One year ago, the Northwestern Wildcats were champions of the Big Ten West. Through eight games in the 2019 season, the ‘Cats are winless in conference play.
Northwestern (1-7, 0-6 B1G) extended their touchdown-less streak to 13 quarters in Saturday night’s 34-3 loss to Indiana (7-2, 4-2 B1G), who clinched their first winning season in 12 years.
The Wildcat defense appeared overwhelmed in the air and on the ground, and their offense never found its stride. Indiana finished the game with 414 total yards to Northwestern’s 225.
It didn’t take very long for the Wildcats to find themselves in a 10-point hole. After Indiana opened with a 58-yard drive that ended in a field goal, Northwestern quarterback Aidan Smith lost a fumble on the ‘Cats’ first play. The Hoosiers got the ball in NU territory, and seven plays later, running back Stevie Scott III cashed in Indiana’s first touchdown.
Though Northwestern managed to answer with three points on their next drive, their subsequent offensive possession, once again, lasted one play. A Drake Anderson fumble gave Indiana the ball on Northwestern’s 25, and a pass interference penalty in the end zone set up another Hoosier touchdown two plays later.
Facing a 14-point deficit in their fourth possession, Northwestern took quarterback Aidan Smith out from under center and replaced him with Hunter Johnson. It was the first time Johnson had seen the field since the ‘Cats’ matchup against Wisconsin over a month earlier.
Indiana scored again before the end of the half. Two more defensive pass interference calls in the end zone set the Hoosiers up at Northwestern’s two yard line twice in three plays, and Scott III punched it home for his second touchdown of the night.
Already ahead by three touchdowns, the Hoosiers turned to their second quarterback, Peyton Ramsey. First-stringer Michael Penix Jr. finished 10 for 15 with 162 yards.
With five seconds remaining in the first half, the ‘Cats had one last chance to score, and they attempted a series of laterals from just inside Indiana territory. After two successful laterals, Johnson tried a third, which ended in the hands of an Indiana defender.
For the ‘Cats, this was nothing short of a disaster on offense. After thirty minutes, the Wildcats held possession six times; three of them ended in a lost fumble, and two of those lost fumbles were followed by an Indiana touchdown. At some point, the statistics on offense begin moving from the downright putrid to just absurd.
Things went from bad to worse quickly. On the third play of Northwestern’s second possession of the second half, Indiana defensive lineman Allen Stallings IV threw Johnson to the ground after the whistle, but the referees did not call a penalty. Johnson was slow to get up after the tackle, and Aidan Smith returned as the Wildcats’ quarterback.
After forcing punts on Indiana’s first two possessions, the ‘Cats defense once again was unable to stifle the Hoosiers’ pass attack. In six plays, Indiana extended their lead to 28.
The Wildcats’ response was another drive ending in a punt, and Indiana continued their passing assault on Northwestern’s defense, entering the red zone once again before settling for a field goal.
With six minutes remaining, Northwestern tried their luck with a third quarterback, sophomore Andrew Marty, who finished with one attempt and no completions on another Wildcats three-and-out. Indiana responded with their own third quarterback of the night, redshirt freshman Jack Tuttle. Tuttle led the Hoosiers in their final drive to run out the clock.
The Wildcats will continue their pursuit of a Big Ten win next week in an 11 a.m. matchup against Purdue at home next Saturday.