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Why Northwestern will/won’t beat Iowa

There are West divisions implications in this Iowa City battle.

Syndication: HawkCentral Joseph Cress/Iowa City Press-Citizen

This weekend Northwestern travels to Iowa City to follow up a strong week one performance against Maryland. When the Wildcats last faced the Hawkeyes, Mick McCall’s offense didn’t put up a single point in a 20-0 drubbing. Here are three reasons why Northwestern will start the year 2-0, and three reasons it won’t.

Why Northwestern will beat Iowa

Iowa quarterback Spencer Petras looked inconsistent in his first game

Redshirt sophomore quarterback Spencer Petras came into Iowa with high expectations and rave reviews from coaches and teammates. Originally committed to Oregon State, the northern California native decided to commit to Iowa instead after the Beavers made a coaching change in 2018. Petras looked okay in his first game, going 22-of-39 passing for 265 yards without a touchdown against a mediocre Purdue defense. Northwestern’s unit is a step up from that.

Northwestern proved it can force turnovers

Even in a 3-9 season, NU’s defense was solid, finishing as the 27th-rated defensive unit in the FBS, according to SP+. But the ‘Cats only forced 14 turnovers all of last year, and that wasn’t enough to help out a sluggish offense. The ‘Cats generated four turnovers against Maryland and looked more like the 2018 defense that made timely plays to win the Big Ten West. NU can take advantage of Iowa’s mistakes to win this game.

Iowa looked tired last weekend

The Hawkeyes were favored by three points against Purdue when they traveled to Ross-Ade Stadium last weekend. The Boilers were without wideout Rondale Moore, possibly the most electrifying player in the conference, as well as head coach and play caller Jeff Brohm. Yet Iowa still managed to lose, shooting itself in the foot on several occasions. If Iowa shows up with that same energy on Saturday, Northwestern is good enough to make them pay again.

Why Northwestern won’t beat Iowa

Iowa’s defense is much more competitive than Maryland

The Wildcats were firing on all cylinders in last week’s 43-3 rout of Maryland. It was encouraging to see each position group take advantage of various mismatches, but there must be caution. Maryland may be very, very bad this season, and Iowa always fields a tough defense. This season is a weird one, and Iowa just had a sloppy opening week performance.

The Hawkeyes will be looking for a bounce-back game

It’s safe to say Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz did not envision going 0-1 to start the season, and his teams rarely start 0-2. This game is going to be a true test of Iowa’s resilience, as it will be looking to get its season back on track in the now wide-open Big Ten West with the COVID issues at Wisconsin. Northwestern better come with the juice, because Iowa will be ready to go.

It’s the first road game of the COVID season

On paper, Northwestern is in a pretty good position going into this game, and road teams are 4-1 against the spread in the teams’ last five matchups. However, this isn’t any old road trip. It’s the first away game under all the new COVID protocols, and there may be a heightened level of stress as the team tries to make sure everything goes smoothly. Football players are creatures of habit, and this travel schedule will look a little different from normal. Throw in that Kinnick isn’t an easy place to play, and there are a bunch of moving parts NU didn’t have to deal with last weekend.