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When: Sat. Oct. 21, 2017; 12 p.m. ET/11 a.m. CT
Where: Evanston, Ill..; Ryan Field (47,130)
All-Time Series: Iowa leads 50-25-3
Last Meeting: Northwestern won 38-31 (Oct. 1, 2016)
Line: Northwestern (-2)

The Northwestern Wildcats were struggling offensively. The defense did not look on firm footing. And nobody seemed to know what team would show up on a week-to-week basis.

If this sounds familiar, it is because it is the exact same situation the Wildcats were in last year as they headed to Kinnick Stadium to face the Hawkeyes. Northwestern was 1-3 and averaging a lowly 16.3 points per game. The offense did not look that much better. And the defense got worn down.

Yet, when the Wildcats got to Iowa City, they rediscovered everything. Clayton Thorson had a solid game with 164 yards and three touchdowns on 18-for-30 passing. His confidence was starting to grow. Justin Jackson rushed for 171 yards.

Northwestern exploded on offense for a 38-31 win. It was an odd shootout for a team that struggled to score so much — and a defense to that point that had played pretty well. But NU made Iowa made again and put its season back on track.

The Wildcats host the Hawkeyes this time feeling a little bit more stable. They played their big games against the Badgers and Nittany Lions and did not measure up. But they came back and looked like the high-powered offensive team everyone suspected they might be against Maryland.

There, Justin Jackson got himself going for the first time, leaving the Terrapins without any answer and worn down as Clayton Thorson got firing from the pocket. The defense hit hard and limited the Terrapins offense, only letting star receiver D.J. Byrd out a few times. Hardly enough to make Northwestern sweat.

It always seems like the Wildcats are perfectly tailored to defeat the Hawkeyes. Their run defense has been strong and has done well against the Hawkeyes’ LeShun Daniels and Akrum Wadley.

Iowa has raced out to a 4-2 start this year behind them and the emerging play of quarterback Nate Stanley. Iowa is what the team generally is. A team that plays up and down to its competition. The Hawkeyes nearly defeated the Nittany Lions at home — a bitter loss that came in the last seconds of the game.

But Iowa is solid overall. Nothing spectacular. A typical Hawkeyes team.

The Wildcats know they will have to be solid themselves to get the win.

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1 Burning Question: Can Nate Stanley deliver a win?

Northwestern’s run defense has been stellar throughout the season, giving up just 126.7 rushing yards per game. The Wildcats gave up just 67 rushing yards to Penn State and Saquon Barkley and just 85 rushing yards to Maryland.

Northwestern has quickly established itself as a strong defensive team against the run. And the team will do everything it can to take Akrum Wadley out of the game. To get the Wildcats into those late quarters where Wadley’s bruising style will pay dividends, the Hawkeyes have to get a consistent pass game.

Stanley has largely delivered to this point in the season. He has thrown for 1,290 yards, 15 touchdowns and two interceptions. He is an effective and efficient passer. Not someone it would seem the Hawkeyes want to rely on for everything. Iowa is still a run-first team.

But Stanley is the typical Hawkeyes quarterback. A game manager-plus capable of spreading the ball around and taking what the defense gives him.

But what happens if the Wildcats take away his run game? What happens if Northwestern gets a lead and Iowa needs to come back?

These are the questions the Hawkeyes have not yet answered about themselves. These are the questions Stanley still has to answer.

The good news is that if Iowa needs to get these questions answered, Northwestern’s secondary has struggled. The team has taken a major depth hit with injuries to the secondary. Northwestern gives up 249.7 passing yards per game.

Stanley may develop into more than a game manager. This could be a game where he takes charge.

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2 Key Stats

133.7: The Wildcats go as running back Justin Jackson goes. There is no getting around it. Northwestern’s all-time leading rusher picks up chunks of yards when the team wins. He is virtually ignored when the Wildcats lose — 36.3 yards per game in losses. Northwestern wins or loses on whether the offensive line is able to get the protection for Jackson. He cannot win it alone, but a big game from Jackson is a good sign for Northwestern.

5/20: Anthony Nelson has been a pressure machine for Iowa through the early stretch of games, totaling five sacks for the Hawkeyes. That is quite a strong defensive showing for him. Northwestern has had trouble handling defensive pressure all year. They stood tall enough against Maryland, but Iowa presents a much sterner challenge.

3 Key Players

Riley Lees, Northwestern WR: The Northwestern wide receivers have been as inconsistent as anyone for the team. Not all of the sacks fall on the offensive line failing to protect. Receivers have often struggled to get separation too. Northwestern is still looking for some measure of consistency from this group. Lees is the next to step up, it seems. He has 13 catches for 183 yards. Northwestern needs a bigger game from him. Both on offense and in special teams.

Akrum Wadley, Iowa RB: Northwestern will key on star running back Akrum Wadley pretty heavily. He will figure a lot into Iowa’s game plan. He has 483 rushing yards and four touchdowns this year. His impact and the attention he garners goes beyond that. He also has proven himself effective in the pass game with 15 catches for 258 yards. Iowa will try to put the ball in Wadley’s hands and let him make plays. By the fourth quarter, that becomes a difficult thing to handle.

Nate Hall, Northwestern LB: The man who will have the main responsibility of stopping Wadley is Paddy Fisher. But Nate Hall will provide plenty of support. And his play will likely help Fisher and the Wildcats’ other playmakers make the big plays. Hall has been a grinder all season for Northwestern. He stepped up a lot in the first half Maryland with Fisher out for his targeting suspension. Hall is now second on the team with 42 tackles. He does not stand out athletically on this team, but he is just overall solid defensively. A sure tackler who prevents big plays from getting out of hand.

Prediction: Iowa 24, Northwestern 21

Philip Rossman-Reich is a Northwestern alumnus and former contributor Lake The Posts. He also writes for Orlando Magic Daily and The Step Back.

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Buckeyes Football

2018 Big Ten Championship Game Preview: 5 Things to Know



What some may argue was one of the most intriguing and surprising seasons in recent Big Ten football history comes to a close on Saturday as the expected meets the unexpected. 

It’ll be the Ohio State Buckeyes against the Northwestern Wildcats for all the Big Ten marbles. For Ohio State it also means a potential berth in the College Football Playoffs are on the line. 

All week long we will take an in-depth look at this unexpected matchup. It starts today with a look at the 5 things to know about these two teams. 

5: Northwestern’s 5th in scoring defense in the Big Ten

That may not be a mind-blowing stat, but believe it or not the Wildcats have the better defense going in to this game and that can matter a lot when the nerves and dust settles on this game. 

Northwestern is allowing an average of just 21.7 points per game this season. Only three teams scored 30 points or more on the Wildcats — Akron, Nebraska and Notre Dame. 

Conversely, six of the last eight opponents have failed to score 20 or more points and only Michigan (20) and Nebraska (31) scored more than 20 points on Northwestern in Big Ten play. 

On the flip side, Ohio State’s defense comes in 7th in the Big Ten — giving up 25.8 points per game and allowing 40 touchdowns to opponents.

4: This is Ohio State’s 4th Big Ten championship game appearance

It seems like old hat at this point, but the Buckeyes aren’t the record holders for most appearances in the title game just yet. That honor belongs to the Wisconsin Badgers with five appearances. 

Still, no other team knows the ins and outs of Lucas Oil Stadium as well as the Buckeyes or Badgers do. That experience inside the stadium and with all the things happening around the game will matter a bit, especially early on in this game. 

OSU holds a 2-1 record in the three previous games, beating Wisconsin twice and losing a 34-24 decision to Michigan State in 2013. 

A win in this game would break a three-way tie for most title game wins with MSU and Wisconsin — all of which have won twice in Indy. 

3: OSU QB Dwayne Haskins is averaging just over 3 TD passes per game

The record books have loved putting Dwayne Haskins’ name in them in 2018. I mean, he broke a record I thought never would be broken — Drew Brees’ single-season touchdown record — by throwing 42 touchdowns and counting. 

Doing the mental math there, that means he is averaging 3.5 passing touchdowns per game. It also means he leads the country in passing touchdowns this season. Will Greir is next on the list, but he’s five touchdown passes behind Haskins. That’s how good of a season he’s having. 

It’s led to a record-breaking six Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week awards this year. Oh, and his 4,081 yards already this year make him one of only two quarterbacks to do that in the 2018 regular season. 

As for Northwestern? This could all be dangerous news, especially considering the fact that the Wildcats are 11th in the Big Ten in passing defense (238.0 yards per game). The good news is NU’s pass defense has bent, but not broken a lot — giving up just nine passing touchdowns to opponents this year. 

Which will win out? The Buckeyes pass attack that gets yards and scores or the NU defense that allows yards, but not touchdowns through the air…

2: Northwestern has fumbled the ball just twice all season

One way to win close games is by not making big mistakes. Northwestern has been pretty good about that, fumbling the ball just twice this season. It’s the lowest total in the Big Ten and tied for fewest in the country with Mississippi State. 

Unfortunately, the Wildcats also had 13 interceptions on the year. Only Rutgers (22), Minnesota (14) and Illinois (14) had more interceptions thrown on the year. 

Ohio State’s defense has been one of the best in forcing fumbles this season. It’s 11 fumbles gained are second in the Big Ten to Indiana’s 13. 

Which one will give on Saturday in Indianapolis? 

1: It’s Northwestern’s first appearance in the Big Ten championship game

A lot of the talk this week will not only center on Ohio State’s CFB Playoff hopes, but also on the fact that Northwestern is making the trip to Indianapolis for the first time. 

There have been seven Big Ten championship games and excluding the first ever edition of it, only one team making its first appearance in the title game has won. That was Penn State beating Wisconsin in the title game back in 2016. 

In total teams are 1-3 in their first appearance in the game. It’ll be a major talking point and rightfully so, as the hoopla and extra stuff around the game make this very different than any bowl game other than the Rose Bowl for a Big Ten team. 

How Fitzgerald and the Wildcats coaches handle figuring out how to handle all the extra stuff will be vital. Some will try to embrace everything that happens, others will insulate their kids. It really depends on the personality of the team and getting it right can mean as much as getting the game plan right on game day. 

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Widcats Basketball

WATCH: Northwestern unveils inside look at Welsh-Ryan Arena



After a year spent at the strange confines of Allstate Arena out in Rosemont, the Northwestern Wildcats basketball teams will return home to Welsh-Ryan Arena for the 2018-19 season. 

On Friday, the Wildcats released a video look at what the new-look arena actually looks like ahead of the opener. 

Take a look at this state-of-the-art arena built around the old school appearance on the outside. 

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Northwestern finally solves Ryan Field riddle in OT win



Northwestern had three tries to win at home and lost all three so far this season. It was almost four, but the Wildcats found a way to prevail 34-31 in overtime over Nebraska on Saturday afternoon. 

The win was the Wildcats third in the last four meetings and second-straight in the series between these West division foes.

It also meant Nebraska was sent to an 0-6 start to the season, something that has never happened in the history of the Huskers program. 

It was an interesting way to win the game for Northwestern, as walk-on kicker Drew Luckenbaugh went from a goat to hero in less than 30 minutes of football. 

The back-up kicker missed an opening kick from 42 yards out in the third quarter, but would hit an important field goal with his team down 10 points late in the fourth quarter and drill the game-winner from 37 yards out in overtime.

Northwestern also got a big day from quarterback Clayton Thorson. He completed 41 of 61 passes for 455 yards and three touchdowns. Only a pair of interceptions put a blemish on his day, as did the fact that the Wildcats only got 32 yards on the ground on 23 attempts. 

Husker quarterback Adrian Martinez wasn’t as good, throwing for 251 yards but only one score and two interceptions on the day. 

But, the dueling pair of interceptions were a wash, as both teams got 10 points off turnovers. 

The win for Northwestern seemed to be slipping from its grasp much as it did against Michigan a few weeks ago. As time wore on, momentum swung heavily towards the visiting Huskers. 

Nebraska appeared to take control of this game in the second half. A trio of unanswered touchdowns took a 14-7 Northwestern lead to a 28-14 advantage with just 13:40 to play in the game. 

But, unlike previous home contests, Thorson and the Wildcats had an answer or two in them. It was a quick answer to bring the game within a score, as the Wildcats got a 61-yard touchdown pass from Clayton Thorson to Flynn Nagel.

But, Barrett Pickering made it a 10-point game with a 34-yard field goal with 5:41 to play. 

Lukenbaugh answered back with a key field goal to make it 31-24 with 2:27 to go. His 31-yard field goal capped off a 15-play drive that went 62 yards in just 3:14 of time. 

Nebraska was held to a three-and-out on the ensuing drive and Northwestern capitalized on the momentum swing of its own. 

It would take a full 99 yards though, as the Huskers pinned Northwestern back on its own 1-yard line with the punt. 

This time it took just eight plays and the Wildcats hit pay dirt on a 5-yard pass from Thorson to JJ Jefferson with just 12 seconds left in the fourth quarter. 

Nebraska looked like it was going to have an easy time of it in overtime, getting to third and one thanks to Devin Ozigbo’s nine total yards. However, a false start backed them up to third and six. 

Martinez would complete a 5-yard pass and instead of kicking the field goal, head coach Scott Frost rolled the dice on fourth and one. It came up snake eyes, as Martinez’s pass was intercepted by Northwestern. 

The Wildcats didn’t get much going on its possession and instead, went for the game winning field goal attempt which was knocked in by Luckenbaugh. 

For his late-game heroics, the former walk-on was carried off the field on the shoulders of his fellow players. 

The win improves Northwestern to 3-3 on the season and given the punishing schedule it faces, winning this game was a must to even dream of getting to bowl eligibility. 

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Thorson dials up best against MSU once again



As much as you can never seemingly trust the Northwestern Wildcats football program, it appears you can trust one thing. 

That one thing is that Clayton Thorson will find a way to dial up his best against the Michigan State Spartans. 

Coming in to Saturday’s contest with Michigan State, Thorson had put up 637 yards and seven total touchdowns while completing 72 percent of his passes in just two games. 

History repeated itself on Saturday, despite the Spartans holding Northwestern to 10 total yards on the ground. Instead, Thorson ripped apart the MSU secondary for 373 yards and three touchdowns. He also completed 31 of 47 passes. 

It all added up to a 29-19 victory and proof positive that Thorson is MSU’s Kryptonite. 

At least this time around it wasn’t all on Thorson’s shoulders though, as he got a ton of help from his defense. 

Michigan State’s rushing game woes continued as Northwestern held the Spartans to just 96 yards on the ground. The Wildcats defense also forced 11 stops on third downs, meaning MSU would go just 4 of 15 on third downs in the game. 

Spartans signal caller Brian Lewerke gave his best effort, but having to attempt 51 passes (and completing just 31 of them) is not what MSU’s offense is built for. 

Wide receiver Felton Davis III did everything in his power too. He had seven receptions for 96 yards and a touchdown, while adding another touchdown on the ground too. 

But, he was the only one that really showed up and MSU seemed unable to get out of its own way for large parts of the game. 

Meanwhile, Thorson made the most of his opportunities. That included catching MSU peaking in to the backfield early on in this game and connecting with a wide open Kyric McGowan for a 77-yard touchdown to make it 7-3 Northwestern with just 18 seconds to go in the first quarter. 

It quickly became 14-3 on another Thorson touchdowns pass and his third touchdown of the game gave the Wildcats the final go-ahead score of the game. 

He hit Cameron Green on a 21-yard pass with 15 seconds left to go in the third quarter to make it 22-19. 

The final dagger came on Northwestern’s final drive of the game. After a quarter of nothing, Thorson put one in on the ground from two yards out to make it the final 29-19 margin with 2:51 to play. 

Thus continued the yo-yo season for the Wildcats and the head-scratching start to the Spartans season as well. 

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