Tyrell Sutton, RB - sure, the Wildcats' passing attack that has put up 300-plus yards per game. But Indiana's biggest concern is making sure the Wildcats are one-dimensional. For that to be the case, Coach Bill Lynch's defense will need to find a way to slow down Sutton. The 5-9, 190-pound junior is currently third on Northwestern's all-time rushing list (2,784 yards) and will be making his third start since returning from an ankle injury that sidelined him for six weeks, and he's coming off a 116-yard effort last week against Iowa.
Indiana has lost three straight to the Wildcats (2002-04), and a big reason is its inability to slow down Northwestern on the ground. In 2002 Jason Wright ran for 219 yards and four touchdowns in a 41-37 Northwestern win; in 2003 Wright ran for 141 yards and another four scores in a 37-31 overtime victory; and in 2004 it was Noah Herron who rushed for 197 yards and three touchdowns in a 31-24 double overtime Wildcat win. If Indiana can find a way to keep Sutton under wraps, it will have an excellent chance at winning in Evanston for the first time since 1993.
Sherrick McManis, CB – the 6-0, 180-pound sophomore is presumably the team's top cornerback, ranking second on the team in tackles (65) and tackles for loss (6 ½) while leading Coach Pat Fitzgerald's team in passes broken up (5) and passes defensed (6). But he's coming off a tough game last week against Iowa, surrendering a trio of big pass plays that led directly or indirectly to Hawkeye scores in the Hawks' 28-17 come-from-behind win. He also had a roughing the punter call that got Iowa out of a deep hole as well.
While McManis has been tested by some of the Big Ten's best wideouts already this season, he will likely face his biggest challenge this weekend when he likely find himself matched up with IU's James Hardy on plenty of occasions. Hardy has scored a touchdown in all but one game this season and now ranks sixth in the Big Ten in receptions (5.7/game), third in yardage (88.1/game) and first in touchdown receptions (13). It will be McManis' job to keep Hardy from producing another huge game.
Justin Pines, PK - Pines has a chance to play against Indiana this weekend – twice. Pines is a soccer goalie for the Wildcats' 12th-ranked men's soccer team, which is the third seed in this weekend's Big Ten Tournament in East Lansing, Mich. Indiana meanwhile, is the No. 1 seed, meaning the two teams couldn't meet until the championship game, which is at 2 p.m. Sunday.
But Pines is expected to be in Evanston on Saturday for the Indiana-Northwestern football game, and is expected to handle the team's kick-off duties. Like everyone else on IU's roster, Pines will be doing whatever he can to keep the ball away from IU's Marcus Thigpen on kickoffs. Pines began handling the kickoffs last week against Iowa and averaged 55 yards on his four kickoffs and failed to produce any touchbacks.
Eric Peterman, WR The Wildcats' leading receiver with 53 catches for 608 yards and three touchdowns, Peterman figures to be a top target of quarterback C.J. Bacher. Peterman is averaging a modest 10.8 yards/reception and only seven of his catches have been for 20 yards or more, but he's adept at finding holes in a team's zone and coming up with clutch catches to move the chains.
But Indiana will need to be concerned with more than just Peterman's ability to catch the ball. He's also carried the ball 11 times for 52 yards, so IU's defense can expect to see him run a reverse or two Saturday afternoon. He's also 1-of-3 throwing it, so he could have his hand in trick play. Finally, Peterman has also been the team's primary punt returner so IU will have to keep him from breaking a big play on special teams as well.
What's coming up:
On Monday – Five Numbers to Note
On Tuesday - Four Players to Know
On Wednesday – Three Big Concerns
On Thursday – Two Key Match-Ups
On Friday – One Bold Prediction
NORTHWESTERN: Four Days and Counting
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