Preview/Prediction: Northwestern

Iowa plays host to Northwestern Saturday in a clash of Big Ten West Division foes. Hawkeye Insider takes an up-close look at the match-up and predicts the outcome.

IOWA CITY, Iowa - Hayden Fry accomplished a lot in his career at Iowa. Helping produce a rivalry with Northwestern probably wasn't something the legendary coach was shooting for.

Gary Barnett, then the Wildcats coach, used something he claims Fry said to him as extra motivation to rebuild a once downtrodden program. The tall Texan always has had a way with words.

Barnett said that after their game in 1994, during the post-game handshake from a contest won 49-13 by Iowa, Fry said to him, "I hope we didn't hurt any of your boys." The series changed after that.

The Hawkeyes' win in '94 was their 21st in a row against Northwestern. Fry engineered the final 16 of those triumphs.

The Wildcats and Barnett turned around their program and their fortunes against Iowa. They defeated the Hawkeyes the next three years and have won 10 of 17 of their match-ups beginning in '95. They've captured three Big Ten titles.

"I think a lot of people make the mistake of maybe living in the past," Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz said. "I mean, since '95 these guys have been really good.  They've got a proud tradition, and they play like they have a proud tradition, so they're a good program, excellent program."

Northwestern (3-4 overall, 2-2 Big Ten) travels to Kinnick Stadium on Saturday (11 a.m. CT, BTN) for its 76th all-time meeting with the Hawkeyes (5-2, 2-1). Both teams are coming off byes that followed losses.

"This has become a pretty darn good rivalry over the years. I know our guys will be excited for the challenge," Wildcats Coach Pat Fitzgerald said. "It seems like we've been out there (at Iowa) every year that I've been the head coach. It seems like every year we play at Kinnick.

"It's another one of the great college football cathedrals; great fans; incredibly supportive of the Hawkeyes. It will be a challenge for us, there's no doubt about that."

The Wildcats will visit Iowa for the sixth time in the last nine years. Fitzgerald took over at in '06.

Fitzgerald played linebacker for Barnett, finishing up his career in '96, and enjoying wins against the Hawkeyes his final two seasons. In 2010, Northwestern running back Adonis Smith was quoted as saying his coach hates Iowa.

"I've read the story about Gary Barnett and Coach Fry, and Gary Barnett did a wonderful job there, and Pat played on that football team, so it's got to be very personal to him, I'm sure," Ferentz said. 

Iowa scraped by the Wildcats, 17-10 in overtime, last year. Northwestern finished 5-7 overall and 1-7 in the Big Ten but lost some heartbreakers, including on a hail-Mary pass at Nebraska and in triple OT against Michigan.

The Wildcats opened this season with home loses to California and Northern Illinois. They bounced back to win their next three contests, which included a 29-6 demolition of Penn State in State College and 20-14 triumph against then No. 17 Wisconsin. Since then, they fell 24-17 at Minnesota and dropped a 38-17 decision to Nebraska in Evanston.

After its trip to Iowa, Northwestern faces a manageable conference slate with home dates against Michigan and Illinois and a road game at Purdue. It also travels to Notre Dame in a non-conference affair.

"We've got a bunch of big games remaining, especially for our seniors. I think our guys are pretty darn focused and hopefully we'll prepare well and get ready to go into one of the more hostile environments (Kinnick) in college football," Fitzgerald said.

The Wildcats look different offensively than in years past when mobile quarterbacks like Dan Persa and Kain Colter caused Iowa fits. Current signal caller, Trevor Siemian, prefers to sling it from the pocket.

"I'm not trying to take anything away from him. He's not as fast as Kain Colter," Iowa middle linebacker Quinton Alston said. "But he has a great arm and we really respect this guy, too. He's a really good quarterback . He has a great pocket presence and I think he can throw the ball around pretty well, too."

Hawkeye Defensive Tackle Carl Davis isn't relaxing.

"This quarterback is good. He can get the ball out of his hands. I've seen him get a couple of first downs with his feet, too, and they have a good running back," he said.

While it relied on the quarterback to pick up rushing yards in recent years, Northwestern has leaned on freshman tailback Justin Jackson for ground gains this fall. The Glenbard North High (Carol Stream, IL) product was Scout.com's 15th-ranked player at his position nationally in the '13 Class and he hasn't disappointed with 630 yards and four touchdowns on 134 carries this season.

Iowa pushed hard for a commitment from Jackson when he was coming out of high school.

"He could have been a good defensive player too.  That wasn't our intention.  Obviously, it wasn't Northwestern's, but he's an excellent football player," Ferentz said.

The Wildcats have banked on an explosive offense for much of their past success. This season, they entered this week ranked fifth in the Big Ten in scoring defense (20.4 point per game).

"They're solid," Iowa Quarterback Jake Rudock said. "They have 11 guys on the field that will be in their right spots, that will do their jobs. It's what they've done in the past. It causes some issues."

Time, TV, Announcers: 11:01 a.m. CT on BTN with Eric Collins, Chuck Long, and J Leman.

The Series: Iowa leads 48-24-3.

Betting Line: The Hawkeyes opened as a 6.5-point favorite at the Las Vegas Mirage on Sunday. The number had dropped to 4.5 as of Thursday. The total was set at 41.5.

Betting Trends:

-Northwestern is 3-9 Against The Spread in its last 12 conference games.

-Iowa is 5-11-1 ATS in its last 17 games played in November.

Match-up to Watch: The Hawkeyes have been gashed on the ground in their last two outings. Indiana piled up 316 rushing yards and Maryland posted 212. The Hoosiers broke out with running back Tevin Coleman (15-219) while the Terrapins did their damage with quarterback C.J. Brown (21-99).

Iowa must stop the bleeding against the rush. Players and coaches have said it's about technique and fundamentals, which may be the case, but it's looked, at times, like the defenders just aren't quick enough to the point of attack.

Jackson will provide an answer as to whether or not the Hawkeyes have cleaned up their problems against the running game. He comes into the contest with three straight 100-yard performances (162 vs. Wisconsin; 106 vs. Minnesota; 128 vs. Nebraska).

Safeties Jordan Lomax and Johnny Lowdermilk were two of Iowa's three leading tacklers at Maryland. The linebackers struggled and if that happens again against Jackson, it would be a long day for the Hawkeyes.

Take Note: Iowa has 10 interceptions, the third most in the Big Ten. Eight different players have recorded an interception.

Take Note, Take Two: Northwestern is 16-12 (.571) in November during Fitzgerald's head coaching tenure and 13-9 (.591) since 2008. Three of its four November losses over the last two seasons were decided by a single score.

Non-Sports Related: Jerry Springer attended Northwestern.

Did You Know?: Purple became Northwestern's official color in 1892, replacing black and gold after a university committee concluded that too many other universities had used these colors.

Did You Also Know?: Northwestern has one of the largest university endowments in the United States, valued at $7.9 billion in 2013.

Northwestern Wins If… it can run the ball effectively.

Iowa Wins If… it can stop the run.

Overview: Since Iowa's 62-10 win in '02, the last nine meetings in this series have been decided by an average of 7.8 points. Five of those contests were within seven.

This game could end up being a blowout one way or the other, but it doesn't preview like that. Both teams are flawed and the outcome could come down to which program best addressed those shortcomings during the bye week.

Iowa sustained off-week setbacks with the suspension of Reggie Spearman, an injury to reserve running back LeShun Daniels and the abrupt transfer of back-up receiver Derrick Willies. On the brought side, the players that attended Tuesday's press conference seemed focused and undistracted.

These teams are pretty evenly matched. It's cliche, but the squad that executes better should win. And that could come down to a special teams' play or a turnover. Maximizing opportunities will be a key.

The weather forecast calls for 45 and clear with a north wind at 5-10 MPH, so that should not be a factor.

Prediction: IOWA 24, Northwestern 17


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