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Monday, Feb. 26
The Indiana Daily Student

sports football

Northwestern QB Kafka poses a challenge for IU

There really isn’t a way to avoid it: IU’s game against Northwestern might turn into a play-in game for a bowl at season’s end.

But if the Hoosiers want to “play 13” games this season, their defense must first stop Northwestern’s proficient quarterback Mike Kafka on Saturday.

And they will have to do it without three key defensive players.

IU (4-3, 1-2) travels to Evanston, Ill. this weekend to face Northwestern - a team with an identical record, similar bowl hopes and a quarterback that could give the Hoosiers fits.

Kafka ranks second in the Big Ten in passing yards, averaging 250.7 yards per game and completing 67.8 percent of his passes.

IU will try to stop the Kafka-led offense without the use of three experienced defensive players – senior linebacker Will Patterson, out with hand injury, and sophomore cornerbacks Chris Adkins and Donnell Jones, both out with elbow injuries.

Senior Justin Carrington, who has been involved in several key plays this season, including a fumble recovery against Western Michigan, will replace Patterson.

Junior  Richard Council will start alongside senior Ray Fisher at cornerback, while seldom-used cornerbacks Andre LaGrone and Adrian Burks will be the backups.
IU coach Bill Lynch is not concerned about injuries to the defense.

“We are not going to do anything differently in terms of changing our schemes or anything,” Lynch said.

He also said he was confident in his backups since they gained experience last week against Illinois, when Patterson and Jones were injured.

While the Northwestern coaching staff is aware of the injuries, IU defensive coordinator Joe Palcic does not believe it will exploit the Hoosier secondary.

“Whatever they’ve seen on tape – if they like it, that’s what they’ll attack,” Palcic said.

If the first seven games are examples, Northwestern will likely emphasize the passing game. The Wildcats’ leading rusher, Arby Fields, has only 195 rushing yards this season.

Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said the team will rely on the passing game if the running backs continue to struggle.

“I said we’d do what we have to do to win,” Fitzgerald said. “And if that’s throwing it 175 times, then that’s what we’ll do. I’m not saying that’s what I want to do, it’s what I will do.”

With Northwestern running a spread offense, several plays are also designed for Kafka to run. However, he has only averaged 1.6 yards per carry this season.
Last season, though, in a game against Minnesota, Kafka ran for 217 yards, a Big Ten quarterback rushing record.

This will be the fifth straight game IU has faced a quarterback with running abilities. In those games, opposing quarterbacks have gained 185 yards and three touchdowns on the ground.

Senior safety Austin Thomas said the key is to stay focused when the quarterbacks run.

“You have to stay in coverage, keep on your man and stay disciplined,” Thomas said about his role in the secondary. “The longer the quarterback has the ball, the harder it is to stop him.”

The winner of this game moves one game away from becoming bowl eligible.

IU and Northwestern have similar closing schedules – each face Iowa, Penn State and Wisconsin in the final five weeks of the season. Those three opponents currently sit in the top 25 of the BCS standings.

Lynch said the team can’t get caught up in looking to the future.

“That is a human condition, I think,” Lynch said. “We all want to look ahead and play out the variables, but it always comes back to get you in sports. You better take care of that day, and that is certainly what we stress ... I’m sure Northwestern feels the same way.”

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