Football: Northwestern run defense stands tall against Iowa


Keshia Johnson/The Daily Northwestern

Ifeadi Odenigbo stands over Iowa quarterback C.J. Beathard after a sack. The senior defensive end and the rest of Northwestern’s defensive gave up just 3.5 yards-per-carry on the ground in Saturday’s win over Iowa.

Max Schuman, Sports Editor


IOWA CITY, Iowa — Coming into a trip to Iowa, Northwestern fans had every reason to be worried about the run defense.

A week before against Nebraska, the Wildcats (2-3, 1-1 Big Ten) gave up more than 300 yards on the ground in defeat. And while the Hawkeyes (3-2, 1-1) don’t pose the same challenges as the Cornhuskers did, Iowa put up 515 rushing yards combined in its last two matchups with NU.

All signs were pointing to the Hawkeyes having a big day on the ground. But the Cats didn’t just limit the damage en route to their 38-31 win Saturday — they shut Iowa’s run game down, right from the start.

NU gave up 121 rushing yards on 35 carries on the day, not including sacks, good for a 3.5 yards-per-carry average. Against a Hawkeyes team known for racking up yards and big plays on the ground, that effort was crucial to the Cats’ win.

Coach Pat Fitzgerald said the goal coming into the game was to contain Iowa’s rushing attack, one his charges met and exceeded.

“You’re typically not going to be able to stop (the Hawkeyes’ run game), but you’ve got to be able to keep it inside and in front,” he said. “It really looked like we were able to … minimize gains.”

NU was ready for that challenge from the opening play. Junior linebacker Anthony Walker and junior defensive end Xavier Washington combined to stop running back Akrum Wadley for a loss of two yards on the game’s first play, helping force a three-and-out on Iowa’s first drive and setting the stage for the Cats’ strong day against the run.

Walker said he and his teammates knew they would need to hold up against a lot of rushing attempts Saturday.

“We came ready to play, ready to tackle, ready to be physical,” he said. “We had to bring our big boy pants today.”

All game, NU did well against the run on first downs, surrendering just 3.2 yards-per-carry on 19 Iowa rushing attempts on those plays. Perhaps more impressively, Hawkeyes running backs LeShun Daniels and Wadley managed no runs longer than nine yards on their 31 combined rushes.

The run defense put the Hawkeyes into numerous 3rd-and-long situations and set up the rest of Cats for success. While Iowa quarterback C.J. Beathard completed 19-of-27 passes and had some big plays through the air, NU countered with big plays of its own, notching six sacks and a game-sealing interception by redshirt freshman corner Trae Williams.

It was a masterful showing against the run from a group that’s had trouble matching last season’s level of play in a tough start to 2016. Senior defensive end Ifeadi Odenigbo said the energy the Cats played with defensively was born out desperation for a win.

“We were just pissed off,” he said. “We’re in Iowa City … and we’re not leaving without a win. That’s just our demeanor.”

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