The Northwestern Wildcats went into Iowa City as a 13.5-point underdog against the Iowa Hawkeyes, but came out with a 38-31 victory, as Trae Williams’ interception sealed the Hawkeyes’ fate. Northwestern’s on a bye this week and will travel to East Lansing to take on the Spartans on Oct. 12, but first, let’s take a look at the good, the bad and the ugly behind the Wildcats’ win.
You might as well pencil in Austin Carr here every week at this point. Carr was dominant once against, catching six passes for 73 yards and three touchdowns with a long of 25 yards. Carr has become Thorson’s go-to target, especially on third down, and time and time again, Carr comes through with big catch after big catch. On the season, Carr’s caught 32 passes for 465 yards and 6 touchdowns, already surpassing his 2015 totals. Carr ranks No. 23 in the NCAA in receiving yards and is tied for fourth in touchdown catches, and if he continues this up, he could be a darkhorse candidate for the Biletnikoff Award, to which he was recently added to the watch list.
Ifeadi Odenigbo was a monster as the defensive line really stepped up in Iowa City, doubling their season sack total with 6.0 on the day, including 4.0 from Odenigbo. The ‘Cats got consistent pressure on C.J. Bethard, especially on third down with five of the ‘Cats six sacks coming on third down. Northwestern also got one quarterback hit and nine tackles for a loss and the ‘Cats really dominated in the trenches defensively. Iowa averaged just 1.90 yards per carry and only 283 yards of total offense.
One week after negative plays killed the Wildcats, Northwestern committed just one penalty, a false start on Tommy Doles, and had just two negative plays. The ‘Cats were the more disciplined team on Saturday as Iowa committed 6 penalties for 70 yards, including two costly unsportsmanlike conduct penalties. Rather than moving back and stalling like against Nebraska, Northwestern churned out 362 yards of offense and put up 38 points in Iowa City against a Hawkeye defense than ranks No. 43 in Defensive S&P+
Justin Jackson averaged 6.6 yards per carry against the Hawkeyes, tying a career best for him, set against Penn State in 2015. Jackson gained 181 yards and one touchdown on the ground while also catching three passes for 15 yards. Jackson’s 171 rushing yards was also his fourth highest total every and he eclipsed the 3000 career yards mark five games into his junior season. Northwestern’s offensive line gave Jackson a much better push, 3.24 line yards per carry compared to just 2.95 against Iowa, and Jackson took advantage.
Coming into the game, while Jack Mitchell had struggled in the kicking game, he’d been sensational on kickoffs with nine touchbacks and an average return of just 19.0 yards. But against Iowa, he managed just three touchbacks which allowed Iowa to gain more than 130 yards on kickoff returns. It didn’t end up deciding the outcome of the game, but a few more touchbacks would have really helped Northwestern’s special teams unit against the Iowa return game.
The one area where Northwestern had a lot of trouble on Saturday against Iowa was in the return game. Iowa’s Desmond King and Riley McCarron combined for 254 yards on 9 kickoff and punt returns, including six over 20-yards. And had it not been for King slipping on a return or two, and a key tackle by Hunter Niswander, King and McCarron may have taken one or more to the house. The Hawkeyes will be among the most dangerous teams Northwestern will face in the return game, but had a few more tackles not been made the ‘Cats poor coverage could have resulted in a loss, rather than their 38-31 win.