Iowa football gets much-needed win over Northwestern. Now an interesting November awaits.
IOWA CITY − There's more than a month left in the college football season, but Iowa's home game against Northwestern on Saturday felt season-defining.
The pressure from outside the program reached a tipping point this week in the midst of a three-game losing streak, and the Hawkeyes desperately needed a good result to silence some of the noise.
Saturday was just what the doctor ordered. The Hawkeyes won the game 33-13, snapping the midseason skid and ensuring that they'll be playing relevant football games in the final month of the season. Perhaps the most positive part of Saturday was that it was a true complementary performance, with all three phases contributing.
The biggest question entering Saturday was who would be taking snaps under center: senior and incumbent Spencer Petras or junior backup Alex Padilla. Coach Kirk Ferentz went with the third-year starter and Petras delivered his most sound performance of the year: completing 21 of 30 passes for 220 yards and a touchdown. Most important, he didn't give the ball away after a three-turnover performance last week at Ohio State.
In a battle between Iowa's last-ranked offense and Northwestern's bottom-tier defense (ranked 97th nationally), the Hawkeyes won convincingly. The first four drives went as followed: field goal, touchdown, field goal, touchdown. In total, Iowa's offense posted 398 total yards, 25 first downs and converted 5 of 11 third downs. The coaching staff went with a new-look offensive line, starting sophomore Connor Colby at left guard and senior Jack Plumb at right tackle. Saturday was the offensive line's best showing as the Hawkeyes rushed for 178 yards, led by freshman Kaleb Johnson's 93 yards and allowed only one sack.
Northwestern capitalized on a shanked Iowa punt to score a touchdown midway through the third quarter to cut Iowa's lead to 20-7. The Iowa offense answered with scores on back-to-back possessions, a pair of field goals by Drew Stevens to extend the lead to 26-7. It was a particularly strong day for the first-year kicker from North Augusta, South Carolina: 4-of-4 on field goal attempts including a 54-yarder, which tied for the seventh-longest in school history.
On the defensive side, Iowa's defense delivered a bounce-back performance after surrendering 47 points to the Buckeyes last weekend. Outside of the lone Northwestern touchdown, set up by the bad punt, the Wildcats' offense rarely spent any time in Iowa territory. Defensive coordinator Phil Parker dialed up plenty of pressure that rattled quarterback Brendan Sullivan, totaling seven sacks. They also forced one turnover, an interception by Kaevon Merriweather. The Wildcats managed 177 yards of total offense and converted 7 of 16 third downs.
Many will look at Iowa's dominant win with a skewed view, citing that it came against arguably the Big Ten's worst team. It was Northwestern's seventh consecutive loss. The skepticism is warranted but few will deny that it was the perfect confidence boost for Iowa's team entering a critical stretch of division games.
The Hawkeyes righted the ship (for now) and next up is a road trip to Purdue, featuring leading wide receiver and former Hawkeye Charlie Jones.