Game Preview: NU looks to win third straight against Iowa

Danny Daly

At first glance, nothing sticks out about this Iowa team. Its quarterback, Ricky Stanzi, has thrown 14 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. Injuries have forced the Hawkeyes to start true freshman running back Brandon Wegher, who was not listed on the two-deep depth chart in the spring. The offense is in the bottom half of the country. While Iowa has a top-20 defense, it isn’t particularly flashy.

Yet in the loss column, Iowa has a big, round zero. That’s something Northwestern is looking to change this weekend in Iowa City, Iowa, needing just one more victory to become bowl-eligible.

“They’ve been very opportunistic, they’ve made plays and, when it comes to crunch time, they’ve played very well,” coach Pat Fitzgerald said. “We’re going to have to play our best game to have a chance to compete. We know that.”

The Hawkeyes have had several close calls so far. They needed two blocked field goals in the final seconds of the season opener against FCS opponent Northern Iowa and drove the length of the field to stun Michigan State by scoring a touchdown as time expired. Last week, Iowa overcame a 10-point deficit entering the fourth quarter but scored 28 unanswered points to close out the 42-24 victory.

Even though Iowa has trailed four times after three quarters and been behind in all but one of their games, it has found a way to win every week.

“When you have some success, and you’ve won the way that they have, you kind of feel like you have some magic going,” Fitzgerald said. “You get a little mojo, a little confidence from that, and you never feel like the game is out of reach.”

Most of Iowa’s victories have been grind-it-out, defensive struggles. Senior linebackers A.J. Edds and Pat Angerer lead the way against the run, and the team ranks third nationally in pass efficiency defense.

Moving the ball hasn’t been easy against the Hawkeyes, and the Wildcats’ injuries won’t help matters. Starting quarterback Mike Kafka left in the first half of the loss to Penn State, and NU will rely on an underachieving, banged-up offensive line to give the offense enough time to operate.

“The key is to get a little movement up front on the defensive line,” sophomore running back Scott Concannon said. “If we can get some holes there, that would allow some of our offensive linemen to get to those backers.”

NU is the only team to beat Iowa twice in its last 50 home games. The Cats’ thrilling triumph last year included a goal-line stand to end the game, and the team looks forward to the challenge of playing at Iowa.

“I really enjoy Kinnick Stadium,” Concannon said. “I really like the atmosphere, and I really like how the fans are literally like 10 feet away from you.”[email protected]