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Three matchups to watch: Northwestern vs. Iowa

NU’s offense looks to continue its success in Iowa City.

Iowa v Northwestern Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images

After a dominant performance against Maryland, Northwestern takes on Iowa this Saturday afternoon on Halloween. The ‘Cats go into the matchup as three-point underdogs, even after their win and Iowa’s loss to Purdue Saturday. Despite the slow start, the Hawkeyes remain one of the best teams in the conference and will be looking to bounce back in their second game of the season. Here are three matchups they’ll have to win to beat Northwestern.

Northwestern’s backfield vs. Iowa’s front seven

The ‘Cats ran for a total of 325 yards and four touchdowns against Maryland while averaging an impressive 6.1 yards per carry. Isaiah Bowser and Drake Anderson worked well complementing one another to move the chains early on while the game was competitive, setting a fast pace for the offense which helped to open up the passing attack. It was certainly an impressive showing, but it’s important to remember that it was against Maryland, a rebuilding program with one of the worst defenses in the conference.

Mike Bajakian will likely look to establish the run game early and often against Iowa. The Hawkeye defense clearly missed graduated defensive end A.J. Epenesa in Week 1, as they ceded 129 yards on the ground to Purdue running back Zander Horvath. Watch for Northwestern to try and push the pace on the ground from the get-go like they did against Maryland, even while facing a more stout Iowa front seven.

Greg Newsome II vs. Ihmir Smith-Marsette

Smith-Marsette was Iowa’s best receiver a season ago, as he tallied up 722 receiving yards and five touchdowns while also rushing for 108 yards and three scores. However, the senior was uncharacteristically quiet against Purdue, as he failed to record a single catch. Considering his proven explosiveness and playmaking ability, look for Iowa quarterback Spencer Petras to target his star receiver often against Northwestern after completing just 56.4% of his passes at Purdue.

Should he be healthy, Greg Newsome II, NU’s star corner, would shadow Smith-Marsette. Newsome missed the first game of the season with an injury, but he’s back on the depth chart for Week 2; however, he could be ruled out ahead of Saturday’s matchup again this week. While it’s uncertain whether Newsome will take the field for the first time this season, his presence would aid an inexperienced secondary facing Iowa’s offensive weapons. The Chicago native finished second in the Big Ten with 11 pass breakups last season, despite playing in just nine games. The secondary as a whole played well enough without him last week, but against a more talented Iowa offense, he could be an important factor in determining how successful the Hawkeyes are in their passing attack.

Peyton Ramsey vs. Iowa’s secondary

Following the offseason departures of All-Big cornerback Michael Ojemudia and safety Geno Stone, Iowa’s secondary looked vulnerable against Purdue. The unit did manage two interceptions but was carved up by David Bell who had 121 receiving yards and 3 (!) touchdowns, including the game-winner off of blown coverage. The defense as a whole gave up 24 points to a team without their starting quarterback and star wideout, which tied for the most points they gave up throughout all of last year.

Meanwhile, Peyton Ramsey had a strong debut for Northwestern, throwing for 212 yards and a touchdown to go along with a 94.1 QBR, good for third best in the Big Ten behind Justin Fields and Graham Mertz. If the grad transfer can receive adequate protection in the pocket, the Hawkeye secondary is going to have their hands full all game long.