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Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

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Football: Quarterback Brendan Sullivan, ‘Cats prepare for strong Iowa defense at The Friendly Confines

Angeli Mittal/The Daily Northwestern
Northwestern junior quarterback Brendan Sullivan scans the field before making a play. The quarterback had a career-high with 265 passing yards against Maryland.

There wasn’t much that could stop Brendan Sullivan last Saturday against Maryland.

The junior quarterback carved up the Terrapins defense on the ground and through the air, putting together arguably his best brand of football leading to Northwestern’s 33-27 win. The Davison, Michigan native threw for a career-high 265 yards and rushed for 56 yards — a team high.

And with graduate student quarterback Ben Bryant still sidelined, Sullivan’s breakthrough couldn’t have come at a better time. It’s especially true because NU will face a hard-nosed Iowa defense this Saturday at Wrigley Field.

“We know the challenge that is ahead,” Interim Head Coach David Braun said. “A team (that) in a lot of ways embodies a lot of the things we pride ourselves on here at Northwestern in terms of being a developmental program that plays with great fundamentals, great technique and great physicality.”

Fundamentally sound, defined technique and physicality are a few ways to describe Iowa’s defense in recent years. A program that has struggled offensively, but has been unquestionably dominant defensively, three of its four 2023 NFL Draft picks were defensive players.

This season is no different, as the Hawkeyes have allowed only 14.5 points per game — the fourth-best in the Big Ten and sixth nationally. In their last two contests, they’ve given up 12 points to Minnesota and six to Wisconsin.

Sullivan started in NU’s 33-13 loss in Iowa City last year, so he’s experienced Braun’s definition of Iowa’s team first-hand. Preparing for the second go-around, he understands what it takes to leave The Friendly Confines with a win.

“They do what they do, and they don’t really sugar coat it too much,” Sullivan said. “They’re a physical team, so just trying to go out there and out physical them.”

In comparison to Maryland’s defense, Iowa’s unit has successfully smothered its opponents on a more consistent basis — showing similarities to the Cornhuskers defense NU faced just two weeks ago. Although Sullivan’s struggles against Nebraska suggest concerns facing a strong defense on Saturday, the junior made necessary adjustments versus Maryland.

This was clear in Sullivan’s strong pocket presence and success through the air — something he’s been working on all season. His deep ball connections to senior wideouts, Bryce Kirtz for a 23-yard touchdown in the first quarter and A.J. Henning for 34 yards in the fourth quarter, were products of that.

“The biggest thing is not freaking out too much and not having to rely on my legs as much,” Sullivan said. “It just comes one throw at a time, you know, you get into the flow of the game where it kind of goes by pretty fast and you’re kind of just reacting.”

Sullivan was a major piece of the puzzle in the Maryland win, but instead of pumping himself up, he gave all the credit to the offense. He emphasized how everybody improved, finally translating their practice play into the game.

Braun also detailed how much better the offense performed around the quarterback in comparison to Nebraska. But more than that, he’s said how impressed he was in his “stinkin’ warrior,” and described the increase in comfort he’s seen in Sullivan’s overall game.

Iowa’s defense will test Sullivan and the ‘Cats offense on Saturday differently than the Terrapins and Cornhuskers, but with the quarterback finding his groove and stepping into his own, Braun expects Sullivan to be a great decision maker, a great game manager and to force Iowa’s defense to earn everything they can get — no matter his final stat line.

“With the way that Sully’s trending, there’s no doubt in my mind that he’s going to continue putting our team in a lot of good situations to win a lot of football games,” Braun said. “With the playcalling (this week), I think we did a really good job of just finding ways to get the ball out of his hands on time which allowed for him to get into a rhythm and play his best football.”

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