Hawkeyes Gameday: Keys to victory at Northwestern

Rick Brown
Nov 1, 2014; Iowa City, IA, USA; Northwestern Wildcats running back Justin Jackson (28) is tackled by Iowa Hawkeyes defensive end Nate Meier (34) and teammates during the game at Kinnick Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Caylor Arnold-USA TODAY Sports


Iowa has been fortunate this season when it comes to opposing running backs. Pittsburgh’s James Conner, the reigning ACC player of the year, missed the Iowa game with a knee injury. Corey Clement of Wisconsin didn’t face the Hawkeyes because of a sports hernia. And Josh Ferguson of Illinois didn’t play last week because of a shoulder injury.

Which brings us to Northwestern’s Justin Jackson. Iowa offered a scholarship, but the Hawkeyes had company. The star running back from Glenbard North in Carol Stream, Ill., also had Big Ten offers from the Wildcats, Illinois, Indiana and Minnesota.

Jackson, a sophomore, has been the feature back in the Northwestern offense for the past two seasons. He rushed for 1,187 yards last season, just the second freshman in school history to reach a grand. He had six, 100-yard games, and just missed a seventh when he rushed for 96 yards in 24 carries against Iowa.

Jackson has had four more 100-yard games this season, and is averaging 110.2 yards a game. He is coming off a career-low 25 yards in 12 carries at Michigan last week.

Slugfest alert: What to expect from Iowa vs. Northwestern

NO. 2 VS. NO. 2. If Jackson’s 11th career 100-yard game comes Saturday at Ryan Field, it will be noteworthy. Iowa’s defense has not allowed a 100-yard rusher all season.

The Hawkeyes are second in the Big Ten and fifth nationally in rush defense at 78 yards a game. Northwestern is second in the Big Ten in rushing at 260.8 yards. Iowa has held three of its six opponents this season under 100 yards rushing. Northwestern has rushed for at least 184 yards in five of six games.

KIDD YOU NOT. John Kidd was an all-Big Ten punter at Northwestern before moving on to a 16-year NFL career with Buffalo, Miami, San Diego and the New York Jets.

Now his son, Dillon, is handling punting chores at Iowa. Kidd’s punting had shown a positive uptick from last season. His average had improved from 38.5 yards a punt last season to 46.1 yards this season. Nine of Kidd’s 22 punts this year have been 50 yards or longer.

Kidd’s punting will be vital on Saturday when Iowa tries to flip field position. Kidd ranks second in the Big Ten. Northwestern’s Hunter Niswander averages 38.1 yards a punt, which doesn’t rank in the Big Ten’s Top 10.

Kidd will be trying to impress his dad at his alma mater on Saturday. He’ll also be trying to beat his brother. Garrett Kidd is a senior wide receiver for the Wildcats.  He does not have a catch this season.

Brown: Iowa's Beathard would write history with victory over Northwestern

THIRD-DOWN BLUES. Here’s another area to watch when Iowa has the ball in a third-down situation. The Hawkeyes are 39th nationally in third-down conversions at 43.2 percent (35 of 81). Northwestern is seventh nationally in third-down defense, allowing a 24.7 percent success rate (18 of 70). The Wildcats were even stingier until Michigan converted seven of 14 third-down situations last week.

Iowa also has a 62 percent success rate on fourth down (five of eight). Northwestern opponents have converted on five of 13 fourth-down plays (38 percent).

PICK PLAY. Iowa leads the Big Ten with eight interceptions. Junior cornerback Desmond King has five of them, which ties for fourth nationally.

Next comes Northwestern quarterback Clayton Thorson. The redshirt freshman has completed 77 of 140 passes for 817 yards this season. He’s thrown four touchdown passes. He’s also thrown four interceptions. One of those picks was returned for a touchdown by Michigan last week.

Thorson attended Wheaton North High School in Wheaton, Ill. That’s the same school that produced Iowa’s 1985 Heisman Trophy runner-up and quarterback, Chuck Long.

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