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Matchup to Watch: Isaiah Bowser vs. Iowa’s LBs

The Iowa Hawkeyes were doing alright, until they weren’t, against Purdue’s run game. Will it flip against Northwestern?

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

We’ll use this space to briefly recap last week’s matchup to watch before heading to the this weeks.

Week 1: Rondale Moore vs. the CASH

Moore sat out the game for undisclosed reasons. One would think that might stabilize Iowa’s back seven vis a vis the CASH position as Moore tallied 0 receptions for 0 yards. Yet Phil Parker had to search a bit to find a man inside, often settling on Matt Hankins, while he shuttled between the 4-3 & 4-2-5 defense. Hankins had a solid day, as did Barrington Wade save an especially high profile play, but the lack of experience resulted in Purdue exploiting Iowa for three David Bell touchdowns.


The Northwestern Wildcats (1-0) had a truly remarkable beginning to their season as they racked up 300+ rushing yards en route to a rout of the Maryland Terrapins. They’ll face an Iowa Hawkeyes (0-1) who had an up-and-down day defensively.

While it was Bell who stretched the Hawkeye defense horizontally, running back Zander Horvath took advantage of Iowa’s gooey underbelly to the tune of 21 carries for 129 yards (6.1 YPC). Yuck.

Those numbers are reminiscent of Isaiah Bowser’s from two years ago when he racked up 165 yards on 31 carries for a touchdown against the Hawkeyes in Kinnick Stadium. Also yuck.

Now, the junior had a sideways 2019 as he worked through injuries but his impact during Northwestern’s 2018 division title run cannot be understated. InsideNU had the following stats:

- Northwestern is 4-0 when Bowser rushes for 100 yards

- Northwestern is 4-0 when Bowser finds the end zone

- Northwestern is 5-1 when Bowser gets at least 18 touches

Kind of important!

Though he’s averaged a shade over 4 yards per carry in his career, Bowser. provides the thunder to Northwestern’s running game. It’ll open it up for the lightning in Drake Anderson and Peyton Ramsey’s scrambling ability.

Bowser is also a capable receiving back, even if he isn’t prolific, with 18 receptions in 16 games. Before tallying 4 receptions for 21 yards and a tuddy, his previous career highs were against Iowa with 3 for 33.

For the Hawkeyes, they are once again without Jack Campbell but Nick Niemann and Barrington Wade proved capable throughout much of Saturday’s game. Niemann had 8 solo tackles while Wade filled up the box score with five tackles, including one for loss, a sack, and interception.

In Northwestern’s win at Iowa, they used Bowser with great success between the tackles, something Horvath did last week with regularity. Iowa will need to be sure in their gap coverage and sound tacklers to force Northwestern into 3rd and long situations. This is another area to improve as Jack Koerner’s 13 tackles last week indicates the Hawks struggled in stopping plays ahead of the last line of defense.

Though the Wildcats operate a spread offense, it may be an opportunity for Phil Parker to leverage a third linebacker to shore up run defense. Redshirt freshman Jestin Jacobs was the only other linebacker used last week and sophomore Seth Benson should also be available to provide Iowa with another guy to play in the middle. A third linebacker also enables Matt Hankins to return to his more natural corner position.

Bowser is just one of NW’s trio of primary run threats and offers the best direct comparison to what worked has worked well against Iowa. If Saturday’s game is anything like the prior three iterations of Iowa/Northwestern, whether Iowa wins will center around their ability to control the ball. Being able to stop Bowser before he starts will go a long way in helping Iowa’s defense get off the field. They’ll need excellent play from their linebackers to help make that happen.