The skid can’t seem to stop for the Wildcats, who now are the owners of a losing streak that stretches seven games and over two months. Many expected a defensive slugfest a la the 17-7 Penn State debacle given that Northwestern was facing Iowa, one of the most offensively challenged teams in the nation. Instead, the ‘Cats defense was broken time and time again as the Hawkeyes rolled to a 33-13 win. Here are five things we learned from the latest loss in what seems to be a never-ending streak.
The defense is done
Iowa is currently 129th in total offense, ahead of just New Mexico and UMass. Iowa also scored on their first four drives of the game and scored 33 offensive points, more than the team had scored in their previous three games combined. Heading into Saturday, the Hawkeyes had scored seven offensive touchdowns — total. They scored three against Northwestern. When the defense is making that offense, and Spencer Petras (currently 118th out of 120 FBS passers in passing efficiency), look not just competent, but borderline good, there is a massive systematic problem. The defense hasn’t given up less than 350 total yards since the Miami (OH) game, back on Sep. 24. Oh yeah, and Ohio State comes to Ryan Field next week.
Sullivan has a spark
Despite it being his second career start, Brendan Sullivan showed several bright spots against a top-10 passing defense. The stat line — 23-for-30, 159 yards and a pair of touchdowns — is arguably the best stat line the Hawkeye defense has given up to a quarterback not named CJ Stroud. Despite being harassed all afternoon to the tune of seven sacks, Sullivan remained collected in the pocket and looked better as the game went along. He's only a sophomore, but if he’s able to avoid turnovers and sacks, Northwestern’s future at QB looks bright.
The offensive line is listless
Those seven sacks I just mentioned were part of a game in which the Hawkeye front seven feasted on Northwestern’s offensive line. Evan Hull did his best, taking his 11 carries for 32 yards, but no other Wildcat managed to even crack 15 rushing yards on the day. When counting the sacks Sullivan took, the team rushed 37 times...for 18 yards. If you want to lose a Big Ten football game, that’s the way to do it.
It’s not going to get any easier
Petras finished this game with a 70% completion rate and 7.3 yards per attempt. The next quarterback this defense will face has a 71.3% completion rate, 10.7 yards per attempt and a 29-4 touchdown-to-interception ratio. After Stroud, the defense has to deal with an experienced Minnesota quarterback in Tanner Morgan, a very solid Purdue signal-caller in Aidan O’Connell, and Illinois’ Tommy DeVito, who’s averaging almost 200 yards a game despite missing most of the Iowa game. On top of that, three of these teams (Illinois, Ohio State and Minnesota) are in the top seven in the nation in total defense, and Purdue is 43rd. Good luck.
The ‘Cats are already looking to next season
As they should, as evidenced by the stats referenced in the previous paragraph. The preparation for next season started when Sullivan was handed the keys to the team a few weeks ago, but now the team is in full-blown “get to next season” mode. While they’re not giving away games, it has reached the point where both the offense and defense are trying new things to see if they work, such as the Duke Olges out route on fourth and goal that put the ‘Cats on the board. In my opinion, this is a good thing. Obviously the rest of this season isn’t going to go in a super positive direction; the ‘Cats are basically eliminated from any bowl already. But by trying out new things and digging into the back of the playbook, the coaches are realizing that while this season may not be filled with great things, next season can be thanks to the early start on preparation.