Iowa Football

Iowa football: 5 Things to know about Northwestern

Hawkeyes looking for first win against Wildcats since 2015

Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald. (David Banks/USA TODAY Sports)
Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald. (David Banks/USA TODAY Sports)
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The Iowa football team hits the road Saturday for a game against a team that has won just one game and is averaging 12.5 points per game.

Any easy win for a team ranked 20th in the country, right?

Guess again. That team is Northwestern, a program that has given the Hawkeyes fits over years.

Here are 5 Things about the Wildcats:

1. The series

Let’s get this one out of the way quickly.

There was a time, specifically from 1974 through 1994, Iowa didn’t lose to Northwestern. Ever.

The Hawkeyes won 21 straight games during that span.

Since that 49-13 win in Iowa City in 1994, the Wildcats hold a 13-9 advantage in the series and have won three in a row — two in Iowa City.

The Hawkeyes’ last win in this series was 40-10 in 2015 in Evanston.

For the record, Iowa still holds 50-27-3 advantage overall.

2. Offensive woes

As mentioned, the Wildcat offense has been stuck in neutral.

Not only is Northwestern averaging only 12.5 points per game — that ranks 13th in the Big Ten, ahead of only Rutgers (11.1) — it also ranks next-to-last in total offense at 277.2 yards per game and is last in passing offense at 124 yards per game. That last figure is 21 yards less than what Rutgers averages.

That’s not good.

The Wildcats are a little better running the ball — key word there is little — and in the middle of the Big Ten pack, averaging 153.2 yards per game. That’s just ahead of Iowa’s 149, by the way.

But their leading rusher, Drake Anderson, is at 67.5 yards per game.

To add a little salt to this wound, Northwestern also ranks next-to-last — just ahead of Rutgers, again — in third-down conversions at 32.4 percent and is ahead of only Nebraska and Rutgers in redzone offense.

3. Quarterback battles

Remember when Hunter Johnson was going to take the Wildcats to the national championship?

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That, by the way, is what Clayton Thorson, a four-year starter at QB for the Wildcats, joked about with the Chicago Tribune in a story posted in February.

“Hopefully we go to the natty,” he said, apparently with a smile.

Well, Johnson hasn’t been as good as his 5-star ranking out of Brownsburg (Ind.) High School, where he passed for 6,657 yards and 69 touchdowns, including 25 as a senior, and was ranked the No. 2 QB in the country.

He went to Clemson, where playing time was sparse, and decided to transfer. He made his way to Evanston, which surprised many and raised expectations on and around the Northwestern campus.

After sitting out last year, he was supposed to take over this fall. But he was beat out by senior TJ Green, the son of former NFL quarterback Trent Green.

Johnson got his chance when Green was injured, but in four games, he completed only 43 of 89 passes for 367 yards and one TD with four interceptions. That’s a QB rating of 77.67.

He was benched in favor of Aidan Smith, who hasn’t been any better. Smith has completed 37 of 83 passes for 315 yards with one TD and five picks. He was 6 of 20 with an interception in last Friday’s 52-3 loss to Ohio State.

 
 

4. Bleeding purple

There probably isn’t a coach in the country as attached to his program as Pat Fitzgerald is to Northwestern.

Fitzgerald is in his 14th season at his alma mater and has taken the Wildcats to nine bowl games, four in a row. He directed the team to the Big Ten West title last year and was the Big Ten Coach of the Year. He’s had only four losing seasons since taking over for Randy Walker, who died unexpectedly of a heart attack in 2006.

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Fitzgerald was a linebacker for the Wildcats from 1993 to ’96, winning the Bronko Nagurski Trophy and the Chuck Bednarik Award as the country’s best defensive player. He won those awards twice, the first player to do that. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2008.

5. Wildcat history

Northwestern isn’t a hotbed of college football, but the school has been playing the game since 1876 when a group of students took on the Chicago Football Club.

The first intercollegiate game was in 1882 against Lake Forest.

Northwestern has won eight conference titles, the first in 1903 and the last in 2000, and last year’s West title was its first division championship.

There have been 29 head coaches, including Ara Parseghian (1956-63), former Iowa player Dennis Green (1981-85) and Gary Barnett (1992-98). who directed the team to two Big Ten titles and two bowl games.

Comments: (319) 368-8696; jr.ogden@thegazette.com

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