In Iowa's last two games, they have switched into panic mode in the second half. Against Michigan State, it was because the offense couldn't run the ball. Against Ohio State, it was the defense couldn't get a stop. Panic mode for the Iowa coaches means falling back on old tendencies and scrapping the game plan. So we see more 3-wide sets with horizontal passing from Greg Davis, and a zone coverages with the safeties deep and big cushions on the outside from Phil Parker.
Panic mode has not gone well. Iowa had a lead going into halftime in both of those games and then failed to do much in the second half of either. Northwestern does not have a defense anywhere near MSU levels or an offense anywhere near Ohio State levels. So Iowa needs to avoid panic mode. The running game should be effective and Iowa needs to get back in its early season form where Mark Weisman was most devastating in the 4th quarter leading long, time consuming drives to finish off games.
Get to the quarterback
Wisconsin laid out a simple blueprint for shutting down the Northwestern offense...get to the quarterback. Wisconsin had 7!! sacks and got consistent pressure. As a result, Trevor Siemian only completed 38% of his passes and averaged for 4 yards per attempt, and jNW only scored 6 points.
Iowa's not going to get 7 sacks tomorrow, but just a few to kill drives would be successful. Getting pressure is just as important. Siemian really struggled against Minnesota when pressures. He threw two picks and had a fumble...those led to 10 Gopher points.
Kain Colter is going to back tomorrow (of course he is healthy again just in time for Iowa) and provides a different threat, especially if completely healthy. Iowa will need to get pressure, but also contain Colter from scrabbling and picking up first downs (we don't need any repeat of Braxton Miller).
Build an early lead
Iowa is undefeated in the first half this year. The second quarter has been good to the Hawkeyes. So Iowa just needs to continue this trend. Northwestern has had its own issues with going into panic mode...and for them means relying heavily on Siemian to drop back and throw the ball. That part of their offense isn't as much of a threat as the balanced quick passing attack with some option rushing (though the secondary is going to have to step up if jNW starts throwing it a lot). The games Iowa has won this year all followed the same script. Build an early lead, run the ball a lot, then hold on for dear life while trying to run out the clock by running it some more. I think that formula can work tomorrow, Iowa just needs to get that nice early lead.
Plus, I wonder about Northwestern's current mental state. It can't be good. This was supposed to be their year. They poured a lot into the Ohio State game, came up short, and have looked terrible since. Getting punched in the mouth early by the Hawkeyes could be enough for a knockout.
Don't make this a FG battle
I'd take Mike Meyer over just about any kicker in the country, but Northwestern's Jeff Budzien is really, really good. He hold the B1G record for most consecutive PATs made and is 12/14 of FGs this year (and was 19/20 last year). So, Iowa can't let the Wildcats hang around, because Budzien will make a FG when they need it. That means finishing drives on offense, win field position, and don't let jNW dink and dunk down to get into FG range.
Northwestern is going to be better prepared for Iowa's 3 TE attack, but I think Iowa still finds a way to put up a lot of rushing yards and move the ball consistently down the field. Even with Colter back, Northwestern's offense won't be able to keep up and Siemian will continue to struggle. Iowa will look dominant, but there will still be some uncomfortable moments late into the game.
Final Score: Iowa 27 - Northwestern 20