Iowa Football

Iowa football vs. Northwestern breakdown: Pregame analysis, prediction

Hawkeyes hope to bounce back in home opener

The Iowa Hawkeyes host the Northwestern Wildcats this Saturday at Kinnick Stadium. (The Gazette)
The Iowa Hawkeyes host the Northwestern Wildcats this Saturday at Kinnick Stadium. (The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — A closer look at Saturday’s Big Ten Conference football game between Iowa (0-1) and Northwestern (1-0) at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City. Kickoff is 2:30 p.m. (ESPN)

Iowa offense

The Hawkeyes did a lot of good stuff last week against Purdue.

You amass 460 yards of total offense, including 195 on the ground, and you’d think you’d win. But a pair of lost fumbles inside the Purdue 30 prevented potential points from being scored in a 24-20 loss.

Ball security is a must this week. It’d be good for Iowa to find a way to get Ihmir Smith-Marsette more involved, too. The senior receiver is a playmaker who didn’t have a reception last week. He did run the ball twice on jet sweeps.

At the same time, Iowa has a lot of weapons and shouldn’t force the football to anyone. Running back Tyler Goodson had 137 rushing-receiving yards against Purdue, though he didn’t have a touch in the fourth quarter. Iowa averaged more than 5 yards per carry, which is a sign the offensive line was good.

 

Sophomore quarterback Spencer Petras’ first college start was a mixed bag, making some throws and missing some throws. He started off cold, had a hot spell in the second quarter but couldn’t lead his team to victory when it had the ball in the final two minutes. He finished 22 of 39 passing for 265 yards, with no touchdowns or interceptions. With a full game under his belt now, you’d figure he will be better this week.

“Offensively, we had yards but not enough points to win the game,” said Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz.

Iowa defense

Again, a mixed bag here last week.

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Everyone knew the defense would be a work in progress, with seven guys who started in the 2019 Holiday Bowl gone. The absence of two anticipated starters (middle linebacker Jack Campbell and tackle Austin Schulte) due to illness/injury definitely hurt against Purdue.

Iowa did come up with a pair of interceptions of Purdue quarterback Aidan O’Connell but allowed receiver David Bell 13 receptions for a second straight year, including three TD catches, the winner with just over two minutes to go. It also wilted against the run in the second half, with bulldozer back Zander Horvath doing significant damage, finishing with 129 rushing yards overall, just under 100 in the second half.

Missed tackles were definitely an issue overall. And Purdue was even without star Rondale Moore and starting running back King Doerue, which made this overall performance disappointing.

“We’ve just got to be better at the basics,” said Iowa’s Daviyon Nixon, who definitely made an impact in his second start at defensive tackle, with a career-high tying seven tackles. “Just better communication, just better giving our calls and talking amongst each other on the field, so that we’re in a great position to make tackles and make plays.”

Northwestern offense

Well, that was an impressive debut for new offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian.

The Wildcats were a mess last season on this side of the football (averaging 16 points a game) but went off for 537 yards in a 43-3 season-opening beatdown of Maryland. Northwestern has stabilized the quarterback position with Peyton Ramsey, a grad transfer from Indiana who completed 23 of 30 passes for 212 yards and a touchdown against the Terps. He doesn’t do any one thing exceptionally well but does everything competently and is a strong leader.

“Best way I can describe him, at least as an outsider looking in, I think the guy is a winner,” Ferentz said.

 

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Northwestern ran all over Maryland, to the tune of 331 yards. Isaiah Bowser (75 yards and a TD against Maryland) is a junior with three years of starting experience under his belt. Sophomore Drake Anderson, son of Northwestern Hall of Famer Damien, led Northwestern in rushing last season and is more of a home-run threat. He had 103 yards and a TD on just 10 carries against Maryland. The Wildcats’ offensive line is big and physical and includes a true freshman tackle in Peter Skoronski, who Iowa recruited heavily.

Northwestern defense

The Wildcats were good here last season, giving up just 23 points per game.

It starts with really good and experienced linebackers in Paddy Fisher, Blake Gallagher and Chris Bergin. They were 1-2-3 last season in tackles for the team. The secondary also has experience, including cornerback Greg Newsome II, who finished second in the Big Ten last season in pass breakups.

Defensive coordinator Mike Hankwitz has been a college coach for 51 seasons. Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald (the Maryland victory was his 100th as head coach at the school) was an outstanding linebacker for the Wildcats and always seems to have a good defense.

Final thoughts

Northwestern has won three of four against Iowa, including two straight at Kinnick Stadium, though Iowa won in a rout last season in Evanston.

The Wildcats definitely are better than last season’s 3-9 outfit, but it’s hard to tell if that win last week over Maryland was more an indication of how good Northwestern is or how bad Maryland might be. Probably a bit of both. It’s hard to imagine Iowa not playing a much cleaner game than last week. Two turnovers, sloppy tackling, 10 penalties for 100 yards (with both sides of the ball responsible for that latter thing) is very un-Iowa like. This is pretty much a must-win for Iowa, if it wants to remain in contention for the Big Ten title game.

So ...

Prediction — Iowa 23, Northwestern 17

Comments: (319) 398-8259; jeff.johnson@thegazette.com

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