Football: After defensive struggles last week, Northwestern bounces back with dominant showing against Indiana State


Joshua Hoffman/Daily Senior Staffer

Chris Bergin prepares for the play. Northwestern’s defense allowed six points in its win over Indiana State.

Lawrence Price, Reporter


In its first two games of the 2021 season, Northwestern (1-1, 0-1 Big Ten) has given up 44 combined points. Only six of those came against Indiana State (1-1).

The Wildcats 24-6 victory reflected a much different outcome than last week’s 38-21 loss to Michigan State, providing optimism for some areas that struggled against the Spartans. One of these spots was on defense.

“We communicated better,” coach Pat Fitzgerald said. “I think that was a big part of last week. They executed cleaner. They were the ones that were flying around. Looked like they had a little bit more fun.”

Defensive coordinator Jim O’Neil’s group flourished especially against the Sycamores’ rushers. The unit gave up just 31 yards on the ground, while limiting Indiana State’s offense to four third down conversions on 15 attempts.

Even though NU allowed a late fourth quarter touchdown to quarterback Anthony Thompson, it was because the Cats racked up two penalties. The first came on pass interference from sophomore defensive back Rod Heard II, resulting in the Sycamores gaining 15 yards and a first down. The other was given to graduate defensive lineman Jeremy Meiser for roughing the passer.

Entering the game, the Cats’ list of inactive players included senior and starting defensive lineman Trevor Kent and sophomore safety Coco Azema. However, NU was still able to play as a collective unit. The unit allowed just 169 total yards and 3.0 yards per play.

“You can’t just know the call and be in your own zone,” sophomore safety Brandon Joseph said. “I got to make sure my corner hears, I got to make sure my linebackers hear it, so we all got to be talking to each other out there on the same page. We got to make sure we keep doing the keys, the techniques that we are coached to do to be great tacklers.”

The defense’s performance not only hindered Indiana State’s momentum, but also led to good offensive positioning. Alongside long punt returns by Joseph and junior wide receiver Raymond Niro III, the offense started four of its possessions inside the Sycamores’ 30 yard line.

Although NU didn’t score each time, slowing Indiana State’s offense helped the Cats maintain control of the game.

“That is kind of all we talked about in practice all week. Moving your hands, running your feet, transitioning, and just shedding off blocks and making the tackle,” junior defensive lineman Adebawore Adetomiwa, who finished with three quarterback hurries and one-and-a-half sacks.

NU will need to replicate its strong showing, especially against the run game, next week against Duke and its senior running back Mataeo Durant. He has rushed for 296 yards and six touchdowns in the Blue Devils’ first two games of the season.

Although the performance represented only one game, the defense’s commanding presence will look to bolster confidence and set the tone going forward.

“We are far from where we need to be and that’s probably what’s most exciting to me as this group’s coach,” Fitzgerald said. “We can be so much better, we just got to commit to that and I know the guys will. We got to put together a complete week now this week and we got to take it with us down to Durham.”

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