Football: Wildcats suffer second straight blowout, fall to Hawkeyes 40-10


Luke Vogelzang/The Daily Northwestern

Iowa running back Derrick Mitchell Jr. dives into the end zone for a touchdown. The Hawkeyes gashed the Wildcats on the ground, rushing for 294 yards.

Alex Putterman, Web Editor

Northwestern’s uniforms resembled the 1995 Wildcats, but the 2015 team’s performance Saturday certainly didn’t call to mind its Rose-Bowl predecessor.

No. 20 NU (5-2, 1-2 Big Ten) played as flat as an Iowa landscape in a 40-10 loss to the No. 17 Hawkeyes (7-0, 3-0) at Ryan Field. The defeat was the Cats’ second straight by 30 or more points, marking the first time since 2002 the team has lost by that much in back-to-back contests.

“You can’t play the way we did against a very well-coached, very disciplined team, very fundamentally sound team and expect to be successful,” coach Pat Fitzgerald said.

Iowa running back Akrum Wadley, playing in place of the injured Jordan Canzeri, gashed the Cats’ defense for 204 yards and four touchdowns. His two third-quarter scores gave the Hawkeyes a 30-10 lead and sent many NU fans streaming to the exits a period early.

Fitzgerald credited Wadley’s success to a combination of good blocking schemes from Iowa and mistakes by the NU defense.

“When their receivers came down and cracked our safeties, our corners didn’t fit well, and then when we were there we missed tackles,” Fitzgerald said. “And he made plays, so you’ve got to credit him.”

The Cats offense displayed vital signs only briefly, during an aberrational second quarter, in which redshirt freshman quarterback Clayton Thorson led back-to-back long scoring drives.

Outside of that stretch, the Cats’ passing attack was particularly unproductive, with Thorson’s poor stat line — 17-of-35, 125 yards, one touchdown, one interception — attributable as much to his receivers as to the quarterback himself.

Add in a second straight underwhelming performance from sophomore running back Justin Jackson, who carried 10 times for 30 yards, and the result was a measly 198 yards of total offense.

NU turned the ball over three times and punted nine times, reaching the red zone only twice. Those drives, both in the second quarter, produced NU’s only points of the afternoon, via a touchdown pass from Thorson to senior receiver Christian Jones and a short Jack Mitchell field goal.

The Cats’ defense, a major strength through the team’s first five games, was hardly better. The Hawkeyes racked up 294 yards on the ground and 198 more through the air. Wadley was the game’s star, but third-string running back Derrick Mitchell Jr. played almost as well, tallying 79 yards and a touchdown on 10 carries, mostly late in the contest.

“It was a matter of poor execution,” senior defensive end Dean Lowry said of the team’s failure to stop the run. “Guys not fitting right and too many one-man breakdowns. Against a team like Iowa that can’t happen.”

Overall, Iowa out-gained NU 492 yards to 198.

The loss came one week after NU fell to Michigan 38-0 and about one year after the Cats lost to the same Hawkeyes team 48-7 in Iowa City.

“When you only get one turnover in two years against them, that’s not going to be a recipe for success,” Fitzgerald said. “When you don’t stop the run against a team that wants to be a run-first team that’s going to be a recipe for success for them again. And then we’re not able to get our run game going and get balance, which ends up being a recipe for success for them again.”

One of the day’s only NU-centric highlights was the halftime ceremony recognizing the 1995 team, which finished 10-2, won the Big Ten and played in the Rose Bowl. As the current Cats began the season 5-0, comparisons to the similarly ground-and-pound ’95 squad wrote themselves. Two losses later, the 2015 NU iteration seems to more closely resemble the 2013 and 2014 teams, which flashed promise on the way to underwhelming records.

“We have to look ourselves in the mirror and ask ourselves, Are we the team that beat Stanford and Minnesota?” Lowry said. “Or are we the team that performed today.”

Email[email protected]