In a game that could well decide the Big Ten West championship, a hobbled Iowa Hawkeyes squad reduced to its third-string halfback and an offensive line devoid of scholarship tackles pounded No. 20 Northwestern 40-10 Saturday afternoon. The win gives the Hawkeyes (7-0) an effective two-game lead in the Big Ten West race and catapults Iowa into the college football playoff conversation.
The Iowa offense was already at half-strength entering Saturday, with both starting tackles and top receiver Tevaun Smith out due to injury and quarterback C.J. Beathard battling an assortment of injuries. When halfback Jordan Canzeri left the game early in the first quarter with an ankle injury, Iowa's prospects looked grave, especially given that co-starter LeShun Daniels was doubtful due to his own ankle sprain. But Iowa turned to noted Wildcat-killer Akrum Wadley, who ran for 106 yards and a score against Northwestern last season, and Wadley did not disappoint: He ran 26 times for 204 yards and four touchdowns before Saturday's game was over. Derrick Mitchell, Jr. added 79 yards on 10 carries behind an Iowa line that obliterated the Northwestern front seven all day.
The passing game wasn't as effective -- Beathard completed 15/25 for 176 yards and an interception -- but it never needed to be. Iowa's running game imposed its will throughout the second half, racking up 14 first downs and preserving an Iowa defense dealing with its own injuries. The result? Iowa held the Northwestern offense scoreless after halftime, as the Wildcats managed just 74 second-half yards of offense.
The domination was comprehensive. Iowa had nearly 300 more yards of offense than Northwestern, forced two more turnovers, held the ball for 15 minutes more than the Wildcats, averaged 3.7 more yards per play, and managed 11 more first downs. Aside from a two-series sequence late in the first half, Northwestern's offense was scoreless and inept, and no amount of 1995 mojo was going to change that.
Iowa now enters a much-needed bye week at 7-0 and 3-0 in the Big Ten. With Wisconsin a game back and idle Illinois 1.5 behind (both teams already beaten by the Hawkeyes), Iowa has some breathing room if Indianapolis is the goal.
And if the goal is beyond that? We now have license to believe, because this team has proven it's possible. It has taken on all comers and knocked them out, and it looks as if the Hawkeyes are finding their stride. That should be scary for the rest of the conference, because while the three-way war in the East plays out, Iowa could well be waiting at the end for whichever contender emerges. And this Iowa could beat any of them.