Post-Game Analysis: Iowa
by Jonathan Hodges
WOW. Coach Fitzgerald notched his first "signature win" as the Northwestern
Wildcats (6-4, 3-3) upended previously unbeaten and BCS #4 Iowa (9-1, 5-1) by a
final score of 17-10 in Iowa City on Saturday, putting the
Hawkeyes' Rose Bowl hopes in serious jeopardy.
It was a game dominated
the the Wildcat defense, who finally met high preseason expectations, and
featured a huge game-changing play by DE Corey Wootton as he sacked and stripped
the ball from Iowa QB Ricky Stanzi in the end zone, which was recovered by NU
for a touchdown. Stanzi injured his ankle on the play and did not return, and
the 'Cats took the momentum and ran from there, scoring 17 unanswered points and
quashing Iowa's offense on the way to victory.
The game started off in
ominous fashion for Northwestern football, with Iowa's third play from scrimmage
going 74 yards for a touchdown (a Stanzi toss to WR Marvin McNutt) as NU's
secondary coverage broke down. On the Hawkeyes' second drive, they tacked on a
field goal, and things didn't look promising for NU's upset bid.
being down 10-0 with Iowa driving once again, NU took its fate into its own
hands early in the second quarter. CB Jordan Mabin grabbed an interception from
Stanzi near midfield, and although NU didn't score on that drive, it allowed NU
to punt and pin Iowa at their own six yard line and set up what would happen
After NU stuffed an Iowa run up the middle on first down, the
Hawkeyes decided to run a play action naked bootleg on second down. According
to postgame interviews, DE Corey Wootton (who fully participated in all
practices leading up to this week's game for the first time this season),
recognized this play from film and knew the QB would be unprotected.
knowledge directly led to one of the defining plays of the season, for
Northwestern, Iowa, and the conference. Wootton went directly after Stanzi, who
was in the end zone, and made a solid, clean hit on him that forced a fumble and
caused him to catch and sprain his ankle. NU's Marshall Thomas recovered the
ball for a touchdown and Stanzi would not return to the game due to his
Northwestern cut the Iowa lead to three and Stanzi's loss put
redshirt freshman James Vandenberg into the game at quarterback, a guy who had
only played a handful of garbage-time snaps at the collegiate level. He proved
that on the next series as his very first pass attempt in the game was
intercepted by NU LB Quentin Davie.
The Wildcats would then respond by
driving in for a touchdown capped off by a Dan Persa touchdown pass to Iowa
native WR Drake Dunsmore, giving the Wildcats a 14-10 lead.
end a fourth consecutive drive in a turnover with a controversial Brandon Wegher
fumble on the ensuing possession. NU's Persa would throw an interception on the
next drive, but the Wildcat defense would hold Iowa to a three-and-out as the
'Cats watched the clock tick down to zeros with NU holding a four point halftime
As anyone who has followed college football in 2009 knows, Iowa has
come back from deficits in eight of their previous nine games this season.
Those Hawkeye fans in attendance were eagerly awaiting another such comeback:
One that would not come.
The Northwestern defense finally lived up to its
preseason billing, holding Iowa to just 132 total yards after Stanzi's injury
and allowed the Hawkeyes to enter NU territory just one time (which led to a
missed 46 yard field goal in the third quarter).
Despite facing a team
that prides itself on running the football and had done a good job of that on
many occasions this season, NU held Iowa to just 65 net rushing yards (2.4 yards
per carry) on the day. This forced Iowa to try and pass the ball, something
Vandenberg did not do very well, completing just one third of his 27 pass
Another wrinkle in the game came when Dan Persa injured his
hand on a hit right after he made a throw in the second half. Persa had been
taking most of the snaps since Mike Kafka was playing through a hamstring injury
and was obviously limited (Kafka had no QB runs outside of sacks and short QB
sneaks). This forced Kafka to come back in and either throw or hand off, taking
a major piece of NU's attack (the QB run) away as NU looked to milk its
But the 'Cats would put together one last scoring drive from the
end of the third quarter into the early fourth, capped off by a 47 yard Stefan
Demos field goal that put NU up by a more comfortable margin of seven. The rest
of the way, NU managed just two first downs, but that proved to be just enough
to hold the lead until the clock struck zeros.
It might not have been
pretty, but Coach Fitzgerald likely wouldn't have it any other way, as the
defense held Iowa scoreless for three quarters and Northwestern secured its
biggest win under Coach Fitz, one that also made NU bowl eligible in 2009. The
'Cats have now won three straight in Iowa City and Fitz seemingly has Iowa's
number: He is now 3-1 against the Hawkeyes.
Player of the
NU DE Corey Wootton (3 tackles, 1 sack and forced
fumble) Wootton finally made his presence known in the 2009 season,
providing the game-changing play of the day, knocking the ball loose in the end
zone and knocking Stanzi out of the game. Thomas would recover the fumbled ball
for an NU touchdown, and Iowa would not be able to muster up much of an
offensive attack after the big play.
QB Dan Persa (5-of-9 passing for 37 yards with 1 INT and
1 TD, 17 carries for 67 yards) Persa's running allowed NU to move the ball
well in the first half, with Kafka effectively prevented from running thanks to
his hamstring injury. Persa also had the touchdown pass that gave NU the lead
in the second quarter, a lead that the Wildcats would not
QB Mike Kafka (10-of-18 passing for 72 yards, 2 carries for
4 yards) Despite being immobilized with the aforementioned leg injury,
Kafka did what it took for NU to pull off a win, finishing out the game at
quarterback after Persa was sidelined with an injury to his throwing hand. He
even added on two key first downs on QB sneaks.
entire defense deserves a nod for shutting down the Iowa running game and then
making sure that Iowa's backup quarterback never got the passing game going.
Mabin and Davie had interceptions, Wootton had the key sack, Thomas had two
fumble recovery, and Brad Phillips led NU with 10 tackles and added a forced
fumble of his own (the second straight year Phillips forced a fumble from an
Iowa running back).
What to Work on:
They key to NU's continued success will be the healing of Kafka's hamstring
and/or Persa's hand. There are also some lingering injuries on defense that
have affected the 'Cats' efforts, like Brendan Smith's and Brian Peters' hands
and Ben Johnson's hamstring. If NU can get healthy, NU can vastly improve its
bowl positioning efforts down the stretch.
mentioned above, some injuries have forced NU to play either less experienced
guys (like redshirt freshmen Jared Carpenter and Ricky Weina) or injured players
(Smith and Peters). Even so, NU has left some receivers wide open (like
McNutt's long TD) on blown coverage, something that must be corrected with
dangerous opponents still on the 'Cats' slate.
many times 'Cats fans have seen NU win a huge game just to drop the next.
Northwestern must keep the momentum going next week against a suddenly resurgent
Illinois team if they want to gain more respect.
This game warrants a special section for "excuses" that fans
of a certain recently vanquished team may begin to throw around.
QB was injured: Yes, Stanzi went down, and the offense very much faltered
after that. But, NU was playing with its backup almost the whole way, at least
until he was injured, forcing NU's injured starter to tough it out, despite
missing a key component of NU's offensive gameplan: the QB run. All that not to
mention the fact that injuries are a legitimate part of football that every team
must deal with.
Penalties: A key penalty was a holding call that
negated a potential Iowa TD run. The fact is that both sides had penalties
called on them, and, in fact, NU had one more penalty and 15 more penalty yards
in the game. Also, NU had a very questionable personal foul called on Sherrick
McManis as the ballcarrier lowered his head into McManis' helmet. There were
also some potentially questionable "no calls" as well.
Penalties are part
of the game, and it's funny how calls only become "questionable" when a big play
is called back. Also, there is plenty of incidental contact in the game of
football, and people get even angrier when pass interference flags get thrown
all over the place. If a team puts itself in a position where one penalty makes
that big of a difference, that means they haven't taken care of their own
business somewhere else.
Upsets: Northwestern has had three top 10 upsets this decade: this game,
the 2004 upset of Ohio State in Evanston, and the 2000 upset of Wisconsin in
Madison. If one uses Iowa's BCS ranking (#4), then this was the highest ranked
opponent that NU has defeated in a true road game.
Six Wins: NU
has now notched at least six wins in the past three seasons and in six of the
last seven years. NU's sixth win of 2009 also makes the 'Cats bowl eligible for
the third straight season.
Turnovers: In my preview, I stated
that the team that wins the turnover battle would likely win the game. The
'Cats won the battle with four takeaways to only one giveaway. All four of
Iowa's turnovers were in the second quarter.
Conversions: NU converted 50 percent of its third down tries (9-of-18)
while Iowa converted just 29 percent of theirs (4-of-14).
Demos: NU's kicker continued his solid field goal kicking, hitting a 47
yarder and taking his season total to 14-of-16, with his only two misses coming
With NU becoming bowl
eligible, now the bowl talk begins. The top four teams in the conference are
pretty much solidified: Ohio State, Iowa, Penn State, and Wisconsin will take
the top four bowl spots. The only question is if the Big Ten will get two BCS
bowl spots, which very much depends on what teams in other conference do down
the stretch to see who gets into the top 14 of the BCS rankings.
possible bowl destinations for Northwestern are (from top to bottom in selection
order): Champs Sports Bowl (Orlando, FL), Alamo Bowl (San Antonio, TX), Insight
Bowl (Phoenix, AZ), or Pizza Bowl (Detroit, MI).
Northwestern needs a
seventh win to solidify its bowl position, particularly since no Big Ten team
has yet been eliminated from bowl contention. A lot depends on what happens
over the next two weeks with virtually every game playing a role in determining
where Big Ten teams will be spending their respective
What a great win for the
Wildcats. Coach Fitz now has his signature win, and for those that love to hate
Iowa, how perfect it was to watch NU ruin Iowa's perfect season.
life in their season, Northwestern must continue their momentum as they head
into Champaign to face an Illini squad with momentum of their own heading into
the game. There is time to celebrate, sure, but it will be back to work very
soon for NU as they face two tough opponents to finish the regular
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