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The Takeaway: Northwestern

Sure, Iowa just prevailed in overtime against Northwestern, 17-10. But how much do we really know? What was really important about beating the Wildcats? What does it all mean, Basil? The Takeaway has the answer.

Suffer, Cats.
Suffer, Cats.
Matthew Holst

Sometimes the coin comes up heads. It's no secret that Iowa's been a relatively below-average team in close games under Kirk Ferentz, especially as of late; going into last week's game, Iowa was 6-14 in one-possession games dating back to 2010.

Ah, but there's a difference between 6-14 and 0-20, and every now and then the Hawkeyes do remarkable things at the endgame, and this Saturday would qualify. Blowing the 10-point lead in the last 19 minutes was not so remarkable, and letting the last 39:56 of regulation lapse without scoring a point: also not remarkable. Well, not in a good way.

But holding firm after it looked like Northwestern would get itself into position for the game-winning score was the type of performance that separates victory from defeat, and forcing the fumble on Mike Trumpy essentially saved the day—or at the very least saved Iowa from being forced into a hurry-up offense with the game on the line. as such, Jake Rudock's late interception was fine, because instead of meaning a loss, it just meant overtime.

And then something wonderful happened: Iowa lost the coin toss.

It goes against conventional wisdom to want to get the ball first, since having the second possession of overtime grants your offense the knowledge of how many points it needs to either win or keep the game going, and you always want to be operating on an informational advantage.

But losing the coin toss meant Iowa went on offense first, and all of a sudden, this moribund offense that had racked up 126 yards in the six drives following its last point scored was just 25 yards away from the end zone and having the lead again. Sure, Northwestern would get its opportunity to respond, but in a game where the Wildcats had owned momentum for virtually the entire second half, the opportunity was there to take the lead right back and have the chance to hold once for the win.

That's, of course, exactly how it went down. Rudock-to-Fiedorowicz entered the pantheon of notable Iowa touchdowns (and as Mr. Vint noted this morning, it was a pretty sweet play), Northwestern was forced to make up the 7-point deficit into the deafening maw of the Iowa crowd, it couldn't, and a great party was had by all.

That's basically how you want an overtime to go if you must start first (though the false start on 3rd and 2 from the 3-yard-line was infuriating), and it was a reminder that even Kirk Ferentz's weirdly conservative late-game plans can pay off every now and then.

It was a coin-flip game, to be sure, one that could have gone either way. As such there's not a whole lot of great lessons to be learned, at least not ones heavily affected by the final outcome. But hey, Iowa won it this time, and that is quite the notable thing. With all four remaining games standing a good chance of coming down to single digits (you'd hope not against Purdue, but on the road it's completely plausible), Iowa's probably going to have to deal with more late-game drama this year, and the better it gets at that, the better its postseason—and everything that stems from that—will be.