Iowa football vs. Northwestern preview

After a falling on the road to the head coach-less Purdue Boilermakers, Iowa football returns home to Kinnick Stadium this Halloween weekend to face the Northwestern Wildcats.

The 84th meeting between these two programs has never been more important for the Hawkeyes, who hope to stay in the Big Ten West Division hunt for a bid to the Big Ten Championship game.

Quick come to Jesus

Without games against Middle Tennessee, Miami of Ohio, Northern Illinois or even the historic Week 2 matchups with Iowa State, Iowa has zero room for error nor does it have any non-conference games to correct its mistakes. It must learn, adjust and execute on the fly in this crazy season.

Those perennial early fall non-conference games allowed Iowa to mesh as a team and pinpoint its weaknesses after graduating talent. This year, its weaknesses are exposed right away in conference play with two teams that have had Iowa’s number in recent years: Purdue and Northwestern.

The team’s inexperience in key positions proved detrimental last Saturday with quarterback Spencer Petras looking to find some consistency after his first career start. The running game featuring Tyler Goodson and Mekhi Sargent was effective until costly fumbles, including a teammate-caused fumble, sacrificed strong field position and lengthy drives.

Mental mistakes

The mental errors last week began to add up after four false starts and a total of 100 yards of penalties for a team that averaged third in the entire nation last year with 32 penalty yards a game. That isn’t a recipe for success for any program, let alone a team that makes its money on sustained drives and grinding defenses into the ground.

Iowa is too disciplined, too well coached to have the same mental lapses this weekend. Head coach Kirk Ferentz has turned this program into one of the most respected, disciplined and tough teams in the entire nation. There is slim chance he doesn’t light a fire under each of their butts before Saturday.

Game day expectations

Northwestern is coming off a shellacking against Maryland, winning 43-3 and racking up 537 yards of total offense. This defense that appeared flawed last week must take a big step to neutralize this rolling Wildcat offense.

The Wildcats have talented transfer Peyton Ramsey leading them after leading Indiana the past couple of seasons. Match that with new offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian and you have an offense that Iowa is not familiar with, especially for a defense that appeared reeling at times last Saturday.

Playing inside of an empty Kinnick Stadium is a blessing for any program, so expect Northwestern to look comfortable and ready to roll from the start. No banging walls, no fans over your shoulder yelling “Northwestern was my safe school” or anything like that.

Expect Iowa football to establish a consistent run game this weekend, something that seemed lacking last week with the feeling out process between offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz and Petras.

Northwestern was able to jump out early on Maryland. The same won’t happen this weekend with a hungry defense preparing for the Nightmare on Stadium St.