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NORTHWESTERN 2015 PREVIEW, WITH SPECIAL GUEST WHOEVER WROTE THE CLOSING MONOLOGUES FROM SCRUBS

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Iowa's trip to Northwestern is a lot like life in a hospital, if you think about it.

Zach Braff went to Northwestern. I'm making that up, but—WAIT OH MY GOD HE ACTUALLY DID, I WAS KIDDING, OK HERE WE GO
Zach Braff went to Northwestern. I'm making that up, but—WAIT OH MY GOD HE ACTUALLY DID, I WAS KIDDING, OK HERE WE GO
Chad Buchanan/Getty Images

Opponent: Northwestern Wildcats (5-1, 1-1 B1G West, No. 20/21 in AP & Coaches Polls)

Saturday, October 17, 11 a.m., Ryan Field

Television: ABC/ESPN2

Kickoff weather: 46 degrees, clear, with temperatures approaching 50 during the game. Brrrrr.

Whoever Wrote The Closing Monologues From Scrubs: But I guess we all grow cold sometimes. The trick is to have someone near you to keep you warm. [montage shot of various couples being happy and single people being sad]

WHEN NORTHWESTERN HAS THE BALL

There's an antiquated saying that goes, "the best offense is a good defense." Pat Fitzgerald is taking that to its insane extreme by fielding one of the best defenses in football to buttress one of the worst offenses, and the result has been several notable wins and a spot in the Top 25 so secure that it withstood a 38-0 obliteration at Michigan's hands last week.

How bad has Northwestern's offense been thus far? This might be a glitch on noted information leader ESPN.com...

Northwestern more like No Stats Western

...but we can't really be sure yet. More investigation needed.

QB Clayton Thorson is merely a redshirt freshman, but he's the best option in Northwestern's backfield at this point. That's not a ringing endorsement of his skills, but his stats aren't either; the first-year starter is completing just 55% of his passes en route to a 107.7 passer rating, good for 107th in the nation. Thorson has shown some decent wheels with 161 yards rushing and four scores (makes sense, since Illinois is the Land of Lincoln and all) but if Northwestern dials up very many QB draws it's playing with fire; the offense doesn't run enough long-developing route packages to run off coverages, and Iowa's interior pass rush is excellent at not creating large rushing lanes for QBs to escape through.

In fact, running on Iowa at all is a terrible idea; Iowa ceded just 46 rushing yards to the Illini last week and forced a game-clinching fumble from Ke'Shawn Vaughn late in the fourth quarter. Iowa's rush defense is now ranked fifth nationally at 78 yards per game, and it hasn't been for a lack of effort from other teams; opponents have rushed 31 times per game against the Hawkeyes, and the 2.53 yards allowed per rush ranks fourth in the nation.

It's probably too much to ask for Iowa to replicate those types of numbers on Saturday. Northwestern's Justin Jackson is a prototypical Big Ten tailback, and even in Iowa's gleeful hamblasting of the Wildcats last year he managed 96 yards on 24 rushes with a touchdown. Michigan is the first team to hold him under 75 yards this season; he had gone over the century mark in four of Northwestern's first five games after accomplishing the feat six times in the Cats' final eight games last year. Even with the dismal performance at Michigan, Jackson is averaging 115.3 yards per game in his last 14 contests and Northwestern's going to lean on him con gusto on Saturday.

Whoever Wrote The Closing Monologues From Scrubs: But I guess that's what life in a hospital is like. You laugh, you cry, you [montage of people working hard together and getting things done, and then people who don't have someone to work hard with sighing pathetically and alone]

Oh god, are you going to do this every time?

Whoever Wrote The Closing Monologues From Scrubs: Yes.

WHEN IOWA HAS THE BALL

Name a position, and Iowa's suffering from injuries there. C.J. Beathard only threw three passes after sustaining some sort of lower-body injury against Illinois, he's been limited in practice and he was the subject of some sports hernia rumors (that have since been disputed). Beathard told the media he's for sure going to play, but until he's under center for Iowa's first snap on Saturday, you can't totally be sure, can you? Redshirt freshman Tyler Wiegers is behind him, and Wiegers is very, very much a work in progress.

At tailback, Iowa will be without erstwhile starter LeShun Daniels once again as his ankle injury lingers, and while Jordan Canzeri has been a warrior in his absence, Iowa will need to depend on spot duty from Akrum Wadley and Derrick Mitchell, Jr. on Saturday, and neither has proven himself in high-leverage B1G situations yet.

At wide receiver, top target Tevaun Smith continues to miss time with a leg injury. Matt VandeBerg had stepped up as a safety valve for the offense, but without Smith to draw other teams' attention, VandeBerg has been limited to only 95 yards receiving over the last three games combined. True freshman Jerminic Smith has stepped into older brother Tevaun's role as the rangy downfield threat, but Jerminic's hands are still unreliable; he dropped a (poor) pass in the end zone and a third-down slant in the red zone last week, even with some remarkable downfield catches. Northwestern has some difficulties here too, as cornerback Matthew Harris suffered a broken face against Michigan, but after seeing him facedown and motionless on the Big House field after a knee to the helmet, we'll happily take facial injuries over a TBI for the kid. He's obviously out, but cornerback Nick VanHoose might be the best in the Big Ten; it'll be interesting to see on whom his primary attention is directed on Saturday.

At tight end, putative #1 Jake Duzey is still out of commission with a spring knee injury; he may be a candidate for coming back after the bye week. Iowa has spent all season developing its offense around the tandem of Henry Krieger Coble and George Kittle, so this isn't the active hindrance the other positions must deal with, but he's still a versatile target the offense could really use.

And along the offensive line, starting tackles Boone Myers and Ike Boettger were both declared out for the game early in the week, which suggests they might need more than the bye week to get back on the field. Cole Croston is fine as the backup left tackle, but James Daniels is about to become the first true freshman to start at tackle for Kirk Ferentz at Iowa, and against Illinois, he... sure looked like a true freshman playing out of position. He'll have one more week of grooming at the position under his belt this week than he did when he was pressed into action there last Saturday, but if Northwestern doesn't target him repeatedly this week, Pat Fitzgerald should probably be fired... out of a comically large cannon into Lake Michigan.

This isn't to make excuses if Iowa has a poor performance on offense come Saturday; Northwestern has made much healthier Power 5 teams look foolish this year. And injuries or not, it's still an 11-on-11 game, and it's a coach's job to have backups ready—especially with 85 guys on scholarship. So if Saturday's game goes sideways, let's not hear any BUT BUT BUT BUT; this is how the game is.

Whoever Wrote The Closing Monologues From Scrubs: We see a lot of injuries in the hospital, a lot of people who get knocked down, and a lot of people trying to get up again—

HANG ON. NO. THAT IS CHUMBAWUMBA. NO. YOUR MONTAGES GET, LIKE, THE DECEMBERISTS.

Whoever Wrote The Closing Monologues From Scrubs: But—

I'M SURE DANIEL POWTER IS FREE.

Whoever Wrote The Closing Monologues From Scrubs: Can I at least do the montage where some people thrive while others suffer, probably alone?

Ugh, fine.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Marc Morehouse called this matchup a push, and BHGPodcast guest Kevin Trahan said essentially the same thing, and that's fair. Iowa's got an advantage on distance, as Dillon Kidd is the Big Ten's second-best punter at 46.1 yards per boot (eight yards per punt better than Northwestern's Hunter Niswander) and kicker Marshall Koehn's range might be legit 60 while Wildcat kicker Jack Mitchell struggles from past 40, but Northwestern's execution on punt coverage has outstripped the Hawkeyes by far and Koehn's coming off a pair of shaky performances (though he did finish strong to put Illinois away late).

The Wildcats did give up an opening kickoff return touchdown to Jehu Chesson last week and never seemed to recover from that first body blow, and with Iowa's offense so limited by injury, a big return or two by Desmond King could swing the balance of the game. King hasn't broken The Big One yet, but he's shown the ability to elude initial contact, and from there it's only a matter of time. Similarly, if Iowa's punt coverage can't keep Northwestern from shortening the field on its drives (or worse, gives up a big return of its own), that'll make the uphill climb even tougher.

Whoever Wrote The Closing Monologues From Scrubs: Zach Braff went to Northwestern, you know.

Of course he did. I'd say he's Peak Northwestern, but Darren Rovell still roams the land, so—

Whoever Wrote The Closing Monologues From Scrubs: [sets footage of J.D. looking forlornly out a window, alone, to Rhett Miller or whatever]

Breaking some new ground there, John Williams. How many seasons did this show go again?

Whoever Wrote The Closing Monologues From Scrubs: Nine seasons, 180 episodes.

GOD. DAMN. IT.

PREDICTION

Iowa 13, Northwestern 9