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Iowa Football Opponent Preview: Northwestern Wildcats

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Bring on the Cats!

NCAA Football: Illinois at Iowa Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

Following a bye week and a dominant performance against Illinois the previous week, the question that now faces the Hawkeyes is whether or not they can build off a successful and productive performance on the road against a suspect Northwestern squad.

Coming into the season, there was a lot of optimism surrounding this Northwestern team. However, six games into the season, the Wildcats have disappointed, as they currently stand 3-3 with a 1-2 record in the Big Ten.

With that said, it’s time to take an in-depth look at the Hawkeyes’ opponent this Saturday and see what exactly the Northwestern Wildcats are bringing to the table.

Northwestern on Offense

On offense, the focus for the Wildcats, as it’s always been, is the running game. Specifically senior running back Justin Jackson, who currently holds the all-time Northwestern career rushing yards and is second in career rushing touchdowns with 36.

There’s no questioning how productive he has been throughout his tenure with the Wildcats, and this year is no exception, as he’s racked up over 630 total yards and 4.7 yards per carry through the first six games.

When you look at Jackson as a player, it’s very clear that he isn’t the most talented or even most athletic back that the Hawkeyes have faced this season. With that said, as a runner, he’s physical, patient in between the tackles, and capable of making big plays for the Wildcats’ offense. With that said, the Wildcats still rank 95th in rushing offense and have a struggled on offense as a whole so far in 2017.

In the passing game, things haven’t gone much better for the Wildcats, as junior quarterback Clayton Thorson has struggled out of the gate this season throwing for nine interceptions compared to only eight touchdowns.

Moving forward, the focus will be placed on this Wildcats offense to produce points, and if the first six games are any indication, that could be easier said than done.

Talented Pieces on Defense

On defense, the Wildcats are much better, as they rank 37th in run defense and 59th in total defense. As far as personnel is considered, the Wildcats have a lot of talented pieces coming in the form of defensive lineman Tyler Lancaster, linebacker Nate Hall, safety Godwin Igwebuike, linebacker Paddy Fisher, defensive lineman Sam Miller, and defensive lineman Joe Gaziano.

This Saturday, the Hawkeyes will be facing a stout front seven along with a safety in Godwin Igwebuike who can make plays at all three levels of the defense.

As a player, Igwebuike is a guy who flies around the field and can make plays in both the run game and the passing game, as he displays impressive range and ability to finish tackles in space. Last season, Igwebuike finished with a total of 108 tackles through 13 games and through six games this season he’s tallied 40.

In addition to Igwebuike, sophomore defensive lineman Joe Gaziano and freshman defensive lineman Sam Miller have also been impactful contributors for the Wildcats defense this season combining for six sacks and 9.5 tackles for loss through six games.

This Saturday, Iowa’s offensive line will be faced with a surprisingly impressive pass rush and if they have any hope of being successful on offense, limiting penetration will be key.

What to Expect

Overall, this isn’t one of the more impressive Northwestern teams that the Hawkeyes have seen over the years, and this Saturday the Hawkeyes should be able to take care of business on the road and pick up a win.

With that said, Northwestern typically puts up a tough challenge against the Hawkeyes and it would be foolish to expect anything less than hard-fought, close game on Saturday.

For the Hawkeyes, this game means a lot, as it really serves as a measurement of where the Hawkeyes are at as a team moving forward. Whether the Hawkeyes can build on a successful outing against Illinois is yet to be seen, and I look forward to what they bring to the table this Saturday.