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Iowa Hawkeyes vs. Northwestern Wildcats: Preview, predictions and prognostications

When: Sat.; Oct. 17 (noon ET)
Where: Evanston, IL; Ryan Field (47,330)
TV: ABC/ESPN2
Line: Iowa -2.5

1 Burning Question: Can Northwestern’s Season Get Back On Track? 

It feels like a broken record for most of the last 20 years. Northwestern goes out like gangbusters early in the season, only to drop the game that will stamp their season as being for real. Northwestern’s goose egg against Michigan last week was a loud thump.

This week, it is all about showing this season isn’t going off the rails completely. An undefeated Iowa awaits them, but it could be the perfect remedy to what took place last week. There’s nothing like a big challenge in front of you after a failure to help you get over that last thing quickly.

Either Northwestern wins this game and stays a real contender in the Big Ten West, or it shrinks against a second Top 25 opponent once again and sees its national attention go bye-bye.

2 Key Stats

— 5-4: That is the record for Northwestern against Iowa in the Pat Fitzgerald era. Iowa hasn’t exactly handled the Wildcats very well since Fitz came to the helm of his alma mater. Particularly of interest is the fact that “Chicago’s Big Ten Team” has twice beaten Iowa when it was ranked higher than itself. Most will remember the 2009 victory, as Northwestern beat Iowa 17-10 and derailed some legit BCS title game hopes for Iowa.

— 11: That is the number of plays of 40-plus yards by the Hawkeyes offense. Iowa’s offense has been explosive at times this season, but just how explosive? Try leading the Big Ten in plays of 40 yards or more. Northwestern’s defense hasn’t exactly been prone to giving up big plays, so something will have to give on this one.

3 Key Players 

Deonte Gibson, DE (Northwestern): If the Wildcats are going to pull off the mild upset at home, they are going to need to put pressure on the quarterback. Gibson is the best beat to make that happen, after accounting for 2.5 sacks alone last week against Michigan. He leads the team with 5.0 sacks on the season and is a matchup nightmare for an Iowa offensive line that has given up 10.0 sacks on the year. That ranks 11th in the Big Ten.

Clayton Thorson, QB (Northwestern): It is very clear that the Northwestern offense goes as Thorson goes. Last week he was not exactly good as a one-dimensional quarterback. Michigan took away the run for him and he ended up on the bench after going just 13 of 27 for 106 yards and an interception. He’ll have to do far better against an equally tough defense this weekend.

Jordan Canzeri, RB (Iowa): How do you top being the national player of the week? That is the big question for Canzeri, who racked up 256 yards on 43 attempts and had two total touchdowns. His emergence as a scoring threat (he leads the B1G with 10 touchdowns) in both the run and pass game has revamped the Iowa offense as of late. If he can get going against a Northwestern defense that is allowing just 131 yards and four rushing touchdowns all season long, Iowa will be in business for another big win.

4 Bold Prognostications 

— Clayton Thorson will have more passing yards than C.J. Beathard: That just seems illogical, considering Thorson averages 136.2 yards and Beathard averages 206.5 yards per game. However, when these two teams get together some strange things happen. At some point, Beathard is going to cool down, and Thorson will heat up as a passer. Strangely it will come this week and make Iowa work real hard for the win.

— Jordan Canzeri will top 200 yards rushing again, but will not score a TD: Iowa’s star running back will dominate the game once again, topping the 200-yard mark for the second straight game. Thanks to Northwestern’s shaky rush defense. However, he will grind it out with over 30 carries and won’t get in to the end zone as the just reward for a great day on the ground. Instead, he’ll break off a few big runs and get caught from behind inside the 10-yard line. Then Beathard will bogart a few touchdowns through the air.

— Northwestern will become just 2nd team to rush for more than 100 yards on Iowa: Yes, that’s how dominant the Hawkeyes have been all season long against the run. Now, the real fun trivia question — which team has been the one to top 100 yards against Iowa to date? Bet you aren’t guessing North Texas right off the bat. Look for Justin Jackson, who is fourth in the B1G in rushing yards per game, to get going early and help the Wildcats keep this contest close.

— Matthew Harris takes over as the Big Ten leader in passes defensed: Northwestern has itself one of the least-talked about and most productive cornerback duos in the Big Ten, and Harris has been a statistical monster. He leads the team with seven pass break ups and has 10 passes defensed on the season. That last total is just one shy of the Big Ten lead (Indiana’s Rashad Fants). He’ll regain the lead after this week, as Beathard tries to test the corners deep to help stretch the field after NU stuffs the box to try to slow down Canzeri.

5 Staff Predictions (overall season record; record against the spread)

Andy: Iowa 20-17 (56-13 overall; 30-38 ATS)
Dave: Iowa 26-20 (58-11 overall; 38-29 ATS)
Greg: Northwestern 23-20 (51-18 overall; 41-26 ATS)
Matt: Iowa 21-20 (56-13 overall; 41-26 ATS)
Phil: Iowa 21-17 (10-4 overall; 4-9 ATS) *joined in Week 5

Andy Coppens is the Founder and Publisher of Talking10. He’s a member of the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) and has been covering college sports in some capacity since 2008. You can follow him on Twitter @AndyOnFootball

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