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The Daily Northwestern

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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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What to Watch For: Northwestern suits back up for midday matchup against Iowa in second-ever Wildcats Classic’

Angeli Mittal/The Daily Northwestern
Northwestern senior linebacker Bryce Gallagher gets pumped up after recovering a fumble in the first quarter against Maryland.

After a successful 33-27 win at Ryan Field last weekend, Northwestern (4-4, 2-3 Big Ten) returned to .500 and improved their home record to 4-1 on the season. But, the Wildcats have a tough matchup against Iowa in the Wildcats’ second appearance in the Wildcats Classic.

Interim head coach David Braun said junior quarterback Brendan Sullivan would receive the start this weekend due to sixth-year quarterback Ben Bryant’s injury in Monday’s press conference. Against the Terrapins’ secondary, Sullivan threw for 265 passing yards and rushed for 56 yards on the ground. Sullivan’s improvement on the field is promising for the Cats’ developing offense.

Ahead of this weekend’s clash, NU needs to bring the same energy to Wrigley that they have in each home battle. With Braun’s squad walking into the stadium with their heads held high, here are three questions to look forward to at the Friendly Confines.

1. Can Sullivan get out to a quick start and keep offensive momentum alive the entire game?

NU’s 17-9 loss to Nebraska two weeks ago exposed Sullivan’s struggles leading the offense. Throwing for 176 yards and an interception, his run game was staggered by the Cornhuskers consistently.

But, Braun voiced his confidence in Sullivan’s talents, especially after his top-notch performance against Maryland. Saturday’s game also proved the offense has a solid foundation behind him.

“The way he battled against Nebraska … he battled for his team,” Braun said. “I think we did a really good job this week of getting Sully comfortable and perform much better around him on offense.”

As the Cats’ battle a more defensive-structured team in the Hawkeyes, Sullivan will be tested. NU has a strong advantage over Iowa’s secondary with star defensive back T.J. Hall out this weekend with an injury, though.

2. Can the Wildcats’ secondary have the same success at their home away from home?

While sophomore defensive back Devin Turner and seniors Coco Azema and Rod Heard II collected interceptions during the past two weeks, the ’Cats’ secondary must build upon their successes this season and slow down an already sluggish Hawkeyes’ offense.

Though Maryland had an initial seven-point lead, NU’s secondary helped slow down the Terrapins’ offense gradually. Maryland’s Taulia Tagovailoa finished with 274 yards in the air — the third lowest passing game for him this season. If the ’Cats were able to deny, arguably, one of the conference’s best quarterbacks from a field day, the secondary’s chances to limit Iowa’s second string quarterback to season-low statistics is plausible.

NU senior linebackers Xander Mueller and Bryce Gallagher have had stellar performances in the past few weeks as well, coming up with critical third down stops to halt opposing offenses.

“Our defensive line will be tested this week in a big, big way,” Braun said. “They’ve battled. They’ve invested. They’ve continued to prove. I’m really proud of that group.”

3. Can NU’s special teams continue to put themselves on the map?

NU’s special teams was magnetic at Ryan Field last weekend, making it 10 times harder for Maryland’s return unit to do damage.

The ’Cats senior kicker Jack Olsen went 4-4 in the second half to help secure the win. Olsen’s ability to put the ball through the flagpoles was a conduit in the ’Cats’ victory.

Olsen’s minutes in Saturday’s matchup might be few, but they will be mightily important considering how low scoring this contest might be.

“The thing that’s exciting for this group and this coaching staff moving forward is we feel like we’re getting better as a team,” Braun said. “I still think our best football is still in front of us.”

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Twitter: @sswann301

Related Stories:
Football: ‘It’s why you play college football’: Defensive back Coco Azema seals Northwestern’s Maryland upset
Football: Sullivan’s dazzling first half propels Northwestern to 33-27 victory over Maryland
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