Northwestern is searching high and low for a win. Will it come against Iowa this week? Let’s take a look at which team has the edge in each situation of the game.
When Iowa has the ball
Northwestern just can’t catch a break from these mobile quarterbacks. The Wildcats face another one on Saturday in Iowa QB Jake Rudock. He won’t put up big rushing numbers but he is elusive in getting out of the pocket and creating more time for himself. He doesn’t have a huge arm but he’s not afraid to dump it off to one of the Hawkeyes’ excellent running backs. Basically, he knows his job and he does it fairly efficiently, while letting the running game do most of the heavy lifting.
And that running game is going to be a problem for the Cats. Mark Weisman is a powerful runner up the middle and NU has struggled against those types of backs this year, most notably against Wisconsin when they gave up 172 yards to Melvin Gordon. The Hawkeyes also have two speed backs in Damon Bullock and Jordan Canzeri. It will be a struggle for the Cats to contain this running game. However, if they do, they will essentially shut down Iowa’s offense, because much of its offense depends on getting short third down situations for Rudock.
When Northwestern has the ball
Based on practice reports and the ever-vague comments from coach Pat Fitzgerald, quarterback Kain Colter will be back this week but running back Venric Mark will not. This means that NU’s offense will once again not be at full strength but will certainly be more dynamic than last week’s woeful performance against Minnesota.
Iowa gave up 102 yards on the ground to Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller last week, so Colter has a chance to do some damage with his legs as well.
Like Northwestern’s secondary, the Hawkeyes’ defensive backs have been known to give up some big plays, including 11 touchdowns from over 17 yards this season. For NU to benefit, quarterback Trevor Siemian will have to be much more accurate than he was against Minnesota. Northwestern certainly has the ability to handily dismantle Iowa’s defense—it will all depend on Fitzgerald’s favorite word: “execution.”
Venric Mark won’t be returning kicks but freshman Matt Harris has handled the job very well so far this year, averaging 24 yards per return. Iowa uses wide receiver Jordan Cotton, who hasn’t been much of threat this year with a 21 yard average and a long of 35 yards.
Northwestern very rarely returns punts, but Iowa does have a punt return threat in Kevonte Martin-Manley, who has returned two punts for touchdown already this season. However, with all the practice he has gotten lately, Northwestern punter Brandon Williams should be in a good position to neutralize Iowa’s return game.
NU has the leg up (pun intended) in the kicking game with kicker Jeff Budzein. The senior has missed two field goals this season but has been a sure-thing from under 40 yards. Iowa’s kicker Mike Meyer has missed two field goals from under 40 yards this year.