Northwestern Preview/Prediction

Northwestern Preview/Prediction

Iowa returns to the field Saturday in hopes of ending a two-game skid and avenging a troubling loss to Northwestern a year ago. Hawkeye Insider Publisher Rob Howe breaks down the Legends Division match-up and offers up a prediction.

IOWA CITY, Iowa - Iowa's 4-8, 2012 opened the door for extended teaching in the off-season. Film from the Northwestern game served as one of the main tools in doing it.

The Wildcats made Iowa's defense look hopeless in a 28-17 win. They rushed for 349 yards.

"It was a Kodak moment in that there were a lot of things that took place in the game that we didn't execute well enough," Hawkeye Head Coach Kirk Ferentz said. "They had something to do with that obviously.  Last year they had a very good football team, as they do this year.

"As a coach you focus on the things that keep you from having a chance to have success.  There were a lot of visuals in that game that really jumped out."

Quarterback Kain Colter rushed for 166 yards and three scores against Iowa last October. The Wildcat standout missed last week's game with an ankle injury but said earlier this week that he'll be the lineup at Iowa on Saturday (11 a.m., BTN).

"Whatever scheme they have, when a play breaks down, an athlete like him is matched up against defensive linemen or guys we might not associate with being the quickest or most agile where he's certainly in an elite category in terms of his quickness and agility," Iowa Linebacker James Morris said. "For us to have a chance to win, I think we need to corral him and make sure we have sound pursuit angles and we tackle well."

Northwestern has won six of the last eight meetings with Iowa. The Wildcats have taken advantage of mismatches with players in space against the Iowa defense.

"They're very capable athletes and they're going to get theirs," Morris said. "We understand that. It's about minimizing those things.

"But last year was last year. We're very much a different team this year. I'm excited to see how we match up with them this year."

RECORDS, RANKINGS

Iowa is 4-3 overall and 1-2 in the Big Ten. The Wildcats are 4-3 and 0-3.

HISTORY:

The Hawkeyes hold a 47-24-3 advantage in a series that began in 1897.

THE LINE:

Iowa opened as a 3.5-point choice on Sunday at the MGM Grand in Vegas. That number jumped to 4 on Wednesday. The total stood at 53.

TWO TRENDS

-Wildcats are 4-1 Against The Spread in their last 5 road games.

-Hawkeyes are 4-1 ATS in their last 5 games overall.

KEY MATCH-UPS

Iowa CB Desmond King v. NW WR Tony Jones: A lot of talk regarding Northwestern centers around Kain Colter and Venric Mark, and rightfully so, but Jones is a legitimate playmaker. The junior from Michigan comes to Kinnick with 37 receptions for 488 yards and four touchdowns. Ohio State picked on King last week, throwing his way often. He responded with some of surest tackling on the team.

Iowa RT Brett Van Sloten v. NW DE Tyler Scott: Van Sloten quietly is enjoying a strong senior season for the Hawkeyes. He'll be challenged this week against Scott, who leads the Big Ten five sacks after recording a league-best nine of them a year ago.

INJURIES

Northwestern - Kain Colter (ankle, questionable), Venric Mark (ankle, doubtful), Jaylen Prater (undisclosed, questionable).

Iowa - Dominic Alvis (back, doubtful), Michael Malloy (undisclosed, doubtful).

POINTS OF INTEREST

Northwestern

-Northwestern is unbeaten at 4-0 this season when outgaining its opponent in rushing yards and 0-3 when the opposition boasts more ground yards.

-The Wildcats enter the 75th all-time meeting in the series having won six of their last eight against Iowa.

-Northwestern sits atop the Big Ten in red zone efficiency, coming away with points on 28 of 29 trips inside the 20 (96.5 percent). NU has scored 17 touchdowns (nine rushing, eight passing) and converted 11-of-12 field goal tries from inside the red zone.

-With a combined 23 years at their respective schools, Kirk Ferentz (15) and Pat Fitzgerald (8) are the two longest-tenured active head coaches in the Big Ten. Fitzgerald is 5-2 in his head coaching career against Ferentz and the Hawkeyes.

-Ohio State leads the Big Ten and ranks sixth in the NCAA in scoring with 46.8 ppg.

-Northwestern ranked No. 1 in the nation among all FBS and FCS programs in the most recently released NCAA Academic Progress Rating report, posting a multi-year average score of 996 out of a possible 1,000.

-Northwestern redshirt freshman WR Mike McHugh was a high school teammate of Iowa freshman wideout Andre Harris at Kirkwood High School in Kirkwood, Mo.

-NU defensive line coach Marty Long coached alongside Iowa wide receivers coach Bobby Kennedy in the 2001 season when both were on staff at the University of Arizona.

-NU's 13 interceptions through seven games this year already matched their total for a full 13-game season a year ago.

-In an effort to further disrupt the opponent's backfield, defensive Mike Hankwitz has implemented a unique personnel package for many third-down passing situations. Hankwitz has begun inserting NU's top four defensive ends as the four down linemen in such scenarios, moving starters Tyler Scott and Dean Lowry to the tackle positions to allow for speed-rushers Deonte Gibson and Ifeadi Odenigbo to attack from the outside.

-Northwestern has allowed 22 sacks this season, the highest total in the Big Ten.

Iowa

-Iowa's defense has held every opponent under its rushing average this season. Northwestern averages 175.7 rushing yards per game.

-Iowa has allowed just five sacks this season, the seventh-best total in the country.

-Iowa has been successful on 50-percent of its third-down attempts (54-108) this season, tied for the second-best conversion rate in the conference and 14th nationally.

-The Hawkeyes have allowed only four red-zone touchdowns this season, the lowest total in the country.

-Iowa is tied with Alabama and Florida State for fewest rushing touchdowns allowed (2).

-Iowa has held 5-of-7 opponents scoreless in the first quarter this season.

-Iowa is 4-0 when winning the turnover margin, and 0-3 when losing the turnover margin.

-Iowa and Northwestern are among the Big Ten's least penalized teams. The Hawkeyes and Wildcats have been flagged 33 and 34 times, respectively. Iowa has committed three or fewer penalties in each of its last three games (Minnesota 1, Michigan State 3, Ohio State 3).

-Iowa's Mike Meyer and Northwestern's Jeff Budzien are among the best place kickers in the conference. Budzien leads the Big Ten with 12 field goals made, while Meyer ranks third with nine. Meyer has connected on 105 consecutive PAT attempts. Budzien has made a Big Ten-record 127 consecutive PATs.

PREDICTION

Iowa defeated Minnesota soundly in Minneapolis to kick off its Big Ten season. Last week, the Golden Gophers went into Northwestern and grabbed its first conference victory of the year.

Using those results, it makes sense that Iowa would be favored to beat the Wildcats at home on Saturday. What seems like logic doesn't always prevail in sports, however.

Northwestern played without Kain Colter last week. He said on Monday that he would return for the Hawkeyes game.

The Wildcats also have proven to be a match-up nightmare for the Hawkeyes during much of the last decade. They're backed into a corner looking for a league win after being ranked last month following an undefeated non-conference campaign.

Iowa seems to be a team trending in the right direction after last week's 34-24 loss at No. 4 Ohio State. The Hawkeyes appear to be improving.

Iowa needs to continue that uptick this week against a solid Wildcat team. An off day will result in a loss.

For the first time this year, I'm going to reverse one of my preseason prognostications. I pegged this as a Hawkeye loss in August.

SCORE: IOWA 31, Northwestern 24

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