The Breakdown: Northwestern

Hawkeye Insider breaks down this weekend's game as Iowa plays host to Northwestern in a Big ten Legends Division contest under the lights.

Iowa CITY, Iowa - Last week, Penn State exorcised some demons in knocking off Iowa, a team that had dominated for the last decade. Saturday, the Hawkeyes have planned to do the same thing to Northwestern, a team that has owned them in that span.

"I'm more focused on the last three, I guess," Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz said this week. "For me, it's pretty simple. They have played better all three games. That's kind of where it's at.

"You can slice it, dice it. Injuries, that's part of the game. But their quarterback was hurt in 2009, as well. At the end of the day, they played better in all three of those games and they won. Our objective this week is to play better than them."

Iowa sits at 3-2 on the season (0-1 in the Big Ten) after the 13-3 loss at Penn State. A loss this weekend would greatly damage the Hawkeyes pursuit of the Big Ten Legends Division title.

Coaches and players hate the term "must win." Regardless, Iowa needs this game if it hopes to challenge for a championship.

TELEVISION: The game will be televised to a national audience by the BTN. The announcers are Eric Collins, Chris Martin and sideline reporter Dionne Miller.

RECORDS, RANKINGS: Iowa is 3-2 and 0-1 in the Big Ten. Northwestern is 2-3 and 0-2. Neither team is ranked.

HISTORY: This is the 73rd meeting between the two schools. Iowa leads the all-time series by a 46-23-3 margin. Northwestern has won the last three and five of the last six in the series. The Wildcats have won the last three meetings in Iowa City.

THE LINE: Caesar's in Vegas installed Iowa has a six-point favorite to open on Monday. It creeped to 6.5 on Thursday morning but dropped back down to six by that evening.

Looks like the odds makers set a pretty fair line. For the most part, they're getting even action on both sides.

Northwestern has won three games in a row in this series and five of the last six contests. The Wildcats also have won the last three games in Kinnick Stadium.

Bettors don't seem bothered by those trends. They understand that this is a different season with many different players.

It's safe to say neither team is as good as it was last season. Both of them are struggling on defense. Caesars has the over-under set at 54.5. If I'm playing this game, I like the over.

The forecast is calling for cloudy skies and a 50 percent chance of rain. Weather could be a factor.

Here are a some interesting trends:

-Hawkeyes are 4-1-1 ATS in their last 6 home games.

-Hawkeyes are 4-1 ATS in their last 5 home games vs. a team with a losing road record.

-Hawkeyes are 16-5-1 ATS in their last 22 games following a ATS loss.

-Hawkeyes are 0-4-1 ATS in their last 5 conference games.

-Hawkeyes are 2-5 ATS in their last 7 games as a favorite.

-Wildcats are 12-2 ATS in their last 14 games as a road underdog.

-Wildcats are 17-4 ATS in their last 21 games as a road underdog of 3.5-10.0.

-Wildcats are 2-8 ATS in their last 10 conference games.

-Wildcats are 1-7 ATS in their last 8 games in October.

KEY MATCH-UPS:

Northwestern QB Dan Persa vs. Iowa MLB James Morris - Nobody in this game has received more publicity this week than the Wildcats signal caller. He's earned it.

Persa threw and ran circles around the Hawkeyes last yearn a Northwestern upset. He injured himself on the last play and missed the rest of last season and the beginning of this one.

Morris struggled last season in Evanston. It was hard to blame the true freshman, who got little help from the rest of his defense.

Saturday isn't all about Morris stopping Persa, but he plays a key role being in the middle of a defense that must contain the QB, which hasn't been a strength this year.

Northwestern WR Jeremy Ebert vs. Iowa FS Tanner Miller - I'm throwing Miller's name out there, but this assignment probably will fall on several Iowa DBS and LBs. The Wildcats move him around to find favorable match-ups, usually from a slot position.

Ebert is another one of those smaller, water-bug like receivers what works the middle of the field. He's the kind of guy that sits down in the zone when Iowa struggles to pressure the quarterback and does damage when plays break down.

Iowa RB Marcus Coker vs. Northwestern MLB David Nwabusi - Coker has been dinged up for much of the season and just can't seem to get it going consistently. That's hurt an inexperienced Iowa defense that can't be on the field as much as it's been up to this point of the season.

The task of slowing the powerful Coker will not entirely rest on the back of Nwabusi. It's tough for one guy to take down Iowa's running back. He'll need help.

Iowa likely will try to establish the run to keep it's defense from having to face Persa on too many drives. If the Wildcats can slow the rush like Penn State did a week ago, it heightens their chance of winning.

Iowa WR Marvin McNutt vs. Northwestern CB Jordan Mabin - A pair of talented seniors go head-to-head in this conference game. They are familiar with each other.

McNutt enjoys the size advantage, as he does most weeks. But Mabin is scrappy and stronger than his size would indicate.

Penn State was the first team to slow down McNutt. You can bet that Mabin and the Wildcats have looked at the tape for a blueprint.

Iowa needs for its player-makers to make plays on offense. McNutt needs to pick himself back up and get things going again.

INJURIES:

Northwestern - Mike Trumpy (out for season, ACL ), Tony Jones (questionable, Leg ), Brian Arnfelt (questionable, Foot ), Mike Bolden (questionable, Leg ).

Iowa - Nolan MacMillan (out, hernia), B.J. Lowery (questionable, wrist), Mika'il McCall (leg, out) , Shane Dibona (out for season, achilles), Dakota Getz (out for season, knee).

THE SKINNY:

Northwestern -

-Northwestern's three-game losing skid has come despite the Wildcats climbing to the top of the Big Ten rankings in turnover margin. After finishing the 2010 campaign ranked 12th in the nation in turnover margin, Northwestern again sits in that position with a per-game average of +1.20. NU's four giveaways on offense are tied for the fifth fewest nationally.

-Jeremy Ebert, NU's active leading receiver with 1,664 career receive- ing yards, has vaulted into third on Northwestern's career receiving TD's list with 15. Ebert, who caught a career-best three scores at Illinois, tied a single-game career high with his 11 catches against Michigan. Eight of his 10 touchdowns the last two seasons have covered at least 20 yards.

-A total of 13 Wildcat players have combined to catch 90 passes this season.

-The Wildcats' rushing attack has been by committee in 2011 with five players averaging at least 6.4 carries per game.

-After ranking 10th in the Big Ten in sacks last season, NU has risen to fifth in that category with 2.0 sacks per game in 2011. This is despite being held without a pass sack vs. Army and Michigan.

-A pair of linebackers—Bryce McNaul (outside) and David Nwabuisi (inside)—are tied as NU's leading tacklers with 41 apiece.

-Sophomore Venric Mark has helped Northwestern move to the top of the rankings in the Big Ten for punt return average at 18.0 yards per return.

Iowa -

-Iowa's only night game of the season is Saturday when the Hawkeyes host Northwestern.

-Iowa has won 52 of its last 63 games (.825) in Kinnick Stadium, dating back to the 2002 season.

-As a team, Iowa is seventh nationally in net punting (42.4), fifth in fewest penalty yards per game (32.0), tied for 11th in red zone offense (95%), tied for 14th in red zone defense (.710), 13th in fewest penalties per game (4.2), tied for 21st in fewest turnovers (seven) and 38th in pass efficiency (147.3).

-The current contracts of Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz and Northwestern Coach Pat Fitzgerald each run through the 2020 season.

-The Iowa roster includes 14 players from the state of Illinois,including, FB Adam Cox (Chana); TE C.J. Fiedorowicz (Johnsburg); OL Adam Gettis (Frankfort); LB Dakota Getz (Macon); TE Brad Herman (Metamora); RB Mika'il McCall (Dolton); DL Riley McMinn (Rochester); FB Matt Meyers (Plainfield); LB Terrance Pryor (South Holland); DL Louis Trinca-Pasat (Chicago); OL Jordan Walsh (Glendale Heights); FB Mark Weisman (Buffalo Grove), QB John Wienke (Tuscola) and OL Markus Zusevics (Arlington Heights).

-There are no Iowans on the Northwestern roster.

THE PREDICTION: Earlier this week, I felt like this was going to be a shootout. While I still think thats a possibility, I've come over to the side that Iowa will try to run the ball and eat up clock.

I think Northwestern will stack the box, but I'm still not sure its defense is strong enough this year to shut down Iowa's run game. The more I think about it, the less convinced I am that the Hawkeye coaches will open it up and engage in a shootout with the Wildcats.

Maybe I'm out to lunch, but I think Iowa is the better team on both sides of the ball. If the Hawkeyes take care of the football, I think they will end the skid against Northwestern.

IOWA 27 , Northwestern 20


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