A beautiful day in Iowa City and fresh white uniforms did nothing to help the on-field production for Northwestern.
The Wildcats (1-7, 1-4 B1G) were unable to stop the losing skid, falling to Iowa 33-13 (4-4, 2-3 B1G), bringing the winless streak to seven games.
The ‘Cats were unable to get much going on offense today. Brendan Sullivan went 23-for-30 for 159 yards, two touchdowns and an interception in his second start of the season. Sullivan was also sacked seven times, which didn’t help matters whatsoever. The usually consistent Evan Hull struggled as well, racking up only 32 yards rushing on 11 attempts. Bryce Kirtz paced the ‘Cats with 35 yards on five catches.
Spencer Petras and the Hawkeye offense, on the other hand, found new life, scoring more points and tallying more yards in the first half alone than they averaged on the season. Petras finished with 220 yards on 21-for-30 passing an a touchdown in a bounce-back performance.
Northwestern won the toss and deferred to receive the ball in the second half, so Iowa started the game at its own 26. Iowa started off with explosive play after explosive play. Arland Bruce got eight on a jet sweep, which Kaleb Johnson immediately followed with a 19-yard rush. Petras executed a 15-yard pass for his first completion, and Iowa charged all the way down to the NU nine before being stuffed in the red zone. It settled for a 29-yard field goal from Drew Stevens, making it 3-0 Hawkeyes.
A Hull fair catch on the ensuing kickoff gave the Northwestern offense the ball at its own 25. After missing Thomas Gordon on his first pass attempt, Sullivan found Hull for a Northwestern first down. Northwestern continued the “get-the-ball-to-Evan-Hull” offense, involving him in two straight plays before Sullivan was sacked for a 15-yard loss. This brought out Luke Akers for his first punt of the afternoon.
The Hawkeyes started the drive at their own 41, but an offensive penalty on the first play sent them back to the 31. This penalty made things tougher for Iowa, and Northwestern was able to force a fourth-and-inches. But Petras snuck across the first-down marker to keep the drive alive. There was no looking back after that, and Iowa scored its first touchdown in 30 drives thanks to another Petras sneak. Drew Stevens converted the point after to increase the Iowa lead to 10-0.
Sullivan got the offense going on the ensuing drive with a 17-yard completion to Marshall Lang. The ‘Cats followed that up with a 12-yard screen pass to Anthony Tyus, which put them in Iowa territory for the first time. Sullivan showcased his ability as a runner with a ten-yard rush, pushing Northwestern deeper into enemy territory. A holding penalty on Vincent Picozzi killed some of the Wildcat’s momentum, and a sack on the following brought Northwestern to third-and-27. The turf monster got to Sullivan on the next play, bringing up Akers to punt again.
Iowa had a solid return, but a penalty meant its offense would get the ball at its own eight-yard line. The Northwestern defense started to look alive, but a hold brought Iowa out of the shadow of its own goal line. The Hawkeyes capitalized on NU’s mistake and quickly moved deep into its territory, threatening to score again. The ‘Cats prevented a touchdown, but Iowa still made good on its threat, with Stevens kicking another field goal to extend the lead to 13.
Another Stevens touchback on the kickoff gave NU the ball at its 25. Northwestern’s third time getting the ball was not a charm, and it gave the ball right back to the Hawkeyes after going three-and-out.
Iowa started with the ball at the 50, hungry to increase its lead before the half. A few big gains moved the Hawkeyes into the red zone, and Petras struck again with a six-yard touchdown pass to Luke Lachey with 22 seconds left in the half. That brought the score at the half to 20-0 in Iowa’s favor.
Northwestern started its first drive of the second half the same way it started the rest of its drives: at its own 25. Another three-and-out looked likely, but the ‘Cats opted to go for it on fourth down and kept the drive alive. Northwestern saw itself in the same predicament on the next set of downs, but converted on fourth down again. This only delayed the inevitable however, and Luke Akers trotted back out to punt again.
The Hawkeyes let the punt settle in the end zone, and Iowa started off its drive from its 20-yard line. For the first time on the afternoon, Iowa was unable to advance the ball, and it was finally time for punter Tory Taylor to do his thing.
A lack of action in the first half must’ve made Taylor rusty, because he shanked his punt, which went just 12 yards and gave the ‘Cats the ball at the Iowa 34. Sullivan completed a pass to Lang to bring Northwestern into the red zone for the second time, and Hull pushed the Wildcats inside the Iowa 10. Fourth-and-goal at the Iowa one-yard line left Northwestern with a decision to make, and going for it proved to be the right call as Sullivan found Duke Olges for a touchdown. It only took 38 minutes, but Northwestern finally gets on the board, bringing the score to 20-7.
Northwestern kicker Adam Stage got his second chance to kick off and he kicked the ball into the end zone, giving Iowa the ball at its on 25. The Hawkeyes made their way into NU territory, but the ‘Cats defense stood tall, leaving Iowa with a 54-yard field goal attempt. Stevens somehow slipped the kick just over the crossbar, and Iowa increased its lead to 23-7.
Hull decided he was tired of the touchbacks and brought the ball out. The result was basically the same, with NU starting at its own 23 this time. It didn’t matter, though, and after nearly turning the ball over twice, it was time for Northwestern to punt it away.
Iowa responded just as it did all day: by scoring on a drive that ate up tons of clock. The four-minute, 49-second drive ended with another Stevens field goal, making it 26-7 in favor of Iowa.
Both teams traded scores in garbage time. Iowa scored first, and Northwester scored as time expired with a touchdown from Sullivan to Ray Niro, bringing the final to Iowa 33, Northwestern 13.
The Wildcats will be back in Evanston next week for the Parents & Family Weekend matchup against second-ranked Ohio State. The 11 a.m. CT matchup will air on ABC.