Iowa Football

Iowa Hawkeyes look like Patriots compared to Northwestern

Unlike Wildcats, Hawkeyes have mastered the concept of the forward pass

Northwestern football coach Pat Fitzgerald raises his arms to signal a touchdown after Wildcats wide receiver Bennett Skowronek had scored what eventually became the game-winning points in their 14-10 win at Iowa on 11.10.18 at Kinnick Stadium. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
Northwestern football coach Pat Fitzgerald raises his arms to signal a touchdown after Wildcats wide receiver Bennett Skowronek had scored what eventually became the game-winning points in their 14-10 win at Iowa on 11.10.18 at Kinnick Stadium. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

The pleasure of being a football fan at Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State or Oklahoma is lost on me.

You just win, win, win, and anything less than championships is misery. That’s not real. Real life has ups and downs, a little elation and hopefully only a little dejection. However, it’s also a lot of middle ground in which you’re just trying to put one step in front of the other and hope to see better days.

Which isn’t bad. In fact, it’s way better than living at the very top and spending your days trying to use every advantage at your disposal to cling to power.

Iowa and Northwestern fans have it better than Ohio State’s. Seriously.

OK, you’re a Hawkeyes supporter and you’re still down about the recent one-score losses to Michigan and Penn State. One of the wisest lines in the history of poetry was this by John Greenleaf Whittier:

For all sad words of tongue and pen,

The saddest are these, ‘It might have been’.

Your team’s path to a West Division title, while still open, is a tough one to navigate. Frustration is fair and understandable.

But if you beat Northwestern on Saturday as you should, you’re 6-2 with a real shot at 9-3 in the regular season and a chance for your second 10-win season of the decade. Also, the game at Wisconsin on Nov. 9 has serious meaning in the West title race. You get two weeks to wait for that and imagine the best-case scenario. That’s not chopped liver.

What’s good right now if you’re a Northwestern fan? Well, not much. So what? You simply have to embrace this as the year you were fated to have after going 15-3 in the Big Ten over the previous two seasons and winning the West a year ago.

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You aren’t Ohio State. The top of the mountain isn’t your place. You are, however, in the Top 25 that matters. Northwestern is 24th in the 2020 U.S. News & World Report Best Global Universities ranking. Ohio State is a distant 47th. (Iowa is tied for 161st.)

What has happened in Northwestern football this season, though, isn’t mere slippage. It’s a long fall down that mountain.

The 1-5 overall record and 0-4 Big Ten mark are bad enough. But if you think Iowa’s offense has ranged somewhere from mundane to maddening over the last three weeks? Know it’s been New England Patriots-ish compared to Northwestern’s.

The Wildcats have averaged nine points against the five Power Five conference teams they’ve played. They rank 126th nationally with their average of just 124 passing yards. Three of the four teams behind them — Army and Navy included, naturally — have attempted over 100 fewer passes.

Northwestern has two touchdown passes, tied for last in America. It has managed to throw interceptions in each game, and 10 overall.

For Iowa’s offensive issues of late, it still has mastered the concept of the forward pass. Nate Stanley leads the Big Ten in passing yards with 1,771.

Granted, Stanley has thrown 72 more passes and has 14 fewer TDs than Ohio State’s Justin Fields. But he isn’t playing with the Buckeyes’ offensive line, receivers, or 947-yard rusher J.K. Dobbins, either.

Northwestern, meanwhile, has completed less than half its passes in all but one game. In 2019!

This isn’t an extension of a trend. The Wildcats averaged at least 234 passing yards and completed at least 58.4 percent of their passes in all of the previous three seasons.

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OK, things have happened this year, tough things. Pat Fitzgerald’s track record as coach indicates they will get fixed and future seasons will again be good with an occasional great one.

That said, the Wildcats can now and forever savor their West title of 2018. If you’re Ohio State, meanwhile, this is a flop of a season if you don’t go 13-0 and get into the College Football Playoff. Then, it would be a bruising conclusion if you don’t win the whole thing.

I ask you: Is that any way to live?

By the way, the Pacific-12 Conference has four schools in the top 14 of the U.S. News global universities’ rankings. The Pac-12 wins.

Comments: (319) 368-8840; mike.hlas@thegazette.com

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