Post-Game Analysis: Iowa
by Jonathan Hodges


The Northwestern Wildcats (5-0, 1-0) continued to build momentum for their 2008 season as they beat Iowa (3-2, 0-1) in a final-minute defensive stand at Kinnick stadium by a score of 22-17.  Things looked grim early on for NU, as the Hawkeyes moved down the field with relative ease behind RB Greene, to an early 17-3 lead.  But turnovers helped to tip the game in the 'Cats' favor as they recovered a fumbled punt with little time remaining in the second quarter, then quickly sliced down the field and capped the short drive with a TD pass from CJ Bacher to Rasheed Ward to bring NU within one score.  Just after halftime, NU once again took control and brought the game to within one on another Bacher TD pass, although they could not tie the game as Villarreal missed the extra point (he had a FG attempt blocked earlier in the game).  NU got the ball right back on a kickoff return fumble recovery, but again could not take the lead with a missed Villarreal FG try.  But, in the fourth quarter, the 'Cats got yet another chance off of a turnover (a big hit on Iowa's RB Greene by safety Brad Phillips that caused a fumble, recovered by NU's Dinard) and CJ led the offense down the field and converted with a TD pass to Peterman (the second time they hooked up on the day).  The game ended with a stop after Iowa had first and goal with a chance to take the lead and the clock quickly winding down and NU came out of Iowa City winners for the second time in as many chances.

Northwestern got to 5-0 for the first time since 1962 and again continued its longest winning streak since 1996.  The 'Cats didn't allow Iowa to score in the second half and forced five turnovers on the day, with two coming on special teams.  And the offense awoke when they were needed as CJ led the way with 284 passing yards and 3 TDs; Sutton had 78 yards on the ground and 72 through the air; Ward had 10 catches for 94 yards and a TD.  Most of all, though, the Wildcats showed the effort necessary to win tough, physical contests by fighting for the ball and winning the turnover battle and converting at least some of those chances into points.  The defense held the opposition from scoring for over a half, despite a very productive effort out of their RB, Greene, who had a total of 159 rushing yards and a TD on only 21 carries, and a relatively efficient day from their QB Stanzi, who was 21-30 passing for 238 yards (including a 45 yard TD pass).  But, the D came up huge when it mattered, forcing 4 incompletions after the Hawkeyes brought themselves to first and goal.

As expected, the game was a very physical matchup, and although the Iowa OL opened up a lot of running room, the NU defense as a whole used physicality to force turnovers.  On the other side of the ball, the NU OL didn't exactly give Sutton a ton of room to run, but what they did do is give CJ time to throw and didn't allow any sacks on the day - which is quite impressive given the talent that exists in the Iowa defensive front.  Bacher generally made good decsions with the ball, and his one INT on the day (very early in the game) came off of a deflected ball that took a lucky bounce.  And, despite some misses in the kicking game (blocked FG, missed FG & XP), special teams came up huge with two fumble recoveries that gave NU a short field, and credit both recoveries to speedy freshman Jeravin Matthews, who has been in on kick returns and coverage teams.

Overall, it was an impressive team effort - from the special teams' physical play to give NU a short field, to the offense mounting a big comeback, and to the defense who held up down the stretch.  While things weren't pretty at times, one must give NU credit for staging a win in a hostile road environment and proving that the defense is "for real" against Big Ten competion, while the offense got things going when needed against a stout defense.  The win definitely provides momentum for the 'Cats going into a bye week which will be followed by a HUGE home game against Michigan State that will set the tone for the second half of NU's season.

Player of the Game: Northwestern S Brad Phillips (11 tackles, 2 TFLs, 1 sack, 1 forced fumble)  Phillips had what was the hit of the day as he laid it on RB Greene in the fourth quarter as Iowa was approaching scoring range and not only knocked the ball loose, but also knocked Greene out of the remainder of the game.  While injuries are never a good thing, the loss of Greene for the rest of the game noticeably affected the Hawkeyes as they couldn't just keep handing the ball off.  The forced fumble also set up NU's go-ahead scoring drive.  What is great about the NU defense thus far is that there's a different hero every week - which is something that an overall good defense can provide and prevents teams from game-planning around one guy.

Northwestern Honorable Mentions:
- QB CJ Bacher (28-45 for 284 yards, 3 TDs, 1 INT, 3 rushes for 15 yards) CJ showed great composure as he came back from a 4 INT day last week and an early pick this week (thanks to a pass deflection that leapt into a defender's hands), leading NU's comeback and scoring 3 unanswered TDs.  NU was forced to go to the passing game with Iowa's outstanding defensive front containing the running game, and he was up to the task.
- RB Tyrell Sutton (24 carries for 77 yards, 6 receptions for 72 yards)  Sutton only got 77 yards on the ground, but fought for every one of them.  After the game, CJ noted that he didn't think Tyrell was at 100% after his hamstring injury sustained last game, but Sutton was out there helping NU's offense attain some sort of rhythm.  He was CJ's favorite target early on and helped the 'Cats get the ball moving down the field.
- WR Rasheed Ward (10 receptions for 94 yards, 1 TD)  Ward had a career day and he showed his senior leadership as he stepped up and got open for CJ to deliver the ball.  He capped NU's second quarter scoring drive with his first TD catch since garbage time against Arizona State in 2005.  Not many expected him to make a big impact this year, being behind the much-hyped Brewer on the depth chart, but he has turned into a steady target for CJ.
- WR Eric Peterman (5 receptions for 47 yards, 2 TDs, 1 carry for 15 yards)  Mostly silent early in the game, once the offense got moving, Peterman showed to be one of CJ's favorite targets and put 2 TDs on the board.  It was another good day at Kinnick for him as he had a TD reception in NU's last visit there.
- CB Sherrick McManis (11 tackles)  He hasn't made a whole lot of noise this year, but McManis had some big yardage-saving tackles on Saturday as NU stacked the box against the run and left him on an island when the play bounced to the outside.  Also credit him with keeping the WRs quiet on the outsides - many of Iowa's big gains came from the TEs and receivers in the middle of the field.
- Offensive Line: Once again, although their run blocking wasn't great, they didn't allow any sacks and generally gave CJ enough time to make things happen with the passing game.  This was a big test for the young unit, and now that they've held up against a strong Big Ten defense, they should have the confidence to go up against anyone.
- Ball-hawking: NU hadn't picked up a whole lot of turnovers until last week, and now they are coming in droves.  The 'Cats grabbed 4 last week and an amazing 5 this week to propel NU to the win.  This can be targeted as the biggest statistic that pushed the game in Northwestern's favor.

What to Work On:
- Stopping the run: While the defense held up well down the stretch, not allowing any Iowa points from about 2 minutes left in the second quarter on (including the final stand in the 4th), they allowed Iowa to rack up a lot of yards and Greene was basically running wild (7.6 ypc) until he was knocked out of the game.  This will be a huge test in NU's next game where they face MSU and Ringer, who racked up a ton of yards on NU in last season's meeting.
- Field Goal Kicks: Villarreal had been perfect on the year going into this game, but things went south against Iowa; the Hawkeyes blocked a FG try in the first half, and later on Amado missed an extra point try that would have tied the game in the 3rd quarter and then missed a FG try that would have given NU the lead.  That's 7 points left on the field (each of the missed FG attempts were from make-able distances), and that doesn't even count for NU's last TD where they went for two because of the 5 pont lead.  The misses also broke NU's streak of red zone success, as the 'Cats had scored on every trip this season so far.
- Capitalizing on Mistakes/Red Zone Offense: NU came up empty with a short field on two occasions: one was a missed FG and the other was blocked after NU came up with the ball on a turnover deep in Iowa territory.  When the defense does come up with big turnovers, the offense must capitalize and score, preferrably TDs.  While NU survived this time, things will be more difficult when NU doesn't manage to pick up 5 turnovers.
- Run Blocking:  NU's offense finally got the ball moving reasonably well through the air, but the ground game was another story.  Fortunately, NU's offense was working well enough to get the ball to Sutton 24 times on rushes, although he only averaged 3.2 ypc with a long carry of only 9 yards.  While it was encouraging to see the OL open up enough of a hole to get a few yards each time, the inability to break a big run definitely hampered the offense.  When contrasted with Iowa's blocking, it was like night and day, as the Hawkeyes got on defenders and sustained the blocks very well; Greene had plenty of room to run on many occasions.

Random Observations:
- Injuries:  It is disappointing to see another additions to the "out for season" list, with Rejae Johnson being added prior to the game.  But, overall, NU has remained relatively injury free - CJ bounced back nicely from his sprained fingers, and Sutton proved to be a workhorse, getting 30 touches on the day and playing for the majority of the game.  And with the bye week upon the 'Cats, they will look to heal from the minor bumps and bruises before facing a tough MSU squad at home.
- Penalties: NU didn't exactly help itself, racking up 7 penalties for 70 yards on the day, but Iowa wasn't far behind with 5 penalties of its own.  The biggest factor in the game was the turnovers, which basically negated effects of penalties (NU had a short field multiple times).  But, when one looks at the national statistical rankings in penalties, they will see that the amount of penalties has little correlation to the success of the team in terms of wins and losses.  The biggest effect of penalties for NU has been the offense getting behind the chain and therefore giving itself a hard time sustaining the drive.
- Future opponents: NU's next game will be huge, as it is against a strong MSU squad who is trying to make a statement of their own.  Ringer is racking up a ton of yards for them and was just shy of 200 yards again aganst Inidana.  But, before that date, MSU must face Iowa, which will be an interestng game for NU fans to watch to get a taste of what to expect.
- Perseverance: NU was behind early and the defense was basically getting stomped by the Iowa running game, but the 'Cats fought back, and showed that they can do what it takes to win - the D came up with big stops when needed and forced huge turnovers while the offense converted just enough of that into points to pull out the win.  And while the special teams had a difficult time with converting kicks, they came up with big forced turnovers as well to contribute to the victory.  Unlike last year's squad, which saw basically 4 fourth quarter meltowns, this team excels as the game goes on and the both the offense and defense seem to have their best efforts late in the game.
- Road Win: Don't discount the diffculty of grabbing a road win - just look at former #1 USC who got bounced by Oregon State in a game not many were considering before the final score popped up.  Kinnick is a very difficult place to play and NU stepped up and pulled off the win despite the hostile conditions.  With only three road games remaining, NU has set itself up well.

Final Thought:

It is great to be at 5-0 going into a bye week and the 'Cats have positioned themselves almost perfectly going into an important part of the schedule.  I fully expected it to be a tough, physical game, and it was - and fortunately the 'Cats fought their way to the victory.  The defense once again proved itself, and the offense came alive when needed to pull out the win.  Now NU has momentum going into a big showdown against MSU in two weeks and 'Cats fans everywhere are buzzing about the great start to the season.  Next, the Wildcats must live up to the hype and continue to show improvement.

Go 'Cats!!!

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

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