Iowa will try to regain form on Saturday as they host Northwestern for Homecoming. The Hawkeyes roared out of the gates to 2-0 but have been far from impressive the last two Saturdays. Northwestern was the opposite, falling to both Illinois State and Western Michigan the first two weeks. They did rebound with a victory over Duke, but then fell again in a highly-contested battle with Nebraska. They lost to the Huskers but competed well and just missed walking away with the win.
Iowa has held Justin Jackson to under 100 yards rushing the last two meetings which is an item to observe this week. Despite the success against Jackson coming into this week, they've struggled to stop the run for the majority of the early season. Much of that has come against the teams that have used some type of misdirection in the backfield to lure some of the Hawkeye defenders out of position. The defense has allowed themselves to be manipulated by the zone-read and jet-action looks in the backfield all year. They'll see much of the same against the Wildcats.
Northwestern does bring in a strong defense lead by all-american linebacker Anthony Walker. He's a dandy, just as Josey Jewell is for Iowa. The Hawkeye running game got going again against Rutgers despite only putting 14 points up on the board. They ran well and it could have been even more. They also left some yards on the field and had a long touchdown run by LeShun Daniels called back. The return of James Daniels and Sean Welsh were huge factors, as was the excellent play of left guard Boone Myers. The Wildcats are strong on defense but they'll have a tough task with the Iowa offensive line. And with the loss of Matt VandeBerg to injury, the Hawkeyes will likely rely on their offensive line even more.
KEYS TO AN IOWA WIN
1) RUN GAME EARLY - After losing their leading receiver in Matt Vandeberg, the Hawkeyes are going to need to get Akrum Wadley and LeShun Daniels going early. Iowa ran all over Northwestern a year ago and if they can do the same on Saturday it should be easy going. It'll also help open up the pass game a bit for the young receiving core we will see this weekend.
2) CONTAINING JACKSON - Northwestern's Justin Jackson is one of the better running backs in the Big Ten. Iowa has done a good job bottling him up during the first two years he's been a Wildcat, but he has big play ability. Iowa gave up 100+ to Robert Martin last week when they played bend but don't break defense. If Iowa gives up 100+ to Jackson they might not be so fortunate this weekend.
3) PRESSURE ON THORSON - Iowa did a good job getting pressure on Clayton Thorson last season, which led to a couple turnovers. He's got one legitimate target in Austin Carr, but it kind of falls of after that. I look for Iowa to get pressure on him early and often to maybe force him into making some silly mistakes.
1) STOP THE BIG PLAYS - For crying out loud, avoid the big chunk plays on defense. They've been surrendering about five in every contest the past few weeks. Limit those and the defensive numbers look so much better and they bend less. It really seems that simple to me. Play disciplined defense and don't get out of whack by all the eye candy and action in the backfield. Do your job. This is their one downfall. Correct it and this defense looks real good, especially with how they have gotten after the passer this year.
2) RUN TO SET UP PASS - It almost seems like Iowa has tried to surprise teams this year a bit and come out throwing. I imagine it has something to do with their confidence in Beathard and trying to be less predictable. Let's get back to Iowa football and run to set up the pass. The passing game will be largely unproven and I'm sure Northwestern will load the box and be expecting that. However, this passing game wasn't flying high with VandeBerg in the lineup. Let's take some ease and pressure off of them by running to set up the pass, instead of vise versa. Iowa runs the football.
3) FEWER PENALTIES - Penalties did not hurt this football team at all a year ago and it was one of the key contributors to all the success. They did not beat themselves. Some of the calls have been bogus in my mind but they've been so critical and thrown everything off. They've taken points off the board this year. The margin for error is so small for the Hawkeyes that it just can't happen for them. Furthermore, this is an offense that is set up to thrive and control the ball but it can only do that when it's on schedule. Penalties get you off schedule and that kills the Iowa drives. They'll score, even without VandeBerg, if the penalties go down and they're on schedule more.
HAWK TO ROCK
DYLAN - On offense it's going to be Akrum Wadley. I think he's back healthy and he looked good against Rutgers. He torched Northwestern last year and we could be in for a repeat performance this year. On defense, it's Josey Jewell. He was a beast last week against Rutgers and gave Northwestern problems last year as well. He could be a big key in stopping Jackson as well. Jewell could rack up double digit tackles.
DEREK - I do tend to take the Akrum Wadley pick on offense because of all the success he's had against Northwestern over the years. He ran for over 200 yards and 4 touchdowns on the Wildcats last season. But unlike Dylan, I don't think that he is fully healthy. He doesn't have the stop-start quickness we saw the first couple weeks. He's taking longer to come to a halt before taking off on a cut. He's healthy enough but not at 100 percent. His touches were down against NDSU. They did go up quite a bit more against Rutgers, though. For that reason, I'm going with James Daniels. This will be the first team he sees for the second time in his career and I think he has the best day of the linemen and I imagine there being over 200 yards rushing on the day.
Defensively, I'm rolling with Ben Niemann. He wasn't very sharp last week against Rutgers, a team that his father is an assistant coach for. However, the Wildcats like to spread it around, and use spread principles and run a lot of action pre-snap. It's a modernized offense and that makes Ben Niemann a more valuable asset. He's the linebacker that plays in the most space. He gets matched up in coverage a lot with how the Hawkeyes use their linebackers. This is a game where he has to be good.
DYLAN: Iowa 20 Northwestern 10
DEREK: Iowa 24 Northwestern 16null