Before the season, many predicted this game to be an easy walk in the park for the Northwestern Wildcats. After all, they were the defending Big Ten West champions and the Hoosiers did not necessarily have any standout roster additions from the beginning of the season. This year’s journey has certainly unfolded differently with the Hoosiers aiming at not just a bowl game, but a high-level bowl berth. On the other hand, the Wildcats are struggling to find confidence. With just a lone victory, they actually have a worse record than the Big Ten cellar-dwellers: Rutgers.
With that said, the Hoosiers played a complete game to handle and take care of business against the Wildcats with a final score of 34-3. We breakdown some notable takeaways from the game below.
You Miss 100% of the (Deep) Shots You Don’t Take
Hockey legend Wayne Gretzky once uttered those words, and if he rooted for IU football, he would have enjoyed the Hoosiers’ persistence with the deep pass on Saturday night. It didn’t always work, but Indiana stretched Northwestern’s defense by allowing quarterbacks Michael Penix and Peyton Ramsey to let it fly. It started in the first quarter.
On IU’s first play after recovering a fumble in Northwestern territory, offensive coordinator Kalen DeBoer went for the haymaker, dialing up a long ball from Penix to redshirt freshman Miles Marshall. The quarterback used a play action fake to RB Stevie Scott, stepped up to avoid pressure, and took a shot. Northwestern covered Marshall well, so the pass fell incomplete. Still, this play made it clear: IU would play aggressively in pursuit of win #7.
After going the entire first quarter without a catch, star WR Whop Philyor would get Penix’s attention in the second. On back-to-back plays, Penix found the Big Ten’s leading receiver for significant yardage. On the first play, a 2nd & 8 from the IU 17, Penix looks away from his first option, senior Nick Westbrook, then fires a missile to Philyor down the seam for 41 yards. On the following play, Penix connects with Philyor on a deep crossing route to pick up 35 more. The key to success on both plays was rock-solid protection from IU’s revamped offensive line.
Even when Ramsey entered the game, DeBoer would not take the foot off the gas pedal, even with a four-possession lead. On a 3rd & 7 from the IU 44, Ramsey took the snap, briefly looked over the middle to hold the safety, then lobbed a ball down the left sideline for junior WR Donavan Hale. Hey, A.J. Hampton (#11)…you got Mossed.
Deep passes like these have led to Indiana recording 112 passing plays of 10+ yards this year, good for 5th in the nation, and 39 completions of 20+ yards, which ranks 14th. Last year, IU had 105 and 37, respectively, in those categories for the whole season, which ranked in the 80s.
Naturally, not every deep ball will result in a successful big play. In this second quarter stretch, Penix misfired on back-to-back-to-back attempts down the field. On the first one to emerging wide receiver Ty Fryfogle, Penix likely anticipated an offsides flag and wanted to take advantage of the “free play”. However, the officials rightly deemed the Northwestern player never crossed the neutral zone. On the third attempt, replays showed that Northwestern corner J.R. Pace grabbed Fryfogle’s jersey. Officials will miss calls, though, and Indiana deserves credit for not letting it affect them. Going forward, expect the Hoosiers to challenge Penn State’s, Michigan’s, and Purdue’s secondary down the field with Penix and Ramsey.
Indiana recovered three Northwestern fumbles during the contest leading to 14 points on the scoreboard. The first two fumbles occurred on the first play of their respected drives and the third ended the first half. The timing of the fumbles hurt the Wildcats as their defense was forced to trot right back onto the field against the high powered Indiana offense.
The first fumble took place on Northwestern’s first play from scrimmage. Quarterback Aidan Smith takes the ball on a design quarterback run 20 yards to the 45-yard line. Freshman Tiawan Mullen reaches in and rips the ball from Smith leading to a pile for the loose ball. Indiana recovered and on the next drive they marched down the field and scored.
Indiana’s defense forced another fumble on the first play of a Northwestern drive. This one took place early in the second quarter after the Wildcats took over off a Hoosier punt. Smith gives the ball to running back Drake Anderson and is met right away by Indiana’s defensive front. Linebacker Cam Jones comes in late to force the fumble while Anderson is being wrapped up. The Hoosiers scored on their next possession to extend their lead to 17-3.
On the final play of the first half, Northwestern pulls out the trickery with many laterals between players while trying to get the ball to the end zone. Quarterback Hunter Johnson turns back to pitch the ball and defensive lineman Alfred Bryant picks off the pitch in midair to end the half. The entire Hoosier defense has good recognition of what the Wildcats are trying to do and Bryant shows off his hands with the clean catch for the turnover.
Bullying Northwestern DB Cam Ruiz
In the scouting rooms in Bloomington leading up to Saturday, OC Kalen DeBoer and the rest of the offensive staff must have seen something they really liked about Northwestern’s Cam Ruiz. Blatantly, the Hoosiers continued to attack a single defensive back all evening long. Unfortunately for Ruiz, there was something in his film that made Indiana’s staff salivate and want to take advantage of the opportunity.
You’ll see Cam Ruiz in the number 18 jersey for Northwestern in the below clips.
After two penalties to start the game, the Hoosiers went directly after Cam Ruiz on the very first true offensive play of the game. Penix finds Ty Fryfogle on a curl route, which is enabled because Cam Ruiz overruns his man without playing him too tightly. The Hoosiers find a simple and safe play to recover some of the yardage lost to penalties.
Later in the same quarter, Penix finds Nick Westbrook on the right hand side. Again Ruiz gets turned around by the Indiana receiver and over plays his assignment. With Penix’s velocity, he’s able to use the separation courtesy of Ruiz to deliver an easy pass to Westbrook for the first down in the red-zone.
On red-zone plays, the Hoosiers were still relentless in attacking Ruiz. The Hoosiers quickly identified the size mismatch between 6-foot-4 Donavan Hale against the 5-foot-11 Ruiz. The only way that Ruiz can make the stop is by using extracurriculars right in front of the official on that sideline. Indiana gets on the good side and draws the penalty flag.
Here the Hoosiers run a triple stack to the left of the pocket. As the receivers separate and fan out, the defensive assignments become more clear. Penix finds a covered Ty Fryfogle who is guarded by the shorter Ruiz. Fryfogle gets enough of a jersey tug for the official to call yet another pass interference on Northwestern in the end zone.
“Are you serious?!” Ruiz yells after the play.
Yes, yes he was.
The attack on Ruiz did not stop when Ramsey came into relieve Penix. Here in the third quarter, Ramsey finds Philyor on the left sideline. Ruiz does a good job with coverage here, but he definitely was not watching the ball when he tackled Philyor. Tom Allen was fairly livid at the officials when this did not get called.
In two fairly similar plays to the one that opened this section, this time Ramsey finds Fryfogle on the edge. Ruiz is turned by Indiana’s quick receivers and does not turn around quick enough to close the gap. Even without the velocity of Penix’s arm, Ramsey is easily able to make the throw to Fryfogle for the first down. On both occasions, Ruiz has to rely on his linebackers to make the stop in the mid-zone.
Featured Photo: IndianaHQ