Mike Hankwitz — Man, it's been quite the season for Hankwitz, the once embattled Northwestern defensive coordinator. He's overseeing an improved unit loaded with young stars and excellent technique. Aided by some top-notch position coaches–including Randy Bates–the NU defense is "firing" — perhaps for lack of a better word. The Wildcats made some ideal in-game adjustments against the Iowa power running game. After Mark Weisman, Jake Rudock and a stellar ground attack sliced up the NU defense in its opening drive, Hankwitz made the necessary moves to slow the Hawkeyes offense. It's not the overarching story, but still, we can give credit to Hankwitz for one of his career-best jobs.
Nick VanHoose — He's gaining back the confidence, and with just more than two years left in his career, VanHoose can use the remainder of this season as an ideal launching point. The redshirt sophomore looked far more comfortable than in recent weeks, and showed excellent awareness in breaking up the Iowa running game. He's struggling on the sideline throws every so often, but in general, the team's best corner looked the part on Saturday. Again, these losses are falling almost squarely on an inept offense. It's nice to see VanHoose make some positive plays.
Chi Chi Ariguzo — On Monday, Pat Fitzgerald will likely name Ariguzo the team's "defensive big playmaker" of the week. The junior linebacker had one crucial sack, and intercepted Jake Rudock in the closing seconds of regulation to preserve the tie. He's been much more stout in pass coverage this year, gaining consistency in the process. He's one of the more underrated players for Northwestern, someone who can impact every game with his trademark playmaking ability. On Saturday, it showed.
Stephen Buckley — Ninety-nine yards later, Buckley officially arrived. The redshirt freshman continued his rapid ascent, perhaps propelled by some injuries and failures by guys ahead of him. Regardless, he's been effective in consecutive games — using his speed to reach the second level with ease. After playing well throughout spring ball and training camp, Buckley settled into live action and became the unofficial starting back. If he can find more success in the zone read with Colter, expect him to have an outstanding close the 2013 season. Youth movement in full force, the Wildcats can take chances.
Jack Konopka — I'm still bullish on Jack Konopka, but he'd even admit to Saturday being another problematic game. The second-year starter was whistled for two holding penalties, and struggled as part of another offensive line meltdown. This entire group gelled throughout the offseason, the hope being that it would carry over to games like these. Since September, though, the O-line has labored through games, giving up frequent sacks and failing to open holes for running backs. Konopka will bounce back at left tackle; we can expect more from him than the brand new starters.
Mike Trumpy — This was sad. The senior fumbled twice in the single worst performance by any Northwestern player this year — at least in terms of win probability. With NU driving in a tie game, a couple of first downs from locking up the victory, Trumpy dropped a well-thrown pitch from Kain Colter. Iowa took over, and though the Hawkeyes failed to close, it was an inexcusable play. He's an outstanding representative of the program–and courageously overcame an ACL injury from two years ago–but Trumpy is having a miserable senior season. This outing came on the heels of a three-game stretch in which he had 16 total rushing yards.
Trevor Siemian — I said earlier this week that NU should give Siemian an extremely quick hook after his recent showings, but what was that? He left the game after one play–a sack–and only returned when Colter re-aggravated his ankle injury. Fitzgerald said that wasn't determined before the game, but it's hard to say Siemian had any shot of succeeding. It'll be extremely interesting to see how Mick McCall utilizes the junior. His descent could lead to some long-term repercussions. (Hint: Matt Alviti.)