By: Darren Zaslau
Looking to win consecutive games for the first time this season, the Northwestern University football team will host the Iowa Hawkeyes this Saturday at Ryan Field. After defeating the Maryland Terrapins 37–21 on the road last week, the Wildcats are 3–3 overall and 1–2 in the Big Ten. Iowa is coming off a bye week after beating Illinois 45–16 on October 7th. Currently, the Hawkeyes are 4–2 overall and 1–2 in Big Ten play.
Winning last year’s matchup against Iowa 38–31 in Iowa City, Northwestern will look to maintain its dominance again this season. With kickoff set for 11 a.m., here’s what you should watch for in this week’s Big Ten West matchup.
“The Ball Carrier” vs. “The Outlaw”
Nicknamed “The Ball Carrier,” Northwestern running back Justin Jackson became the program’s all-time leading rusher in last week’s win over Maryland. In the game, he ran for 171 yards and two touchdowns on 28 carries to increase his career rushing total to 4,639 yards. Jackson’s excellent performance against Maryland also raised his career total in all-purpose yards to 5,350. He has now moved past Damien Anderson to become Northwestern’s all-time leader in all-purpose yards.
Jackson will look to continue his rushing dominance against the Hawkeyes’ defense led by linebacker Josey Jewell. Nicknamed “The Outlaw,” Jewell currently leads the Big Ten in tackles with 11.7 per game and in solo tackles with 36. His 70 total tackles also lead the conference. Last season, Jewell ranked second in the Big Ten in tackles with 124 and was an All-Big Ten Second Team selection. In addition, he was one of five finalists for the Butkus Award last year and is on the Butkus Award watch list this season. Against Illinois, he tied the team-high for total tackles with 10, five of which were solo tackles. A senior from Decorah, Iowa, Jewell is a prospect in the 2018 NFL Draft.
Nate The Great
Iowa quarterback Nate Stanley has been excellent in his first six games this season and is a potential threat to the Wildcats’ defense. After only attempting nine passes last year in a backup role, Stanley has been successful in his first year as the Hawkeyes’ starting quarterback. This season, the sophomore has thrown for 1,290 yards, 15 touchdowns and two interceptions. His 15 passing touchdowns rank as the second-most in the Big Ten behind Ohio State’s J.T. Barrett, who has tossed 21 touchdowns this year. On September 9th, in a 44–41 win over Iowa State in overtime, he had his best game of the season. The Menomonie, Wis., native completed 27 of 41 passes for 333 yards and five touchdowns. In the Hawkeyes’ most recent win over Illinois, Stanley completed 17 of 32 passes for 247 yards with three touchdowns and one interception. Allowing 249.7 passing yards per game, the second-most in the Big Ten, the Wildcats’ pass defense must be up to the challenge Stanley presents this week.
Passing the Test
With nine players recording at least one catch against Maryland last week, Northwestern quarterback Clayton Thorson leads a versatile passing attack. Macan Wilson led all Northwestern receivers in the game with 74 yards on five receptions. Catching Thorson’s only touchdown pass was Flynn Nagel, who also logged four catches for 48 yards.
In addition, the Wildcats received pass-catching contributions from their running backs as Jackson and Jeremy Larkin each made two receptions against the Terrapins. This season, the Hawkeyes have been surrendering 242.7 passing yards per game, the third-most in the Big Ten. On the other side, Thorson is averaging 249.3 passing yards per game, which also ranks as the third-most in the conference. If Northwestern’s passing offense can find a rhythm and provide a balance to its rushing attack, the Wildcats have the potential to put together another high-scoring output.