Leistikow: 'Who Hates Iowa' month begins with Northwestern
IOWA CITY — The Hawkeye football revenge tour starts Saturday — for Iowa’s Big Ten Conference opponents.
Weekly life as the hunted begins in earnest for 3-1 Iowa with an 11 a.m. Homecoming date against 1-3 Northwestern.
That’s one of the byproducts of delivering an 8-0 Big Ten season in 2015.
“We plan on being a circle team for a lot of teams,” left tackle Cole Croston said, “just because we ended up beating every team on our schedule last year in the regular season.”
Northwestern players in July publicly made no bones about the priority this trip to Kinnick Stadium held — as is the annual perception under 11th-year ‘Cats coach Pat Fitzgerald anyway. And that’s the case even without the Hawkeyes having outscored his team 88-17 the past two years.
“He won’t have to do too much talking that week,” star linebacker Anthony Walker Jr. said at the league’s media days in Chicago.
Added running back Justin Jackson: “They’ve beat us the past two years. We need to come with a chip on our shoulder.”
It’s cliché, but you can expect this to be true: Iowa is going to get every team’s best shot the rest of the way. And that’s especially true in October.
After Northwestern, “Who Hates Iowa” month includes two trophy games — next Saturday at Minnesota and Oct. 22 against Wisconsin — that the Hawkeyes won last year by a combined nine points.
I wrote in the summer that a 6-3 conference record might be enough for one team to win the Big Ten West. While that’s still possible, I think 7-2 is probably the new minimum — with the way No. 7 Wisconsin and No. 15 Nebraska (both 4-0, 1-0) stormed out of the September gates. (The good news is both teams have to face No. 2 Ohio State, and Iowa doesn't; plus, the Badgers visit No. 5 Michigan this week.)
The Hawkeyes (1-0 in the Big Ten) probably have to — at minimum — go 3-1 this month to have a realistic shot to repeat as Big Ten West champions.
So there’s no more time for flat performances, as have been the case the past two weeks with a loss to FCS North Dakota State and a Houdini-worthy victory escape at Rutgers.
And that needs to start with an emphatic win Saturday against the Wildcats.
How do get it done?
Last week, I provided a five-step strategy to success to beat Rutgers. (It worked.)
This week, I’ve streamlined it to just one stat: Run the ball at least 40 times.
The Hawkeyes did that in their first six Big Ten contests a year ago. That was when they played their most impressive football of 2015.
But, surprisingly, they haven’t reached the 40 rushing-attempt mark in the eight games since beating Minnesota on Nov. 14.
For a team that strives for a 60-40 run-pass ratio, that's incredible.
With Matt VandeBerg missing and Northwestern being the opponent, pounding the run is Iowa’s best strategy.
It worked in the Hawkeyes’ 48-7 beatdown of Northwestern in 2014 — 45 attempts for 238 rushing yards.
It worked in last year’s 40-10 thrashing — 51 attempts for 294 yards.
It will again Saturday, if it's tried.
And there’s no better way to combat a motivated opponent.
Push the Wildcats around as Nebraska did last week (47 rushes for 310 yards), and postpone their revenge quest for another year.
Then, on to Minnesota and another hate week.
“We’re looking to go in there,” Croston said, “and be the most physical team on the field.”
Hawkeyes columnist Chad Leistikow has covered sports for 22 years with The Des Moines Register, USA TODAY and Iowa City Press-Citizen. Follow @ChadLeistikow on Twitter.
IOWA’S REMAINING SCHEDULE
Date – Opponent, time (last meeting)
Saturday – vs. Northwestern, 11 a.m. (2015: Iowa won, 40-10)
Oct. 8 – at Minnesota, 11 a.m. (2015: Iowa won, 40-35)
Oct. 15 – at Purdue, 11 a.m. (2015: Iowa won, 40-20)
Oct. 22 – vs. Wisconsin, TBA (2015: Iowa won, 10-6)
Nov. 5 – at Penn State, 6:30 p.m. (2012: Penn State won, 38-14)
Nov. 12 – vs. Michigan, 7 p.m. (2013: Iowa won, 24-21)
Nov. 19 – at Illinois, TBA (2015: Iowa won, 29-20)
Nov. 25 – vs. Nebraska, TBA (2015: Iowa won, 28-20)