The win at Maryland was step one, but to truly begin a season turnaround, Northwestern needs to step up against Iowa and Michigan State. Here’s how they will (or won’t) figure out the Hawkeyes.
Why Northwestern will beat Io_a
Iowa’s run game will continue to struggle
Akrum Wadley is having a down year so far on the ground, putting up just 4.1 yards per carry against competition that has been pretty average overall. Iowa’s run game as a whole hasn’t fared any better, with their rushing efficiency and explosiveness both 100th and 115th respectively in the FBS. Combined with Northwestern’s run defense’s recent high level of performance, Iowa’s atypical struggles in the trenches should lead to a huge Northwestern advantage when the Hawkeyes try to move the ball on the ground.
Justin Jackson is back
Jackson finally broke through against Maryland for a huge game, and while he will be facing much tougher competition in the form of Iowa’s front 7, the star running back seems completely back to his usual form. The Ball Carrier will be hitting creases and jump cuts at full speed, and that should put a scare into a Hawkeye defense which, despite slowing Penn State’s offense overall, allowed a whopping 295 yards from scrimmage to Saquon Barkley. Jackson seems to be hitting his stride and will certainly have the chance to exploit Iowa’s defense. Can he win one-on-one matchups with elite linebacker Josey Jewell in the second level?
Clayton Thorson will adjust and find receivers
Iowa’s secondary is merely average with the departure of star corner Desmond King, and Thorson has certainly had practice in getting the ball out quickly in recent contests against pressure-heavy Wisconsin and Penn State. With some minor adjustments and routes designed to expose the secondary of the Hawkeyes, Thorson and his receivers have a chance to enjoy a modicum of success, which is all they’ll need to supplement Justin Jackson.
Why Northwestern won’t beat Iowa
Josey Jewell and Co. will wreak havoc
Jewell and his rowdy friends will certainly have something to say about Northwestern’s offensive success. Though the senior middle linebacker is the star, putting up a whopping 53.5 tackles (9.5 TFLs) in just 6 games so far this year, he has a lot of help from defensive ends Parker Hesse — who is most effective stopping the run (6.5 TFLs, 6 run stuffs) — and 6-foot-7 sophomore Anthony Nelson, a physical specimen who has 5 sacks already. Northwestern’s offensive line had a bounce-back performance against the Big Ten’s worst defense, but the beleaguered group will need something special to slow this trio.
Akrum Wadley will hurt the Wildcats
Wadley might not be having his best year on the ground thus far, but the talented back has still been a major threat through the air, averaging 17.2 yards per catch. Also, Northwestern fans won’t soon forget his 204-yard, 4 touchdown performance as a sophomore in 2015. Despite recent results, the linebacking corps will have their hands full with Wadley.
Nate Stanley will continue his success
After CJ Beathard departed for the NFL, most projected a return to mediocrity (or worse) for Iowa’s passing game. Instead, sophomore Nate Stanley has emerged to throw for 15 touchdowns against just 2 interceptions thus far for Iowa. Though the Hawkeyes haven’t thrown the ball too much (they average around 15 completions per game), they’ve made every throw count, and 5 different pass catchers have already gotten into the end zone multiple times. After struggling to even slow DJ Moore last week, who knows how the Wildcat secondary will stop a truly multifaceted passing attack.