By Marty Johnson
The Wildcats are back at Ryan Field this Saturday for their annual homecoming game. This season, it’s against the 6-0 Iowa Hawkeyes, who are No. 17 in the country at the moment. After they were decimated by an amped-up Michigan team 38-0 last Saturday in Ann Arbor, the Wildcats could use all of the home cooking they can get. Despite the loss, however, Northwestern can still win the Big Ten West if team can run the table from here. But, beating the Hawkeyes won’t be easy as NU hasn’t beaten the Hawkeyes since 2012 and lost last season’s matchup 48-7.
The Wolverines’ defense was a not a welcoming host to the Wildcats’ offense Saturday afternoon. The Northwestern offensive line lost the battle in the trenches early and was working for behind all day. As a result, the team was only able to muster 168 yards of total offense. Quarterback Clayton Thorson was 13-27 for 106 yards and an interception while Justin Jackson only gained 25 yards on 12 carries. Thorson made some pretty bad decisions, including his pick-six in the second quarter that put Northwestern down 28-0. His receivers didn’t help him out either, though, dropping several catchable passes. The Northwestern offense has been more opportunistic than downright effective for most of the season, but it wasn’t either against Michigan. Thorson and his supporting cast will have to play considerably better if it hopes to compete with the stingy Hawkeyes defense this Saturday.
Iowa had considerable more success in their game last weekend against Illinois than Northwestern did. The unit racked up 478 yards of total offense on its way to a 29-20 win. The Hawkeyes are led by junior quarterback C.J. Beathard who has completed 61 percent of his passes this year, throwing nine touchdowns and only two interceptions. However, he’s dealing with a groin injury that may limit his production. Even if he isn’t at full-strength, the Hawkeyes are still in a good spot with their strong ground game. Senior running back Jordan Canzeri has averaged 5.3 yards per carry thus far in 2015 and has reached the end zone nine times. The Beathard-Canzeri combo has resulted in a solid offense that has averaged 31 points a game in its first six games. With an injury-depleted defense, the NU defense will have its hands full.
The Northwestern defense played its worse game of the season by far last weekend, but it wasn’t as bad the final score would indicate. It only allowed 24 points (of the 38 the Wolverines scored), which is the lowest Michigan has been held to since it scored 17 in its season-opening loss at Utah. That being said, the Wildcats’ defense surrendered 380 yards of total offense on Saturday and was unable to force any turnovers. To make matters worse, NU’s excellent cornerback Matthew Harris suffered broken bones in his face after taking a knee from a Michigan player and will not be active for the upcoming game. However, the Wildcats still boast one of the nation’s best scoring defenses, allowing only twelve points a game.
Iowa has a disruptive defense itself. The Hawkeyes’ defense is only allowing 16.2 points a game. Its most notable performance was two Saturdays ago when it limited then-No. 19 Wisconsin to only six points in a 10-6 win. The secondary is perhaps the highlight of the unit. Iowa has eight interceptions on the season, good for second in the country. Five of these picks have been by the same person: junior cornerback Desmond King. The Hawkeyes also boast a formidable defensive line that has accumulated 19 sacks so far, of which only six other teams in college football have more. In comparison, the terrific front of NU only has twelve sacks so far. Both units are among the nation’s best and if the Wildcats are able to regain their form, it should be a defensive battle.
X-Factor: Iowa Kicker Marshall Koehn, Sr.
Koehn has been fantastic for the Hawkeyes this season. He is 8-for-9 on field goal attempts and a perfect 5-for-5 in attempts over 40 yards, with his long a 57-yard kick. If the game is indeed a defensive battle, a field goal kicker with a cannon for a leg could be the difference-maker.
Pumped up from the atmosphere of home coming and wanting to redeem themselves, the Wildcats will play inspired football to get back into the win column.
Final Score: Northwestern 19, Iowa 17