EVANSTON, Illinois -- Northwestern picked up right where it left off in its 40-10 loss to Iowa on Saturday.
Coming off a 38-0 beatdown at the hands of Michigan last week, the No. 20 Wildcats (5-2 overall, 1-2 Big Ten) surrendered the first 16 points to the No. 17 Iowa Hawkeyes (7-0, 3-0 Big Ten) on Saturday. Despite cutting the lead to 16-10 before halftime, Northwestern then couldn't answer Iowa's 24-straight second-half points.
The Hawkeyes dominated the line of scrimmage as running back Akrum Wadley -- in place of Iowa starter Jordan Canzeri, who left the game with an injury -- ran for 204 yards and four touchdowns. The play of Iowa's offensive line (with two new starters due to injury) and Wadley took pressure off quarterback CJ Beathard, who was hobbled by a groin injury.
For Northwestern, quarterback Clayton Thorson got off to a rough start, at one point failing to complete 11 consecutive passes. He followed it up, though, with nine-straight completions to help bring Northwestern back before halftime. He found Mike McHugh on a long pass to set up a second-quarter touchdown and led NU on a short field goal drive to capitalize on a Traveon Henry interception.
Despite the short stretch of positive play from the redshirt freshman, Thorson also had an interception early in the contest and lost a second-half fumble.
With the win, the Hawkeyes retain the outright lead in the Big Ten West as Northwestern drops its second game in a row by 30 or more points.
1. Iowa beat Northwestern at all the things we thought the Wildcats were good at in September.
Iowa is the team we thought Northwestern was two weeks ago. They’re tough, they’re deep at running back and they defend.— Michael Odom (@RealMichaelOdom) October 17, 2015
This tweet by our Michael Odom was spot on. Through five weeks, the then-undefeated Northwestern Wildcats played a pounding style of offense, racking up rushing yards on the ground and controlling field position. The defense was stout and dangerous, consistently making big plays while limiting offenses' long gains.
On Saturday, the team that did those things was Iowa. And Northwestern put up little resistance.
The Hawkeyes rushed for 294 yards, an average of just under six yards per carry. While time of possession is often a faulty stat, the almost 14-minute margin advantage held by Iowa indicated how dominant the Hawkeyes were. Northwestern gained over 15 yards on just one play, a 34-yard pass from Thorson to McHugh. To boot, Iowa won the turnover battle 3-1.
2. What happened to Northwestern's defensive stars?
On multiple occasions, cornerback Nick VanHoose, usually a consistent tackler against the run, completely whiffed on an Iowa running back, resulting in a big gain. Middle linebacker Anthony Walker's name was rarely called, as he only collected four total tackles in the contest. Godwin Igwebuike didn't make any egregious mistakes, but also didn't have a major impact on the game.
The biggest disappointment was Northwestern's defensive line. Dean Lowry, Ifeadi Odenigbo, Deonte Gibson and Xavier Washington were expected to bounce back after a collectively poor performance against Michigan. The only Wildcat defensive lineman to get past Iowa's banged-up front and land a hit on Beathard was tackle Max Chapman.
3. Moving forward.
After dropping two-straight Big Ten contests, Northwestern travels to Nebraska in Week 8. Following an off week in Week 9, Northwestern hosts Penn State and Purdue before traveling to Wisconsin. The Wildcats finish the regular season against Illinois at Soldier Field in Chicago.
The way Northwestern's schedule sets up -- and also the relative weakness of Iowa's remaining games -- makes it hard to see Northwestern passing the Hawkeyes to be the West's representative in the Big Ten championship. Thus, the Wildcats' expectations have to be recalibrated. A six- or seven-win season seems more likely now than ever.