In yet another Big Ten West slugfest, the Wildcats fell well short against the Hawkeyes. The offense once again struggled to put together drives, while the defensive line showed out early but was worn out down the stretch. Our full stock report:
Playing without Trevor Kent and Earnest Brown, Marty Long’s guys kept NU in it for as long as they could, stuffing Iowa on many early down runs and generating a fair bit of pressure on Nate Stanley despite recording just one sack. They gave up just 45 rushing yards in the first half on 2.6 yards per attempt.
There were more open running lanes for the Hawkeyes in the second half, but that was also a function of being on the field for over 33 minutes. This was a valiant effort from a group that got no support from its offense.
Greg Newsome and Cam Ruiz
The sophomore was once again on an island for the majority of the game and played admirably while facing speedy receiver Ihmir Smith-Marsette. Newsome made nine total tackles (six solo, three assisted) and made two pass breakups. Ruiz, his counterpart, added another two breakups, including one that would have otherwise resulted in a deep completion.
Neither was perfect, and Newsome in particular committed a couple of penalties, but both played solidly as the NU secondary held the a Hawkeye passing attack that was averaging over 250 yards per game to 179 passing yards. That number was bolstered by three chunk plays (one of which was the early touchdown and one once the game was out of reach).
Warm weather vacation plans
At 1-6, Northwestern would have to go at least 4-1 over its final five games to keep its bowl appearance streak alive. Find those warm weather deals, ‘Cats fans, because it doesn’t look like you’ll have to plan your holiday vacations around football.
Honorable Mentions: JJ Jefferson before he got injured, Drake Anderson (in his limited carries), Daniel Kubiuk’s only punt
The passing attack
Once again, the Northwestern passing game could not find any rhythm. With Aidan Smith making his third straight start, the junior managed just 38 passing yards in the first half even when the offensive line was providing him time to throw (which was not all the time). With Hunter Johnson on the sideline, the coaching staff elected to keep Smith in despite his struggles.
He had a chance to hit Riley Lees for a big pass midway through the second quarter, but overthrew him by just a hair. For all of the offense’s struggles this season — they came into this game averaging 9.5 points per conference game — they hit a new low today. A week after suffering their worst loss of the Pat Fitzgerald era, the ‘Cats were shut out for the first time since 2015 at Michigan.
Fourth down play calling
The Wildcats had fourth down and short twice in Iowa territory and both times had their plays blown up. The first one was a fourth and two at the Iowa 48 in which John Moten ran tried to run right up the gut against a stacked box and was stuffed for a two-yard loss. Then, at the beginning of the second half after Aidan Smith had found RCB for two first down catches, NU faced a fourth and four from the Iowa 41. Smith could find no receiver and scrambled for no gain, turning the ball over.
On both ensuing Iowa drives the Hawkeyes scored touchdowns. Down 17-0 late in the third, when the Wildcats had driven to the Iowa 28, Fitz elected not to try a 45-yard Charlie Kuhbander field goal but go for it on fourth-and-nine. The Smith pass fell incomplete. Overall, the ‘Cats finished an atrocious 0-4 in fourth down situations.
Chunk plays on defense
The overall stats don’t look bad, especially for a defense that gave up just over 300 yards (and only 179 passing yards), but it was some key explosive plays that gave cause for concern. Iowa hit three pass plays of 38 yards or more. In the first quarter, Hawkeye QB Nate Stanley hit Tyrone Tracy on a third-and-ten for what should’ve been a fifteen yard completion, but a couple of missed tackles led to a fifty-yard touchdown. Fitz said he did not like the way his guys responded to that moment.
The overall defensive play kept Northwestern in the game, but allowing three pass plays of 38+ yards and three rushes of 12+ yards is not sustainable when the offense (literally) can’t score.
Honorable Mentions: Offensive line, crowd attendance, situational third-down defense, weather