When: Sat.; Oct. 17 (noon ET)
Where: Evanston, IL; Ryan Field (47,330)
Line: Iowa -2.5
1 Burning Question: Can Northwestern’s Season Get Back On Track?
It feels like a broken record for most of the last 20 years. Northwestern goes out like gangbusters early in the season, only to drop the game that will stamp their season as being for real. Northwestern’s goose egg against Michigan last week was a loud thump.
This week, it is all about showing this season isn’t going off the rails completely. An undefeated Iowa awaits them, but it could be the perfect remedy to what took place last week. There’s nothing like a big challenge in front of you after a failure to help you get over that last thing quickly.
Either Northwestern wins this game and stays a real contender in the Big Ten West, or it shrinks against a second Top 25 opponent once again and sees its national attention go bye-bye.
2 Key Stats
— 5-4: That is the record for Northwestern against Iowa in the Pat Fitzgerald era. Iowa hasn’t exactly handled the Wildcats very well since Fitz came to the helm of his alma mater. Particularly of interest is the fact that “Chicago’s Big Ten Team” has twice beaten Iowa when it was ranked higher than itself. Most will remember the 2009 victory, as Northwestern beat Iowa 17-10 and derailed some legit BCS title game hopes for Iowa.
— 11: That is the number of plays of 40-plus yards by the Hawkeyes offense. Iowa’s offense has been explosive at times this season, but just how explosive? Try leading the Big Ten in plays of 40 yards or more. Northwestern’s defense hasn’t exactly been prone to giving up big plays, so something will have to give on this one.
3 Key Players
Deonte Gibson, DE (Northwestern): If the Wildcats are going to pull off the mild upset at home, they are going to need to put pressure on the quarterback. Gibson is the best beat to make that happen, after accounting for 2.5 sacks alone last week against Michigan. He leads the team with 5.0 sacks on the season and is a matchup nightmare for an Iowa offensive line that has given up 10.0 sacks on the year. That ranks 11th in the Big Ten.
Clayton Thorson, QB (Northwestern): It is very clear that the Northwestern offense goes as Thorson goes. Last week he was not exactly good as a one-dimensional quarterback. Michigan took away the run for him and he ended up on the bench after going just 13 of 27 for 106 yards and an interception. He’ll have to do far better against an equally tough defense this weekend.
Jordan Canzeri, RB (Iowa): How do you top being the national player of the week? That is the big question for Canzeri, who racked up 256 yards on 43 attempts and had two total touchdowns. His emergence as a scoring threat (he leads the B1G with 10 touchdowns) in both the run and pass game has revamped the Iowa offense as of late. If he can get going against a Northwestern defense that is allowing just 131 yards and four rushing touchdowns all season long, Iowa will be in business for another big win.
4 Bold Prognostications
— Clayton Thorson will have more passing yards than C.J. Beathard: That just seems illogical, considering Thorson averages 136.2 yards and Beathard averages 206.5 yards per game. However, when these two teams get together some strange things happen. At some point, Beathard is going to cool down, and Thorson will heat up as a passer. Strangely it will come this week and make Iowa work real hard for the win.
— Jordan Canzeri will top 200 yards rushing again, but will not score a TD: Iowa’s star running back will dominate the game once again, topping the 200-yard mark for the second straight game. Thanks to Northwestern’s shaky rush defense. However, he will grind it out with over 30 carries and won’t get in to the end zone as the just reward for a great day on the ground. Instead, he’ll break off a few big runs and get caught from behind inside the 10-yard line. Then Beathard will bogart a few touchdowns through the air.
— Northwestern will become just 2nd team to rush for more than 100 yards on Iowa: Yes, that’s how dominant the Hawkeyes have been all season long against the run. Now, the real fun trivia question — which team has been the one to top 100 yards against Iowa to date? Bet you aren’t guessing North Texas right off the bat. Look for Justin Jackson, who is fourth in the B1G in rushing yards per game, to get going early and help the Wildcats keep this contest close.
— Matthew Harris takes over as the Big Ten leader in passes defensed: Northwestern has itself one of the least-talked about and most productive cornerback duos in the Big Ten, and Harris has been a statistical monster. He leads the team with seven pass break ups and has 10 passes defensed on the season. That last total is just one shy of the Big Ten lead (Indiana’s Rashad Fants). He’ll regain the lead after this week, as Beathard tries to test the corners deep to help stretch the field after NU stuffs the box to try to slow down Canzeri.
5 Staff Predictions (overall season record; record against the spread)
Andy: Iowa 20-17 (56-13 overall; 30-38 ATS)
Dave: Iowa 26-20 (58-11 overall; 38-29 ATS)
Greg: Northwestern 23-20 (51-18 overall; 41-26 ATS)
Matt: Iowa 21-20 (56-13 overall; 41-26 ATS)
Phil: Iowa 21-17 (10-4 overall; 4-9 ATS) *joined in Week 5
Early Big Ten results remind us why bowl season matters
Don’t tell Iowa, Michigan State and Purdue that their bowl games and wins were meaningless, because they sure weren’t.
Bowl season is usually a cruel, cruel mistress to the Big Ten. Let’s just say hopes always start high and results crash fans of the teams in the conference back down to earth quickly.
There are a myriad of reasons and excuses often given, and some of them are valid (or at least used to be). Examples usually include the fact that 90 percent of the games are played well outside of the Big Ten footprint and the old reliable of huge disparities in caliber of opponents (addressed a bit by the last change in bowl alignment).
So, as the 2017-18 bowl season got underway it was hard to expect much from the Big Ten. After all, the conference teams managed to go just 3-7 last year and only one of those three wins was very meaningful (Wisconsin over Western Michigan in the Cotton Bowl).
Then the games were played and we here in Big Ten country have been reminded just how meaningful bowl season really is.
Purdue not only got to a bowl game, but it won its bowl game against another offense-first team in Arizona. Sophomore quarterback Elijah Sindelar overcame injury and threw for nearly 400 yards (396 to be exact) and four touchdowns, while running back D.J. Knox had 101 yards on 11 carries.
If you believe bowl games don’t matter, just talk to anyone on the Purdue or Arizona sidelines following that game. Going 7-6 in season one under Jeff Brohm was huge, but most importantly it sets new expectations for the program’s floor going forward.
When is the last time there were anything but dreadful expectations surrounding the Purdue football program? If anything, that should tell you just how meaningful bowl games are.
But, it was just Purdue’s three-point win out in the Foster Farms Bowl that showcased the importance of winning so-called meaningless bowl games.
Michigan State not only rebounded from a 3-9 season to go 9-3, but it just beat a fellow top 25 program in Washington State. Sure, you can point to Luke Falk being out of the game, but the Spartans looked like the Spartans that climbed their way to the College Football Playoff just two years ago again.
Dantonio’s crew pounded the ball down the throat of Wazzu’s smaller defensive line and that led to LJ Scott putting up 110 yards on just 18 carries. Meanwhile, the Spartans defense held the Cougars high-scoring offense to just 17 points in the 42-17 win in the Holiday Bowl.
Think MSU will be overlooked by bowl games in the future again?
Even Iowa, who had the most maddening up and down season of any Big Ten team, pulled off a win in the opening game for a Big Ten team this bowl season.
It wasn’t always pretty, but in a matchup of two 7-5 teams, what else would you expect? Most importantly, the game showed that Iowa could win a close game against a quality defense. For a team full of young players at key positions, it’s a win that builds momentum heading in to the offseason.
All three wins set up increase expectations for next season and there’s nothing better than expecting quality football and increased competition within the Big Ten at all.
Of course, the rest of the Big Ten teams in bowl games have some huge matchups to play in.
It’s a nice start to reversing the trend of horrible bowl seasons for the conference, but there’s a lot of work still to be done for the rest of the conference. With three teams in New Year’s Six bowl games, winning them puts the conference at the forefront of the offseason discussion and as much as we hate to admit it — perception is reality these days in the college football world.
That was the lesson we were supposed to take away from the College Football Playoff committee’s selection of Alabama over an actual conference champion, right?
With a snub from the College Football Playoff committee this season, a huge turnaround in bowl game results would mean a whole lot to the reputation – fair or not – of the conference going forward.
Let’s see if the early momentum can be maintained by the big dogs of the B1G.
Iowa goes as Nate Stanley goes, and where that leads no one knows
Nate Stanley was awesome against Ohio State, against other quality defenses? Not so much in 2017.
Iowa has two impressive wins on its record in 2017, beating both Iowa State (pre-Oklahoma and TCU wins) and Ohio State. Nate Stanley tossed 5 touchdown passes in each of those games — coincidence much?
Despite that, the Hawkeyes are just 6-3 in his first season as a starter, perhaps another not-so-shocking revelation either.
Stanley had himself one heck of a game on the biggest stage of the season for the Iowa Hawkeyes. Five touchdown passes, 226 yards and 64 percent of passes completed led Iowa to a stunning 55-27 win over the previously No. 7-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes.
He also completed 27 of 41 passes for a season-high 333 yards and 5 touchdowns against Iowa State in Week 2.
All of that is well and good, but then there is the Nate Stanley that showed up…or rather, didn’t show up against two of the best defenses the Big Ten has to offer in 2017.
In a loss at home to Penn State, Stanley was just 13 of 22 for 191 yards and two touchdowns. He also followed that up by going 16 of 31 for just 197 yards and no touchdowns against Michigan State the next week.
That MSU game also saw Stanley fumble inside the Spartans 10-yard line just as it appeared Iowa was going to make it a one-score game. Instead, Michigan State recovered a really strange fumble and held on to a 17-7 lead.
But, the good news is he didn’t throw an interception in any of those games. In fact, Stanley has thrown just four interceptions all season long.
Once again, the flip side of that great news is that three of his four interceptions have come in the last four games.
Which version of Nate Stanley will show up against Wisconsin on Saturday afternoon at Camp Randall?
The home-state product was not a priority for the Badgers back in the short-lived Gary Anderson era. Instead, Anderson was all-in on finding a dual-threat quarterback capable of giving the Badgers the run-pass option he desperately wanted in transitioning the Badgers offense.
Stanley didn’t and doesn’t fit that bill at all. Yet, the Badgers had a D1 quarterback in their back yard and Anderson chose to ignore him. Stanley’s former high school head coach, Joe LaBuda, of Menomonie High School, put the situation rather bluntly.
“The only reason he’s not a Badger,” LaBuda said, “is Gary Andersen.”
No matter the situation on the recruiting trail, and the motivation it might give to Stanley, the fact remains that what he will see across the field is easily his biggest challenge to date.
He’ll face arguably the best of the Big Ten’s defenses this weekend, as the Hawkeyes take on bitter rival Wisconsin.
Stanley has faced big challenges before and in Big Ten play he’s come up with one big performance and two losses. Despite the early setbacks to Penn State and Michigan State, Stanley hasn’t let it get to him and that is a credit to his ability to face adversity head-on.
“The biggest thing I’ve said all along is I’ve been most impressed with how he’s handled the bumps,” said Kirk Ferentz at his weekly press conference on Tuesday. “When things go wrong, it doesn’t seem to rock his world.”
On Saturday he’ll face a defense that specializes in rocking quarterback’s worlds. Wisconsin is second in the Big Ten with 31 sacks and have racked up a Big Ten-best 14 interceptions. Four of those 14 interceptions have been returned for touchdowns, a total that also leads the Big Ten.
Can Stanley avoid the big hits and the mistakes that the Badgers like to force opposing quarterbacks in to?
If he can, Iowa is likely to have a good shot in this rivalry game. If not, the Badgers are likely to continue their defensive domination.
Let’s see if Stanley has another big performance against a big time defense in him. It sure has been a mixed bag of results so far in 2017.
Can Iowa Hawkeyes build off of offensive outburst against Illinois?
Iowa’s offense came on strong to finish off a Homecoming win over Illinois, but can that outburst sustain itself going forward?
A look at the scoreline suggest the Iowa Hawkeyes did exactly what they were supposed to do on Saturday. Iowa won 45-16 and that seemed about right, but it wasn’t as easy as the scoreboard suggested.
The Hawkeyes were down 13-10 in the second quarter and playing some poor football all the way around. Everything changed on one play in the third quarter though.
Iowa safety Brandon Synder returned to the lineup for the first time this season and he picked a heck of a time for a comeback…literally. Synder picked off a Jeff George Jr. effort deep in Iowa territory and returned it 89 yards for a Hawkeyes touchdown.
What could’ve been a 20-17 deficit in the third quarter turned in to a 24-13 lead. It also seemed to be the catalyst that sparked the Hawkeyes offense.
“They (Illinois) were driving the ball, and they did a good job today offensively,” said head coach Kirk Ferentz following the game. “Their offense did. To come up with that play to get the interception was big, and then to turn it into points was even bigger. Just seemed like that got us moving.”
Illinois was never the same after that pick-six, responding back with a lowly 40-yard field goal by Chase McLaughlin to make it 24-16.
The Hawkeyes ripped off three fourth quarter touchdowns following that pick-six and cruised to the 45-16 win.
Hidden in the scoring output where great seconds half performances by Iowa’s two biggest offensive weapons — Nate Stanley and Akrum Wadley.
Stanley completed just 17 of 32 passes on the day, but he went for 247 yards and three touchdowns to one interception. Wadley added 115 yards and a touchdown rushing and receiving. He had an even day on the ground with 58 yards in the first half to go with 57 yards in the second.
Wide receiver Nick Easley put up a game-high seven receptions for 59 yards and Noah Fant showed the big play ability that should worry teams going forward. He had just three catches, but led the Hawkeyes with 78 yards and a long of 41 yards on the day.
That was certainly good news after seeing the offense screech to a halt the last two weeks against Penn State and at Michigan State.
While the good news is Iowa’s offense came to life, it took awhile to get going and looked like an 0-3 start could’ve been a real possibility in the first half. All of that against one of the Big Ten’s worst defenses.
It’s up to Ferentz and Co. to figure out how to get this offense rolling quicker. So far, they haven’t been able to solve that puzzle. But, Ferentz doesn’t seem too worried that is team won’t figure it out.
“What’s important is how you respond to frustration and where you put your focus,” said Ferentz. “Where you put your energy, and then also what you do during the week, what can you do to be a better prepared team and learn from whatever has caused frustration in previous weeks, that type of thing, and that’s an ongoing process.”
“That’s really the race that we’re all running right now.”
Let’s see if the spark that lit this team against Illinois can stay lit the rest of the way. If so, Iowa is going to be a team to pay attention to. If not, the Hawkeyes are in some real trouble the rest of the year.
Iowa Hawkeyes at Michigan State Spartans: Preview, predictions and prognostications
Michigan State hosts Iowa in a critical matchup for both teams seasons…who will prevail in East Lansing?
Two teams with different, but equally disappointing results meet in East Lansing on Saturday afternoon.
Yes, the Iowa Hawkeyes and Michigan State Spartans will look to shake off losses last weekend and only one will come out victorious. It’s fitting for a series that has been close over the last two decades or so.
How do we see this game shaping up? Let’s join our Andy Coppens in taking an in-depth look at what you need to know heading in to Saturday afternoon’s affair between the Hawkeyes and Spartans at 4pm ET on FOX.