EVANSTON, Illinois -- The undefeated 17th-ranked Hawkeyes (6-0, 2-0) travel to 20th-ranked Northwestern (5-1, 1-1) on Saturday for a critical Big Ten West matchup.
Iowa is coming off a closer-than-expected victory over Illinois last week, winning 29-20 behind running back Jordan Canzeri. The Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week ran the ball 43 times (most in school history) for 256 yards (third-most in school history) and had two total touchdowns.
The Wildcats head into this game following their first loss of the season to No. 12 Michigan, a 38-0 drubbing at The Big House last week. Despite the blowout defeat, Northwestern is right there with Iowa as Big Ten West contenders. Their most impressive win of the season came in Week 1 against No. 15 Stanford.
"All you have to do is look at their (Northwestern's) body of work and every other game they have played, they have looked really good," head coach Kirk Ferentz said. "They have looked good in their Big Ten games and they have looked good against Duke and Stanford, two really good teams. That one (Michigan game), almost throw the film out. Michigan is playing really well right now and they were clicking on all cylinders the other day."
Iowa's biggest challenge this week may very well be overcoming a slew of injuries. Ferentz announced on Tuesday that defensive lineman Drew Ott suffered a torn ACL in Saturday’s win over Illinois, ending his season. In addition to Ott, offensive tackles Boone Myers and Ike Boettger, wide receiver Tevaun Smith, and running back LeShun Daniels are also out.
"I've said this many times, but we get firsthand exposure to just how hard these players work on a year round basis, and they are doing it to have 12 opportunities," Ferentz said. That's about all anybody's guaranteed as a college football player, so they work extremely hard to have those 12 opportunities to go out and perform and play with their teammates, and any time that's taken away, it's just a tough thing."
The Wildcats' offense is built on using the entire field and running the ball effectively first and foremost. Their passing offense is a non-threat as Northwestern ranks 118th in the nation in passing yards per game, but their ground game has been impressive, ranking 27th in rushing yards per game.
“They’re a little bit like Illinois,” Iowa cornerback Greg Mabin said. “Where they’re up-tempo, like to get the ball to their play-makers fast, like to spread us out.”
The defensive side of the ball is where the Wildcats hang their hat. They rank eighth in the country in points allowed per game and ninth in total yards allowed per game. Northwestern has found it more difficult to stop the run as opposed to the pass, though, which is good news for Iowa and their stud running back Canzeri. Look for a heavy dose of him again this week in Evanston.
"We always have to be on our toes and make sure that we have a good mindset and are always focused so that we never become complacent or lazy in the areas because we're 6-0 and it's a great start," Canzeri said, according to USA Today Sports. "It's exactly what we wanted to do but we're not satisfied."
Iowa and Northwestern will meet as ranked teams for the first time since 1996 as both squads are looking to take the next step in their realistic goal of winning the Big Ten West. The Hawkeyes are favored by 1.5 points in this matchup, which promises to be another low-scoring conference battle.
"The thing that stands out to me about them, they obviously play very, very well on defense," Ferentz said. "They have got two very prominent wins beating Stanford in the opening game, beating Duke, and both those teams as it stands right now, those are the only losses they have on their resumé. I think that gives you the indication of the strength of this Northwestern team."
Keith Murphy: Northwestern
John Sears: Iowa
Michael Admire: Northwestern
Andy Fales: Iowa
Location: Ryan Field, Evanston, Illinois
Time: 11 a.m. CT
All-Time Series Record: Iowa is 49-24-3 against Northwestern