Indiana, now more than ever, is a team for which we have a kindred connection. Over the past 20 years, Northwestern has mastered the Hoosiers and continues to build on the only alltime winning series we own in Big Ten play. If you’re looking at one program that we all know deep down inside could very easily be mastering us based on an unusual number of lucky bounces and close calls it is Indiana. I chuckled when I saw the opening line of the week had us favored by 10. TEN?!!!! Perhaps no one has been watching this series, but I’m setting it at 3. Why? Well, you have to go back to 2004 to find a Northwestern-Indiana game decided by more than 3 points. We beat them in 2004 in 2OT (by 7). OK, so, if you want to find a game that wasn’t overtime and wasn’t a 3-point or less margin in this series you have to go back to 2002, when we beat them by a whopping FOUR points! We’ve absolutely owned Indiana this century having lost just twice (2001, 2008), but we’ve also had an incredible knack for pulling out close game after close game including the largest comeback in school history.
The off-season painted the cream and crimson more purple than anything. Former NU OC Kevin Wilson was brought in to once again rebuild the program and he made sh0ckwaves in NU circles by poaching highly respected NU WR coach Kevin Johns right after our bowl game. The move played a role in the Fitz contract negotiations which included an increased salary pool for assistants especially considering the much higher than our brethren’s cost of living factor. Northwestern then scooped up WR coach Dennis Springer from Indiana to replace Johns in what amounted to an unintended trade. Kevin Wilson struck again at the hearts of NU fans, this time hiring fan favorite tough man RB Noah Herron (played under Wilson at NU) as a graduate assistant coach. It is clear that no staff has more NU connections than this one moving forward and it will be fascinating to see what Wildcat elements seep in to Indiana culture. WildcatReport.com had a great feature on the Kevin Wilson as NU OC while Fitz was a lower level assistant during Wilson’s reign as a pioneer of sorts in the vaunted Wildcat offense of 2000. The bottom line is I don’t care how many games Indiana has been blown out this season, and at 1-7 there have been many. Indiana has us marked, especially Wilson, as one of the few winnable games. If you don’t think the opposing teams have us figured out, just look at JoePa’s news. Matt McGloin, the PSU QB who methodically picked us apart and didn’t even get his sparkling white uni dirtied by our defense, has been relegated BACK to platooning with Rob Bolden. The only game all year JoePa picks to stick with one QB and it is us. We’ll get in to Tre Roberson and Indiana more in depth tomorrow, but this team can move the ball. They can’t stop anyone on defense, but they will move the ball on our defense, that is for certain.
NORTHWESTERN WILDCATS vs INDIANA HOOSIERS – SERIES CAPSULE
Alltime Series: Northwestern leads 44-34-1 (note: only Big Ten series NU owns all-time series lead)
In Bloomington: Indiana leads 18-16
In Evanston: Northwestern leads 28-16-1
Pat Fitzgerald Era: Northwestern leads 3-1
Since 1995: Northwestern leads 9-3
Favorite LTP Win – Tie: 2009 – The “Alltime” Comeback, ’96 Taking Care of Business
Least Favorite ‘Cats Loss: The 2008 21-19 Game
Call it Lou Holtzian. Call it what you want. When you are trying to sleep at night and think about the Indiana game, trepidation reigns. That is perhaps a good thing considering Northwestern has put some perception distance between them and Indiana in terms of program reputation. Most teams’ fans chalk up an automatic “w” when they schedule surf and see Indiana on the docket. But not us. Yet, we dominate this series more than any other in the past 20 years (yes, even Iowa) but Northwestern fans see IU on the schedule and we hold our breath. Deep down we know this could easily be .500 since 1995 and we’re pretty darn lucky to have won almost every single close game in the series. I’m a firm believer in team confidence and mentality. Northwestern EXPECTS to beat Indiana every year while Indiana has been stuck in Northwestern 1993 mode for years now. That is, they’ve been THIS close to getting those signature wins and legitimacy, but somehow find ways to lose seemingly every game when it comes down the final drive. It’s not just against NU. See Iowa in 2010 or the heartbreaking gauntlet that was the 2009 season in which they blew a 25-point lead in Evanston, had Michigan dead to rights and were well on their way to a huge upset at Iowa. Yet, they were losses in the end, tossed gum and all. Let’s relive some of the memorable moments in recent NU history.
2010 – The Evan Watkins Save Game
This could also be deemed the most underrated game of Stefan Demos’ career or the Jeremy Ebert game or even the hold-your-breath Persa concussion game. For me, regardless of Evan Watkins’ future as NU QB, this one moment in time will have me forever thankful. It was third and eight in the 4th quarter and NU up 17-10 but out of FG range. Persa was woozy with a concussion and a long delay ensued. Northwestern fans held their breath. Watkins promptly stepped up and hit Ebert with a great timing play and it set-up a 45 yd Demos FG in to the wind to give NU a 20-10 lead that they’d hold on to – barely, and win 20-17. Mike Trumpy was stellar on the day as NU followed the scouting report which likely read “Indiana cannot stop the run”. The ‘Cats rushed 42 times and passed 24 times fewer than Indiana. Trumpy became the first ‘Cat to break 100-yards rushing since Tyrell Sutton did so in the Alamo Bowl in 2008. He was also fantastic catching the ball out of the backfield. NU’s mastery of Indiana continues.
2009 – The Alltime Comeback (aka “The Ricky Weina Game”)
Northwestern’s 2009 homecoming game was the antithesis of 2010’s homecoming game against Michigan State. In ’09 the ‘Cats were down 7-0 on a Darrius Willis TD run before alums had taken their seats. The Hoosiers seemed to finally be putting the complete game together after some fantastic signs of turning the corner all season. NU found itself down 28-3 in the 2nd quarter and at 4-3, 1-2, the season seemed to be slipping away and I was slinking in to a winter depression thinking we might very well be staying home for the bowl season. Sure enough, there were reasons. The ‘Cats entire secondary was falling prey to the injury bug and when Sherrick McManis went down, the ‘Cats put Ricky Weina in his stead. I’m still uncertain of his preseason depth chart status at CB, but I comfortably have it as fourth. Ben Chappell promptly focused on testing Weina and he played out of his mind. Seldom remembered in this game is the fact Kakfa threw three second half picks yet, NU was able to hold Indiana on a 4th and goal from the one and 4th and goal from the three. NU’s final game-winning drive was pure adrenaline as Scott Concannon turned heads as an unstoppable runner en route to a career day and the 25-point comeback saved the season.
2007 – The Forgotten Cardiac ‘Cats Comeback
No one really remembers this game all that well. The ‘Cats squandered a 24-14 late lead and with Indiana trying to secure its 7th win and guarantee its first bowl since 1993 the Hoosiers mounted a potential game-winning drive featuring ‘Cat Killer James Hardy. The Hoosiers went up 28-24 and CJ Bacher again was left with the usual late 4th quarter – score or go home option. Bacher marched the ‘Cats downfield and hit Ross Lane for the game-winner. However, the Hoosiers had some time left and got it all the way to the NU 34 before David Ngene popped Kellen Lewis and caused the game-ending fumble. Ben Chappell still has nightmares about this as his one play appearance turned in to an Eddie Simpson pick 6.
The OT Twins – 2004 & 2003
The back-to-back OT wins of 2003 and 2004 seemed to be indicative of this almost expected outcome. In ’03, the ‘Cats squandered a 17-0 lead, but thanks in part to both Jason Wright’s 4 TD game and Gerry Dinardo’s choice to go conservative on the final drive of regulation, NU was able to make a pick in OT and close the deal with Wright on a 4-yard run to end a 10-game Big Ten road losing streak. This game featured current Pats RB Benjarvus Green-Ellis in a head-to-head rushing explosion game against Jason Wright. ‘Cats win 37-31.
A year later and it took yet another OT to get it done, this time in Evanston. A week after the emotional night game upset of Ohio State, the ‘Cats entered the classic letdown game and – well, letdown. Noah Herron posted 197 rushing yards and for the second straight week won the game with an OT rushing TD, but the ‘Cats were completely out of sync and again showed a swiss cheese defense all day long. The win moved NU to .500 overall and 2-1 in the conference.
The ’96 Clinic
This might be my favorite. The ‘Cats just put on an overall clinic as we just were brilliant in nearly every offensive aspect of the game. Brian Musso busted a classic punt return TD, Darnell was Darnell and made big play after big play and Schnur and Bates toyed with the Indiana secondary as Northwestern opened the defense of the Big Ten title in Bloomington and just opened up a can and cruised to a 35-17 blowout.
The ‘Cats home opener and 31-7 win after the pounding of Air Force had most of us saying “this is something we haven’t seen” and the recovery of Miami (OH) was starting to ease. By this point, we knew our “D” was something special and despite the hype of Alex Smith, this one was over when Alex unfortunately down and out early with a broken leg.
HOUSE OF PAIN
2008 – House of Pain
NU entered the ’08 game at 6-1 on the heels of a homecoming blowout of Purdue. Confidence was soaring and we as Wildcat Nation were believing we had the makings of a special season. NU was #22 in the BCS and #24 in the ESPN/USA Today poll. Then – well, you know what happened. Tyrell Sutton injured his wrist. The ‘Cats had 5 TOs in the game, but most will remember Indiana’s 4th and 17 punt that Chris Hagerup somehow managed to turn an errant snap in to a first down scamper. The Hoosiers also used a key trickeration play and of course CJ got hurt late in the game and Mike Kafka was thrown in to a very difficult potential game-winning drive but had back to back fumbles as we bowed 21-19.
The ’01 Freefall
Just two weeks removed from one of the most pivotal games (in a bad way) in the post-95 era (Penn State ’01), Northwestern’s promising 2001 which was now marred by injuries bottomed out against Indiana as Antwaan Randle-El just put the hurt on NU 56-21. The 1-5 Hoosiers came out on fire and we were just as flat as Antwaan Randle El became college football’s first career 40/40 guy – passing for 40 TDs and scoring 40 TDs. Problem was, it felt like he did it in the 1st quarter as he staked the Hoosiers to a 42-0 halftime lead. This one was one of the more inexplicable losses in the Randy Walker era.