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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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Rapid Recap: Iowa 10, Northwestern 7

Micah Sandy/Daily Senior Staffer
Junior quarterback Brendan Sullivan goes down following an Iowa tackle. In their loss to Iowa at Wrigley Field, Northwestern’s offensive struggles were on full display.

Fresh off of an upset victory over Maryland, Northwestern looked to get one step closer to bowl eligibility against Iowa at Wrigley Field. 

Saturday’s matchup with the Hawkeyes (7-2, 4-2 Big Ten) marked the Wildcats’ (4-5, 2-4 Big Ten) first trip to the Friendly Confines since 2021. 

With the contest reportedly opening with the lowest over-under in history, both offenses immediately struggled, combining for three punts and six first downs in a scoreless first quarter. By the intermission, both teams failed to record any points. 

Minutes into the second half, Iowa scored the game’s first points, using a seven-play, 25-yard drive to take a 7-0 lead. NU was unable to match Iowa’s offensive spark in the subsequent drive, forcing to punt for the eighth time. 

A few possessions later, the ’Cats failed to take advantage of having the ball inside Iowa’s two-yard line. NU was stopped short four straight plays on the goal line,  turning the ball over on downs. 

However, the ’Cats were able to capitalize following senior wide receiver A.J. Henning’s 23-yard punt return. Through a six-play, 22-yard drive, NU leveled the score at 7-7 with less than two minutes left to play. 

Unfortunately, the ’Cats defense was unable to send the game into overtime, conceding two first downs, leading to Hawkeye kicker Drew Stevens nailing a game-winning, 52-yard field goal with 14 seconds left to play. 

Here are five takeaways from Saturday’s loss:

1. NU’s defense recovers after costly penalties in first drive 

With points at a premium in Saturday’s showdown, interim head coach David Braun’s defense appeared it would cede points on its first defensive drive. 

After the ’Cats surrendered pass-interference penalties on two Hawkeyes third-down attempts, Iowa had the ball inside NU’s 31-yard line minutes into the game.

However, the ’Cats defense swiftly recovered after graduate student defensive lineman Jaylen Pate’s third-down sack forced a Hawkeyes punt. NU’s defense built off this momentum in its subsequent defensive drive, retaining possession after a missed Iowa field goal.

Despite offensive struggles, Braun’s defense continued to hold strong over the first half, forcing four punts and keeping Iowa off the scoreboard. 

2. ’Cats offensive line struggles for most of contest

A large component of NU’s offensive struggles this season has been the offensive line’s inability to provide adequate time for its quarterbacks in the pocket.

In a contest where both teams strained for positive field position, the ’Cats offense couldn’t afford to move backwards like it did in their loss to Nebraska. This problem persisted in NU’s first offensive drive, when Sullivan was sacked on third down, forcing a three-and-out. 

Throughout the first quarter, the ’Cats offense continued to move backwards. When it was at midfield towards the end of the first frame, NU’s drive stalled following a 17-yard loss due to a botched snap. Likewise, the hosts’ hope of recording the game’s first points late in the first half immediately faded following a first-down sack. 

By halftime, NU’s offense recorded a mere 29 total yards and two first downs. 

After failing to convert inside Iowa’s two-yard line, the offensive line was able to protect Sullivan on the ensuing drive. Facing a third-and-four, Sullivan had ample time to connect with graduate student wideout Cam Johnson in the end zone for a touchdown to tie the game.

3. Despite a plethora of punts, NU cannot pin Iowa deep

With both offenses struggling to move the chains, the field-position clash was imperative early on.

While senior punter Hunter Renner’s 50-yard punt from NU’s six-yard line provided the defense with room to work, the ’Cats never were able to pin the Hawkeyes inside their own 10-yard line.

Over the first half, Renner averaged 40.6 yards on his five attempts. Braun elected to roll with senior punter Luke Akers toward the end of the first half, who immediately booted a 48-yard punt. 

This problem persisted in the second half. Despite an opportunity to pin the Hawkeyes inside their own one-yard line, NU’s special teams let the ball roll into the endzone for a touchback, failing to capitalize on Renner’s 46-yard punt. 

4. Hawkeyes turn special teams into the game’s first points 

At the intermission, it looked evident that the first team to make an impactful play would come out on top. 

This is exactly what happened immediately out of the locker room. After another ’Cats three-and-out on their first offensive possession of the half, Renner’s punt was blocked, setting up the Hawkeyes in excellent field position at NU’s 25-yard line. 

Iowa quickly reached the end zone, using two first-down conversions to record the game’s first points on a two-yard passing touchdown. 

5. While NU’s hope of topping Big Ten West take a hit, bowl eligibility still in play 

With Nebraska and Wisconsin losing earlier in the day, Saturday’s matchup served as the perfect opportunity for the ’Cats to further climb the Big Ten West standings. 

Unfortunately, NU’s inability to knock off Iowa has dimmed its hopes of competing for a conference championship matchup in a month’s time. 

Nevertheless, the ’Cats remain bowl eligible, but are still two wins away from the necessary six triumphs. With NU recording upset victories over Minnesota and Maryland earlier this fall, the opportunity to record two more victories remains achievable as the season winds down. 

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Twitter: @aayushyagarwal7

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Football: Cervantes: Braun and Northwestern aren’t concerned with outside noise, oddsmakers ahead of Saturday’s game against Iowa

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

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

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