NU vs. Indiana: Who has the edge?

The Indiana Hoosiers pose the first Big Ten threat for Northwestern, with the two teams clashing on Saturday at Ryan Field. Which team has the edge in the matchup? PurpleWildcats.com offers a breakdown of the game.

When NU has the ball…

After a strange beginning to the season, Northwestern quarterbacks Kain Colter and Trevor Siemian recently settled into the two-quarterback system. Forget about the controversy once suggested, the two play completely different styles. Siemian spreads the ball to a talented group of receivers, while Colter keeps opposing linebackers in limbo with his running ability.

Look, the Indiana secondary struggled to contain Keith Wenning of Ball State. The Hoosiers have little chance of reining in Colter or Siemian. Indiana lacks a consistent playmaker and forced only a pair of turnovers in its first three games.

Not to mention the 2012 Wildcats boast an elite feature back in Venric Mark. The newfound balance may prove too much for the Hoosiers to deal with.

One condition: the NU offensive line needs to continue its improvement. If not, the relatively experienced Indiana front four will look to take advantage, early and often.

Advantage: Northwestern

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When Indiana has the ball…

Starting quarterback Tre Roberson broke his leg during a 45-6 victory against Massachusetts and will miss the remainder of the season. While Roberson may have created a matchup problem for the Wildcats, backup pivot Cameron Coffman will not.

Coffman picked apart the Ball State secondary, though that should not carry over to the Big Ten opener. The NU secondary made strides in the past three games, and Nick VanHoose and Quinn Evans emerged as legitimate options at corner.

Safety Ibraheim Campbell has yet to put together an excellent performance that season. If Coffman and backup Nate Sudfeld attempt to make plays over the top, watch for Campbell to play a major role Saturday.

Stephen Houston had an excellent outing in last year's NU-Indiana game, a 59-38 shootout. A stout run defense led by an improved front four and steady middle linebacker Damien Proby looks to hold Houston in check.

Cody Latimer has shown flashes, but Indiana lacks dominant receiver play necessary to break down the Cats defense.

NU allowed 13 points or fewer in each of its past three games. An impressive stat no doubt, and considering a crucial Hoosiers injury, the streak may extend to four.

Advantage: Northwestern

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Special Teams…

Indiana kicker Mitch Ewald is an impressive 20-for-23 in Big Ten games during his career. The accurate Ewald has connected from 49 yards away three times in his career. Despite a slow start to the 2012 season – with only three makes in five attempts – Ewald ranks among the top kickers in the Big Ten.

Jeff Budzien has made all eight of his field goal attempts this year, although many came from short range. Still, his improvement from last year – in which he made six of 10 tries – helps NU tremendously.

Brandon Williams boomed several punts in the first four games, good for a 42.2 yard average. His counterpart, Mitchell Voss, ranks 110th in the nation (out of 115) with a 36.2 yard average.

It always needs to be mentioned: Venric Mark is an incredible playmaker in the return game. No reason the Hoosiers should kick the ball near him.

Advantage: Northwestern

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Coaching…

Former Northwestern offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson leads the Hoosiers into Evanston. Wilson arrived in Bloomington from Oklahoma, hoping to revitalize a football program fading in relevance. After a 1-11 season last year, Wilson is still left searching for his first Big Ten win.

Fitzgerald's Cats have retained their focus throughout the early season, showing an ability to win close games and beat down weaker opponents.

Advantage: Northwestern

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Intangibles:

This one might go to Indiana. Wilson could certainly use a signature win, although he is far from the hot seat.

Coming off an FCS matchup, NU may experience a letdown. The Cats have superior talent, but Indiana comes to Evanston with nothing to lose.

Advantage: Indiana

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Prediction:

This one might come out of left field, but the NU defense seems poised for an outstanding game. Chi Chi Ariguzo dominated during the first four weeks, the secondary demonstrated considerable improvement, and the front four helped to contain the run game.

Take the Boston College game as a blueprint. With a slim lead, Fitzgerald felt confident running the ball between the tackles. It is a strange tendency for a team that usually prides itself on a passing game. Expect NU to seize an early advantage and retain control with a superb defensive game.

Northwestern: 14, Indiana: 0


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