With recent history not on their side, the Iowa Hawkeyes (7-2, 4-1) will travel to Evanston, Ill. to play the Northwestern Wildcats (6-2, 2-3) on Saturday. The game is at 11 a.m. central time and it will be televised on ESPN.
In their last five meetings, Northwestern has won the last four. Last year, they defeated the Hawkeyes 17-10 at Kinnick Stadium in a game riddled with four turnovers (two interceptions and two fumbles) by the home team.
Both teams will enter the game with something to prove. Last week playing against another team that poses problems, the Hawkeyes skimmed by the Indiana Hoosiers 18-13 while the Wildcats’ wheels came off in the second half (not the first time this season - see the Michigan State game), losing 35-21 to an improving Penn State team.
Let’s look ahead at this week’s game with Iowa’s depth chart.
On offensive, Josh Koeppel returns to right guard; over to defense, Mike Daniels gets the starting nod at defensive tackle while Christian Ballard moves to defensive end. Iowa’s injured linebacker corp has red shirt freshman Shane DiBona at OLB; James Morris comes in as the starting MLB with Jeff Tarpinian as the backup (who may see some playing time); and Jeremiha Hunter is listed as the starter for WLB.
No worries Hawkeye Nation, Adam Robinson is back in the lineup after last week’s absence. Freshman running back Marcus Coker performed extremely well in his place, making fans wonder whether the team has finally found its second running back–something that has been missed this season.
The Norm Parker update? The defensive coordinator returned to the office this week and during his weekly press conference, Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz was non-committal on whether or not Parker will be leaving the heartland this week.
My money is on Parker joining the team at Ryan Field on Saturday.
Challenges for the Wildcats? They will face a tough Iowa defense.
The Hawkeyes rank fifth nationally in rushing defense (85.2), sixth in scoring defense (14.3), eighth in total defense (294.6) and 14th in pass efficiency defense (109.61). Last week the defense held Indiana to 100 yards and 16 points below its season averages.
The Wildcats haven’t fared as well defensively, ranking 100th in defending the pass, allowing 247.3 yards per game. Last week wasn’t a good one for the team as they missed 27 tackles.
And offensively, Iowa ranks third in the nation in pass efficiency (172.87) and have scored 30 or more points in three consecutive Big Ten Conference games (Michigan, Wisconsin, Michigan State) for the first time since 2005. Iowa has only six turnovers to-date, ranking second nationally behind Oregon State with the team’s four and leads the Big Ten with a plus 1.3 turnover ratio.
Both teams will bring a top notch quarterback to the field: junior Dan Persa of Northwestern and Iowa’s senior Ricky Stanzi. Stanzi is third nationally in passing efficiency and first in the Big Ten. Persa comes in at No. 10 nationally and is ranked second in the Big Ten in total offense (303.6) and passing yards per game (251.4).
Northwestern also had great success on third downs, coming in at the top for the conference. Persa also has the No. 1 Big Ten wide receiver in receiving yards, Jeremy Ebert.
For special teams, Iowa has its secret weapon freshman kicker Mike Meyer. It’s a good thing I didn’t put a hit out on him after the Wisconsin game: he was very successful against Indiana last week with 12 of 18 points for the team and received Big Ten conference honors for his performance.
The Wildcats will celebrate Senior Day on Saturday and the teams will play at a soldout stadium of 47,130. The Hawkeyes will be challenged by the Wildcats on a day forecasted with rain but they’ll pull out a win.
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Written by Debbie Baratz