No. 19 Iowa 20, Northwestern 0: Here's what we learned
EVANSTON, Ill. — Iowa’s defensive line manhandled Northwestern on Saturday, spearheading a 20-0 victory at Ryan Field.
The Wildcats (1-6, 0-5 Big Ten Conference) have been anemic on offense all season, with awful quarterback play and a receiving corps that barely exists. But they do start two seniors and three juniors on the offensive line, blocking for running back Isaiah Bowser, who was a battering ram against the Hawkeyes last season.
None of that mattered for No. 19 Iowa (6-2, 3-2) this time. The Hawkeyes set the tone early when defensive tackle Brady Reiff deflected an Aidan Smith pass and defensive end Chauncey Golston gathered it in for the game’s lone turnover.
The Hawkeyes' offense wasn’t able to capitalize on that first-quarter opportunity, but the defense needed only one score to secure victory on this day, and got it on a 50-yard touchdown catch by Tyrone Tracy.
Northwestern ran 21 times in the first half and picked up only 32 yards. Smith was sacked five times and completed only 18 of 32 passes for 138 yards. The Wildcats never advanced past Iowa’s 28-yard line. They turned the ball over on downs four times.
It was a thorough thrashing on that side of the ball, and Iowa’s front four deserves much of the credit. The Wildcats just couldn’t breathe.
Iowa snapped a three-game losing streak against Northwestern.
Here’s what we learned:
GAMEPLAN INCLUDES GOODSON: True freshman running back Tyler Goodson carried one time for 2 yards in the first half. It was obvious what the coaching staff discussed during intermission. The Hawkeyes fed Goodson liberally in the third quarter, and his eight carries were good for 48 yards, bringing the Hawkeyes to the Northwestern 1-yard line. Goodson left at that point with a minor ankle injury. Mekhi Sargent got the short touchdown. But Goodson was the star of the drive and needs to become more involved earlier in games.
THREE RECEIVERS? THAT'S ENOUGH: At least on this day, for the Hawkeyes. With junior Brandon Smith out with a leg injury, there was much speculation this week about how Iowa would replace its top pass-catcher. It turns out that the Hawkeyes just relied on their next three best options. Tracy had the play of the game with his touchdown, in which he somehow eluded five would-be tacklers. He later hauled in a 38-yarder in front of the Northwestern bench. Ihmir Smith-Marsette made three tough catches for 20 yards. Nico Ragaini had the first catch of the game, good for 4 yards. And that was all the Hawkeyes needed. Oliver Martin was the fourth receiver in, but only for two snaps, both on running plays. No doubt Iowa will use the bye week to try to find more options in the passing game, with a challenging game at Wisconsin on deck.
FOURTH-DOWN SURPRISE: Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz was unusually conservative, even by his standards, on a pair of fourth-and-1 situations in Northwestern territory in the second quarter. Each time, he initially put his offense on the field only to end up punting. The thinking was obvious: With the way his defense was playing, field position was at a premium. He didn’t want to hand the Wildcats a shorter field, where one positive play could possibly be enough to lead to a score. But on fourth-and-8 from the Wildcats’ 30-yard line in the third quarter, Ferentz opted not to try a 48-yard field goal and put the ball in quarterback Nate Stanley’s hands. Stanley delivered an 11-yard pass to tight end Shaun Beyer, his only catch of the game. That led to Iowa’s second touchdown.
Mark Emmert covers the Iowa Hawkeyes for the Register. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 319-339-7367. Follow him on Twitter at @MarkEmmert.
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