After a tough home loss to Notre Dame, this week Northwestern travels to Iowa for a tough matchup. Iowa (6-3, 3-3) is coming off two straight losses to Penn State and Purdue, yet should be another test for the Wildcats. Here are three reasons why Northwestern will/won’t beat Iowa:
Why Northwestern will beat Iowa
Clayton Thorson finds his form again
It’s no secret that Thorson has been struggling to find his form recently, consistently underperforming expectations, yet showing moments of brilliance. Granted, this Iowa defense is no joke, but they are not the third-ranked Notre Dame defense. Thorson looked uncomfortable in the pocket, and hopefully he can relax this week a little more as the Wildcats face off against the 21st-ranked defense. The Hawkeye defense is much more effective against runs than passes, and Northwestern should look to make use of the pass to attack a vulnerable Hawkeye secondary. However, the pass rush of the Hawkeyes cannot be underestimated as well.
Northwestern’s defensive line shuts down their rushing game
Iowa is famous for pumping out 1,000 yard rushers, doing so 10 times under coach Ferentz and coming very close four more times. This year, Iowa makes use of a three-back rotation. The most impressive is sophomore Mekhi Sargent, who transferred to Iowa from a JUCO. He is their best pass-blocking back and has been their best overall back recently, with fellow back Ivory Kelly-Martin being injury prone. Toren Young, the third of the trio, should also receive some playing time but Sargent and Kelly-Martin should get a majority of the snaps.
Isaiah Bowser has another monster day
I don’t have a ton of faith in Thorson magically finding his form in Kinnick, and so I expect a more logical approach being Northwestern making use of Isaiah Bowser and operating on a run-first offense. This approach would be a successful one for the Wildcats as Bowser has only improved as his confidence builds. While he hasn’t had any long runs so far, I think that fact changes in Kinnick, as the unsung heroes of the offensive line manhandle the Hawkeye line giving Bowser the opening he needs. He isn’t the fastest back, but he is powerful, and he can get through holes well, breaking tackles when needed and dragging defenders for extra yardage.
Why Northwestern won’t beat Iowa
Iowa’s tight ends expose NU’s injured secondary
The Northwestern secondary is pretty depleted, especially missing safety Jared McGee and cornerback Trae Williams. I’m more concerned with Williams and what becomes of the second corner position than McGee as Travis Whillock has stepped in well. Greg Newsome III had been occupying the place earlier in the season before he got injured, and Cam Ruiz has played at times but his performances thus far have been unconvincing. Iowa’s tight end duo of Noah Fant and TJ Hockenson have the potential to expose the Wildcats secondary which has been lackluster so far. They should expect to face mismatches and could light up the Wildcats if not defended correctly.
Iowa’s pass rush gets to Thorson, repeatedly
The size of the Iowa defensive front cannot be overstates. Furthermore, Northwestern’s offensive line has allowed 24 sacks in nine games. Iowa will most likely expect passes first, and react to the run, so as to further protect their young, inexperienced corners from being exposed as Purdue did last weekend. If Iowa can hit and pressure Thorson repeatedly, I would expect his performance to be more similar to his against Notre Dame where he constantly looked uncomfortable in the pocket and had little time to go through his progressions.
Northwestern enters the tough environment of Kinnick unprepared
Ok, so this one might be a little bit of a stretch. However, Kinnick is a very difficult environment to play in, and while I’m not sure how effective the pink walls will prove to be, there are many other factors that play into this. For one, it is parents weekend in Iowa, which will only increase the amount of fans there, creating an even larger home field advantage. The Hawkeyes are coming off two straight Big Ten losses, and the will be hungry to bounce back, and should the Wildcats falter early, Iowa will no doubt be doing whatever they can to take advantage of any Wildcat mistake — there will be little room for error.