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Posted By Ben Chiswick On Nov 10 2010 @ 11:21 am In Northwestern | No Comments

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.

The Northwestern Wildcats (6-3, 2-3) are looking for a bounceback effort after failing to hold a big lead in a devastating loss last Saturday.

I’m starting to feel a bit like a broken record.

After blowing a 21-0 lead last weekend at Penn State, things won’t get any easier when the Wildcats return home to host the Iowa Hawkeyes (7-2, 4-1) on Saturday in the final game of the season at Ryan Field (the November 20 home finale against Illinois will be played at Wrigley Field). Once again, Northwestern will have to shrug off the memory of a game they should have won to focus on a new formidable opponent.

The Hawkeyes certainly present another challenging foe, entering play ranked 13th in the nation in the BCS standings as well as both the AP Poll and the Coaches Poll. They nearly succumbed to what would have been a stunning upset last weekend at Indiana, when it took a 52-yard touchdown pass with less than three minutes remaining to escape Bloomington with a victory. As a result, their only losses of the season remain against BCS-ranked opponents in No. 7 Wisconsin (8-1) and No. 18 Arizona (7-2).

And don’t think that anybody from Iowa City has forgotten about last year’s match-up, when the ‘Cats rolled into Kinnick Stadium and hung the previously 9-0 Hawkeyes with their first loss of the season. In that game, Northwestern knocked out Iowa quarterback Ricky Stanzi and forced four turnovers to dash the championship aspirations of the Hawkeyes with a 17-10 win.

Having lived in Iowa for about five years, I was at that game – and I have never seen Iowa City as dead as it was in the wake of that upset.

Iowa may not be bringing an undefeated record into this season’s clash, but they do have the opportunity to play in a BCS bowl if they win out.

The Hawkeyes impressive resume this season has been powered by a stifling defense. They are among the FBS leaders in a slew of categories having allowed just 85.2 rushing yards-per-game (5th), 14.3 points-per-game (6th), and 294.6 total yards-per-game (8th). They did not allow a rushing touchdown until facing Michigan’s Denard Robinson in their sixth game of the year. Perhaps most impressively, they rank third in the nation with a +1.3 turnover differential.

Though their strength is stuffing the run, Iowa is also 14th in the nation in defensive passing efficiency (109.61). That creates what should be an excellent game-within-the-game against Northwestern quarterback Dan Persa, who individually ranks 10th in the land with a 161 passing efficiency, 12th with 303.6 yards-per-game of total offense, and continues to lead all FBS passers with a 73.4% completion rate. Persa is also the Wildcats’ leading rusher thanks to his uncanny ability to exploit opposing defenses, and it will be interesting to see how Iowa game plans to contain his running plays from the spread offense as well as his improvised scrambles.

Of course, the Hawkeyes have a talented quarterback of their own in Stanzi. Iowa’s senior leader actually ranks 3rd in the nation with a 172.9 passing efficiency behind only Kellen Moore of Boise State and Cam Newton of Auburn. Even more impressive is his touchdown-to-interception ratio of 20-to-3, as Stanzi has been able to consistently find the end zone while avoiding turnovers and throwing for over 2,000 yards (245.8 ypg).

In fact, as a team Iowa has turned the ball over just six times this year – the second-fewest total in all of college football.

So – once again – Northwestern will face a stiff test this Saturday in Evanston. This team knows they can play with anybody in the Big 10. Now, they have to finish off a game and prove it.

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