Evanston, Ill. — Iowa dominated Northwestern at the point of attack in the second half of Saturday’s 40-10 victory at Ryan Field. That didn’t come by accident.
“We talked back in January about being this kind of physical football team,” said senior center Austin Blythe. “It feels good to go out and do it.”
Even though Iowa is now 7-0, Blythe said it’s easy not to sneak a peak ahead at the five regular-season games remaining.
“Not at this point,” Blythe said. “I think we’ve done a good job week in and week out of really focusing on the opponent coming up on Saturdays. That’s not going to change. We’re going to take this bye week to refocus and have a good push.”
Pass offense: Not playing with a full deck
Quarterback C.J. Beathard hardly practiced all week because of injuries sustained against Illinois. Iowa’s offense was more conservative because of that. Beathard didn’t go with much of a vertical game. Iowa opted for quick hitters for the most part. Matt VandeBerg was the chief target, with eight of the Hawkeyes’ 16 catches for 79 yards. Running back Derrick Mitchell Jr. also had three for 43 yards out of the backfield. Iowa also got a boost from the return of wide receiver Tevaun Smith, who injured a knee in the first quarter of the North Texas game and hadn’t played since. He saw limited duty Saturday. He made one catch for 21 yards, but was called for offensive pass interference. His second catch went for 30 yards, but was called back for holding. Having Smith back in the lineup will be a big plus for the offense moving forward.
Rush offense: Wadley loves Northwestern
Turns out James Daniels didn’t become the first true freshman to start at offensive tackle in the Ferentz era. Left guard Sean Welsh started at right tackle for Ike Boettger, and Daniels opened at guard. He joined Bryan Bulaga and Mike Jones as the only true freshmen to start under Ferentz at that position.
The line did its job, and so did running back Akrum Wadley. Called on after Jordan Canzeri injured an ankle in the first quarter, Wadley had 204 yards on 26 carries and tied a school record with four touchdowns. Wadley’s only previous 100-yard game came in a 48-7 victory over the Wildcats last season at Kinnick Stadium. He had 106 yards in 15 carries in that one.
“I know he took a big step (Saturday), getting everyone’s confidence in him,” Ferentz said of the sophomore from Newark, N.J.
Canzeri had 256 yards rushing against Illinois last week. It’s just the second time that Iowa has had a running back record at least 200 rushing yards in back-to-back games. Tavian Banks had 204 in the 1997 season opener against Northern Iowa, and a school-record 314 yards the following week against Tulsa.
Ball security has been an issue with both Wadley and Mitchell, who finished with 79 yards on 10 carries and also had his first career touchdown.
Pass defense: King steps up again
Cornerback Desmond King entered Saturday’s game leading the Big Ten and tied for fourth nationally with five interceptions. Make that six. King picked off Northwestern quarterback Clayton Thorson in the first quarter. That led to a 36-yard field goal from Marshall Koehn for the first points of the game.
The Iowa secondary was equally solid for most of the game. Thorson and Zack Oliver completed just 20 of 43 passes for 147 yards. The Wildcats’ lone touchdown of the game came on a 4-yard Thorson to Christian Jones completion to cut Iowa’s lead to 16-7.
Rush defense: Winning the statistical battle
Iowa entered Saturday’s game fifth nationally and second in the Big Ten in rush defense at 78 yards per game. That average is now 74.1 yards per game. Northwestern had the Big Ten’s second-best rushing attack at 213.7 yards per game. The Wildcats were limited to 51 yards on 26 carries. Iowa still hasn’t allowed a 100-yard rusher all season, and just one rushing touchdown through seven games.
“It’s all about keeping pressure on those guys, that’s what we did (Saturday),” said defensive tackle Jaleel Johnson, who had a sack. “Put pressure on them and good things are going to happen.”
Linebacker Josey Jewell also had a sack, and shared another with defensive end Nate Meier, who finished with seven tackles. Linebacker Cole Fisher led the Hawkeyes with 10 tackles. It’s the fifth time this season he’s led the team in that category.
Special teams: Ferentz has confidence in Koehn
Marshall Koehn missed a point-after kick for the third straight game, and also misfired on a 34-yard field goal to end the first half. It was just the second missed field goal of the season for Koehn, who made kicks of 36 and 22 yards and is now 10 of 12.
“Things like that happen,” Ferentz said. “Marshall’s a quality guy. He’s a senior, a proven player, he’s a clutch guy, and I thought he really recovered and kicked the ball very well in the second half.”
Dillon Kidd also had a solid day, averaging 39.2 yards on five punts. Three of them were downed inside the 20. He had a long kick of 52 yards.