by Chris Johnson (@ChrisDJohnsonn)
The conclusion of last week's 29-28 home reeked of disappointment. Northwestern was fortunate to hold a commanding 12-point lead with just over eight minutes remaining, with Nebraska having committed multiple self-inflicted wounds on special teams, but the circumstances -- regardless of the path NU took to reach them -- weighed heavily in the Wildcats favor as they honed in on a 7-1 record and a statement win. Two Taylor Martinez touchdown passes and one Jeff Budzien missed field goal later, and NU left the purple-clad portion of the partisan crowd at Ryan Field with a sense that the season's accomplishments to date feel unvalidated without a signature victory, which is precisely what a win over the Huskers would have provided. Until NU beats someone of consequence, the 6-2 start will be looked upon with skepticism and doubt. And after last week's fourth-quarter breakdown, it's hard to argue that claim.
Beating Iowa would remove some of the bad taste from last week's defeat, but it does not vindicate it. The Hawkeyes are not playing anything resembling good football right now. After taking it on the chin at home against Penn State last week, a 38-14 drubbing that exposed numerous offensive and defensive flaws, Iowa limps into this divisional game with little in the way of purpose, direction and confidence. NU was shaken by its loss to Nebraska -- that much was clear when Kain Colter dropped these loaded comments about not having an offensive identity. But the Hawkeyes' concerns run deeper than schematic uncertainty; the Hawkeyes were mentally and physically demolished in their home stadium. Recovering from that type of beating takes weeks. Iowa may never regain the momentum it had after beating Michigan State on the road.
The Hawkeyes' tenuous state of mind operates two-fold for NU: it could generate a feeling weakness and uncertainty, one NU can pounce on and exploit. Or, it could flip a switch and ignite the Hawkeyes, give them an emotional edge, a burning desire to rid themselves of last week's embarrassment. NU needs to prepare for the latter. A failure to shake off last week's disappointment against Nebraska leaves the them in dangerous territory, even if Iowa harbors a similar feeling after their home loss. All in all, this is a very winnable game for NU. Getting back on track, and proving it can beat a quality opponent, is the first and most important step towards charting a successful path for the rest of the season. As the bye week looms, a one-game win-streak would give NU reason for optimism heading into the most daunting stretch of its schedule.
We hope this post finds you in good temperament as you proceed through whatever gameday routine accompanies these precious fall Saturdays. Hopefully our preview material has you ready for the upcoming matchup, but in case you missed anything, below we’ve compiled a last-minute study guide for any opponent queries that may yet stand unresolved. It never hurts to get some last-minute cramming in before watching your beloved Wildcats in game action. That said, read up, and enjoy the game!
Northwestern's secondary depth is deteriorating. Cornerbacks Nick VanHoose and Quinn Evans have been ruled out of today's game. That's bad news for NU's pass defense prospects, but good news for sophomore C.J. Bryant, who's likely to see his playing time surge as a result.
Any site named "Hawkmania" must have a pretty good feel for the Hawkeyes. Which is why we tabbed Steve Batterson of HM for this week's Q&A bit.
We scoured the internet for the best Iowa analysis, opinion and statistical insight. Our results.....in link form.
If you're familiar with our staff here at InsideNU, Kevin Trahan's Iowa ties are no secret. He was born there. He knows the Hawkeyes, almost as well as he knows Northwestern. Read his opponent breakdown.
You may feel strongly about Northwestern on offense, or defense, or special teams. Perhaps their efforts in all three areas, in your mind, stand superior to Iowa's units. Maybe not. Wherever you stand on the matter, my reflections on the topic could sway your opinion.
Uniformity is the byword for this week's picks panel, with only one dissenter.