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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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Football: Fatal 100-second stretch defines Northwestern’s loss to Iowa in Wildcats Classic

Micah Sandy/Daily Senior Staffer
Redshirt senior tight end Thomas Gordon blocks Iowa defensive back Cooper DeJean.

When Northwestern entered Wrigley Field to take on Iowa in Saturday’s Wildcats Classic, interim head coach David Braun’s team knew what to expect. Facing one of the nation’s top defenses, points would be at a premium, and the result could come down to just a few plays.

Those plays would rear their ugly head for Braun and the Wildcats in just a matter of moments, with the visitors launching a late-game siege to unravel three-plus quarters of defensive dominance.

It all happened in about 100 seconds.

“We knew what we were getting into,” Braun said. “Iowa has made a lot of quality opponents punt the ball — eight, nine, 10 times. We knew we were gonna have to keep pounding.”

After facing a Maryland team that attempted 47 pass plays last week, the ‘Cats (4-5, 2-4 Big Ten) appeared to enter an alternate dimension of college football versus Iowa. The Hawkeyes (7-2, 4-2 Big Ten) opted to tote the rock and dial up 40-plus run plays.

To senior linebacker Xander Mueller, who finished the game with a team-high 19 total tackles and 1.5 tackles for loss, this run-heavy approach left his unit unphased.

“We knew it was going to be a physical game, and that was a big part of our emphasis in the game plan,” Mueller said. “The same things we’re feeling the offense is feeling as well … (the defensive line) was playing physical all game.”

NU’s offense couldn’t sustain any semblance of success, punting on its first eight drives and stalling out on a goal-to-go scenario with four plays inside the two-yard line on its ensuing possession.

With Iowa having punched ahead on a third-quarter touchdown — courtesy of senior punter Hunter Renner’s blocked punt — the Hawkeyes were mere minutes away from pitching a complete game shutout inside The Friendly Confines.

Despite a defensive dogfight marred by punts, penalties and negative plays, junior quarterback Brendan Sullivan said that sideline morale remained high.

“We were still very confident in our ability to get back in the endzone,” Sullivan said. “Our morale was great the whole game and I’m proud of the guys for that.”

A war of attrition played out on the corner of Addison and Clark, with little respite in sight for the ‘Cats. However, senior wide receiver A.J. Henning flashed his big-play potential, fielding a punt and spinning his way just outside the redzone.

Sullivan said he read a goal line zone look right on cue and found graduate student wide receiver Cam Johnson at the back of the endzone, tying the game at seven apiece with under two minutes remaining.

Overtime seemed imminent, as an NU defensive unit stood tall all day needed to stop a risk-averse Iowa offense that tripped over its own feet for the better part of 58 minutes one more time.

“The mindset was that we were ready to go get a win, unfortunately (we) couldn’t do that,” Mueller said. “Being able to bounce back has been huge, so that’s the plan going forward.”

As Hawkeye quarterback Deacon Hill gathered his troops with less than 100 passing yards to his name, the last thing Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz needed was a turnover. Since junior defensive back Theran Johnson intercepted Hill’s earlier deep shot, the Hawkeyes looked reluctant to test their fate.

With the ball spotted on his own 39, Hill took a first down snap and slung a sideline pass against Braun’s cover two scheme toward Iowa receiver Kaleb Brown. Waiting in the wings, the Chicago native suiting up for his first game since Sept. 29 hauled in his first catch as a Hawkeye for a 23-yard gain.

The connection put Iowa and kicker Drew Stevens at the cusp of field goal range, sitting at NU’s 38-yard line.

It’s a play Braun will likely ponder for days to come — one he wishes could be reverted at the touch of a button.

“That’s a call that I’d like to have back,” Braun said. “It was a bit of a softer coverage zone … (to) keep the ball in front of us, keep it in bounds.”

Iowa running back Leshon Williams paved the way for the field goal unit on three consecutive inside rushes, leaving under 20 seconds left on the game clock for Stevens to try his luck from 52-yards out. Though he’d missed a first quarter attempt from a yard deeper, the big-booted sophomore possessed a prime opportunity to punch his team in front for good.

With the weight of the game on his shoulders, Stevens drilled the downtown dagger, delivering the final component of a defensive duel that opened up its proverbial gates in its last minutes.

“You’re not going to see me up here pointing fingers at anyone other than myself — where I can continue to improve,” Braun said. “This team is going to get back to work on Monday (to prepare) for Wisconsin.”

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @jakeepste1n

Related Stories:
Rapid Recap: Iowa 10, Northwestern 7
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

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