IOWA CITY — Northwestern gathered near the Tiger Hawk logo and did some jumping up and down, the international sign for celebration.
Wildcats assistant coaches hooted and hollered sprinting to the elevator en route to the postgame celebration. If they would’ve had to pause for a second, they might’ve repelled down the six stories.
That was Northwestern wearing “Big Ten West Division champions” T-shirts and hats. That will be Northwestern going to Indianapolis for its first Big Ten title game appearance.
Iowa and Kinnick Stadium staged nicely for the Wildcats’ celebration.
The Hawkeyes (6-4, 3-4, Big Ten) were especially welcoming. The offense didn’t want Northwestern (6-4, 6-1) sweaty for its celebration and was held to 64 rushing yards, its worst effort of the season. The defense did a lot of bending and then broke.
Familiar themes all around for the Hawkeyes, who’ve run out of things to sell you in 2018.
Clayton Thorson’s 32-yard TD pass to wide receiver Ben Skowronek with 9:27 left in the game held up in this 14-10 thing that was like watching people get fat. Over those nine minutes, Iowa’s offense punted and then running backs Mekhi Sargent and Ivory Kelly-Martin fumbled on back-to-back series.
The 66,493 fans at Kinnick didn’t seem all that surprised and very few of them hung around to watch Northwestern celebrate the B1G West Division title after beating the Hawkeyes at Kinnick Stadium.
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Remember how this Northwestern-Iowa thing started? Hayden Fry said to Gary Barnett after Fry’s Hawkeyes dispatched Northwestern with lopsided victory in 1992, “Hope we didn’t hurt any of your boys.”
Look at Northwestern now. Northwestern has won 13 of 24 in the series with three three-game winning streaks, including the current one.
“I want to tip my hat to Kirk (Ferentz), his staff and players because this was a Big Ten brawl,” Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said.
Hawkeyes, you got a hat tip. That should make Northwestern a lifelong vendetta for you now. Still, you’ve got to play like it at some point.
Only 63 more hat tips and that’s as many rushing yards as the Hawkeyes had. That’s a season-low and worst since 25 yards vs. Wisconsin 13 games ago. It’s the main reason why Iowa’s offense hasn’t looked like Iowa’s offense this season.
“The biggest story of the game was we couldn’t run the ball effectively in the second half and they did,” Ferentz said. “They made it tough on us in every segment. I know we outgained them yardage-wise, but we never really got in a rhythm outside of the one big play to (Ihmir) Smith-Marsette. We never really got in a rhythm.
“Offensively, we didn’t hit many big plays. That’s one of the games where I think our inefficiency on third down and their ability to run the ball was probably the biggest thing.”
Iowa rushed eight times for 17 yards in the second half. Sargent lost the ball at Iowa’s 49 with 4:26 left in the game. Kelly-Martin fumbled away the final chance at Iowa’s 36 with 1:34 left. So, Iowa’s running game has officially bonked in week 10.
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Quarterback Nate Stanley completed 27 of 41 for 269 yards and a TD, but that obviously wasn’t enough to get Northwestern anywhere near a submission hold. Northwestern’s efficiency in the running game helped it get away with just 306 yards of offense.
“The difference in the game was our ability to create turnovers down the stretch,” Fitzgerald said.
Iowa’s pair of fumbles unplugged the two interceptions from the defense. Iowa’s lone TD came off safety Jake Gervase’s interception. Two plays later, Stanley hit wide receiver Ihmir Smith-Marsette for a 28-yard TD.
Iowa backs had gone 490 carries without losing a fumble. That’s the power of Northwestern, at least that’s the power Northwestern has over Iowa.
Seemingly, Northwestern has that power over the Hawkeyes.
How else do you explain a rushing offense that was ranked last in the league (93.0 yards per game) going for 184 yards on 46 carries against an Iowa defense that came into the game No. 2 in the league at 86.2 yards?
“It was just a dream come true,” said Northwestern running back Isaiah Bowser, who put up 165 yards and a TD on 31 carries, the most impressive rushing performance against Iowa this season. “Everybody in the locker room was stoked. Coach Fitz told us after the game we were heading to Indy. It was a great feeling.”
Three bowls visited the Kinnick press box on Saturday. Iowa heads to Illinois next week. There won’t be any bowl scouts. Iowa gets what it gets at this point.
Northwestern got to dance on the Kinnick Stadium field.
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