IOWA CITY — This is a floundering Northwestern football team.
The Wildcats have lost four games in a row and have a 1-5 record, that lone win over mighty UNLV. Their offense has been ... offensive, last in the Big Ten Conference in passing and second to last in total yards and scoring.
Only Rutgers averages fewer points per game (11.1 to 12.5). You know how bad the Scarlet Knights are.
And with all this being said, you also know Saturday’s Iowa-Northwestern game at Evanston will be close, a toss-up despite the Hawkeyes being a 10.5-point favorite according to oddsmakers.
Northwestern has beaten Iowa three years in a row, including a 14-10 win last season at Kinnick Stadium that clinched the Big Ten Conference’s West Division championship. Hawkeyes players were asked earlier this week if they took offense to the amount of celebrating the Wildcats did on their field.
“They won the Big Ten West. They celebrated, and you can’t really take that too personal,” said Iowa linebacker Djimon Colbert. “They’ve gotten us the last three years, so there is a lot of history behind this game. We haven’t been able to catch these guys recently, so that’s been the goal this week. Come out and try and change that. Get something going our way for the next couple of years, starting this year.”
Iowa beat Northwestern 21 straight times, a streak that ended in 1995, when Wildcats Coach Pat Fitzgerald was a sophomore linebacker. Northwestern has gone 13-9 against the Hawkeyes in the last 22 meetings, and Fitzgerald has an 8-5 record against Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz in their head-to-head meetings.
No opposing coach has beaten Ferentz more in Ferentz’s 20 years leading the Hawkeyes program.
“We have the utmost respect for Northwestern, the program that they have, I think, for good reason,” Ferentz said. “Since Pat took over in 2006, he and his staff have really done a great job ... The bottom line is they’ve got an identity. I think that’s a byproduct of their stability in the program, not only as Coach Fitzgerald has been there, but a lot of stability in their staff. They currently know who they are, what they’re trying to be.”
Kind of sounds like someone else talking about Iowa, doesn’t it? Ferentz was asked this week if Northwestern is the Big Ten program that most closely resembles his.
“At least offensively, we both look different. If you look at football, it looks different what the two teams line up typically,” he said. “But, yeah, I think there are a lot of parallels. I hope that’s a compliment towards us in that, to me, I look across, I watch them, they don’t beat themselves. That’s the first thing you have to do in football. They rarely mess it up. They play hard, they show up every week. You have to beat them if you’re going to beat them. Nothing easy about it.”
Hawkeye defensive players were reminded this week by defensive coordinator Phil Parker of the 2016 game between the teams. Northwestern was similarly struggling and struggling particularly on offense, yet came into Kinnick and earned a high-scoring, 38-31 victory.
“You can’t take any team lightly,” said Iowa safety Geno Stone. “They can come out and fire off.”
So forget about the Wildcats’ recent struggles, including that 52-3 loss last week to Ohio State. Toss away, no pun intended, the fact that Northwestern quarterbacks have two touchdown passes this season and 10 interceptions.
This game will be tight. You can count on it.
“As you look at them over the years, jerseys change, names change,” Ferentz said. “But anytime you play them, you’re going to play a tough, well-coached team that’s going to play hard, really sound, really competitive ... We know it’s going to be a big challenge.”
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