Rapid Recap: Indiana 34, Northwestern 3


Noah Frick-Alofs/Daily Senior Staffer

Coach Pat Fitzgerald looks down at his play sheet. The Wildcats were held to under 200 yards on offense.

Charlie Goldsmith, Reporter

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — Pat Fitzgerald jogged onto Memorial Stadium wearing all black. His sweatshirt, sweatpants, beanie and gloves all matched. Black.

The coach stood on the sideline dressed for a football funeral. Over the next three hours, he watched the defense wear down, the offense stagnate and the team fall out of bowl contention. Now, the Northwestern’s season is virtually over.

The Wildcats (1-7, 0-6 Big Ten) lost their sixth straight game, falling 34-3 to Indiana on Saturday night.

After the Hoosiers (7-2, 4-2) kicked a field goal on their opening drive, Aidan Smith burst out of the gates on the first play of the game. He ran for 22 yards to NU’s 47-yard line, and it looked like the start of NU’s first touchdown drive in four weeks. But before Smith was tackled, he fumbled the ball away to Indiana. Seven plays later, the Hoosiers led 10-0.

Indiana quarterback Michael Penix Jr. threw for 97 yards on three second-quarter touchdown drives that gave the Hoosiers a 21-point lead at the break. He brought Indiana down the field with five passes of ten-or-more yards in the first half, and his receivers drew four pass interference calls in the endzone. After those penalties, the Hoosiers punched it in every time for a touchdown.

The game was so uncompetitive that Indiana removed the injury-riddled Penix before and replaced him with backup Peyton Ramsey. The Hoosiers shut out NU in the second half, winning by a 31-point margin to take their seventh victory of the year.

1. Penix shreds the Cats’ defense

Justin Fields and Nate Stanley had their fair share of deep passes against NU, but Penix picked on Cats’ secondary better than anyone all season. He threw for 162 yards in his one half of action, and Indiana benefited from 32 yards off pass interference calls. Penix Jr. only completed five passes of ten-or-more yards in the first half, but his receivers drew four pass interference calls in the endzone in the first half.

NU medical personnel tended to sophomore cornerbacks Greg Newsome and Cameron Ruiz during the first half, continuing a trend of injuries in the secondary. Penix opened the game with back-to-back completions to open receivers down the field. He put it away with consecutive 41 and 35 yard passes to receiver Whop Philyor in a second quarter touchdown drive that extended the lead to 21 points.

2. The question at quarterback continues

Smith started his fourth game of the season and completed his first three passes. He gained 69 total yards in his first two drives, and he looked as comfortable as he has all year. Then on the team’s third drive, freshman running back Drake Anderson fumbled on the second play. When the Cats returned to the field, Smith was on the sideline.

Johnson came in for the first time since September 28. He missed NU’s last three games because of on-field factors –– inconsistent production and a minor knee injury –– and family matter –– supporting his mother as she went through chemotherapy.

Johnson struggled in his return to action, throwing for only 65 passing yards in about two quarters of play. More than half of those yards came on clock-killing drive at the end of the first half. Johnson was knocked out of the game on a late hit in the third quarter and carried off the field. Smith played the rest of the competitive portion of the game, finishing with 47 passing yards and, again, no touchdowns.

3. Bowl season is over

The collapse is complete. NU has gone from Big Ten West Champion to cellar dweller, losing all but two of its conference games by 20 or more points. The Cats are now guaranteed to finish the season with a losing record and fail to qualify for a bowl game for the first time since 2014.

But that fact alone doesn’t adequately describe how disappointing this season has been. Pat Fitzgerald has never coached a team with this low a winning percentage this late in the season. It’s NU’s worst start since the winless 1989 season.

Twitter: @2021_charlie
Email: charliegoldsmith2021@u.northwestern.edu