Hoosiers embrace the night, cold vs. Northwestern

The conditions were far from ideal Thursday as Indiana practiced. Temperatures dipped below 40 degrees. Beads of rain were on their way to becoming flakes of snow.

But just because the weather wasn’t sunny and warm doesn’t mean the Hoosiers couldn’t enjoy the morning.

Young adults playing a children’s game can make the most of a cold, wet practice.

“Just being together and running around and being kids. They are not grownups yet,” IU coach Tom Allen said. “It’s still a game, and just enjoying being out there with each other, the energy … just a different hop in their step.”

The Hoosiers (6-2, 3-2 Big Ten) head into tonight’s 7 o’clock kickoff with Northwestern riding lots of momentum. They have won three games in a row in the conference, the program’s longest Big Ten run since a four-gamer in 1993.

As the weather chills, the Hoosiers are hoping to keep their edge, which means they can’t retreat to the comforts of their indoor practice field in John Mellencamp Pavilion too often.

In the cold, especially when it’s wet, the game of football becomes more difficult in ways. It’s harder to hold onto or throw the ball. Snaps become just a little more complicated. The wind can also throw off punters and kickers.

These are all things that have to be accounted for.

“It’s a balance of getting quality reps and realizing, hey, you have to play in it, so you have to practice in it,” Allen said. “That’s our philosophy.”

Saturday will also give the Hoosiers a big-game atmosphere.

Despite their 1-6 record, Allen continues to warn that the Wildcats will give the Hoosiers a good fight. Playing the defending Big Ten West champions in a night game, with temperatures dipping into the 30s, will be the kind of test IU needs as it prepares for bigger stages.

With six wins in their bag, the Hoosiers know they are playing in the postseason. They just don’t know where yet.

“You want to be relevant. You want to be in games that matter and people are talking about,” Allen said. “Now we’re putting ourselves in those positions, and that’s where you want to be at your best at these times.

“You want to be a team at this time of year that’s clicking on all cylinders.”

IU has been able to keep things rolling despite a myriad of obstacles, particularly on the offensive side of the ball.

Redshirt freshman quarterback Michael Penix Jr. missed his third game of the season last week with his second unrelated, undisclosed injury. The line has been missing senior Coy Cronk since September, and seniors Hunter Littlejohn and Simon Stepaniak have each missed games.

Somehow, the offense has managed to score 30-plus points in seven of its eight games. Backup signal-caller Peyton Ramsey, who threw for 351 yards versus Nebraska, was just named the Manning Award Quarterback of the Week.

Penix and Stepaniak have both been able to practice this week, though Penix is still a game-time decision. About as healthy as they can be, the Hoosiers have a chance to improve to 7-2 heading into a bye week. Then they have two weeks to prepare for a trip to No. 5 Penn State.

To get the most out of Saturday, Allen has been lobbying for a packed house at Memorial Stadium. The temperatures could test the enthusiasm of the fan base, but Allen was out doing his part to whip them up Thursday.

He was spotted at the Indiana Memorial Union, handing out tickets to students.

“I just think kids love it, it’s a great environment, and just kind of adds a little extra juice to the event, for sure,” Allen said of the opportunity to play under the light. “I just want everyone to come and cheer on the Hoosiers.”

At the same time, don’t expect anything too outlandish from IU uniform-wise.

Allen was asked about the possibility of wearing black unis Thursday, matching the black he often sports on the sideline, but that was quickly shut down.

“I was a high school coach when that situation occurred in the past … I don’t see that ever happening,” Allen said. “Our colors are cream and crimson.”

4 STORYLINES

1. Starting fast.

Last week at Nebraska, the Hoosiers started in a 14-3 hole and were able to battle back against a struggling Nebraska defense. IU may not be able to pull off the same trick against Northwestern.

While the Wildcat defense ranks ninth in the Big Ten in points allowed (24.4), they have kept offenses at bay enough to keep games close. Stanford won 17-7. Wisconsin edged them out 24-15. Even with a subpar offensive attack, Northwestern is in the middle of the pack in the Big Ten (eighth) in time of possession. The Wildcats get their opponents off the field enough to keep things interesting, so the Hoosiers can’t spot them anything.

2. Keying on the run.

Northwestern (126 yards per game) has the worst pass offense in the Big Ten, even worse than Rutgers (151.1), the squad the Hoosiers were able to limit to 1 passing yard. Expecting those results would be foolhardy, but it would seem like the Hoosiers could work to take away the run game first. Northwestern has some big, physical offensive linemen, which will make defeating the run not so simple. But this is a game where IU could bring numbers and probably get away with it. With receiver J.J. Jefferson out with an injury, the Wildcats don’t have a receiver that has caught a touchdown pass going into this game.

3. Force some takeaways.

Turnovers have been huge for the Hoosiers in recent weeks, including two late versus Maryland to seal it and a near touchdown return for Allen Stallings in the first half versus Nebraska to swing momentum. IU is still working its way toward breaking even in turnover margin (10 lost to eight gained) but Northwestern has struggled even more in that department. The Wildcats have committed 15 turnovers to just eight recovered. Can the Hoosiers exploit that advantage? That could go a long way toward securing a win.

4. Will the crowd show up?

Tom Allen was pounding the dais after the Nebraska win, energetic about the effort his players give and the crowd they deserve to see at Memorial Stadium on Saturday. Will the IU fanbase heed the call? An average of 40,717 fans have showed up for the Hoosiers’ four home games this season, which is just below last year’s average. At 6-2, already eligible for a bowl, there would seem to be more energy behind this program. It remains to be seen if the fanbase will bring energy of its own.

By the numbers

6.3: Yard per play for Indiana’s offense, which is second only to Ohio State (7.2) in the Big Ten.

7.1: Receptions per game for Whop Philyor, which leads the conference.

44: George Taliaferro’s number, which will be worn on the side of IU’s helmets.

24.3: Northwestern kick return average, tops in the Big Ten. Riley Lees is the Wildcats’ primary returner.

67.1: Average penalty yards for IU, which is worst in the conference.

26 comments

  1. Wow let that sink in Northwestern does not have a WR that has caught a touchdown playing tonight 7 games into the season10 points a game no playmakers of any kind on offense this seriously should be a game where IU shuts them out 31-0

  2. This is a hard game to predict the score as NU will be playing for their last shot of going to a bowl. On the other hand, their offense has been inept and IU could shut them down. If IU’s defense does the job they have against other poor offenses then this could turn into an easier win than what many think. IU’s offense has developed into an offense that can score TDs and not come up short. It makes IU a dangerous team when the defense controls the opponents offense. Live in this moment and don’t worry about the history of IUFB.

  3. I heard that NU’s starting QB will return tonight, so IU needs to expect that NU’s offense will be better.

    My only concern is that these young guys suffer a “breakthrough” hangover and may not have prepared as rigorously this week. Hope that’s not the case and these guys are greedy for more wins.

  4. And maybe, just maybe, Hoosier fans show up tonight at MS and we’ll get more than 43,000 people in the stadium. But then again, I’m already hearing and reading people whining about the late start, how late they’ll get home, how cold it will be, etc., etc. When I hear that garbage, it makes me wonder if the Hoosier Nation includes the wimpiest group of football fans in America?

  5. Watching Nebraska play Lafayette Harvey’s Boils. McCaffrey, the freshman quarterback the Hoosiers faced, is about a thousand times more effective than this Martinez guy playing today. He is nothing short of terrible.

    He has missed four wide open touchdown passes so far. No defenders anywhere near. He runs when he should throw and throws when he should run on pass/run options.

    Looks like a lot of rust has built up on him.

    1. Hey Chet,
      Cool it on the name-calling. You’re acting like the blog bully again.

      And, honestly, why does it matter whether someone’s an alumni or not, or has/chooses to spend the disposable income to attend games or not? There are plenty of “real” fans of any school that don’t fit either category.

  6. Northwestern has played some good strong teams. Defense can keep them in game. IU has not overpowered anyone except Eastern I’ll. The point spread has dropped from 12 to 10. Though IU should win it is going to be a difficult game for IU. The reason is because IU has yet proven to make any game for IU easy, thus making themselves beatable… Though the last two games IU has come out on top IU could have lost both games and both games should have been two touchdown wins each.

  7. Let’s go, Hoosiers. Find a way to win this and secure a winning season! We don’t need an 0-4 back in to bowling.

  8. Last year, IU won 3 non-conference games, Rutgers and Maryland. This year, they’ve won 3 non-conference games, Rutgers and Maryland and a mediocre Nebraska on the road. Yet everyone is saying what an amazing transformation this team is over last year’s team. The offense is definitely better but the defense, punt and kickoff teams are still works in progress. This game will show how much improvement IU has really made. Northwestern has a really good defense and is much better than their record indicates. A win will mean the team has taken the next step. A loss would not be the end of the world, but a victory means this team probably wins 8 games and goes to a solid bowl game. I expect the fans will show up. We’ve all waited a long time for a meaningful November game outside of the Bucket.

  9. Why does it matter if people choose to attend the games? Jeremy, did I understand your question above correctly? I’m sorry, but doesn’t your job depend on people having an interest in IU athletics?

    IU alumni, students and a good portion of the central/southern Indiana population want IU to be good in academics and athletics. They want to be proud of their school. If that’s the case, they have to support the school. And the best way to support IU Athletics, the least they can do is buy a ticket and attend home football games. Because football is what allows IU’s other athletic programs to exist as varsity sports.

    Purdue’s victory today diminishes IU’s win at Lincoln last week just a little bit. But I agree with the comment above the Martinez was terrible. Another quarterback would have lead NE to at least three more TDs in that game.

    Michigan and Purdue are coming on. Both teams are well coached. IU must continue to improve, starting now.

    1. No, that wasn’t the question. I know why it’s important for a variety of reasons to attend games, but I don’t think it’s fair to call into question the fandom of those who do not. I, for one, grew up in a situation where it was not financially feasible to attend college or pro sporting events.

  10. What’s report on Penix? Can’t ask for much more out of 1st half. If I were NW I’d be pissed about all those PIs. Maybe a couple, but all those? Some of them looked very benign. I’d also be frustrated my QBs can barely hit an open WR.

  11. IU dominating. Another half like the first and they will be ranked. I’m a believer. But Penix hurt again?

  12. Nice score, but: not thrilled with DeBoer having Penix run when unnecessary. Pass plays take too much time to develop, OL getting no push on run plays. Steve Scott is a ‘fullback’ not a tailback. IU needs to get some speed at running back to mix things up because the OL just doesn’t make holes. These things will be exposed v Michigan and P State. Just sayin… Nonetheless, 7 and 2 is a helluva lot better than what we’ve been used to.

  13. Things going pretty much as TA scripted (except MP keeps having injury issues). It’s been a long time since IU has played with this much attitude, confidence, and intensity where a coach/TA has put his enthusiastic stamp on this team. IU has made significant steady improvement and the coaching is really showing from OL, defense, and rest of offense.
    I was wrong. I thought NW would give IU more of a challenge.
    Frost and Nebraska looks lost like past IU teams.

  14. I don’t know about the rest of you, but all season, regardless of the quality of the opponent, DeBoer seems to go into ‘brain freeze’ anytime IU’s in the red zone. I don’t know what his problem is but Allen needs have a sit down with him because it’s chronic.

  15. Brad, you sound like you’re working real hard to find fault with IU’s Offense. Come on. I think they just set a record for the most consecutive games in which they scored more than 30 points. Scott ran for over 100 yards, etc., etc.. I think they would have scored two more TDs if the refs had not got tired of calling PI penalties. And you’re forgetting that NU’s defense is a very good one.

    Jeremy, I don’t fault anyone without the means for not spending money on IU FB tickets. And I know Monroe County is not filled with a lot of wealthy people. But come on, between Indy, Columbus, Evansville, Bloomington and IU’s student population, it should not be difficult to get 53,000 people into Memorial Stadium to watch a good IU team. What’s it going to take?

    1. Honestly, I think it’s every bit a culture change outside the program that reflects that inside of the program. One good year isn’t going to change things. It will take success stacked on success.

      1. True. And with a good chance of 8 or 9 wins this year, expectation will be winning records from here on out. That will determine home crowd size. TA will have to deliver.

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