N'WESTERN: Three Days and Counting

Bloomington - Indiana (4-3/1-2) and Northwestern (4-3/1-2) tangle on Saturday in Evanston, with the winner getting a big leg up on a potential bowl berth. Hoosier Nation continues its day-by-day preview of the contest with a look at three of the game's most important match-ups...

NU WR Zeke Markshausen vs. IU Zone Coverage – With the Hoosiers depleted at the cornerback position thanks to last week's injury to Donnell Jones, they'll likely play plenty of zone coverage against the Wildcats' spread formation. That zone coverage, though, can be vulnerable against an accurate thrower who is willing to dink-and-dunk his way down the field. That's exactly what Northwestern has at its disposal with quarterback Mike Kafka and his favorite target, Zeke Markshausen. Markshausen isn't likely to get behind anyone for a big touchdown play, but he's a sure-handed receiver who has an ability to find the soft spots in a zone coverage scheme. He's coming off a 16-catch, 111-yard afternoon against Michigan State, and 15 of those receptions were for 10 yards or less. Two of the players who could play very big roles in trying to keep Markshausen in check are outside linebacker Justin Carrington and third safety Colin Taylor, but of whom will see plenty of time with the injuries to Jones and Will Patterson. Carrington is a very good athlete who is at his best in passing situations, while Taylor could find himself matched up with Markshausen. The Wildcat receiver will catch his share of balls, but Indiana can't afford to allow him to constantly move the chains on third downs.

IU RB Darius Willis vs. NU Front Seven - Ben Chappell might have thrown for a career-best 333 yards last week, and Tandon Doss did have another 100-yard receiving game. Despite that success against Illinois, Indiana doesn't want to get into a shootout with the Wildcats. If both teams are dropping back and throwing on virtually every down, then the edge goes to Northwestern. The Wildcats' edge in third down conversions (50.9 percent compared to IU's 38.0 percent) and their better success rate at scoring touchdowns once they get into the red zone (16-of-26 compared to IU's 11-of-26) would suggest that if this turns into a Chappell vs. Kafka shootout, Indiana might have issues keeping pace. Where Indiana does have an edge, though, is with its running game. Northwestern has given up 150 yards or more on the ground four times this season, and the Wildcats' ground attack has been virtually non-existent. If Indiana can pound away with Willis and sprinkle in Mitchell Evans, it can control the clock and keep the Wildcat offense the field. Willis' productivity could also free up Chappell to hit either Doss or Damarlo Belcher for some big gainers with the play action pass, and those big plays will be equally important if IU wants to win in Evanston for the first time since 1993.

IU PK Nick Freeland and P Chris Hagerup vs. NU P/PK Stefan Demos - Considering the fact that the last five meetings in this series have been decided by six points or less – including two overtime contests – it's well within the realm of possibility that this game could come down to one final kick. Demos has been as reliable as any kicker in the Big Ten this season, making 9-of-10 field goals with a long of 49. Freeland, meanwhile, ranks second in the Big Ten with 11 field goals, but his six misses are the most of any kicker in the conference. If the game doesn't come down to a kick, then it could come down to a big play in the punt game as well. If that's the case, Indiana should have an edge. Hagerup is averaging 41.5 yards/punt and has been much better in the last two games. Demos, meanwhile, ranks last in the Big Ten in punting with a 35.1 yards/punt average.

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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