Northwestern spent the whole week practicing against a simulated no-huddle, preparing for a high-speed Indiana offense that was averaging 36 points a game. But come Saturday, it was Pat Fitzgerald’s Wildcats that controlled the tempo, cruising to a school-record 704 yards of total offense in a 44-29 win. The victory helped the 'Cats break into the AP Top-25 for the first time in nearly two years.
While NU touted a dual-QB system through four weeks of nonconference play, sophomore Trevor Siemian was the lone man under center against the Hoosiers. Junior Kain Colter, meanwhile, was everywhere else.
Despite throwing just three passes, Colter notched a career-high four touchdowns – all on the ground – and finished with over 100 yards rushing (161) and receiving (131). His nine receptions and average of 11.5 yards per carry were both team bests.
“Kain’s Kain ... he’s unbelievable,” Fitzgerald said. “He thinks he can score on every play.”
“This is something we’d been preparing for...we just went out there and executed. Coach provided us with a great game plan,” Colter said about the team’s unique use of personnel.
“(Colter) did a good job getting lose and shaking his guy,” added Siemian, who finished the afternoon 22 of 32 for 308 yards and an interception.
The Wildcats overcame three turnovers and 21 third quarter Hoosier points to improve to 5-0. Northwestern stands atop the Big Ten Legends Division, leaving Ryan Field as one of just two undefeated teams in the conference.
Indiana (2-2, 0-1) managed to mount a late-game comeback behind touchdowns from junior running back Stephen Houston and freshman kick return specialist Tevin Coleman. NU lead by as much as 27, but a D’Angelo Roberts two-yard touchdown scamper and a Kofi Hughes two-point conversion drew the Hoosiers within a single score with 14:06 to play.
The Wildcats’ secondary seemed to revert to 2011 form, allowing 177 net passing yards in the second half. Hughes hauled in Indiana’s only touchdown through the air, a 35-yard strike from freshman Nate Sudfeld. He and sophomore Cody Latimer each averaged over 20 yards a reception for the Hoosiers.
“I’ve gotta give a lot of credit to coach (Kevin) Wilson and the Hoosiers,” Fitzgerald said. “We had guys in position ... in those 50-50 ball opportunities, we’ve gotta win those.”
“They caught us in a few different packages,” said junior middle linebacker Damien Proby, who had a team-high 14 tackles. “Some of our guys may have been out of position ... they have a very up-tempo offense.”
But after a deflected Siemian pass fell into the hands of senior Hoosier safety Alexander Webb, the Northwestern defense stepped up, forcing a three-and-out and a goal-line turnover-on-downs on Indiana’s final two possessions.
But Northwestern does walk away from Saturday’s win with a bit of a limp, as wideout Christian Jones and safety Ibraheim Campbell both left the action early with undisclosed injuries.
What we learned
The Northwestern O-line deserves some respect: Junior Venric Mark and senior Mike Trumpy rushed for a combined 226 yards and a touchdown, while Trevor Siemian wasn’t sacked once on Saturday. NU’s offensive line won the push up front, and tackles Patrick Ward and Jack Konopka opened up the outside all afternoon. Meanwhile, left guard Brian Mulroe continues to play at an All-Big Ten level. With a slew of formidable defenses waiting in October, Northwestern will need to continue to dominate the line of scrimmage.
It’s all about momentum: Pat Fitzgerald’s system relies on moving pieces and constant substitutions, and it looks like no player is immune to getting benched. After a second-half fumble, Venric Mark sat out a few drives, while Colter’s day at quarterback ended for the most part after throwing a first-quarter pick.
Kickoff coverage could be a problem: While kicker Jeff Budzien remains perfect on field goal attempts in 2012, Fitzgerald still expressed a few special teams concerns.
“Obviously we have some holes in the dam,” he said about his team’s kickoff coverage. Tevin Coleman returned a third-quarter kickoff 96 yards for a score, and finished the day averaging 46 yards per return.
This Wildcats offense is really something: Northwestern set a program record for single-game offense, and it was done through both passing and rushing the football. Kain Colter flaunted freakish athleticism, while Trevor Siemian seems to be on the same page with his receivers. With both Venric Mark and Mike Trumpy hitting their stride on the ground, this becomes one of the most dangerous units in the Big Ten.
“Offensively ... the only thing that really slowed us down today was us,” Fitzgerald said.
The undefeated Wildcats head to Happy Valley to take on Penn State (3-2, 1-0). Fresh off a 35-7 thumping of Illinois, the Nittany Lions are clicking on both sides of the football. But now that Northwestern, is now ranked in the AP Top-25 they will be the favorite.
“Our mentality this whole season has been to go 1-0,” Colter said. “We’re gonna have tough challenges throughout the rest of the season ... if we play how we play to the best of our ability, I like our chances.”