Iowa, Northwestern seek Big Ten relevancy


Meghan White/Daily Senior Staffer

Northwestern cornerback Daniel Jones will start as the Wildcats’ top cornerback on Saturday because of a rash of injuries at the position.

Rebecca Friedman, Reporter

On Saturday, both Northwestern and Iowa will be shooting for something neither program has had for a few years: relevancy.

Coming off a decisive loss to Penn State, Iowa heads into Saturday’s matchup with a 2-1 conference record, tied with Nebraska for the second spot in the Legends Division behind Michigan. The Wildcats sit third behind the Hawkeyes and Cornhuskers coming off their disappointing loss to Nebraska last Saturday.

With a win Saturday, the Cats can propel themselves past the Hawkeyes, while the two other top teams in the Legends Division, Nebraska and Michigan, face off in Lincoln, Neb. 

A loss would set NU even further back in the division, with games left against Michigan and Michigan State in the division and a rivalry game with Illinois to end the regular season. A win this week is crucial for the Cats’ hopes of finishing toward the top of the conference. While the Cats would be in an even better position had they been able to pull out the win against the Cornhuskers last week, they are doing their best to put that game behind them.

“I went in front of the leadership council and told them they lost the game for us,” coach Pat Fitzgerald joked. “Is that the approach that we want to take? Or that we were one play away?”

The Cats were one play away from besting the Cornhuskers. After holding a 12-point edge in the fourth quarter, NU saw its lead vanish and transform into a one-point deficit. The Cats were unable to give junior kicker Jeff Budzien a comfortable field goal attempt and, instead, Budzien’s 53-yard kick sailed just wide right. 

The loss, partnered with NU’s dismal fourth-quarter performance against Penn State, has fans questioning the team’s ability to finish when ahead, even by two possessions.

“We talk about those things all the time,” Fitzgerald said. “We’ve won a bunch of games with a lead in the fourth quarter. The problem is everyone focuses on the negative and so we choose not to do that.”

Junior wide receiver Rashad Lawrence echoed that the primary mindset for the Cats is to have a fresh start against Iowa. 

“I think the main thing that we can do is flush it,” he said. “We need to let go of the game, flush it and really focus on Iowa.”

The Cats’ passing game is a question mark heading into Saturday, with the offense managing only 121 passing yards against Nebraska and only six passing touchdowns all season. Lawrence said the offense doesn’t need to do anything differently except execute better.

He highlighted the Hawkeyes’ impressive secondary and said it would be a challenge for the Cats’ receiving corps against a veteran group.

“Iowa has a very experienced secondary. They are the oldest and most experienced we’ve faced so far,” Lawrence said. “You have got to play really technical, be real sharp on routes and on your releases and everything. We are working hard as a receiver group to be real fundamentally sound.”

While Iowa may possess a challenging secondary, Iowa has struggled on offense. The Hawkeyes’ rushing game managed only 20 yards on the ground against Penn State, and the Iowa passing game isn’t much better than NU’s. 

However, Iowa’s passing game may be able to capitalize on NU injuries. The Cats’ secondary is the most beat-up part of the roster, with three players in the defensive backfield out for Saturday’s contest.

Sophomore cornerback Daniel Jones finds himself in a position to be the top cornerback Saturday because of an injury to redshirt freshman Nick VanHoose. Jones emphasized the mindset of treating the game like any other and not putting pressure on himself due to starting. The Hawkeyes are also suffering from important injuries, losing two key members of their offensive line against Penn State last week. 

“I think we’re as banged up as they’re banged up,” Fitzgerald said. “It’s going to be the team that responds. They obviously had a tough loss like we did and I’d like to think that our guys respond.”