It’s homecoming week for Northwestern as they welcome the Iowa Hawkeyes to Ryan Field on Saturday for another pivotal Legends Division matchup.
With both the Wildcats and Hawkeyes coming off losses last Saturday, the winner of this game will have a better chance at remaining in the hunt for a divisional crown. The loser, might want to reserve a spot in a lower-tier bowl.
Northwestern has had much success against Iowa in recent years going 5-2 since 2005 against the Hawkeyes. With the Wildcats struggling on offense as of late and Iowa not being an strong offensive team this season, it appears that both teams could be exact opposites of each other, especially with how important Saturday’s game will be for the division.
“It’s two hungry teams that want to stay in the hunt for a divisional crown,” said Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald. “This game is going to be critically important for that.”
The Wildcats began the season 5-0 but has faltered since going 1-2 with losses to Penn State on the road and Nebraska at home. With the bye week approaching, Northwestern would not only help their cause to remain contenders in the Big Ten, but they could get some much needed rest before their road trips to Ann Arbor and East Lansing, Mich. in November.
Iowa however, hasn’t been as impressive as most predicted this season. The Hawkeyes have been decimated on offense by injuries and quarterback James Vandenberg hasn’t been as stellar as he was last season. Although the Hawkeyes have struggled on offense, the team has benefited from newcomer Mark Weisman who attended Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire, Ill.
Weisman leads the Hawkeyes in rushing with 649 yards on the ground to go along with eight rushing touchdowns. Iowa has played well when Weisman has rushed the ball effectively this season, when he hasn’t, the Hawkeyes have struggled to win games.
Northwestern’s offense has been stymied over the past few weeks but with Venric Mark healthy, they still pose major threats to their opposition. Although the dual-quarterback system hasn’t been successful as much this month, Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz understands how formidable the Wildcats offense can be, especially this Saturday.
“You’ve got two guys [Kain Colter and Trevor Siemian] right there that you really have to take into account,” Ferentz said. “They’ve got other players too, it’s not like they’re void of talent.”
Northwestern could easily have entered this game with an 8-0 record but poor defense in the fourth quarter against Penn State and Nebraska has the team at 6-2. With another critical game at home, the Wildcats need a victory over Iowa to not only have positive momentum going into their bye week, but to have a better chance at completing their goal of winning the conference championship.
“I think we’ve given ourselves a chance to win both those games, we just haven’t made some plays,” Fitzgerald said. “There’s some details in both games that we can correct and things haven’t repeated themselves so that’s encouraging.”
Bold Prediction: Currently I’m 6-2 this season in picking Northwestern to either win or lose. Last week I predicted Northwestern to beat Nebraska and I was wrong. However, I’m not picking against the Wildcats this week either. I believe this team will improve on offense against a tough Hawkeyes defense that allowed Penn State to jump out to a 31-0 lead last Saturday. Northwestern haven’t lost consecutive games this season and Saturday won’t be any different. WILDCATS 31 IOWA 13
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