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Five takeaways from Northwestern’s comeback victory over Iowa

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The Cardiac ‘Cats are back like they never even left.

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

Following a 43-3 blowout win over Maryland, Northwestern traveled to Kinnick Stadium to take on the Iowa Hawkeyes. The ‘Cats got off to a horrific start, allowing the Hawkeyes to go up 17-0 after the first quarter, but held them to just three points for the rest of the game. It came down to the wire, as Blake Gallagher intercepted Spencer Petras with just over a minute left to seal the game. Here are five takeaways from Northwestern’s tight win over Iowa.

No Whillock? No problem.

After the program announced safety Travis Whillock opted out of the season, it was unclear who would fill the spot to play alongside standout senior JR Pace, but many thought junior Bryce Jackson would get the first crack. In the end, redshirt freshman Brandon Joseph earned the start against Maryland, and he’s been impressive thus far.

After leading the team with seven tackles, including one tackle for loss, in the season-opener, Joseph followed up with an MVP caliber performance against the Hawkeyes. In just his second ever start, he snagged two of the Wildcats’ three interceptions, both coming at critical times. Additionally, he recorded four tackles and helped the secondary hold Iowa’s passing attack to just over 50 percent completion and 216 yards.

Kyric McGowan is a legitimate weapon

I am aware McGowan muffed a punt that led to a Hawkeyes touchdown early in the first quarter. I am also aware he led the team in both receptions and receiving yards this week.

After Riley Lees exited the game early with an upper body injury, Northwestern needed somebody to step up in the passing game. In steps McGowan, who posted a solid five receptions for 63 yards and was Peyton Ramsey’s favorite target when he needed a conversion. Additionally, he flashed his versatility, carrying the ball three times for 15 yards and a touchdown, adding yet more depth to the Wildcat rushing attack.

The ‘Cats are still okay with a rock fight

Northwestern’s new offense reeeeeally likes to run the ball. They like it so much, in fact, that they threw the ball only 18 times on the day, while rushing 60 (!) times.

Maybe it was due to the wind, as Kinnick played home to some 30 mile per hour wind gusts on Saturday, but there’s no question that this new Mike Bajakian offense loves to play a grind-it-out style of football.

That being said, the run game wasn’t very effective, especially toward the end of the game. Some might even call it disappointing. Northwestern averaged just 2.4 yards per carry, and the Wildcats found umpteen ways to keep it on the ground. Drake Anderson rushed seven times for one total yard, while Isaiah Bowser carried the ball 25 times for 85 yards and got the hard yards. Senior Jesse Brown converted goal line carries into two touchdowns but rushed 10 times for just 21 yards.

The run game didn’t knock Iowa back like it did against Maryland, but the Wildcats never strayed away from it. Against Nebraska, it’ll probably be somewhere in the middle of the last two games.

Special teams struggles without Riley Lees

As mentioned previously, Lees left the game on the first play from scrimmage and is day-to-day, according to head coach Pat Fitzgerald. His presence was not only missed in the passing game, but on special teams.

Kyric McGowan muffed a punt and set Iowa up inside of Northwestern’s 10-yard line. The Hawkeyes then scored a touchdown to go up 7-0. On the following kickoff, both McGowan and Coco Azema called for a fair catch while also both trying to catch the ball. Luckily, the former caught the ball and avoided disaster.

Regardless of the game’s outcome, mistakes like these are ones that flip the script, as seen by the McGowan muff. Lees’ presence is needed back in the special teams game to make sure NU can properly field punts and return kicks.

The Big Ten West is wiiiiiiide open

Let’s do a quick examination of the Big Ten West. Wiscovid (credit to Eli Karp for that one) is sidelined until at least November 4, and it’s unclear whether they’ll be able to play at Purdue next Saturday. Io_a is now 0-2 after losing to NU, while Minnesota’s defense is a shell of its 2019 self. Nebraska is Nebraska. Illinois can’t defend. That leaves just two teams atop the Big Ten West standings, Northwestern and…Purdue??

That’s right folks, the Boilermakers mean business. After defeating Iowa, Purdue went to Champaign and stuck out a seven-point victory over Illinois. While that may not seem too impressive, they’re doing it without their most electrifying talent, wide receiver Rondale Moore. If Northwestern can get by the Cornhuskers next week, we MIGHT have a Big Ten game of the week on our hands in West Lafayette on November 14.

I say might, it’s a big might. Purdue is scheduled to play Wisconsin next week, but with the Badgers currently down 22 program members due to COVID, including starting QB Graham Mertz and head coach Paul Chryst, anything can happen.