• Travis Thornburgh

Game Recap: Northwestern Wildcats

Initial Takeaways:

- The Iowa offense is full of young emerging stars, including Tyler Goodson, Sam LaPorta, and Tyrone Tracy. If those guys continue to develop, Iowa may be sitting on a huge collection of talent for years to come.

- Since the Penn State game, the Iowa defense has created more opportunities for turnovers. On top of the Chauncey Golston interception, there were a few potential interceptions dropped by the defense and they likely would have been credited with a fumble early in the game had it not occurred on 4th down.

- Despite much of the public frustration, I was happy with the offensive performance. They didn't put up a ton of points, but they also didn't have to. Brian Ferentz was able to pick his battles and chose to lean on the run game instead of trying to run the score up.

- Nate Stanley is performing well, he just isn't throwing touchdowns at the same pace he has in previous seasons. Stanley is currently the Big Ten leader in pass completions and passing yards, while playing in a offense that has not been productive on the ground.

- The Iowa wide receivers didn't miss a beat in the absence of Brandon Smith. The receiver depth will be tested much more against Wisconsin than it was this week.

- It feels good to be happy following the Iowa vs. Northwestern game.

Views From the Corner of Kinnick

In a rarity in recent years, Iowa took care of business against Northwestern, which feels good to say. Iowa's performance was as dominant as could have been expected, and a 20 point victory really doesn't do justice to just how overmatched Northwestern looked on Saturday. Iowa imposed its will on defense, seemingly forcing stops at will, and never allowed the Wildcat offense to get a rhythm going. The offense continued to show improvement, and didn't shoot the defense in the foot by setting up short fields. Iowa traveled to Evanston, took care of business, and got out of town with no major injuries. That is a successful weekend against Northwestern.

The day started slow for the Iowa offense, as they quickly went 3 and out on the opening possession. Iowa seemed to have something cooking when Chauncey Golston pulled down an interception on the ensuing Northwestern drive that put the ball at the Wildcat 21 yard line. The offense failed to capitalize, as a costly 3rd down sack pushed Iowa back and forced a long field goal attempt that Keith Duncan ultimately pushed right. The defense picked Duncan up on the following possession, forcing a Northwestern turnover on downs at midfield. Iowa would then convert the short field into pints on the third play of the drive. Stanley connected with Tyrone Tracy 15 yards downfield and Tracy did the rest, avoiding two tacklers and outrunning a handful more for a 50 yard touchdown. The teams then alternated punts on the next three possessions before the Iowa offense would put together a 15 play, 57 yard drive, capped by a Keith Duncan field goal. The rest of the half would see two punts by each team, leaving the halftime tally at 10-0.

Iowa picked up in the second half where it left off, forcing a turnover on downs on Northwestern's first drive of the half. The offense continued to click, piecing together a 13 play, 59 yard drive that chewed up over 6 minutes of game clock. The drive was capped by Mehki Sargent's 1 yard touchdown run. The Northwestern offense then continued to search for answers against the Iowa defense, turning the ball over on downs again. The teams traded punts before Iowa put together another long drive, this time for 9 plays and 61 yards that resulted in a Keith Duncan field goal. Northwestern then turned the ball over on downs again before a punt by both teams set Iowa up to run out the remainder of the clock.

All told, Iowa exited a rainy Ryan Field in Evanston victor of a 20-0 contest that never really felt close. The defense was dominant and had the Northwestern offense looking completely lost most of the day. The Iowa offense looked good when it needed to be, but really didn't have to exert themselves. Nate Stanley took very chances downfield and there was an obvious emphasis on establishing the run game throughout the game.

The Iowa offense wasn't explosive in this game, and they didn't need to be. It was pretty obvious from the beginning what the gameplan was; Iowa was going to run the ball early and often, only throw the ball when absolutely necessary, and keep the clock running. The offense took very few risks all day because it became obvious very early that, unless given a short field, Northwestern wasn't going to be able to string together enough successful plays to score. The offense achieved their goals, playing complimentary football and scoring enough points to win comfortably.

Nate Stanley looked comfortable despite missing Brandon Smith, who was quickly becoming his favorite target. Stanley hit 7 different receivers and looked good working through his progressions all day. With his touchdown pass to Tyrone Tracy on Saturday, Nate Stanley drew within 8 touchdowns of tying Chuck Long's all-time mark of 70. He would need to average nearly two touchdowns (1.6) per game the rest of the way to match Long's record, excluding a potential trip to the Big Ten championship game.

In my mind, the biggest offensive storyline from this weekend is the emergence of freshman tight end Sam LaPorta. Although his stats don't jump off the page, with just 2 receptions and 43 yards, his importance goes beyond the numbers. He produced consistent targets and Nate Stanley was looking for him throughout the game, which is a first for an Iowa tight end this year. He also nearly had a third catch that would have netted an additional 25+ yards and set Iowa up in field goal range early in the first half. He showed a knack for finding the football and illustrated why Iowa fans should be excited for his future on his first catch of the day. He ran a great route, high pointed the well placed Stanley pass, and used his strength to come down with the football. Sam LaPorta is a name that could be huge for the Iowa offense down the stretch, and he should see an expanded role off the bye week against Wisconsin.

At this point, the Iowa offense still has their biggest question mark looming, can they consistently finish drives against the best defenses? To date, they have struggled against Michigan and Penn State, but have looked increasingly better in recent weeks, even eclipsing 100 yards rushing against Northwestern on Saturday, which is no small feat. The progress that Iowa has made on offense will be truly tested against the Wisconsin Badgers after the bye week.

Iowa's defense continued to dominate and despite giving up just over 200 yards of total offense, never really felt in danger of losing the shutout to a helpless Northwestern offense. The defense made Northwestern uncomfortable, piling up 5 sacks of Northwestern quarterback Aidan Smith and 9 total tackles for loss while also forcing an early interception.

The defensive line set the tone early, as Brady Reiff jumped up to tip a pass on Northwestern's third play from scrimmage that ultimately fell into the arms of Chauncey Golston. I thought the Iowa defense would give up a couple big plays and a few point, but it became obvious pretty early that wouldn't be the case. Northwestern's offense only managed one drive of over 40 yards, which came on their second to last possession of the game, well after the outcome of the game had been decided.

It is worth noting, that Iowa did benefit early from a handful of dropped passes by open Northwestern receivers. The defensive secondary got much better as the game moved along, but there are still things to clean up on the defensive side of the ball moving forward.

Iowa's special teams have been good to great all year, and Saturday was no different. Michael Sleep-Dalton got his fair share of work, launching 6 punts with an average distance of 41.8 yards on those punts. Keith Duncan continued to shine, as he added 2 made field goals and 3 field goal attempts, pushing his total to 19 made field goals on 22 attempts. Duncan leads the nation in both attempts and makes for Division 1 kickers. Ihmir Smith-Marsette only got one opportunity in the kick return game, which he returned for 26 yards.

At this point in the season, the biggest question mark in Iowa's special teams game is punt returning. Early in the season, Nico Rigaini seemed to have the position locked down, but over the past two games Max Cooper and Geno Stone have been fielding punts. Prior to the switch, Rigaini was letting too many kicks bounce and Iowa was getting pinned deep in its own territory far too often. Cooper and Stone have been servicable, but certainly haven't been dynamic in the return game. I would anticipate Iowa looking at that position during the bye week, and wouldn't be surprised to see them shake things up against Wisconsin.

The Northwestern game scares me year after year, and it feels good to have a sense of relief after Northwestern instead of disdain and regret. It wasn't pretty, it wasn't flashy, but it sure was dominant. The Iowa defense took care of business and didn't take a sputterting Northwestern offense for granted. Iowa's offense wasn't overwhelming, but they did enough. They possessed the ball for over 33 minutes, accumulated over 100 yards on the ground, and did enough scoring to win the game comfortably without exerting much effort. Overall, you take any Iowa win over Northwestern and move on. The Hawks should have confidence and momentum as they head to the bye week ahead of Wisconsin.

Travis's Player of the Game: Tyrone Tracy Jr. - 2 Receptions, 88 Receiving Yards, 1 Touchdown, Long Catch of 50 yards

Up Next: Iowa is Idle in Week 10 and will return to action on November 9 in Madison, Wisconsin against The Wisconsin Badgers 6-2 (3-2)

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As always, On Iowa! and Go Hawks!

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About Travis

A lifelong Hawkeye fan and a 2017 graduate of the University of Iowa in Civil Engineering, Travis now calls Des Moines, Iowa home and continues to passionately follow University of Iowa athletics

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