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The Butcher’s Word: Northwestern Wildcats

What should Hawkeye fans expect out of the Wildcats on homecoming?

NCAA Football: Northwestern at Maryland
The Wildcats are comin’ to town.
Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

As much as Hawkeye fans may be ready to move on to basketball and wrestling seasons, Iowa still has five football games left on the schedule. And they seem intent on playing them. So we will continue to cover them for those few of you left out there who insist on watching this team to support the two truly great units on defense and special teams.

Up this week is a rematch with the annual thorn in the side Northwestern Wildcats. But this isn’t the same group we saw a season ago in Evanston. In the words of the wise and sage like Big Tom Callahan, you can get a good look at a t-bone by sticking your head up a bull’s rear end, but wouldn’t you rather take the butcher’s word for it?

So just like every other week (unless, of course, our cohorts at other SB Nation sites don’t get back to us..), we’re taking the butcher’s word for it and getting the inside details on Northwestern from our friends over at Inside NU. We were joined this week by managing editor Gavin Dorsey to talk about this weekend’s matchup.

Here’s a look at our conversation.

BHGP: Let’s start with the obvious: it’s an even number year and that means Northwestern is destined for the Big Ten Championship Game. That is still a possibility despite what has looked like an odd year Wildcat team. What has gone wrong this year to put Northwestern in the position they’re in to-date?

INU: The short answer is everything. Among the odd-year Northwestern teams of 2019 (bad offense) and 2021 (bad defense), this year’s team seems to be a combination of both. The Wildcats’ trip to Ireland feels like years and years ago, as the team we see now resembles nothing like the one we saw against Nebraska. Since then, the defense has been incredibly susceptible to giving up giant plays in the run and pass game and I’m positive that almost anyone could have a Heisman performance against this scheme. Meanwhile, the offense is night and day. The play calling hasn’t really fit the skill set of the athletes on the field and the offensive line outside of Skoronski has been suspect at best. It looked substantially better with Brendan Sullivan at the helm, but we’ll see if that success is sustainable this week.

BHGP: On the offensive side of the ball, the Wildcats have seemed to move the ball relatively well averaging nearly 390 yards a game, but are averaging fewer than 19 points per game. What’s been the driver there and how do you expect Northwestern to attack an Iowa defense that has done a great job of keeping opponents out of the endzone?

INU: The main factor has been turnovers and missed opportunities. The offense gets in grooves where it can completely dominate the ground game with Evan Hull and march right down the field, but turnovers in opposing territory have absolutely derailed any momentum Northwestern has had. The squad averages over 2.5 turnovers a game, while only earning the ball back on takeaways around once a game (excluding the fumble-fest in sloppy conditions against Penn State). Combine that with a desire to attempt fourth downs and poor execution and you’ve got the Big Ten team that only scores more points than Iowa.

BHGP: On the other side of the ball, Northwestern has been giving up 28 points per game, but there’s been quite a bit of dispersion with Wisconsin, Maryland and even Southern Illinois having big games against the Cats while they’ve looked really stout against Penn State, for example. What’s been the difference in those games and what how can a putrid Iowa offense hope to move the ball against Northwestern?

INU: I’m honestly quite shocked that Northwestern held Penn State to only 17 points, but if there was a single reason, it’d be hard to dismiss the downpouring rain and conditions. That was easily the defense’s best game, and they did it by causing five turnovers and effectively shutting down the passing game. If Iowa wants to win, they’ll do it by following the template set by all the other opponents and having a dominant run game.

BHGP: This is Iowa and given how the offense has been all season, we’ve got to lean in on punting even more. Talk a bit about special teams and what Hawkeye fans should expect to see in the kicking and return game. Any X factors to be aware of here?

INU: Hawkeye fans should absolutely expect at least one missed kick Saturday, as NU kickers are 4-of-7 this year on field goals. On the punting side, I find myself wowed by Luke Akers every game. He’s had a couple beauties, and even if the offenses are slow, I’ll definitely be looking forward to the battle of the punters.

BHGP: OK, prediction time. Our friends and DraftKings Sportsbook have Iowa favored by 11 with an over/under that has climbed up to 37. How do you see this one playing out and what’s your final score prediction?

INU: I haven’t picked Northwestern in a game since they lost to Miami (OH), but I think that changes this week. The Wildcats’ offense certainly looked much improved with the mobility of Sullivan under center, and in a game where whoever scores a touchdown first may decide the outcome, I’m not sure if I trust Spencer Petras’ ability to get the ball into the end zone. I’ll go 16-10 Wildcats.

So there you go, more pain for the Hawkeyes and perhaps the catalyst we need to finally get Brian fired!

Thanks again to Gavin for taking the time to chat with us. You can follow Gavin on Twitter @gjdorsey7. Be sure to stop over to Inside NU before kickoff to check out the rest of their coverage for this matchup, including their matchups to watch. You can follow them on the Twitters @InsideNU.