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Iowa vs. Northwestern: By The Numbers

Can Iowa cage the resurgent Wildcats in Wrigley?

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

It’s been an eventful couple of weeks since the Hawkeyes let Minnesota steal a win in Kinnick and sent Floyd to his vacation home in Minneapolis. Iowa went into its bye week looking for answers to many questions, such as:

  • What the hell is an “invalid fair catch” signal?
  • Why did the replay official reverse an amazing TD when not a single ref or player on the field acted like Cooper DeJean had made anything approaching a fair catch signal?
  • Why isn’t every other team in the country being flagged for invalid fair catch signals?
  • How many examples of invalid fair catch signals not being called can we find on YouTube?
  • Why was the head ref (who did not make this call) refereeing this game given that he’s made mistakes in the recent past?
  • Why do the refs hate us?
  • Why was PJ Fleck on the field in IC by himself like 2 hours after the game ended?
  • Why did PJ Fleck take Floyd to his house and then into his bed?
  • What in god’s name is wrong with PJ Fleck?

The glaring question that many, if not most, people failed to ask was this: How in the love of f%*k was this offense unable to pick 20 yards in 1:40 (with three timeouts left) to set up Drew Stevens for a game winning field goal?

Apparently that was the question that interim AD Beth Goetz was asking and Kirk & Co. certainly didn’t give her an answer that she found compelling.

So, Brian is out but not gone and the Northwestern Wildcats are the first opponent on his official farewell tour. In some way it’s fitting that a team whose HC was fired somewhat unceremoniously just weeks before the season started is the first opponent Iowa will face after the rather unceremonious (and non-immediate) termination of it’s offensive coordinator.

I watched a fair amount of the Northwestern/Maryland game last week (due in full to pulling a muscle in my back while warming up at the range before a rare in-season Saturday round of golf) and I’ll be honest with you, this game has me a little worried.

Let’s see if the numbers will burnish my spirits as we head into the homestretch.


Iowa - 232.4 ypg, 19.5 ppg
Northwestern - 307.4 ypg, 21.8 ppg

Man, this game is basically the Sickos National Championship isn’t it? Two of the worst scoring offenses in the country, on a neutral (baseball) field, on a cold, gray, day in the Windy City. I’ve seen the over/under on this game as low as 29.5 points (Iowa Football - still setting records).

Northwestern’s newish starting QB Brendan Sullivan looked fairly impressive against Maryland, though the Maryland defense is highly overrated and I doubt he will have the same kind of success against Iowa. He’s certainly more mobile than Deacon and threw a couple of absolute dimes but the windows will be even tighter against Coop & Co, and Castro’s hits may sting just a little more in the chilly CHicago weather. Personally, I’d like to see Deshaun Lee back in the rotation a little more.

Northwestern is not particularly proficient in the ground game (which accounts for less than 13 of their total offense) and with the DL all back in good health, I don’t think that will improve. However, this is still the Iowa offense led by Deacon Hill, so until we see some significant improvement, the opponent will have the upper hand.

Advantage: Northwestern


Iowa - 4.2 ypp, 14.5 ppg
Northwestern - 5.3 ypp, 26 ppg

On it’s face, this is a pretty easy call. Iowa’s defense is among the best in the country and Northwestern’s is, well, not. Northwestern has managed to keep bad teams out of the endzone and let decent to good teams in (though giving up 20 points to FCS Howard a few weeks back was not a good look). Iowa is solid just about everywhere and this year’s Wildcats are prone to mistakes, as shown by their being -4 in the turnover column (no to mention that they are averaging ~46 penalty yards per game.

Iowa’s offense may not fair particularly well against an above average Northwestern defense, but Northwestern’s offense is likely going to be in big trouble against a team that is looking to exercise some demons.

Advantage: Iowa

Special Teams


Iowa - 48.5 ypp
Northwestern - 38.4 ypp

The #Tory4Heisman (or at least the Ray Guy Award) keeps on trucking and I’d imagine that everyone’s favorite Hawkeye will see the field a fair amount on Saturday. Tory is averaging just under 7 punts per game this season for a, otherworldly, total of 327 yards per game. The wind in Wrigley could cause some issues, but the Thunder from Down Under has proven time and time again that he can handle whatever Mother Nature throws at him. Iowa is 11-1 all time when Tory punts the ball more than 8 times in a game, let’s all hope that we can make that 12-1 in Chicago.

Advantage: Iowa


Iowa - 86.67% FGM, 6.75 ppg
Northwestern - 91.7% FGM, 6.5 ppg

Drew Stevens and Jack Olsen are both having pretty fantastic seasons in the FG game, and neither of them has missed an PAT so far this season. The determinative factor here may just be who gets more opportunities on Saturday, and whether or not they’ll have any serious wind coming off the lake to deal with. The forecast is calling for 8mph winds, which isn’t too bad all things considered, so look for both of these impressive kickers to get plenty of chances Saturday.

Advantage: Push

Return Game

Iowa - 63.38 ypg, 1 TD
Northwestern - 51.63 ypg, 0 TDs

As long as Cooper DeJean is fielding punts he’s a risk for any opposing special teams unit. Northwestern’s Hunter Renner doesn’t have a big leg, but he’s also not giving up much in the way of returns on the year. Through 8 games the Wildcats have given up just 7 yards in punt returns, which is pretty impressive, though they haven’t had to kick to Cooper Dejean. I won’t be surprised if Coop is out to prove something on Saturday, with his left hand plastered to his side.

On the Kickoff side, Northwestern is giving up about 18 yards per return with a touchback % in the low 20’s, so expect Kaden Wetjen to have some opportunities following Northwestern field goals.

Advantage: Iowa

As has been the case most weeks this season, the numbers tell us to expect an Iowa win (even if it’s an ugly, low-scoring, one). But it’s hard to gauge how this Iowa team will react to the news of Brian Ferentz’s impending termination, will we see them playing fast and free, or will there be an emotional letdown after a tumultuous bye week? If the offensive line shows up the way it did against Purdue and Wisconsin, Iowa should be able to notch a fairly comfortable win at Kinnick Northside. If they play like they did against Minnesota (and if they are seeing 8-9 men in the box all day), it could be a struggle that will be determined by field position and the combined legs of Stevens and Taylor.

Numbers to Watch

6 - Brendan Sullivan will make his 4th start of the year on Saturday and he has been fairly impressive in his previous three. He comes into this game sporting a 66% completion rate (31/47) and a 4:1 TD/INT ratio. H’s not a dual threat QB but he does have the ability to make things happen with his feet. He boasted a 4.0 ypc average against Maryland with a long of 18 yards. He is very accurate with his throws and hasn’t made many costly mistakes thus far.

13 - Iowa has amassed just 13 sacks total in 8 games. Northwestern has allowed the most sacks of any time in the B1G this season and gave up 8 sacks to Nebraska’s defense three weeks ago, and 5 to Maryland last Saturday. The defensive line should be bolstered by the bye week and hopefully we’ll see that total grow substanitally against a pretty bad NW O-line.

17 - Bryce Kirtz is the best of a pair of Northwestern WRs that are averaging north of 12 ypc this year. He’s got nearly as many catches this season (30) as the entire Iowa WR corps (35) and just one fewer touchdown. He’ll likely get the lion’s share of the defensive backfields attention.

27 - I’m rounding up here, because whole numbers read better as a headline. Iowa’s 3rd down conversion rate is sitting at 26.36% for the season, which is just abysmal. If Iowa wants to come out of Wrigley with a win they need to get this number moving up pretty quickly.

The question everyone will be asking on Saturday is how this team will respond in the wake of Brian Ferentz’s upcoming ouster and I think it’s a fair question. I really hope that Beth Goetz’s decision has removed a lot of the pressure that the “Drive for 325” had put on the offense all season and that these kids can go have some fun Saturday, because they certainly haven’t been having fun through the first 8 weeks (outside of the 1st quarter against Western Michigan). We all knew this was coming, even if we weren’t expecting it until sometime in January, so hopefully the good guys can get back to playing football, instead of playing the expectations game.

As always, GO HAWKS!