N'WESTERN: Two Days and Counting

Hoosier Nation continues its day-by-day preview of Saturday's match-up between Indiana (4-3/1-2) and Northwestern (4-3/1-2). Today we look at two big concerns for the Hoosiers about this contest...

The Hoosiers' depleted secondary – The last thing the Hoosiers needed after losing cornerback Donnell Jones to an injury last weekend was to have to come back and play a true spread team that lines up four or five wide receivers on most downs. But that's what Indiana is going to have to deal with on Saturday when it travels to Evanston, Ill., to take on Northwestern.

With Jones out, Indiana will turn to Richard Council to start in his place. Council has had his moments this season – both good and bad – but he does have starting experience and he was going to play a prominent role in this contest whether Jones was healthy or not. He was beaten deep on Illinois' first touchdown last weekend, but he did bounce back to play well for the game's final two quarters and he'll start opposite Ray Fisher Saturday.

But that's all Indiana has as far as experience at the cornerback position, and it's hard to imagine that another cornerback isn't going to have to be a part of the equation as well. The IU staff isn't going to burn the redshirt season on a true freshman like Lawrence Barnett, so that means rarely-used Adrian Burks or Andre LaGrone could see significant action on Saturday against the pass-happy Cats. Both have done enough good things in practice to work their way up to the second string, but neither has played meaningful snaps in the secondary.

The Hoosiers will most likely start with three safeties on the field, as Collin Taylor will probably join Austin Thomas and Nick Polk in the starting lineup like he did a week ago against Illinois. That's a trio, though, whose strength is probably zone coverage as compared to man-to-man. That worked well against an Illinois team who's quarterback, Juice Williams, can be inaccurate at times. Kafka, though, won't miss as many open targets as Williams did.

Can Indiana find ways to be more successful in the red zone? - The inability to score touchdowns in the red zone continues to plague this Indiana football team. A week ago the Hoosiers ventured inside the Illinois 20-yard line five times and came away with only one touchdown – the 13-yard Ben Chappell-to-Troy Wagner pass early in the fourth quarter. Otherwise Indiana had to settle for four field goal attempts, two of which Nick Freeland missed.

Coach Bill Lynch's team made up for those problems with a couple of big scoring plays in the passing game and by keeping Illinois off the scoreboard on three of its four trips inside the red zone. But if Indiana is going to come away with its first win in Evanston since 1993, it's going to need to have most success inside the opponents' 20-yard line.

Indiana has made 26 trips inside the opponents' 20-yard line but come away with only 11 touchdowns, making the Hoosiers the only Big Ten team that isn't converting at least half of its red zone trips into touchdowns. In its defense, IU has turned the ball over only once inside the red zone and has come away with points on 22 of its 26 red zone trips. That translates into 84.6 percent red zone conversion rate which actually ranks fourth in the Big Ten.

But settling for field goal attempts might not be enough against a Northwestern team that figures to the throw the ball all over the field Saturday. The Wildcats have converted 16 of their 26 red zone trips into touchdowns this season, and Indiana needs to at least match Northwestern's red zone efficiency this weekend.

Coming Up
On Monday – Five Numbers to Note
On Tuesday – Four Names to Know
On Wednesday – Three Key Matchups
On Thursday – Two Big Concerns
On Friday – One Bold Prediction

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