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Stock report from Northwestern’s thrilling win over Iowa

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The good, the bad and the first quarter.

NCAA Football: Northwestern at Iowa Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

It was another heart-stopper in Iowa City. After giving up the first 17 points of the game, Northwestern clawed back to a dramatic win at Kinnick, intercepting Iowa three times in the second half. While the Wildcats showed themselves to be the better team in the end, not all was pretty in this quintessential Big Ten battle.

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The secondary

Without number one defensive back Greg Newsome in action, the Wildcats secondary once again relied on Cam Ruiz, Brandon Joseph, A.J. Hampton and Rod Heard at cornerback. Without much starting experience between the three, fans have had reason to be skeptical about the trio. The three corners played solid games all around, while Joseph broke out with two critical interceptions. Iowa quarterback Spencer Petras completed just 52 percent of his passes for 216 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions. After the early deficit, the unit locked in and locked down the Hawkeyes.

The captains (mostly)

Peyton Ramsey, Riley Lees, Paddy Fisher and J.R. Pace were today’s captains, but for the sake of this piece, I will replace Riley Lees with fellow senior wide receiver Kyric McGowan. Ramsey’s stat page does not light the world on fire, but he made critical plays when Northwestern needed them. His ability with his arm and legs allowed him to make just enough plays to secure the win while making only one big mistake. McGowan had the early fumble on the punt, but he was Ramsey’s go-to receiver throughout the day, securing five receptions for 63 yards, many coming in traffic. Defensively, Paddy Fisher and J.R. Pace were fantastic all game, totaling 17 tackles. The pair is making an early push as some of the conference’s best players, and tonight showed why.

Red zone offense and defense

Northwestern had three red zone opportunities today and converted all of them into touchdowns, including a couple of key fourth down conversions. On the other side, Iowa went inside Northwestern’s 35 yard line six times, but found the end zone just twice. Given the ‘Cats’ tight win, NU needed this level of efficiency on both sides of the football. Bend-don’t-break is back in style.

Honorable mentions: Jesse Brown scoring two touchdowns, 3 yards and a cloud of dust Big Ten football, Northwestern leading the Big Ten West, the entire linebacking crew

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Turnovers

Kyric McGowan’s first-quarter punt muff led to Petras’ first collegiate touchdown pass on the subsequent play. On the very next possession, Isaiah Bowser fumbled from NU’s own 45-yard line, and Iowa followed the fumble recovery with a three-play scoring drive. Individual lapses hindered the Wildcats and prevented the team from settling in at the start of the game. Peyton Ramsey’s fourth quarter interception set Iowa up just outside field goal range and could have proved fatal. If it weren’t for Brandon Joseph’s two takeaways, turnovers may have cost Northwestern the game.

Pass rush

Coming into this season without Joe Gaziano and the Miller brothers, Northwestern desperately needed a new pass rusher to emerge. Today, without preseason starters Jason Gold and Trevor Kent, the defensive line was even more depleted. While the unit did a solid job on ground, allowing only 3.3 yards per carry to a respectable Iowa rushing attack, Marty Long’s group struggled to pressure Petras. The ‘Cats did not register a sack until the fourth quarter and had just one quarterback hurry on the day. Northwestern could use an Earnest Brown IV breakout game in the coming weeks.

Pass catchers

Last week, John Raine, Riley Lees, Ramuad Chiaokhiao-Bowman and Malik Washington all flashed their playmaking abilities. Today, Ramsey completed only eleven passes, with nine of them coming between RCB and Kyric McGowan. RCB made key plays on third down, but neither Raine or Washington recorded a reception, while Lees left the game early in the first quarter after an injury. For a while, the Wildcats couldn’t rely on the pass, and once the running game dried up in the second half, the offense stagnated. In order to beat the remaining upper-echelon Big Ten teams, the Wildcats will need more consistency and explosiveness out of this group.

Honorable mentions: Complacent second half play calling, Minnesota, Ramsey taking hits, clock management