Sure, Iowa just beat Northwestern 41-31. But what do we really know? What was so important about beating Northwestern? What does it all mean, Basil? The Takeaway has the answer.
They're just Northwestern. This win didn't matter. Seriously, it didn't. Iowa went from getting zero votes from the AP or Coaches Poll Top 25 last week to... getting zero votes from either the AP or Coaches Poll Top 25 this week. And who can blame voters? All Iowa did was beat Northwestern, a team that is now 2-4 on the season, on a four-game losing streak, and is just Northwestern. And Iowa gave up 31 points and roughly 873 third-down conversions to that team. We witnessed Rocky V, not Rocky IV.
That said, praise the goddamn lord. I hate it when Iowa plays Northwestern. Not only because of the losses, but because Iowa always goes up big on these clowns, then chokes it away, usually in horribly painful fashion. It's 30 minutes of ecstasy followed by 150 minutes of unceasing agony, and a malaise that never goes away. It's what drug addiction must be like. It's sex with the girl of your dreams then finding out she gave you syphilis. It's opening Pandora's Box, and finding out that all the evils in the world are primarily concerned with kicking you in the dick. It's a strawberry/ghost pepper smoothie. DO NOT WANT. And with the Hawkeyes totally unable to get Northwestern off the field in the second and third quarters, it was all totally happening again. But then... it didn't. And that was neat!
We need to talk about this defense right now. No James Morris, no Thomas Nardo, no Anthony Hitchens. "And still the Hawkeyes won," yes, but also "and it was painfully evident." This was a worse defensive showing than the Iowa State game, and that's saying something. Northwestern was good at getting into 3rd and short, to be sure, but the 'Cats could find themselves in 3rd and Whatever and they usually got a first down anyway on Saturday.
What was particularly maddening wasn't just that Northwestern was playing to the matchups on those third downs and getting the best of them on most occasions, it was that Northwestern was able to make ridiculous matchups before the ball was even snapped. How often did we see a linebacker chasing Jeremy Ebert on his route on 3rd and medium? And when a defensive back was actually on Ebert, how often did we see him give Ebert a cushion that went farther than the line to gain for the first down? That's Norm Parker getting plain outcoached, right there, and if Norm Freaking Parker is getting outcoached then I'm not sure how much value he still brings to the program. It's one thing to not have guys like Morris and Nardo on the field because of injury. It's another to be worked into putting Tyler Nielsen on Jeremy Ebert on 3rd down and then being surprised when that doesn't work.
FIRE KEN O'... oh wait. At this point, having watched Kirk Ferentz football for 13 years, we're all quite familiar with the notion of "run to set up the pass." Usually, that's just a euphemism for "predictable, conservative play-calling," but luckily, Northwestern has no defensive talent, and that meant Ken O'Keefe got to show off while staying true to his roots.
It started with Northwestern's inability to control the LOS on defense. Yes, Marcus Coker ran harder than he has all season, but he also was able to do that because he was usually unmolested by defensive linemen, and was able to put his shoulders down on safeties and linebackers with a full head of steam. That all said, we also saw a renewed commitment to north-south running from Coker, and that is by far his best strategy; Coker's cuts have got to be the worst of Iowa's tailbacks since the days of Rob Thein. Coker probably can't juke a Rascal-riding Norm Parker; what chance does he have against a defensive back on two feet?
So with Coker running hard, KOK opened up the playbook, and the play-action game was working out of power formations to full effect. Marvin McNutt and Keenan Davis got so wide open because the defensive backs had to respect the run, and the jNWU DBs had to respect the run because their front seven couldn't stop it on their own. Nice little chain reaction when it ends in touchdowns so reliably.
The problem is that the success of this strategy will probably come at a cost to Iowa's burgeoning 4-wide no-huddle spread, which usually looks far better on a game-opening script than when it's being called play-by-play by KOK. Well, whatever works, right?
Broderick Binns doesn't much care for the Ken Iwebema career path. When Iowa went to Penn State and Broderick Binns went wild on the PSU OL, it was much more enjoyable to look at that game as a sign of things to come for the then-sophomore than as the peak of his career. And yet, "peak" semed more likely until tonight, as Binns was the most disruptive force on the defensive line.
With that all out of the way, Binns was his vintage self on Saturday, disrupting passes and forcing fumbles. Once again, we're hoping that this is more usual than not, because Iowa's defensive line could use the help now more than ever. This isn't 2009's line, y'know. And we think everybody knows.