Post-Game Analysis: Iowa
by Jonathan Hodges

In three Big Ten games this season, NU has found itself into the fourth quarter with a lead and the ball, only to give up a combined 49 points to those teams (after having only given up 42 points combined in the first 3 quarters of all of those games) and scoring 0 points.  The most recent downfall was last Saturday at home against Iowa by a final score of 28-17, coincidentally the exact score that I predicted - only with the teams reversed.  Just like against Michigan earlier in the year, NU did itself no favors by coughing up the ball multiple times - in this case 3 interceptions (although one did come late in the third quarter).

It's amazing that early in the fourth quarter NU found itself with the ball on the Iowa 32 yard line after the defense forced a fumble (Iowa's only turnover of the game) with a chance to take a 2 score lead in the game, only to be driven backwards 12 yards and be forced to punt.  Needless to say, the offensive line didn't do much to help things out in the final period, allowing a total of 6 sacks on the day plus 6 QB hurries.  In the end, though, here is CJ Bacher's line in the 4th quarter: 4-14, 40 yds, 2 INT, 5 sacks.  The results are almost identical to the Michigan and Purdue games earlier in the year.

One of the only bright spots on the day was Tyrell Sutton, who finished with 116 yards rushing on 23 attempts (5.0 yds/carry) and a TD, along with 40 yards receiving (7 catches).  Unfortunately Sutton had only 2 carries in the final quarter for a total of 1 yard.  The defense did a good job of doing their job - which was stopping the Iowa rushing game, allowing a total of 89 yards from the two Iowa running backs, plus NU got an amazing 6 sacks on the day.

Once again, though, we saw that NU's defense can make any QB look like a Heisman candidate: Christiansen went 21-36 for 299 yards and a TD on the day as he had one of his best performances of the year.  Northwestern dared them to throw the football, and that they did - and they were successful.  The NU secondary didn't hold up its end of the bargain as receivers were allowed to get open much of the day - especially along the sidelines.

In the end, Northwestern ended up at 5-5 faced with 2 must-win games against decent competition in order to get a whiff of a bowl game.  Meanwhile, Iowa has a good chance to finish the year with a 4 game winning streak and get to 7-5 despite a horrible start to the year, virtually guaranteeing themselves a bowl trip - their final two opponents are 1-9 Minnesota and 3-6 Western Michigan.  The 'Cats must take a good, hard look at their 4th quarter efforts and come up with something different both offensively and defensively in order to preserve a lead that took 3 quarters to obtain.

Player of the Game: Iowa QB Jake Christiansen: 21-36, 299 yds, 0 INT, 1 TD.  NU dared him to throw as they kept Iowa to under 100 yards rushing on the day, and throw he did, having one of the best games of his career as he led Iowa to the win, especially with 2 key scoring drives coming in the final quarter.

NU Honorable Mentions:
RB Tyrell Sutton: 23 carries for 116 yards, 1 TD, 7 receptions for 40 yards, 1 tackle.  Give him the ball, and he will get things done.  Unfortunately in the 4th quarter NU reverted to a pass-only offense and couldn't get the ball to one of it's best weapons - the one tide-turning play was probably the flea-flicker where the Iowa defense didn't flinch at all and had excellent coverage downfield when CJ forced a throw in and got intercepted.  If Sutton had kept the ball and run, there was a gain there to be had.
DT John Gill: 4 tackles, 2 sacks, 1 pass break-up.  Once again, he got it done in the middle, disrupting the running game for Iowa quite often.
DE David Ngene: 6 tackles, 2 sacks, 1 forced fumble.  He came up with one of his best games, disrupting things off the edge.
WR Eric Peterman: Rushing: 2 rushes for 12 yards, Passing: 1-1, 13 yards, Receiving: 6 receptions for 52 yards, Punt Returns: 3 for 11 yards.  He was out there doing everything and making things happen, and deserves credit for taking on all of those responsibilities.
P Stefan Demos: 7 punts, 42.0 yds/punt, 55 yds long, 3 inside the 20.  Once again showing off his directional rugby-style punting skills as he helped pin Iowa deep multiple times.

What to Work On:
Fourth Quarter: Once again, it's the same old story.  NU holds an opponent to 14 points through 3 quarters and has the lead and the ball late in the game.  Turnovers, the inability to move the ball, lack of a running game, OL breakdowns, and poor play calling have led to a downfall on 3 such occasions this season.  Northwestern must find a way to play 60 minutes of football.
Offensive Line: Completely fell apart in the 4th quarter, allowing 6 sacks on the day - 5 of them coming in the final period.  Plus, CJ had precious little time to find an open receiver for much of that last quarter, ending up in forced throws for incompletions or, worse, interceptions.
Offensive Mix: Tyrell Sutton had 115 rushing yards coming into the fourth quarter.  He was given the ball only 2 times on handoffs in that final period.  The most head-scratching play was that flea-flicker which seemed to turn the tide of the game.  The fact is that NU got down the field many times but couldn't get on the scoreboard more than 3 times.
Turnovers: Before the game, I stated the key was for the OL to protect CJ and that would prevent turnovers.  NU didn't turn over the ball until late in the 3rd quarter and twice more in the 4th - all INTs that can be at least somewhat attributed to the lack of time he had in the pocket.
Field Goal Kicking: NU went 1-3 on FG tries, with one blocked and one missed - although the missed one was a 50 yarder and is arguably difficult, when the 'Cats drive down the field and come away with nothing it doesn't do anything to help out.

Random Observations:
- Penalties: NU was once again helped by its relative lack of penalties (5 for 42 yards) when compared with the competition (7 for 111 yards).  Disciplined football usually pays off.
- Turnover Margin: when NU has more turnovers than its opponent this year, the 'Cats are 0-5.
- Sherrick McManis: He had a solid looking day with 8 tackles, 1 sack, another TFL, and a pass break-up, but in the end he got burned on a couple of passing plays that cost NU a lot.
- Late-Game Decisions: Down by 2 scores, NU had the ball with under 3:00 remaining and were facing a fourth down.  For the second straight week, Coach Fitz decided to punt - essentially "giving up" - although NU got the ball back this week 1:32 is not nearly enough time to get down the field.
- Finishing on Offense: NU was on Iowa's side of the field on 11 different tries, but was only able to score 2 TDs and 1 FG.  NU knows better than anyone it needs to close the door, but has not been able to do so, especially when it matters most (the 4th quarter).  In the 4th quarter, NU had 18 total yards - mostly thanks to a 32 yard final drive that was essentially garbage time.

Final Thought:
Another game that NU should have been able to win, especially with the lead and the ball on the Iowa 32 in the 4th quarter.  Instead, NU now faces 6-4 Indiana and 7-3 Illinois to close out the season, needing to beat both of them to have a reasonable chance at a bowl game.  While there is a chance, NU would have had its best opportunity if it had been able to finish off Iowa.  In any case, there are 2 important games left and Northwestern must focus on finishing games before it can think about what is to happen after the season.

Go 'Cats!!!

e-mail: j-hodges@alumni.northwestern.edu

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