard charge for six and a 10-0 Hoosiers lead.

“We just got to read the quarterback, especially a couple of those Cover 3’s, just driving on the quarterbacks intentions and trying to get there so we can break it up or make a play on the ball,” junior safety Travis Whillock said, “(Penix’s) a good player, but I think it mostly came down to little things like that.”

The turnover and subsequent touchdown didn’t immediately razzle Smith or the offense. On the next possession, the junior signal caller was a perfect 3-for-3 while Kyric McGowan picked up a big fourth-down conversion to keep the drive going. However, on a 3rd-and-2 inside Indiana’s 10, Smith was stopped for a loss and Charlie Kuhbander flicked a 27-yard field goal.

The 15-play drive lasted over seven minutes, and while it didn’t resulted in a touchdown, it looked like it might have marked a turning point for the offense. It wasn’t.

After an Indiana punt, redshirt freshman running back Drake Anderson fumbled the first carry of the drive, setting up the Hoosiers in the red zone. Four plays later, Penix pushed his way over the goalline for six.

Sophomore Hunter Johnson stepped on the field for the first time since September for NU’s fourth possession. Johnson led the Cats on three drives for the rest of the half, and twice moved NU across midfield, but wasn’t able to put points on the board.

“We had talked all week about trying to get Hunter back going,” coach Pat Fitzgerald. “It was just the plan — just going through the plan that we have.”

In between those possessions, Scott scampered in for his second touchdown of the game to make the score 24-3 and backup Peyton Ramsey replaced Penix at quarterback.

Johnson started under center after halftime to a mostly-empty Memorial Stadium, which Fitzgerald said was a decision made at the break. The offense was three-and-out on two straight possessions, and on the third possession of the quarter, Allen Stallings IV slammed Johnson into the ground for a sack. Johnson had to be helped off the field, and Smith returned to field for three more drives.

For the last two Cats possession of the game, sophomore Andrew Marty ran the show. The three quarterbacks finished 12 of 31 for 112 yards while NU gained only 36 yards of offense in the second half. The Cats also had nine penalties for 97 yards, including four pass interference calls in the endzone.

The Hoosiers weren’t done scoring though, as Scott nabbed a receiving touchdown late in the third quarter and Justus flicked a field goal early in the fourth. Over its last four games, NU’s point differential is -103.

“We haven’t had a lead. We haven’t had momentum created by our offense,” Fitzgerald said. “It’s pretty hard to get momentum going when you are chasing two or three scores.”

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