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H.A.W.K.E.Y.E.S. Predicts: Northwestern

Pat Fitzgerald comes to town.

Hawk for Nerds
Hawks vs. Cats. What’s the computer got to say?

Welp, how ‘bout that game in Piscataway? That’s all I really can think of to say about that. It was a snoozer from start to finish. There were a few plays in the game that really had the opportunity to change the entire feel of the bout. The first play of the second half, when Daniels’ huge run was called back on an incredibly suspect illegal blocking penalty should have made the game 21-7. Secondly, the long catch and run by Janarion Grant should have led to a touchdown, and if he hadn’t been injured on that same play there’s a good chance Rutgers makes it 21-14. But those plays didn’t materialize and we were stuck with that forgettable outing. But a win is a win. How did H.A.W.K.E.Y.E.S. do?

Well, the computer did see a close game, just with a higher score line, predicting a 25-23 Iowa win. Overall, considering the fact that the game could easily have been 21-14 based off of just two quirky plays, 25-23 pretty fairly described the outcome, even if it wasn’t technically accurate. But once again, the computer predicted a win, and Iowa did, in fact, win. Just like Iowa’s win-loss record, H.A.W.K.E.Y.E.S is 3-1 in its predictions.

And with the Rutgers game flushed, the Northwestern Wildcats come to Kinnick Stadium for Iowa’s Homecoming. If I know anything about Pat Fitzgerald, he would love nothing more than to ruin our Homecoming. Not that long ago, it felt like Northwestern was the weird cousin at the Big Ten family gathering, often showing up just to ruin the day for Iowa before quietly slipping off back to their weird corner of Illinois to finish out a mediocre season. But it’s been a handful of years since that’s happened, and Iowa seems to have finally figured out how to counter Northwestern, which seems hellbent on fielding a defense and viewing offense as optional. In many ways, they are the exact opposite of the entire Big 12.

Dots below the dotted line are games decided by less than a field goal. Dots below the dashed line are games decided by less than a touchdown.

Doing things a little differently this week, I decided that the story of Iowa and Northwestern is one best told chronologically. Since 2008, Iowa is 4-4 against Northwestern. Two of those losses (2009 and 2010) came in seasons where Iowa was clearly the more talented team. But since 2010, Iowa has handled the ‘Cats well, with the exception of 2012, which was an unmitigated disaster of a season which never happened. But against arguably the strongest Northwestern squad in 2015, Iowa unloaded both barrels and plastered the Wildcats on their own turf. Even the mediocre 2014 Iowa team found a way to outscore Northwestern by nearly 6 scores and hold the Wildcats to just 3 scores total in those two years. In short: Iowa seems to have gotten the wildcat off their back.

So what does H.A.W.K.E.Y.E.S. say will happen this season? This is the first week in which the computer will not factor in the previous season’s performances and uses only 2016 games as the basis for its predictions. Additionally, I have added a little more information into the model. Starting this week, the computer now also makes adjustments to Iowa’s average stats based upon the strengths and weaknesses of the team it is playing. For example, Northwestern has been strong against the run so far this season, so Iowa receives a penalty against its rushing yards. Iowa has been strong against the pass, believe it or not, holding opponents to 21 fewer yards than its season average, and so Northwestern receives a penalty against its passing yards. This continues for all of the variables down the line and will fluctuate with each game and with each opponent. In theory this should make the predictions more accurate. Additionally, it means that from this week forward, the computer is now predicting win-loss, scores, yardages, turnovers, efficiency, and penalties rather than just accepting each team’s average as an input. So, with that in mind, what should we expect from Saturday’s game?

School Iowa NW
Passing Yards 198.9 213.0
Rushing Yards 138.3 117.6
Turnovers 0.4 1.1
Penalties 4.4 3.0
Offensive Plays 60.0 70.9
First Downs 19.4 19.7
Score 26 15
Confidence 88%

H.A.W.K.E.Y.E.S. is not too high on either team, but we should see a little more scoring out of Iowa this week, despite Northwestern having a strong rush defense. But, as good as their defense might be, the computer is less than impressed with their scoring. It does seem like this should be a relatively clean game, low on turnovers and penalties. Personally, I would go ahead and say that Iowa’s passing attack might be just a bit less potent with the absence of Matt VandeBerg, but I also don’t see Clayton Thorson getting it done against the Iowa secondary.

Maybe the loss of MVB will be a blessing in disguise as it might force one of the younger receivers to prove themselves on the field and get those ever-important in-game snaps. I’m going to learn my lesson from weeks past and trust the computer when I make my own personal prediction: Iowa wins 27-17 in a contest that is never really close but never really comfortably put away as Iowa has to execute another 4-minute drill to wind down the clock and hold the 10-point fourth quarter lead.