Rapid Recap: Northwestern 21, Iowa 20


Joshua Hoffman/Daily Senior Staffer

Isaiah Bowser tires to evade an Iowa defender. The junior helped stabilize the Northwestern offense after a poor first quarter.

Ella Brockway, Gameday Editor


IOWA CITY, Iowa — Iowa came with the tricks, but Northwestern took home the treats.

The Wildcats came back from an early 17-0 deficit and stayed perfect on the season with a 21-20 win over the Hawkeyes on Halloween.

Junior running back Isaiah Bowser led NU (1-0, 1-0 Big Ten) with 85 yards on 25 rushing attempts in the win, while senior rusher Jesse Brown brought in two of the team’s three touchdowns on the afternoon.

The Hawkeyes hopped out to an early lead, capitalizing on a muffed punt-turned-fumble given up by the Cats at their own 7-yard line. NU took its time finding its offensive groove — senior wide receiver Riley Lees was injured on the Cats’ opening drive and didn’t return, and graduate quarterback Peyton Ramsey registered just two completed passes in NU’s first 15 plays.

Another fumble — this time on the offensive end as Bowser tried to make a run out of the Wildcat formation — turned into an Iowa touchdown on the next drive and put the Cats down 14-0 under seven minutes into the game. The Hawkeyes’ front seven jumped out to a relentless start, holding NU to only 46 total yards in the first quarter.

Iowa scored again before the end of the quarter, taking a 17-0 lead into the game’s first break. The Hawkeyes’ top receiver, Ihmir Smith-Marsette, rebounded from a zero-catch game in a Week 1 loss to Purdue to pull in three receptions for 42 yards in the first.

The Cats opened the second quarter with a score, earning their first points on the board on a three-yard touchdown run by senior wide receiver Kyric McGowan, which capped off a 16-play, six-and-a-half minute drive 75 yards down the field.

NU’s ground game led its offensive attack in the second quarter — the Cats ran the ball 23 times and put it in the air only three times, but it worked in their favor. Another long drive took more than five minutes off the clock and ended in a Jesse Brown run into the endzone to cut the scoreline to 20-14 in Iowa’s favor.

The defense also stepped up on the other side of the ball, forcing Hawkeyes’ quarterback to throw six incompletions on 10 attempts on their final series before the break.

In the second half, the Cats’ secondary continued its strong run of form, as a Brandon Joseph interception set up another Brown touchdown run to put NU up 21-20 midway through the third quarter.

The Cats held that one-point lead uneventfully until the 8:05 mark of the fourth quarter, when Ramsey threw an interception that put a threatening Iowa on the 36-yard line with potential to score. But Joseph was back to save the Cats, grabbing his second pick of the game to put the ball back in his offense’s hands with just under seven minutes to play.

On the ensuing drive, Iowa sent the blitz and Ramsey was forced to throw the ball away on third down, giving the Hawkeyes possession with less than five minutes remaining. And despite a late pass interference call that threatened to get Iowa past the 50-yard line late, the NU defense came up with a tremendous fourth-down stop to force the Hawkeyes to throw it away and turn the ball over on downs.

Iowa got the ball back one final time with under 90 seconds to go, but NU’s defense once again pulled through, as a Blake Gallagher interception sealed the win.


1. NU’s back seven saved the game. Two games in, the Cats’ defense is still adjusting to life up front without 2019 starters Joe Gaziano (graduated) and Samdup Miller (opted-out), and with 2020 starters Jason Gold Jr. and Trevor Kent out injured. Petras, Iowa’s quarterback, did have a decent amount of time to throw on Saturday afternoon — he finished with 50 pass attempts — but the opposing secondary limited what he could do in the air. NU’s defense tallied three pass breakups and three interceptions, forcing 24 pass incompletions, including the game’s most consequential on Iowa’s final fourth down. All members of the linebacker trio of Chris Bergin, Blake Gallagher and Paddy Fisher finished with more than 10 tackles, and Gallagher sealed NU’s win with a game-ending interception.

2. The Wildcats’ run game found a way, and led the way. For much of the afternoon, Ramsey was stymied by the Iowa pass defense. Down his top receiver after Lees’ early exit, the signal-caller managed only five pass attempts and three completions in the first half. So the focus turned to the ground game, and NU’s rushers delivered. The Cats attacked the Hawkeyes’ front seven with a multi-pronged attack: Bowser making powerful downhill runs, Drake Anderson dashing quick horizontally, Jesse Brown doing a little bit of both — and finding the end zone twice. Even Ramsey took advantage of opportunities on the ground, running for 26 yards. The run game was silenced for the most part in the second half, but had done enough in the first to put the Cats in a position to claim the win.

3. A Big Ten West title might be a possibility. It was a chaotic week of news and games around the Big Ten West. Wisconsin cancelled its game against Nebraska after a team-wide COVID-19 outbreak, and as new cases continue to emerge its scheduled matchup against Purdue next weekend is up in the air. Minnesota — a preseason Top 20 team — fell to 0-2 on the year with a loss to Maryland on Friday. The win over Iowa knocked down a significant roadblock in NU’s pathway to another Big Ten Championship Game appearance, and makes Nov. 14’s matchup at Purdue — the only other 2-0 team in the division — even more important.

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