When I sat down to do my preseason predictions Northwestern didn't jump out at me as a team that was going to likely make much noise in the Big Ten.
They face a pretty tough Big Ten schedule and a had a few out of conference games that were rather tough as well. The Wildcats, led by Pat Fitzgerald are off to a lackluster 1-3 start, which was not something I predicted. They'll face an Iowa team that just lost it's leading receiver, but is 3-1 on the young season.
When I say things couldn't get much worse for Northwestern on offense it isn't just a figure of speech. It's the truth. They are scoring just 16 points per game over the course of their first four which is good for 125th out of 128 FBS teams. They lost to a decent FCS team in Illinois State by a final score of 9-7 and have lost games to Western Michigan and Nebraska as well.
They're struggling to really find an identity. They have a QB in Clayton Thorson that doesn't throw the ball extremely well, but Iowa fans are no stranger to that as they saw what he had last year against Iowa and it wasn't pretty.
The got a good win at home against Duke, who just knocked off Notre Dame, by a score of 24-13, but that has really been the lone bright spot. Iowa's defense has been pretty stingy so far this season so the Wildcats could have trouble getting things going on the offensive side of the ball .
They do have a nice piece in Justin Jackson, but when he's the only weapon it makes you extremely easy to game plan against.
Jackson is arguably the best running back in the entire Big Ten. He's quick, tough to tackle, and has really good vision. He's racked up back-to-back 1,000 yard seasons in his first two as a Wildcat and will be looking for another one this year.
I'd say it's going to be easily attainable for the talented rusher seeing as Northwestern likes to turn and give it to him quite often. He's carried the ball at least 20 times in 3 of the first 4 games for the Wildcats.
The Hawkeyes are no stranger to seeing Jackson. They've done a pretty nice job of bottling him up over the course of his career, especially last season when he carried the ball 10 times for 30 yards in a Hawkeye rout in Evanston.
Put Jackson in another offense this season and he would absolutely tear defenses apart. The Cats are fairly one dimensional when it comes to their offensive attack with Jackson being that dimension. Thorson needs to start completing passes to open up the run game a bit more .
Defense Will Be There
Pat Fitzgerald is a very good defensive coach, and it is showing early on. They are allowing opponents to score just 17 points per game over the first four, but it's been tough to get the offense to help out.
However, I do believe the Hawkeyes will be able to take a lot of things from this past week's game against Nebraska. The Huskers defeated the Wildcats in Evanston by a score of 24-13 and Tommy Armstrong had a field day on offense.
The pass was there, the run was there, and the Huskers pretty much did whatever they wanted to on the offensive side of the ball on their way to 500+ total yards on offense.
This defense can be stingy, but Nebraska did a good job of giving Iowa something to look at before their game this week. Iowa also clobbered Northwestern last season, so they'll be able to take some from that as well.
They Know Iowa
Just like Iowa knows what Northwestern is going to do, Northwestern knows what Iowa is going to do. This game will be about 65% run plays and won't be very high scoring at all.
Northwestern knows that Iowa is going to try to bully you around in the trenches and run all over you, which they did last season. This becomes even more true after the news of Matt Vandeberg going down dropped late last night and into today. Northwestern will be prepared for Iowa's attack, but will they be able to stop it?
They seem kind of unpredictable at this point in the season. Their defense is good enough that it's probably going to keep them in most ball games and you never know when Jackson could pop off a few huge runs.
The lost to a very good Western Michigan team to open the year, albeit was just by a point, then they kind of slipped up losing to Illinois State, beat a good Duke team, and then were in it for a majority of the game against a Nebraska team that I feel is very good.
I think Iowa has the better team in this contest, but when you couple a good defense with a dynamic playmaker on the offensive side anything can happen. And with the way Iowa has played in these last two games, who knows.