Last weekend, we finally got to witness the 2020 debut of the Big Ten Conference. And just like that, Week 2 is already upon us. On tap for this week's schedule is a matchup that could set the tone for the Big Ten West. The Northwestern Wildcats (1-0) will make their first road trip of the season as they travel to face the Iowa Hawkeyes (0-1) in their home opener.
Northwestern looked like a completely new team after demolishing Maryland by 40 points last Saturday, which gave head coach Pat Fitzgerald is 100th career win. They were efficient and consistent on offense, more aggressive on defense, and physical on both sides of the ball. They played with more tempo, energy, and urgency, all while benefited from having an extended offseason to prepare and get their players healthy. Staying healthy will be the key for this team moving forward.
As for the Hawkeyes, they're back to square one after coming up short in last week's opener at Purdue. The Hawkeyes were outscored 10-3 in the second half after building a 17-14 halftime lead. The Boilermakers pulled off this upset without their best offensive player in Rondale Moore. It was a disappointing start to the season after finishing the '19 campaign with four straight wins.
The Wildcats look to keep the train moving while the Hawkeyes need a win to get back on track. If the recent history between these teams is any indication, this will be a very competitive and hard-hitting game.
Northwestern at Iowa
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 31 at 3:30 p.m. ET
Spread: Iowa -2.5
When the Wildcats Have the Ball
Peyton Ramsey lived up to the hype against the Terrapins last week. He completed 23-of-30 passes (76.7 percent) for 212 yards and one touchdown — good for 7.1 yards per attempt and a 147.0 passer rating. He spread the ball to seven different receivers, displayed his accuracy and arm strength, didn't get sacked, and had great command of the offense. Give a ton of credit to the Cats' offensive line for keeping Ramsey upright.
The O-line also did their job in the run game, as Northwestern finished with 325 rushing yards and four touchdowns. Ramsey, Drake Anderson, and Isaiah Bowser collectively accounted for 220 of those yards and three of those touchdowns. Offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian is known for his balanced play-calling, but he was happy to lean on the ground game (53 attempts) since NU racked up 6.1 yards per carry. They got strong efforts across the board from multiple contributors, and this a new Wildcats team that's ready to surprise the Big Ten.
This offense will be looking forward to taking on an Iowa defense that gave up 24 points, surrendered 386 yards of offense, and allowed Purdue to average 5.6 yards per pass and 3.9 yards per run. Purdue also had five offensive drives of 65 yards or more. The Hawkeyes can't afford to let Northwestern rack up the yards on Saturday.
When the Hawkeyes Have the Ball
Spencer Petras is now the starting quarterback in Iowa City, and he put up pretty good numbers at Purdue last week (22-of-39, 265 yards). Petras didn't throw any touchdowns against the Boilermakers, but he ran for one, threw the ball to eight different receivers, and kept the ship steady. The Hawkeyes also have a solid pair of running backs in the backfield. Tyler Goodson and Mekhi Sargent totaled 27 carries for 148 yards, with Sargent getting a first-quarter touchdown run.
Iowa's offense once again features multiple contributors. But they'll need to score more than three second-half points against a Northwestern defense that looks more aggressive than in previous years. Against Maryland last week, the Wildcats blitzed more, limited the Terrapins opportunities against the run (only allowed 64 rushing yards), and held them to just a first-quarter field goal. In the end, NU recorded two sacks, four quarterback hurries, six tackles for a loss, and four takeaways. Iowa is a better offensive team than Maryland is, but this new-look Northwestern defense is on a mission.
The Wildcats have won three of the last four meetings, including the last two games at Kinnick Stadium. Northwestern is a much-improved team on both sides of the ball this time around, and with the momentum on their side, they pull out a win in a very highly contested Big Ten game.
Prediction: Northwestern 24, Iowa 23
Podcast: Week 9 Preview and Predictions
— Gabe Salgado is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. He's also written for NBC, Fox, The Sporting News, The Sports Journal, The Undefeated and Complex. He's a news anchor/producer for WGN Radio. Follow him on Twitter @GabeSalgado82.