The Iowa Hawkeyes (4-4, 2-3 Big Ten) took advantage of a downtrodden Northwestern Wildcats (1-7, 1-4 Big Ten) to put together its best team effort of the year to the tune of a 33-13 Homecoming win at Kinnick Stadium Saturday afternoon, scoring on 7 of 8 offensive drives.
The Iowa offense needed something, anything, today, after a 3-game losing streak, and met the bare minimum against the Wildcats. Spencer Petras’s final line: 21-30 for 220 yards and two touchdowns, one throwing and one running. He was complimented greatly by the run game, where Kaleb Johnson carried the ball 14 times for 88 yards, Leshon Williams tallied 11 carries for 43 yards, and Arland Bruce rushed for 27 yards and the game-sealing touchdown. The passing game looked solid as well, with Nico Ragaini having his best game of the season with 4 receptions for 66 yards. Sam LaPorta caught 5 passes for 53 yards, and Luke Lachey had one catch for 6 yards and Iowa’s lone passing touchdown.
Things started off well for the Hawkeyes, and they never truly had to look back.
The Wildcats deferred to the second half, so the Hawkeyes got the ball on offense to start things off, and moved right down the field, using a combination of run and pass — including two consecutive first downs! — until Gavin Williams couldn’t convert on a 3rd down, and Iowa was forced into...another field goal after a 9 play, 63 yard drive.
Northwestern, meanwhile, had a promising start to its drive, before the quarterback was sacked by Craig on third and long, forcing a Wildcat punt, giving Iowa the ball back on the Iowa 41 yardline...which was immediately brought back 10 yards because of holding.
Iowa’s second offensive drive was again productive, including Petras making a great scramble and pitch to Monte Pottebaum. Vines and Brecht got involved nicely as well. Petras even completed a conversion on 3rd and long in the red zone (gasp!), before Kaleb Johnson scored what looked to be Iowa’s first offensive touchdown in three games with a beautiful run, but was brought down before the goal line after review. One play later, Petras snuck in the end zone, and Iowa actually went up 10-0.
Northwestern responded with their best drive of the game to that point, struggling to run but moving the ball quickly through the air to move the ball into Iowa territory and using the legs of Sullivan scrambling to move the ball on a few key 3rd down conversions. But a huge sack from Ethan Burkett killed the Northwestern drive and backed them out of field goal range.
Iowa in its next drive moved right down the field, benefitted greatly by a Northwestern defensive holding call, but once again was forced to settle for 3 points, as Vines couldn’t corral a catch in the end zone.
The Hawkeyes even got the ball back with under two minutes in the half and favorable field position, and moved right down the field again for a touchdown, this time to Luke Lachey to go up 20-0. Offensive yardage after one half? 252 total yards compared to...40 for Northwestern.
Northwestern received the ball to start the half and was forced to go for it on 4th and short twice in a row, which they converted both times. But it was not enough, as on the next set of downs, Iowa was able to stop the Northwestern momentum and forced a Wildcat punt.
And yet, Iowa could do nothing in its first drive of the second half and was forced to bring out Tory Taylor for his first punt of the day. It was...not a great punt, giving Northwestern the ball on the Iowa 35.
Northwestern responded by marching down the field and easily finding the red zone. It looked like the defense had done its job in the red zone, forcing a 4th and goal...but the Wildcats went for it and found their tight end on 4th and short for their first points of the game.
Suddenly, Iowa, up 13, felt under pressure. A movie we’ve seen before with a terrible ending was possibly entering its middle phase. The Iowa offense seemed to understand the pressure, and continued the solid play we saw in the first half. And yet...Brian called a strange play that went to Arland Bruce for negative yards, and a few plays later, Petras was sacked, bringing out Drew Stevens for a 54 yard attempt...which he nailed, putting Iowa up 23-7.
Everything was formality from there. The defense got stops, the offense scored a bit more, including a Bruce sweep for a touchdown, yada yada yada. What do we take away from this game? Not much. Did Iowa need to win this game? 100%, yes. And they did. But we knew they had the capability to beat lesser teams. There’s too much talent on defense and special teams and too much experience on offense to lose to a team like this.
Iowa met the bare minimum.
But does it really matter? At the end of the day, did the team actually move the needle in any meaningful ways for next weekend and beyond? We’ll have to see. The temperature cooled down a bit for this Iowa team today, but by no means is this a surefire sign of things to come. Purdue next week will be a huge challenge, and a loss will erase any goodwill earned back from this week.
But we’ll have to wait for next week to see. For now, we get to celebrate a win for the first time in a month. We might not get to celebrate many more this year.