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Chad Leistikow and Rick Brown recap a 40-10 victory that sends a message to Big Ten.

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EVANSTON, Ill. — The TaxSlayer Bowl seems like ancient history, doesn’t it? It sure does to Tevaun Smith.

“I kind of forgot how it feels to lose,” the Iowa wide receiver said. “I don’t want that feeling.”

No. 17 Iowa improved to 7-0 this season with a 40-10 win at No. 20 Northwestern on Saturday. That’s seven impressive wins since the humbling, 45-28 loss to Tennessee on Jan. 2.

Smith was a surprising part of Saturday’s win — surprising even to him. He found out he was playing in warm-ups.

Head coach Kirk Ferentz initially ruled Smith out until after the bye week with a sprained right knee, which Smith hurt early against North Texas despite going the distance that afternoon. He missed two games, which allowed true freshman Jerminic Smith (four catches, 118 yards vs. Illinois) to shine.

Smith didn’t officially have a catch Saturday. He had a 21-yarder wiped out by offensive pass interference and a 30-yarder erased by a holding penalty.

“I’ll take 40-10 over two catches,” Smith grinned.

He said he knee was a little swollen after the game, but would be back full speed for the next game — Oct. 31 against Maryland.

“I felt good today. I wasn’t in full-time, but they definitely got me in and out,” he said. “I’ll be full-time after the bye week.”

0.5 points allowed per quarter

That’s what Iowa’s defense has allowed in three second halves of road games — zero at Iowa State (in a 31-17 win), three at Wisconsin (in a 10-6 win), zero Saturday.

Talk about packing a defense on the road.

“Just making a couple adjustments here and there,” Iowa linebacker Josey Jewell said of the second-half stinginess. “Coaches have been putting us in the right spots, and we’ve just been jelling together.”

On Saturday, Northwestern gained 80 second-half yards. Eighty. Clayton Thorson went 6-for-12 for 43 yards after halftime, after the Wildcats had seemed to solve Iowa with some up-tempo action to cut a 16-0 lead to 16-10.

“First half, we had a lot of blown coverages out there, some mental errors,” cornerback Desmond King said. “Second half we cleared it up, played good team defense.”

King’s great stat line

It was a Saturday, so that meant another interception for King.

The Iowa junior picked off Thorson’s second attempt of the game, setting the Hawkeyes up at Northwestern’s 21-yard line. It resulted in a 3-0 Iowa lead.

“Just being in good position on the ball and on the player,” King said, “and knowing the ball is going to be there.”

King didn’t have any tackles Saturday — indicative that the Wildcats stayed mostly away from him the rest of the day — and two pass breakups. King leads the Big Ten with six interceptions this season. That’s two shy of the school record shared by Lou King (1981) and Nile Kinnick (1939).

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DMX unleashed

You saw the 1-2 punch of Akrum Wadley and Derrick Mitchell Jr. a mile away, right?

Those two sophomores carried a lot of offseason intrigue, especially Mitchell, nicknamed “DMX,” after converting from wide receiver.

The spring-game sensation picked up 10 carries in relief of Wadley for 79 yards and scored his first collegiate touchdown, a 13-yarder in the fourth quarter. Mitchell also caught three passes for 43 yards.

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Reserves combine for 283 yards vs. Northwestern

Mitchell has been slowed by nagging injuries and a personal-conduct issue that kept him out of the Iowa State game. Saturday was a chance for him to get meaningful Big Ten carries, with Jordan Canzeri and LeShun Daniels Jr. out with ankle injuries.

“It was just next man in. We’ve been preparing for this since January,” Mitchell said. “It wasn’t a lot of pressure, just going out there to do what we had to do to get the win.”

Injury updates

Canzeri was the only known significant injury suffered by a Hawkeye on Saturday. It looked bad when Northwestern linebacker Jaylen Prater tackled him, and Canzeri had his left ankle rolled the wrong way. But it’s not broken, which provides hope that he could return at some point. There was no immediate timetable.

“The good news is … they were concerned there might be a fracture. They ruled that out,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. “We’re looking at a sprain. I don’t know where that will go. Good time for a bye week, certainly.”

Daniels dressed Saturday but didn’t play. He’s been held out of all three Big Ten games and hasn’t played meaningful snaps since suffering a high right-ankle sprain at Iowa State on Sept. 12.

“LeShun was really close to playing today,” Ferentz said. “He was actually politicking in pregame to do it.  But we made the decision two weeks ago just to get him healthy.”

Starting tackles Boone Myers (stinger) and Ike Boettger (left ankle) and tight end Jake Duzey (knee) might be available after Iowa’s bye week.

A fourth true freshman

Jack Hockaday became the fourth true freshman to play for the Hawkeyes this season. The 6-foot-1, 215-pound linebacker from Forsyth, Ill., played on special teams. Receivers Jerminic Smith and Adrian Falconer and offensive lineman James Daniels are the other freshmen to see action.

Daniels made his first career start Saturday, playing at left guard, while Sean Welsh slid to right tackle. Daniels has been a beast in run-blocking but continues to be inconsistent in pass protection.

Encouraging words for Koehn

Placekicker Marshall Koehn missed his third extra-point attempt in four weeks and also hooked a 34-yarder to end the first half, which would have given Iowa a 19-10 halftime lead.

Koehn also got frustrated with himself on kickoffs, where three of eight went for touchbacks — a low percentage for him. Iowa players, coaches and managers were in Koehn’s ear after the misses, but all good stuff.

“You don’t want anyone talking to you when you don’t kick well,” said punter Dillon Kidd, Koehn’s holder. “At the same time, we see it as if one guy’s struggling, everyone has to pick that guy up. We don’t bring negativity to the sideline.”

Kidd had a neat family connection  Saturday. His brother, Garrett, is a senior receiver for Northwestern. Garrett Kidd made his first catch of the season, for six yards.

Dillon Kidd had a good day punting for Iowa. His first three boots had the Wildcats starting at their 12, 9 and 13-yard lines.

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