Northwestern Wildcats vs Indiana St. Sycamores Game Preview, Prediction

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It’s quite possible that Northwestern football is just keeping up its semi-annual tradition of starting very slowly. The list of September games NU never had any business losing, during the 2000s and 2010s seems to get a bit longer by the year, but you know that they always course correct, and the story ends well.

The 2016 team started 1-3, including a very unsightly loss to lowly Illinois State, but ended up making and winning a bowl game. In 2018, the first Big Ten West division title season, they went winless in preconference, including an inexplicable and inexcusable defeat at the hands of Akron.

We could showcase some September records, in a few seasons over the past couple of decades, and then juxtapose that with the November records, but if you’re reading this, you’re already well aware. Just remember- 60% of the time it works every time.

So don’t flip out too much about how ugly the loss to Michigan State was (and it was indeed ugly), because you got to feel they’ll come correct for mid-season and late season. In the meantime, here comes a buy game, a money game against Bishop Sycamore, whoops sorry, the FCS level Indiana State Sycamores.

Plenty of tickets available for this one, especially so with the students still back on campus, but all bets are off here. Seriously, I can’t find the odds for this game anywhere.

Saturday, Sept. 11

11 a.m. CT – Northwestern vs. Indiana State (WGN Radio AM-720; Big Ten Network)

No odds available at this time

Northwestern Wildcats (0-1, 0-1) Preview 

Head Coach Pat Fitzgerald said at his Monday press conference that there was no defensive player of the week and no defensive big playmaker of the week, and if you watched the loss to MSU, it’s hard to disagree. That was simply not a Fitzgerald led defense, especially against the run.

If Northwestern is going to contend for the Big Ten West title this season, job #1 is vastly improving the run defense, and doing so immediately.

 “Every game has its own DNA, right?” Fitz said on Labor Day.

“Friday night, on the opening play, we miss a tackle, we have an MA at the Will linebacker, you’ve got three guys make a mistake at the point of attack that leads to an explosive play. Credit Sparty, they were able to take advantage for a touchdown. we just didn’t seem to be able to capitalize or gain and momentum.”

There were some bright spots though as Hunter Johnson had his finest game as a collegian.

Especially so considering the lack of support from the running game and pass protection.

One guy who did perform well was starting left tackle Peter Skoronski, the offensive player of the week.

One of NU’s best overall players, at any position, he needs helps as the Wildcats rushing game sputtered. The running game stats are more flattering than reality in the season opener.

Sparty took their foot off the gas a bit, and that allowed the Cats to window dress the score and statistics a bit.

Of course, any time Northwestern drew closer, the Spartans just scored again, to keep the margin comfortable.

Fitzgerald added:

“You get in the redzone and you’re only putting up points on the board 50% of the time, and then you flip it over, we’ve been one of the best red zone defenses around for a number of years, and to let them score every time down there is definitely something we will work our tails off to improve and fix. ”

indiana state basketball

Indiana State Sycamores (1-0) Preview

The last actual game the Sycamores had played, prior to their narrow 2021 week zero win over Eastern Illinois, was a 51-23 victory over Missouri State on Nov. 23, 2019.

That’s right- Indiana State didn’t play last season, due to the covid-19 pandemic. So they are a bit of a wild card here. They are young and inexperienced, especially on defense, where they’ll come out in a 3-2-6 base. That’s obviously very different from MSU’s base 4-3, so Coach Jake will have a lot of adjustments to make this week.

He should be able to lead a very effective unit against an opponent with a look reminiscent of 1990s Atlanta Falcons. Yes, those ATL teams had a run ‘n’ shoot offense with four WRs sets, but they also had a run ‘n’ shoot defense of sorts, with the multiple DBs looks.

indiana state cheerleading

Typically, that means you have pass defense weaknesses to cover up, and it’s up to Johnson and company to exploit those. Northwestern receivers were able to get separation from the MSU secondary fairly consistently last week, but they didn’t get enough space to make the big play.

While Hunter Johnson was able to deregulate the Spartans’ famous No Fly Zone, he can’t “throw receivers open” that don’t have the required closing speed. Maybe they will in this one?

“I’m really proud of Hunter,” Fitzgerald said Monday.

“He’s been through a lot and I thought he had a great offseason. I think he’s worked his tail off to put himself in position to be our starter and gave us in a lot of ways an opportunity to win [on Friday]. We had more explosive pass plays on Friday night than we did all of last year, so that’s incredibly encouraging.”

hunter johnson

Prediction: Northwestern 45, Indiana State 19

While the Cats have been infamous for sometimes struggling with FCS opponents, not this time. This should be a laugher.

Paul M. Banks runs The Sports Bank, partnered with News NowBanks, the author of “Transatlantic Passage: How the English Premier League Redefined Soccer in America” and “No, I Can’t Get You Free Tickets: Lessons Learned From a Life in the Sports Media Industry,” has regularly appeared in WGNSports Illustrated and the Chicago Tribune.

Follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

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