Iowa travels to square off with Wildcats
By LUKE MEREDITH
AP Sports Writer
EVANSTON, Ill. — Iowa and Northwestern have underwhelming Big Ten records that can be taken with a grain of salt given the quality of the teams they’ve lost to.
The Hawkeyes and Wildcats are about to get closer to finding out how good they truly are in 2017 — as is often the case when these West division foes square off.
Iowa (4-2, 1-2 Big Ten) will travel to face Northwestern (3-3, 1-2) on Saturday after a bye week that followed an easy win over woeful Illinois.
Before that, the Hawkeyes lost to No. 2 Penn State on the last play of the game and by a touchdown at No. 18 Michigan State.
The Wildcats are coming off an impressive 37-21 win at Maryland. But like Iowa, Northwestern fell to the Nittany Lions — albeit by 24 points — and West-leading Wisconsin won in Evanston 33-24 to open Big Ten play.
“Typical of Northwestern, you pretty much know what to expect. They’re a good football team, they’ve got good players. This is a veteran Northwestern team. They’re very well-coached, play hard start to finish,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said.
Here are some of the keys to consider as Northwestern and Iowa kick off the second half of their seasons.
Iowa and Northwestern typically put forth similar resumes; below average offenses bolstered by stingy defenses and the occasional explosive play, and this year isn’t much different. Both teams are allowing fewer than 400 yards per game, though Iowa (18.7 points per game) has been much more effective than Northwestern (25.5) in part because the Wildcats are minus-6 in turnover margin this season. The Hawkeyes have also thrown for just 218 yards an outing, but sophomore Nate Stanley has 15 TD passes against just two picks.
JACKSON (CLOSE TO) FIVE
Northwestern senior running back Justin Jackson became the program’s career rushing leader with a season-high 171 yards in the win over the Terrapins. Jackson now has 4,639 rushing yards, good for ninth in Big Ten history. Jackson has also run for at least 100 yards 23 times — and Northwestern in 19-4 in those games. Iowa knew Jackson could be special, recruiting him heavily before he chose the Wildcats. “We tried. That’s another swing and a miss,” Ferentz said. “He’s a tremendous young man. Again, that was no big secret. He was a really good player and just kept on going.”
Northwestern will likely look to use Jackson heavily against an Iowa defense that has been susceptible at times to the run. But the Hawkeyes have only allowed more than 21 points once in six games. “They’re on the same page. You have to earn it against Iowa. They don’t make mistakes, they don’t beat themselves,” Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said.
Iowa star running back Akrum Wadley has 483 yards rushing, but they’ve come on just 4.1 yards per carry as the Hawkeyes have had to constantly shuffle their line. Iowa hopes the bye week helped straighten things out. … Iowa and Northwestern are 64th and 76th respectively in scoring offense nationally. … The Wildcats are third in the Big Ten in passing yards, but they’ve also thrown as many picks (nine) as TD passes.
HE SAID IT
“He is the longest-tenured coach in the country for a reason. There is consistency, there is toughness (and) there is physicality. There are playmakers across the board in all three phases,” Fitzgerald said of Ferentz, now in his 19th season at Iowa.
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