Can Indiana get off to a better start? - The last two times Indiana has ventured away from home, its starts have been shaky at best. Against Wisconsin, the Hoosier defense yielded a pair of touchdowns and a field goal on the Badgers' first four possessions, while IU's first four possessions resulted in three punts and a fumble. Against Michigan State, the Spartans scored 24 points on its first four possessions, while Indiana followed up Kellen Lewis' 59-yard touchdown run on its first offensive play with just 18 yards of offense on its next four possessions.
The result in both cases was to make Indiana one-dimensional as it tried to play catch-up, and eventually a couple of lopsided losses. As Indiana looks to capture its first win over Northwestern since 2001, it will have to do a better job of getting into the flow of the game without putting itself in a big hole early.
"As much as anything, it is not the score as much as handling the situation, the environment, the tempo of the game," said IU Coach Bill Lynch.
Northwestern's tempo figures to be fast and furious. The Wildcats jumped a quick 14-0 lead a week ago against Iowa, and that's the kind of hole Indiana can't afford to find itself in if it wants to win its seventh game and solidify its postseason bowl prospects.
Northwestern's season is on the line - Indiana is hoping to enhance its bowl chances with a win in Evanston, but Coach Pat Fitzgerald's Wildcat team knows its season is on the line when these two teams meet at Noon EST at Ryan Field.
After opening the year 5-3, Northwestern has dropped its last two and still stands one victory shy of bowl eligibility. With only a road game at Illinois remaining, Northwestern knows that it's best chance of getting that elusive sixth victory comes this weekend against an Indiana team that hasn't won in Evanston since 1993. On top of that, this is also Senior Day for the Wildcats, giving them even more to play for when this game kicks off.
Admittedly, emotion can only carry a team so far during a 60-minute football game, but it could play a big role in the first quarter. It's imperative that Indiana match that emotion in the early going and avoid falling behind, which is something that could add fuel to Northwestern's fire.
On the flip side, Fitzgerald admitted during his weekly press conference that his Wildcat team has been pressing in recent weeks as it tries to get to six wins, so a quick start on IU's part could force the Wildcats into some miscues that could aid IU's cause.
Can Indiana limit its turnovers? - After turning the ball over four times against Penn State and five times against Wisconsin, Indiana turned it over three times in its first four possessions last Saturday against Ball State. That's 12 turnovers in nine quarters of football, a total that almost equals the 13 turnovers Indiana has in the other 31 quarters of football its played this season.
Indiana is hoping that the zero turnovers it had in the final three quarters of the Ball State game signaled an end to its propensity to cough the ball up. While Kellen Lewis' three interceptions in the last three games isn't good, it's the nine fumbles that are most troubling. At least half of those fumbles have been more a result of carelessness than a big hit from an IU foe, and that can't happen this weekend.
While Indiana has been turnover prone, Northwestern has been as well in recent weeks. During its two-game skid, Northwestern quarterback C.J. Bacher has thrown six interceptions and Northwestern is a -6 in turnover ratio in losses to Iowa and Purdue (7 giveaways, one takeaway).
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: Three Days and Counting
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