Northwestern (2-3, 0-2) has lost three straight games, getting outscored 28-0 in the second half by the Wolverines.
"We let our fans down, we have to play a lot better," said Northwestern quarterback Dan Persa.
The Wildcats have adopted that theme of playing a lot better entering this Saturday's game at Iowa. Northwestern has fallen in a second-half funk, something coach Pat Fitzgerald said needs addressed. The Wolverines tallied 205 yards alone in the third quarter. The Wildcats can blame their defense for the brunt of the problem, allowing 31 plays of 20-plus yards this season. Going into further detail, the Wildcats have surrendered 15 30-plus yards and nine plays of more than 40 yards this year.
"We've got to put together a full 60 minutes," Fitzgerald said. "We're playing well up front in controlling the line of scrimmage for the most part. We've faced two of the more dynamic quarterbacks in the league and we've handled the run pretty well. We have to eliminate the explosion plays. We're there for two 50-50 plays [jump balls], we have to win those balls. No way to sugarcoat it, you have to win. You do that by going up first, by having confidence and poise in that situation."
The Northwestern offense deserves a share of the blame for the second-half issues. The Wildcats turned the ball over twice, once on downs and had a three-and-out in their first four second-half drives against Michigan.
"They came back in the second half and made the plays that winners make," Fitzgerald said. "We turned the ball over and they capitalized on it."
The Hawkeyes don't rely on a big-play offense to beat teams. Iowa suffered a 13-3 loss to Penn State, and ranks 61st in the nation with 24 plays of 20 more yards.
The Wildcats have fared well in Iowa City in recent years, but Saturday's game against the Hawkeyes (3-2, 0-1) might be the turning point of the season for the winner.
"For us it's going to be critical that we start fast," Fitzgerald said. "It's going to be a raucous environment, we can't go out there and get knocked out in the first round."
—Saturday marks Northwestern's first true night game (6 p.m. or later start) on the road since the 2010 season opener at Vanderbilt, a 23-21 NU victory. The Wildcats are 3-2 in road night games under Pat Fitzgerald.
—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 plus-1.20. NU's four giveaways on offense are tied for the fifth fewest nationally.
—QB Dan Persa put up some impressive numbers in his second game of the season. Persa threw for a career-high 331 passing yards and equaled his personal-best with 32 completions. Against Illinois, Persa set a career best with four touchdown passes.
SERIES HISTORY: Iowa leads Northwestern 46-23-3 (last meeting, 2010, 21-17 NW).
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: The Wildcats have lost three straight games, but they can't blame ball-control for their losing streak. The Wildcats rank fifth in the country with fewest turnovers lost with four. Northwestern has scored 139 points this season, while surrendering 139 points. But the offense has scored 28 points in each of the last two quarters compared to 31 points in the opening quarter and 52 points in the second quarter.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: Northwestern has shown marked improvement this year in the sacks category. Last year, the Wildcats ranked 10th in the conference in sacks. This season, after five games, the Wildcats are averaging two sacks per game to rank fifth despite not getting a sack in the loss to Army. QUOTE TO NOTE: "You can't let the ball go over your head, it's demoralizing to a defense. They're playing their tails off and then all of a sudden, bang, here's an explosion play." — Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald on the team's 31 plays allowed of more than 20-plus yards.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAME: Northwestern at Iowa, Oct. 15 — The Wildcats have won five of the last six meetings against Iowa, with four of the games decided by seven points or less.
KEYS TO THE GAME: The Wildcats have yet to grasp the importance of playing a full game. Northwestern has to maintain focus in the second half and not turn the ball over to win in a tough environment at Iowa.
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
QB Dan Persa — He is playing in his third straight game. Persa lit up Illinois and Michigan for big numbers, but must steady the offense in the second half after two straight collapses.
S Brian Peters — Has one interception in his last two games to raise his career total to nine interceptions.
DE Tyler Scott — He has emerged in the last two weeks with several big plays. He recovered two fumbles at Illinois, and added seven tackles against Michigan.
—CB Mike Bolden returned to the field in the Michigan game after missing the Illinois game with an injury.
—RB Treyvon Green had just one carry against Michigan, but his seven-yard run was good for six points.
—QB/WR Kain Colter is the only player on the team to amass rushing, receiving and passing yards this season.