Inside Slant: Iowa

The Sports Xchange gives an in-depth look at Northwestern's next Big Ten opponent, the Iowa Hawkeyes.

Saturday's game against Northwestern rates as a big challenge for Iowa.

Not because the Wildcats are nationally ranked (they are not) or superior in talent (no chance) or sitting atop the Big Ten Legends division (they are winless in conference play).

It's because Northwestern (2-3, 0-2 Big Ten) has owned the Hawkeyes in recent years, winning the last three meetings and five of the past six.

The streak includes three straight wins at Iowa's Kinnick Stadium.

Yeah, talk about a mystifying trend.

"They just seem to come out and play harder than us," defensive end Broderick Binns said.

Not just harder but better in the eyes of Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz.

"For me, it's pretty simple — they have played better all three games," Ferentz said. "That's kind of where it's at. You can slice it, dice it — at the end of the day, they played better in all three of those games and they won. Our objective this week is to play better than them."

The Hawkeyes (3-2, 0-1) lost to Penn State in last Saturday's conference opener and can't afford two straight losses if they expect to compete for the division title. Particularly with unbeaten Michigan experiencing a revival under new coach Brady Hoke.

So the pressure is on the Hawkeyes to end their struggles against Northwestern. But nothing figures to be easy based on recent history.

"It's going to be a big challenge for our football team to get ready for it," Ferentz said.


—Third-down conversions have been a major story during Iowa's three-game losing streak to Northwestern. The Wildcats converted 27-of-53 third-down opportunities during the streak while Iowa has gone 9-for-37. Iowa has converted 44 percent of its third-down conversions this season and allowing opponents to convert of 45 percent.

—The poor offensive showing against Penn State was the first time Iowa failed to score an offensive touchdown since a 2007 loss to Purdue.

—Cornerback Micah Hyde leads the Big Ten with three interceptions. He began the season at safety and is playing at a much higher level since being shifted back to corner.

SERIES HISTORY: Iowa leads Northwestern 46-23-3 (last meeting, 2010, 21-17 Northwestern).

SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: Iowa's highly potent attack over the first four games was reduced to a whimper by Penn State and the Hawkeyes seek a rebound. Quarterback James Vandenberg threw two of his three interceptions in the loss. He has 10 touchdown passes. Running back Maurice Coker has 454 yards and seems well on his way to a 1,000-yard campaign. Marvin McNutt is averaging 97.2 receiving yards per game, third best in the Big Ten. The offensive line has had occasional issues and partly responsible for why Vandenberg has been sacked 10 times.

SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: The Hawkeyes have allowed 30 points in the last two games after giving up 71 in the previous two outings. Defensive tackle Mike Daniels leads the team in both sacks (2.5) and tackles for loss (4.0) and had a stellar outing against Penn State. Middle linebacker James Morris continues to rise his level of play and outside linebacker Christian Kirksey (49 tackles) has been a pleasant surprise. Cornerback Micah Hyde has three of Iowa's five interceptions.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "The first thing I would point out, I think we had five or six catchable balls that we didn't catch. So it's just tough to get any kind of rhythm going when you're doing that." — Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz on his squad's offensive troubles against Penn State.


THIS WEEK'S GAME: Iowa vs. Northwestern, Oct. 15 — The Hawkeyes last beat Northwestern in 2007 and the days in which they dominated the Wildcats are long gone. Iowa once won 21 consecutive contests against Northwestern until losing in 1995. The current Wildcats aren't intimidated by Iowa.

KEYS TO THE GAME: Iowa quarterback James Vandenberg seeks to regain his September form and should have a chance against a Northwestern defense allowing 263.8 passing yards per game. It would help him if someone steps up among the receivers to avoid double teams on Marvin McNutt. Dealing with the two-quarterback system of Dan Persa and Kain Colter will keep Iowa's defense on its toes. Persa shredded the Hawkeyes last season and Colter brings a running dimension that is tough to defend.


QB James Vandenberg — Didn't throw a touchdown pass for the first time this season in the loss to Penn State and didn't play as well as he had in previous weeks. Iowa will be watching for a bounce-back showing that further solidifies Vandenberg is both a solid leader and solid quarterback.

RB Marcus Coker — Running really well after a rough start and his competitiveness nature is starting to blossom. He was devastated with the loss to Penn State and wasn't satisfied with his 74-yard rushing performance.

MLB James Morris — The sophomore leads the Big Ten with 53 tackles and playing ferocious football. He matched his career-best with 13 tackles against Penn State. His first 13-tackle game was last season against Northwestern.


—G Nolan MacMillan (hernia) hasn't played this season and may not be cleared until November.
—CB B.J. Lowery (wrist) is expected to play for the first time this season.
—TE Austin Vier (back) is taking a medical redshirt and isn't expected to play again.

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