Iowa returns home Saturday after a difficult two-game road trip that ended with heartbreaking losses to Penn State and Purdue. It will surely be good to be home, but first-place Northwestern is next in line.
The Wildcats are 5-1 in the Big Ten, but just 5-4 overall with nonconference losses to Duke, Akron and Notre Dame. Iowa is 6-3 overall, but just 3-3 in the Big Ten. The Hawkyes aren’t completely eliminated from the Big Ten West race, but they would need a lot of chaos to find their way to the Big Ten Championship Game in Indianapolis on Dec. 1.
Here are five things I want to see from the Hawkeyes this weekend against Northwestern:
1. Do NOT look at the Las Vegas betting lines
Somewhat shockingly, Iowa is an 11-point favorite against a Northwestern them that is two games ahead of then in the Big Ten West race. If you’re thinking the Vegas sharps know something and that this should be an easy win for the Hawkeyes, then you better think again. Remember what happened the last time the Wildcats came to Iowa City in 2016? Northwestern won outright — despite being 11-point underdogs. Ironic? I think not.
2. Make Northwestern one-dimensional on offense
Northwestern has struggled to run the ball for most of the season, averaging only 2.59 yards per attempt, which ranks 128th out of 130 FBS teams. Iowa is still ranked eighth nationally in total defense, so they should be able to keep the Wildcats in check. They have been much better lately once they handed over the workload to Isaiah Bowser, a freshman from Sidney, Ohio, who has rushed for 318 yards in the past three weeks. Stop the running game and Northwestern will turn the ball over.
3. Don’t let losing streak affect you mentally
After back-to-back last-second losses, Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz admitted last Saturday that his teams was “worn out.” That’s understandable, considering they played four of their last five games on the road. They need to summon up some energy this week and look refreshed, some how and some way. “We’re obviously upset that we lost, but our mindset is positive and looking forward,” Iowa safety Amani Hooker said. “We’re not going to quit and let the season go downhill.” This team — and this coaching staff — doesn’t seem to be built to pack it in, so expect maximum effort this week.
4. Don’t let Clayton Thorson get comfortable
Veteran Northwestern quarterback Clayton Thorson is coming off major ACL surgery, and there has been times where he’s looked very uncomfortable out there. But sometimes, he’s seemed fine and lit people up. The trend seems to be the amount of pressure teams put on him, forcing him to run around a little bit. Iowa’s defensive front has been mostly good, so they need to make him feel the heat. Thorson is just 239 yards away from 10,000 for his career, so there’s no doubt he’s capable of putting up big numbers. Iowa needs to keep him in check.
5. Freshman cornerbacks need to shake off bad games
Riley Moss and Julius Brents have both been getting picked on since they became starters at cornerback a little more than a month ago. They’ve made some big plays — Moss has two interceptions, Brents has one — but they’ve struggled at times, too. It was obvious against Purdue that the game plan was to put them in one-on-one situations against bigger receivers and it worked. They’ll have to have that cornerback mentality and have short-term memories. They need to step up Saturday against Northwestern’s passing game, for sure.