On the first play from scrimmage, Northwestern had a trick up its sleeve. Kain Colter lined up as a slot receiver while Trevor Siemian was under center. That was the beginning of a long day for the Indiana defense.
NU posted a school-record 704 yards of offense -- with Colter tallying 294 all-purpose yards and four touchdowns -- en route to a 44-29 victory over the Hoosiers.
"I thought we had a good plan," head coach Pat Fitzgerald said with a grin on his face. "Kain is Kain; he's unbelievable. He's about as dynamic of a player as we have in this conference. I truly believe that."
Colter started the scoring during the first quarter on an eight-yard touchdown run, then added another eight-yard score in the second. Early in the second half, Colter scampered for a 15-yard touchdown. Then, when NU needed to secure its victory late in the fourth quarter, Colter capped off his big day with a 22-yard score.
Northwestern left the Hoosiers guessing with Colter's versatility; he was its leading rusher and receiver.
"I don't think they had an answer for Kain all day -- at receiver or quarterback," said Siemian of his teammate.
The plan with Colter has been in the works for several weeks during Northwestern's practice sessions, but was finally put on display on Saturday. Colter became Sieman's go-to target, connecting with him nine times for 131 yards.
Colter was an important part of the Wildcats' ability to sustain drives, hauling in six catches for a third-down coversion. He always seemed to be in the right place at the right time.
"The coaches provided us with a great game plan," Colter said. "We just executed and made a lot of plays."
Trevor Siemian, making his first start at quarterback, record 308 passing yards while completing 22-32 passes.
The Wildcats had their greatest success with the rushing attack, racking up 394 yards on 58 running plays. The threat of Colter and running back Venric Mark created problems by use of an effective zone-read option. Mark was an unsung hero, totaling a career-high 139 yards and a touchdown.
Northwestern has maintained a strategy of placing its best 11 players on the field simultaneously. A new wrinkle was formed on Saturday, and it's only beginning.
"We are just getting started, with the things we're going to do there," Fitzgerald said.
While Northwestern's offense cruised without a bump in the road, its defense provided a rocky ride to the finish.
NU starting safety Ibraheim Campbell suffered what appeared to be a shoulder injury during the second quarter, and did not return. Freshman Traveon Henry was called to replace Campbell, so Indiana head coach Kevin Wilson opted to test the young Wildcat secondary.
Trailing by 27, the Hoosiers posted 21 third-quarter points, then would later cut the margin to a one-possession deficit in the fourth quarter.
The success stemmed from big plays in the passing game as quarterbacks Cameron Coffman and Nate Sudfeld completed seven passes for more than 15 yards on the Northwestern defense.
"We took some shots down the field and they made some incredible plays," said Sudfeld. "It was awesome to see just how great of plays they could make."
Colter's fourth-quarter touchdown was the final nail in Indiana's coffin; the comeback was halted.
"We needed to go out and control the second half we abviously we failed at that miserably," Fitzgerald said. "I have to give a lto of credit to Coach Wilson and the Hoosiers. They did a terrific job in the second half by making big plays in the passing game."
However, the Wildcats' issues did not stem from breakdowns, as the case has previously been. Saturday's struggles offer a teaching moment moving forward.
"That's something we'll correct and be able to see on film," said linebacker Damien Proby. "It'll be something to learn from going forward."
The Wildcats' record remains unblemished, with a premier in the Top 25 polls likely. However, the challenges only get tougher ahead.
Next up for Northwestern is a trip to Penn State to battle the upstart Nittany Lions. The test is nothing unexpected for a battle-tested team.
"I think no matter who you play in the Big Ten, it's going to be a tough game," Colter said. "Whether you're playing Indiana, Nebraska, or Ohio State, all these teams are tough. Every week, we have to go out there and play like we're playing the No. 1 team in the nation. That's how we have to play."
• It was a tragic and emotional week for Northwestern, starting with the losses of former Wildcat Leon Brockmeier and Evanston native Dajae Coleman. Then, the body of missing NU student Harsha Maddula was found in Lake Michigan on Thursday. Pat Fitzgerald opened his press conference with a reflection on the losses. "It has been a very difficult week for our university and our Wildcat family," he said.
• Fitzgerald was pleased with Northwestern's performance, but hopes to patch up some holes. "I thought the only thing that slowed uis down today was us," he offered.
• The reasoning for Northwestern playing both Kain Colter and Trevor Siemian is simple: maximize talent. Fitzgerald said: "Those two guys are in our best 11 [players simultaenously on the field], in some way, shape or form."
• Fitzgerald indicated the struggles by Northwestern's defense weren't communication breakdowns, as the case was throughout 2011: "I'm disappointed in them, but I think we're in a completely different place."
• Kain Colter touched the football on 27 plays, taking big hits on several occassions. Fitzgerald has attempted to teach his quarterback to slide, but that just isn't happening. "He believes he can score on every play," said Fitzgerald. "That's not a bad quality."
• Colter posted over 100 yards in the rushing and receiving catagories, but did not reach the century mark in a record three possibilities. He wasn't worried about that. "The biggest thing we wanted to do is get a 'W,' Colter said.
• As for the hits Colter received, he said: "You're going to be sore, no matter what. It's part of football."