clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Iowa-Northwestern Matchup to Watch: Clayton Thorson vs. Phil Parker

New, 20 comments

Can Northwestern’s veteran quarterback pick-apart an ailing Iowa defense?

NCAA Football: Notre Dame at Northwestern Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

Listen, I’m not gonna sugarcoat it: Iowa should be pretty scared to face Clayton Thorson on Saturday. Here’s a list of reasons why:

  • Iowa’s defense just allowed 434 total yards and 38 points to Purdue
  • Clayton Thorson is coming off a pretty pedestrian passing effort against Notre Dame
  • And yet Thorson still has the third-most passing yards in the Big Ten
  • This is setting up perfectly for Thorson

Those may not seem like very good reasons on paper, but I think it’s going to be pretty easy for this Iowa defense (and offense for that matter) to turtle on up the rest of the year while Northwestern is playing for a whole hell of a lot.

I know Matt Hankins is back this week and is expected to start, giving Riley Moss some reprieve. But Hankins hasn’t played in over six weeks and who knows how he’ll do. I feel pretty confident saying Iowa’s coverage (and overall defense) will be better against Northwestern than it was against Purdue, but Thorson has shown that he can do just fine against really good coverage.

Northwestern rattled the shit out of Thorson and yet he still put up decent numbers: 16-29 for 141 yards, a touchdown and no turnovers. I’ll take those numbers against Iowa all day because that means the Hawkeyes likely hurried the hell out of the Northwestern quarterback.

Notre Dame sacked Thorson five times Saturday night and rushed him another two times. Iowa sure as shit has a front five or six as good as Notre Dame’s and there’s no reason why the Hawkeyes can’t create all sorts of pressure for Northwestern. If Julian Okwara can have 2.5 sacks against Northwestern, so can AJ Epenesa. And Matt Nelson. And probably Parker Hesse. Furthermore, five sacks seems like a nice, magic number that will be more than enough to render Pat Fitzgerald’s and Mick McCall’s offensive gameplan useless.

Well, there is one reason: coaching. If Iowa decides to give AJE just another 24 snaps, or leave a struggling cornerback alone on an island, or just not put any pressure on Thorson at all, then this guy is going to carve up Iowa like a holiday ham and leave Kinnick Stadium a happy hog. He had a rushing touchdown and almost 200 yards passing against Iowa last year in what was perhaps the most frustrating loss of the season. He also had 3 passing and one rushing touchdown against Iowa in 2016!

So, here’s the thing: I really, really, really like Phil Parker. And I really really like the talent on this defense. If Phil and his guys are on the same page, this should be a decent day for the Iowa defense. Northwestern has the worst rushing offense in the Big Ten—literally it’s the worst! But Purdue didn’t need to run the ball much to beat Iowa. It is worth noting, however, Thorson is the third-leading passer in the conference and the guy one spot ahead of him just torched the Hawkeyes.

Flynn Nagel is about a good receiver Iowa is going to see all year, while Cameron Green and Bennett Skowronek are a well above-average 2-3 punch. You know Pat Fitzgerald has been scheming up ways to exploit each and every weakness an Iowa defense that’s licking its wounds is showing on film. He wants to make this season his masterpiece at Northwestern, and a win over Iowa is the moon in this hand-painted (and ham-fisted!) comparison.

This is the healthiest Iowa’s defense has been since week five. It’s about time they start playing like it is September again.