Following their close 31-24 defeat at Maryland, the ‘Cats travelled to Kinnick Stadium to face the struggling Iowa Hawkeyes. However, Iowa looked far from the team that was defeated by 44 a week prior, as it scored on its first four possessions and scored over 20 points for the only the second time this year. Northwestern wasn’t able to get into Iowa’s red zone until midway through the third quarter, and by that time the 20-0 deficit felt all but insurmountable. The ‘Cats dropped their seventh straight, 33-13, and the thought of what the Buckeyes will do to this defense a week from now is frightening.
Brendan Sullivan continues to look poised
Although his stats weren’t anything to write home about, Sullivan played well considering the lack of a pocket he had for every pass. Against an Iowa secondary that forced CJ Stroud to cough up a fumble and interception a week ago, Sullivan consistently made the correct read and delivered catchable balls to give his playmakers chances on the outside (with his lone interception coming in garbage time late in the first half). The quarterback didn’t use his legs nearly as effectively as a week ago, but given the time and options he had, the sophomore was far from the reason the ‘Cats were defeated.
Second-half play calling
After an abysmal first half offensively, Northwestern came out of the break with tempo and self-awareness. In their first drive of the second half, the ‘Cats went for it twice on their own side of the field, and despite coming up scoreless on the drive, Mike Bajakian’s playcalling was aggressive and desperate, which was warranted considering the score. Despite Sullivan’s inexperience, Northwestern’s tempo allowed it to get Iowa’s defense a bit out of position. Eventually, the ‘Cats were able to get the goose egg off the scoreboard. Considering it took till the second half when the game was out of reach, this is a bit of a backhanded compliment, but still Bajakian was
Evan Hull may be WR1
His 2021-22 campaign proved his capabilities on the ground, but considering he now leads the team in receptions and is neck-and-neck with Malik Washington in terms of receiving yards, Hull is proved again how much of he is a threat in the passing game. With Sullivan having a very limited time to throw every time he dropped back, Hull’s great hands allowed him to be the only consistent target for Sullivan all afternoon. Considering the way Northwestern’s O-line was manhandled all day, getting Hull the ball in the passing game may prove to be the most viable way to get the talented playmaker in open field.
Honorable mentions; Fourth down conversions
The offensive line
Coming off a stellar game in which Northwestern’s offensive line gave up only one sack and helped the ‘Cats rush for 215 yards, the unit was manhandled. When even Peter Skoronski gives up a sack you know it could be a long day for the offensive line, and it was just that. The ‘Cats had -17 rushing yards at halftime (which included the four sacks it surrendered) and Northwestern wasn’t giving Evan Hull any push up front. This forced NU’s passing attack to become quick and screen-centric, which is not a great formula for success considering the talent and discipline of Iowa’s secondary.
The pass rush
When Spencer Petras looks like a competent quarterback, you know your defense isn’t having a good day. Although some of the throws Petras made against the ‘Cats were impressive, the senior had a clean pocket seemingly all day long. In a game where no one on our staff predicted either team to score more than 17, the Hawkeyes put up 20 points in the first half and scored on all four of its possessions. Whether Iowa threw it or ran it, the defensive line looked outmatched throughout. Petras followed up his 46 passing yards and 2 interceptions from a week ago with 220 yards and 1 touchdowns.
Coming up empty early
With the game already 10-0, Northwestern found themselves at Iowa’s 25 in need of a score. However, instead of capitalizing with seven or kicking a field goal, the ‘Cats went backwards to somehow find themselves in a fourth-and-36 from their own side of the field. Against an elite Iowa defense, Northwestern needed to take advantage of any opportunity it could, so coming up scoreless on its only threatening drive of the half is not the recipe for success. The ‘Cats will be outmatched talent-wise the rest of the way through the season, so failing to take advantage of opportunities early will only lead to more insurmountable halftime deficits.
Honorable mentions: The secondary, committing penalties