Iowa offense vs. Northwestern defense
Defensive coordinator Mike Hankwitz, who moved over from Wisconsin this season, is making an impression, spearheading an aggressive defense that isn’t allowing big plays. Statistically, Northwestern’s defense has a cleat firmly planted among the nation’s best. The Wildcats are 13th in scoring defense, 28th in rushing, 26th in pass efficiency and fourth in sacks and tackles for loss. Last week in a 16-8 victory over Ohio, NU set a school record allowing just 4 yards rushing, besting the 15 yards NU gave up to Wisconsin in 1960.
The Cats had 14 tackles for loss, including five sacks. NU’s 15 sacks are just three fewer than they recorded all last season. On third down, the Cats are allowing just 27.9 percent on conversions.
Defensive end Corey Wootton might be the star of the show. He’s second in the Big Ten with 3.5 sacks and fourth with 6.5 tackles for loss. The 6-foot-7, 270-pound junior possesses great wing span and enough speed and quickness to be a headache on the edge for any offensive tackle. Wootton isn’t a one-man show. Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz spoke highly of NU tackle John Gill, saying the Hawkeyes hardly blocked the 6-3, 200 pounder last season, when he led all NU D-linemen with 50 tackles and a team-best 8.5 tackles for loss. Redshirt freshman defensive end Vince Browne exploded on the scene last weekend, earning co-defensive player of the week honors in the Big Ten with three sacks.
Middle linebacker Malcolm Arrington is the kind of linebacker out of the mold of his coach Pat Fitzgerald, a former all-American at NU. Arrington is second in the Big Ten with 6.5 tackles for loss. Outside linebacker Quentin Davie has 5.5 tackles for loss this season.
Safety Brendan Smith is coming off a medical hardship year with a big senior season. Against Syracuse, he returned an interception 26 yards for a TD to ignite an NU victory. It was his sixth career interception.
There’s a bit of uncertainty at Iowa’s quarterback. You might’ve picked up on that.
A week after starting Jake Christensen in the 21-20 loss to Pittsburgh, rotating in Ricky Stanzi and then sticking with Christensen even after he was outplayed statistically by Stanzi, Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz is going with Stanzi. The leash will be longer. Stanzi has been told he’ll play the full 60 minutes. Ferentz didn’t say either way, leaving the door open for a relief situation, much like what played out against Iowa State.
Stanzi hasn’t faced this kind of pass rush. Iowa’s passing game needs to show dramatic improvement if the Hawkeyes want to be players in the Big Ten this year.
As long as he’s healthy, the Hawkeyes’ calling card on offense will be Shonn Greene. He’s No. 2 in the Big Ten with 506 yards and 126.5 yards a game.
Iowa defense vs. Northwestern offense
Coach Pat Fitzgerald was a little terse when he answered questions about NU tailback Tyrell Sutton and the injury he suffered to his left leg that knocked him out of the Ohio game. Sutton, a 5-9, 209-pounder, is sort of the franchise, averaging 6.1 yards on 63 carries this season (comparable to Greene’s 6.5 on 78). And he did miss all or some of seven games last season with an ankle injury. He’s third on NU’s career rushing list with 3,383 yards. In three career games against Iowa, he has 68 carries for 349 yards (5.1 yards a carry), 18 receptions for 130 yards and four touchdowns.
Sutton might be the perfect back for NU[‘]s spread offense. He leads all running backs nationally with 3.6 receptions a game and receiving yards a game (29.2). Senior quarterback C.J. Bacher conducts an offense that has averaged 412.4 yards and 25.9 points in its last 100 games. The Cats’ offense hasn’t changed a great deal under first-year coordinator Mick McCall, who had a hand in developing quarterbacks Josh Harris and Omar Jacobs during his last stop at Bowling Green.
Bacher, who’s 12-9 as a starter, had a string of 101 pass attempts without an interception snapped last week against Ohio, when he threw a career-high four picks. Bacher’s numbers aren’t all that great this year, five interceptions to three TD passes. Both Iowa quarterbacks have higher pass efficiencies, with Bacher at 107.36. Bacher has 33 career interceptions.
After losing three starters to graduation, NU’s O-line has performed well, allowing just two sacks this season.
The Cats are loaded in the receiving corps. With Eric Peterman and Ross Lane leading the way, NU returned 77 percent of its wide receiver production from 2007. Peterman and Lane have more than 100-career receptions.
In last week’s loss at Pittsburgh, Iowa allowed a pair of TDs on QB draws. The kicker is that Pitt went to a little-used QB whose specialty is running. Iowa coaches coached. Iowa defenders knew it was coming. And yet, it worked.
Iowa’s inside linebackers have been unsteady. Middle linebackers Pat Angerer and Jacody Coleman continue to split time with neither really grabbing the position. Sophomore Jeff Tarpinian returns from a hamstring injury this week. Sophomore Jeremiha Hunter has held the weakside spot. This could be interesting.
Stopping the run is going to be the thing. If Northwestern finds a balance, Iowa will get spread out and will get torched.
Senior kicker Amado Villarreal earned special teams player of the week last week with his second straight double-digit points game. In the 16-8 win over Ohio, Villarreal booted 33-, 46- and 23-yard field goals to go with a PAT for a 10-point day. He’s 8-for-8 in field goals. He’s 4 of 4 from 30-39 yards. The numbers say NU’s return teams have been average.
It looks as though true freshman Trent Mossbrucker is Iowa’s kicker. He made his field goals last week (26 and 39), and sophomore Daniel Murray missed his one attempt (35). Mossbrucker is 5 of 6 with his only miss a blocked attempt against Iowa State.
After starting the season hot, sophomore punter Ryan Donahue has tailed off. At Pitt, he had one partially blocked and shanked another 25 yards in the fourth quarter.
A week after Andy Brodell returned a punt for an 81-yard TD, Pitt punted away from him. The result was four unfielded punts that chewed up some precious field position.
Fitzgerald has taken a page out of former NU coach Gary Barnett’s book and has made Iowa a target. He said it, in so many words, during his press conference Monday. He said it after the Cats upset Iowa at Kinnick in ’06. He likes to point out that NU is 6-5 against Iowa in the last 11 games. There’s nothing wrong with this. For the Cats to go up, they have to climb over the Hawkeyes.
Ferentz faced down questions about his choice for quarterback and going away from running back Shonn Greene late in a loss at Pittsburgh. Those are good questions. The Hawkeyes made mistakes across the board and that undermined a solid physical effort that fell just short of victory in a tough road venue.