It was a tale of two halves for the Northwestern defense Saturday at Ryan Field in the Big Ten opener.
The Wildcats held the Indiana offense in check throughout the first half, allowing just 145 yards and heading into half with the shutout intact.
In the second half, the Hoosiers struck early and often, scoring 29 points and racking up 280 yards. At one point, Indiana got into the endzone on four straight possessions, though one of which was a 96-yard kick return. No scoring drive lasted longer than 2 minutes and 30 seconds, displaying the Hoosiers' complete efficiency.
"In the second half, they caught us in passing coverages as we were transitioning," said linebacker Damien Proby, who led all players with 14 tackles. "It opened up gaps and that's something we just can't have happening. It's little fundamental things that will get corrected in the future."
"Obviously, we've got some holes in the dam," Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald said. "We allowed way too much water to sift through. Credit the Hoosiers. They blocked us, they ran through us and they ran around us. We've gotta fix that starting right now."
The second-half defensive woes neared the point of dj vu for the Wildcats, who gave up 28 points late in the season opener at Syracuse before barely eeking out a last-second win.
But Proby and the defense came up with a big stop midway through the fourth quarter when the Hoosiers were in reach -- down just eight points -- and shut down Indiana the rest of the way.
"This game was a little bit different than Syracuse from the standpoint that we were in position and we gotta make plays," Fitzgerald said. "I don't have a magic pill for that. I don't have a drill for that.
"I have great confidence in the guys. They just have to have confidence in trusting themselves. I'm disappointed for them. But I think we're at a completely different place as a defense as we were then. You know, you also give up a kick return, which really hurts you.
The kick return was a point of emphasis for Fitzgerald after the game.
"You give them a freebie," he said. "When you don't tackle, you lose contain and you have guys out of their lanes. We have to do some figuring on that."
Fitzgerald said he would address some personnel issues on the kick coverage team, which features some players that played a lot of snaps on defense as well as special teams.
As much as the Northwestern defense "let the water sift through" in the second half, as Fitzgerald put it, they still managed to keep a prolific Indiana offense in check.
The Hoosiers entered play Saturday averaging 36 points and 538.3 yards per game. The Wildcats held them to 425 yards and only 22 points, with seven more points coming on that special teams breakdown.
Fitzgerald thinks the defense could have had an even better day, if just another few plays were executed properly.
"They did a terrific job in the second half by making big plays in the passing game," Fitzgerald said. "We had guys in position. If we win on those plays, it's a completely different outcome.
"Six or eight of those plays are gonna go for about 200-300 of the yards. Our guys are gonna watch it on Monday morning and they're going to see a technical, a fundamental or an execution issue.
"They're not going to see that they were out-talented. They're not going to see that we were out-schemed. They're going to see that they can fix those problems. And that's the way we're going to coach these guys. "we've got a lot of good momentum going on, but we're far, far from the finished product in all three phases of the game."