FACTS & STATS: Site: Kinnick Stadium (70,585) -- Iowa City, Iowa. Television: Big Ten Network. Home Record: NU 3-2, Iowa 2-2. Away Record: NU 1-1, Iowa 2-1. Neutral Record: NU 0-0, Iowa 0-0. Conference Record: NU 0-3, Iowa 1-2. Series: Iowa leads, 47-24-3.
GAME NOTES: A couple of struggling Big Ten Legends Division teams will square off at Kinnick Stadium on Saturday afternoon, as the Iowa Hawkeyes host the Wildcats of Northwestern.
Northwestern got off to a 4-0 start but has since lost three in a row to erase that early-season momentum. All three losses came against conference foes, including last Saturday's 20-17 home loss to Minnesota. The schedule does not get any easier in the coming weeks, as the Wildcats must next deal with Nebraska, Michigan and Michigan State.
Iowa enters this tilt hoping to avoid a third straight defeat. The Hawkeyes were also in action this past weekend at fourth-ranked Ohio State and came away with a hard-fought 34-24 loss. Their three losses this season have come against teams with a combined record of 20-1.
Iowa leads the head-to-head series, 47-24-3. NU claimed a 28-17 victory over the Hawkeyes almost a year ago to the date in Evanston. The Wildcats ran for 349 yards in that game and controlled the time of possession.
Northwestern tops the Big Ten in red zone efficiency, having scored points on 28 of 29 trips inside the 20 (17 touchdowns and 11 field goals). But where the Wildcats have really struggled is protecting the quarterback, as they have allowed 22 sacks on the season, the highest total in the conference. In last week's loss to Minnesota, Trevor Siemian faced a steady diet of pressure and was sacked three times. He completed 25-of-46 passes for 234 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions. Siemian was starting in place Kain Colter, while running back Venric Mark, who averaged 105 yards per game on the ground last season, was also sidelined. Both players are dealing with ankle injuries -- Colter is considered probable to suit up, although Mark is doubtful for this weekend's contest.
It's tough to pin last week's loss on the Wildcat defense. After all, they held Minnesota below 300 yards of total offense and forced the Golden Gophers to kick a field goal on their only trip inside the red zone. They also limited the Gophers to 3.6 yards per carry as a team and a 4-of-13 success rate on third down. Nick VanHoose led the way with 11 tackles to go along with a forced fumble and a pass breakup, while Damien Proby notched 10 tackles. However, the Wildcats were unable to generate any takeaways, which made things difficult with the offense struggling. In fact, it was the first time in a span of 11 games the NU defense failed to record an interception. Still, the Wildcats lead the Big Ten with 17 takeaways on the season.
The Hawkeyes jumped out to an early lead against Ohio State, but they were outscored 24-7 in the second half to fall short in their upset bid. Still, it was a rather impressive showing for an offense that was not given much of a chance by prognosticators heading into the game against the Buckeyes' fierce defense. Jake Rudock threw for 245 yards and three touchdowns, and Jake Duzey collected six catches for 138 yards and a score. On the ground, Iowa averaged 4.8 yards per carry as a team. The Hawkeyes converted 8-of-13 third downs and scored on all three of their trips into the red zone (two TDs, one FG). The offense continued to do the things it has done well all season long; protect the QB and convert third downs. The Hawkeyes have allowed only five sacks this season, the seventh-best total in the country. They are also among the national leaders in third-down conversions (50 percent, 14th).
Defensively, the Hawkeyes have been tough to run against, as they have held every opponent this season below their rushing average. In fact, they have allowed only two rushing TDs all season, which is tied with Alabama and Florida State for the fewest in the nation. Both of those rushing scores came last week against the Buckeyes, as they had not allowed a touchdown on the ground all season up to that game. Additionally, the Iowa defense has allowed only four red-zone TDs, the lowest total in the country. The unit ranks third in the conference in scoring defense, total defense, and pass defense. True freshman cornerback Desmond King has collected 23 tackles over the last two games.
Both of these teams can argue that they are better than their records would show. However, the only way to settle that is out on the field. Give a slight edge to the Hawkeyes, who are playing at home against a banged up Northwestern squad.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Iowa 34, Northwestern 24
Saturday, October 26, 12 p.m. (et)