We should have known that Northwestern wouldn't have any easy game against Indiana.
The Wildcats won in a shootout last season and had several close calls with the Hoosiers in previous seasons. It sure looked like this year would be different, as Northwestern raced out to a 27-0 lead early in the third quarter.
But even though these Wildcats have shown more toughness than in years past, the Indiana game still wouldn't be a breeze. The Hoosiers stormed back to make it 37-29 and had the ball with a chance to drive in for a tying score in the fourth quarter.
In the end, however, Northwestern had Kain Colter, and Indiana didn't. The do-it-all quarterback scored four touchdowns and accounted for nearly 300 of the Wildcats' school-record 706 yards. Colter's fourth touchdown run sealed a 44-29 win and pushed Northwestern to 5-0
Colter had been splitting series this year with Trevor Siemian, but Saturday saw that go to a different level. Siemian took just about every snap on passing plays, while Colter looked more like his 2011 role as an all-around weapon. He ran 14 times for 161 yards and those four scores, and was the team's leading receiver with nine catches for 131 yards. Siemian threw 32 passes (for 308 yards), while Colter attempted only three throws, for two yards.
That raises the question of whether Pat Fitzgerald will keep this offensive strategy going forward. Colter looks like not only Northwestern's best athlete, but its best receiver. Yet he's also incredibly valuable running the zone read with running back Venric Mark. So far, the two-quarterback system has worked brilliantly.
Indiana coach Kevin Wilson had to be incredibly disappointed by his team's start; the Hoosiers had a bye week to get ready for this league opener, but the Hoosiers trailed 20-0 at halftime. At least Wilson might have found his new starting quarterback.
He pulled Cameron Coffman for true freshman Nate Sudfeld late in the first half, and Sudfeld provided a major spark. Sudfeld threw a beautiful 35-yard touchdown pass to Kofi Hughes in the third quarter and finished 9-of-16 for 157 yards. The Indiana offense moved much better with him at the helm. Sudfeld, who also led a rally late against Ball State two weeks ago, seems likely to be the Hoosiers' starting quarterback going forward.
But Indiana still has major issues on defense, as evidenced by that enormous Northwestern yardage output. The Hoosiers showed some fight, as they could have easily packed it in after falling behind 27-0 on the road, and receivers Hughes and Cody Latimer pulled in some tremendous catches. There is promise here, but whether it translates into any Big Ten wins remains a big question.
Fitzgerald will not be happy at all about how his team let the Hoosiers back into the game. Northwestern had shown better finishing skills the past few weeks, and this near-collapse was troubling. But the Wildcats continue to be an outstanding rushing team, as Mark added 139 yards, and they make plays when they need to do so. The defense came up with a stop near its own end zone in the final minutes.
Northwestern goes on the road next week to Penn State, a game that looks much tougher now than it did a couple of weeks ago. The Wildcats will have to play a more complete game to come out with a win in State College. Right now, they're just thankful they got through another Indiana game.