Flip The Script

Given recent history, it was expected that Northwestern and Iowa would play an exciting, down-to-the-wire game on Saturday. Instead, the Hawkeyes took away any drama and excitement, and held off a Wildcat comeback.

The past three Iowa-Northwestern games all followed the same script; the Wildcats trailed by at least 10 points in each contest before coming back to pull the upset.

And while it looked like the latest game in the series would turn out the same way, as Northwestern rallied from 17 points down to tie the game in the third quarter, the Hawkeyes flipped the script with a big fourth quarter rally to win 41-31.

But this game wasn't only mismatched on the scoreboard—Iowa won in the same way Northwestern has become accustomed to beating the Hawkeyes, by willing their way to a win.

Most years, Iowa is going to have more talent than Northwestern. Most years, Iowa is expected to run away with a win.

But not this year; not against a Northwestern team with one of the best quarterbacks in the Big Ten, one of the best receivers in the conference, the best offensive line in Pat Fitzgerald's tenure as head coach and experience across the board.

This Iowa team is young and filled with underwhelming recruits, especially on defense.

The defensive line, which lost three players to the NFL Draft, has been weak this season. Mike Daniels, the line's star play, was recruited by only Iowa and Villanova. Junior Steve Bigach got his first career start Saturday as well.

Star linebacker James Morris was out for the game, as well, giving senior Tom Donatell his first start.

The Northwestern offense moved the ball well for much of the game—as it should have—but it was out-worked by a less talented, but more driven Iowa squad.

The Hawkeyes flipped the script on the Wildcats, and it ultimately led to a 2-4 record and a four-game losing streak.

Northwestern fans have dealt with four-game losing streaks before, but not very often over the past decade and certainly not with this much talent.

"We haven't shown our true potential," quarterback Kain Colter said. "That's the most frustrating thing and the most encouraging thing."

What's frustrating is that it's hard to pinpoint the problem, outside of the secondary, which is the worst in the Big Ten.

The issue seems to be consistency, as every unit besides the secondary has turned in outstanding performances this season, but also weak ones. Each unit seems to have realized its potential, but hasn't stayed at its peak.

And as Northwestern has learned the hard way this season, just because you have a higher ceiling doesn't mean you're going to be better.

"We've just go to focus up," cornerback Demetrius Dugar said.

However, given that this team is very similar to last year's squad, it's tough to understand why leadership and focus would be lacking. But it's tough to understand anything about this team right now.

After the game, Fitzgerald commented that he thinks "we've turning algebra into calculus right now," implying that his team is dealing with simple, easy-fix problems. However, given the streak of losses without concrete answers, it seems like the problems are more complex than Fitzgerald things, or wants the media to think, they are.

Eventually, Fitzgerald will need to ditch the typical clichés—we beat ourselves, we didn't execute, we had one-man breakdowns, etc.—because a loss is still a loss, no matter if you think the other team beat you or you beat yourself.

Given the high expectations coming into the year, nothing can save this season from being a disappointment, but it can still be salvaged short of a disaster.

As if we haven't been reminded enough, this team has the talent to come away with the four wins it will take to become bowl eligible. The question is if it has the mental capabilities or the confidence to do that right now.

"This season has been a journey," Colter said. "Right now we're facing a storm. This is the point where we need to make a choice if we want to be great or win some games here and there.'

The chance for a great season is already out the window, but the prospect of a great finish is still on the table. There's still the chance to go 8-4—even if those odds are slim to non—the chance to go to win a bowl game for the fist time since 1949 and the chance to head into 2012 with a ton of momentum.

But for that to happen, Northwestern must first flip the script on what has been a very backward and disappointing first half of the season.


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