BLOOMINGTON — Mitchell Evans has Northwestern's attention. Is this a good thing? It depends on your perspective.
Evans runs Indiana's Wildcat package, which basically means he's a running receiver playing quarterback. Against Illinois, he ran for a career-high 88 yards. In the previous six games, he'd run for just 67 yards.
When you do that, defenses notice.
Yes, Evans throws a little, but given his receiving priority (17 catches, 172 yards, 1 TD), accuracy suffers. He's 2-for-6 for 12 yards.
What does all this mean for Saturday's game at Northwestern? Basically, that the Wildcats will have spent the week studying IU's, well, Wildcat. That means Evans.
“I think if (IU) only did it a handful of times, it would kind of be a nuisance,” Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said. “But it's a major part of their offense. When they get Mitchell back there at quarterback, they've got a good handful of plays and a couple of schemes they run.”
The Wildcat package with Evans, Fitzgerald said, has helped quarterback Ben Chappell, the current Big Ten co-offensive player of the week after throwing for 333 yards and three touchdowns against Illinois.
“It gives him a bit of a rest and sometimes that's a good thing,” Fitzgerald said. “You keep the quarterback out for a second, let him catch his breath and then go out and execute the play.
“They're putting him in the right play and the right protection. He's taking what the defense gives him.”
Northwestern (4-3) is taking its 24-14 loss at Michigan State as a lesson in urgency.
“Guys are hungry, we have a great group of seniors and sand is running out of the hourglass fast,” Fitzgerald said. “We have to continue to improve, we need to stay the course and it starts with attitude.”
It is highlighted with one of the Big Ten's best passing attacks directed by the conference's most accurate passer (Mike Kafka is at 67.8 percent). The Wildcats boast a spread attack that exploits a vulnerable secondary, and because of elbow injuries to defensive backs Chris Adkins and Donnell Jones, and linebacker Will Patterson's hand injury (all three are listed as out for this game), Indiana vulnerability is everywhere you look.
Or is it? It depends on the readiness of backups such as linebacker Justin Carrington and defensive backs Collin Taylor and Richard Council, plus their backups in Adrian Burks and Andre LaGrone.
“We have our starters,” coach Bill Lynch said, “and we know the next guys are a play away from playing. It does stress you as a coach, but playing this offense certainly worries you because they spread you out so much.
“They throw the ball well. Their quick passing game makes it difficult to get to the quarterback because he gets rid of the ball quickly.”
Worries aside, IU (4-3) has renewed confidence in the aftermath of the Illinois victory that snapped a three-game losing streak
“Every week is a new challenge,” Lynch said. “You better not get comfortable with any win just like you'd better not get too down about a loss. Each week you have to be ready to go.
“Any win at this point is good for your confidence, but there is a maturity that goes with having success in that you have to put that success aside and get ready for the next team. That is what good teams and programs do.”