SPECIAL TEAMS TRIES TO SAVE THE DAY
In a day full of errors, the one unit that did step up was the special teams. Keith Duncan connected on his one and only field goal and drilled all of the extra points. However, what did help in putting points on the board was the return game, both on punts and kickoffs. Iowa's field position was outstanding for most of the day. Both Desmond King and Riley McCarron were successful in flipping the field. They didn't break off any for scores but they consistently were picking up at least 25-30 yards and gave the offense some breathing room. That was crucial as the Hawkeye offense has been sputtering to sustain long drives. Iowa averaged 35 yards per return on kicks and 23 yards per return on punts.
I will say this was not Ron Coluzzi's best day at punting and they did allow a long punt return in the first quarter that set up the Wildcats' first score.
Beathard was under duress all day. He was sacked six times which is inexcusable no matter how you look at it. Not only that, there were many other times when the pressure got to Beathard and that number could have been far more than it was. It was a combination of pass protection breakdown, Beathard being unable to escape any kind of pressure, and receivers not getting open on a consistent basis. All three phases contributed to all of the hurries and pressures Northwestern was able to muster. That has to get figured out. Today was not the first time it was a problem this season.
PLAYING BEHIND THE STICKS
Iowa's offense just isn't built to overcome long yardage situations. Whether it's sacks, penalties, or other breakdowns, they can't have these errors that gets them off schedule offensively. Once they get off the schedule offensively, the drive is dead. They don't have the firepower through the air right now to pick up large chunks on second and third down. They aren't able to pass the ball with any efficiency when the defense knows to expect it. If they become predictable based off of down and distance, they have no chance. They have to give themselves manageable down and distances to be as effective as what they can be and they're failing to do that with any kind of regularity.
Despite the deficiencies on the offensive side, 31 points should have been enough to beat Northwestern. Because of this team's identity and how they are constructed, and the style of play they're comfortable with, they're not going to win too many ball games when they give up 38 points. This isn't a team that's going to rack up 40 points too many times. Northwestern is a good defense. If you score 31 on them, you should win. Northwestern was only averaging 16 points a game going into today. They only scored 7 on Illinois State. You won't beat them if you give this sputtering offense 38 points.
BIG PLAYS PLAGUE DEFENSE AGAIN
The large chunk plays have hurt the Iowa defense all year long and today was no different. It plagued them against Miami, North Dakota State and again against Rutgers. The difference in those games is that though they bent, they didn't break. Today they broke, and often. If you play with fire long enough, it's going to cost you and that's what happened today. They haven't figured out the remedy to this problem but they better do it quickly if they want to turn the season around. They surrendered runs of 35 and 58 yards to Jackson. They also allowed a 25 yard touchdown pass to Austin Carr. The tackling was porous again and they didn't leverage the ball well enough.
The safeties took a step forward last week against Rutgers but they had a relapse today against Northwestern. Brandon Snyder has to pick his game up, there's no way around it. A performance like that isn't acceptable. They have to get off blocks better, both on the line of scrimmage and the linebacker group.
NOT GETTING OFF THE FIELD
Another problem for the defense is not getting off the field. They got Northwestern into plenty of third down situations to end drives, and even a couple fourth down situations. The Wildcats were 6-16 on third down and 2-2 on fourth down. You won't win games with that kind of defense. Drives were extended that should have ended quickly. And once they surrender a key third down or fourth down conversion, the Wildcats found momentum on offense and moved the ball downfield. They put several points on the board when their drive should have ended long before they converted scores.