N'WESTERN: Three Days and Counting

The first quarter, the chain gang and turnovers are three key statistical match-ups for IU fans to watch Saturday when the Hoosiers (2-5/0-4) host Northwestern (6-1/2-1) at noon. HoosierNation.com continues its day-by-day preview of this weekend's match-up with "Three Key Match-ups" in this Big Ten match-up…

IU's Offense vs. the Chain Gang - the Hoosiers offense won't actually being going up against the men on the sidelines, but it has to have some success in converting some third downs and moving the chains Saturday. Classifying the IU offense as anemic on third down would be kind – in the last four games, Indiana has converted only 12-of-54 third downs, compared to their opponents' 23-of-54 effort in similar situations. The Hoosiers rank 10th in the Big Ten overall in third down conversion percentage (27-of-95, 28 percent), and their 22.2 percent conversion rate in conference games is the league low. Compare that to Northwestern, which ranks second in the Big Ten with a 47 percent success rate on third downs (53-of-112). To make this happen, the Hoosiers need to do a better job of eliminating the penalties and negative plays on 1st and 2nd down that have been putting them in 3rd-and-long. Against Illinois, eight of IU's first nine third down attempts were 3rd-and-8 or more, and not surprisingly the only one it converted was its lone 3rd-and-short. In four Big Ten games IU has faced 3rd-and-10 (or more) 22 times, and its converted only four of those. IU has actually faced 3rd and 10+ more than its had 3rd-and-5 or less. When its had 3rd-and-5 or less, its converted 9-of-20 attempts.

IU QB Kellen Lewis/Ben Chappell vs. NU QB C.J. Bacher – the quarterbacks won't be going to head-to-head by any means, but whichever team's signal caller does a better job of protecting the ball and limiting turnovers is going to give his team the best chance to win. Northwestern is a +2 in turnover margin this season, but in their 37-20 loss to Michigan State two weeks ago the Wildcats turned it over three times while coming away with zero takeaways. Compare that to their conference wins over Iowa (22-17) and Purdue (48-26), when the Wildcat defense forced them into five turnovers apiece and Northwestern was a net +6 in turnover margin. Indiana, meanwhile, is -7 in turnovers since conference play opened. The Hoosiers have lost the turnover battle in each of their four Big Ten losses, throwing four interceptions and losing six fumbles. After leading the Big Ten with 19 interceptions in 2007, the Hoosiers have come away with a league-worst one pick this season and they've dropped a handful of potential interceptions in recent games. If Indiana is going to have a chance to win the game, it must win the turnover battle against Northwestern.

Indiana vs. Northwestern…in the first quarter – games aren't won in the first quarter, but the Hoosiers desperately need to get off to a good start Saturday against the Wildcats. Coach Bill Lynch's team is lacking in confidence thanks to its five-game skid, while Northwestern is riding high thanks to six wins in seven games that has landed them in the nation's top 25 for the first time since 2005. Whether it's a big play on offense, defense or special teams, a quick start could do a world of good for Indiana in its attempt to attract some support from the home crowd and breath some life into its struggling squad. One piece of good news for IU is that Northwestern hasn't been a very good first quarter team this season. Coach Pat Fitzgerald's team hasn't scored a point in the first quarter against its third Big Ten foes, falling behind 3-0 to Iowa; 17-0 to Michigan State; and 6-0 to Purdue. The Wildcats came back to win two of those games, but their habit of getting off to slow starts could help Indiana immensely.

What's coming up:
On Monday - Five Numbers to Note
On Tuesday - Four Names to Know
On Wednesday – Three Key Match-Ups
On Thursday – Two Big Concerns
On Friday – One Bold Prediction


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