Fresh off my depressing competition with Jesse to claim that Northwestern was, in fact, somehow better at football and life in general than Nebraska, I decided that I would need a new tack towards this week's Homecoming tilt with Iowa. It's no secret that Iowa fans have been directly responsible for many of the memes surrounding Northwestern. This week, though, OTE's Iowa savant Mike Jones and I sat down (well, I know I was sitting. He might stand at his computer.) to discuss and preview Iowa at Northwestern.
I'll go first:
Usually, it's the generic plug and play Northwestern quarterbacks that give the Iowa defense nightmares. This year, Northwestern is dead last in the B1G in passing yards per game...even behind Iowa! Iowa's defense, which has looked competent in every game ::cough:: aside from the one that was just played ::cough:: should be able to slow down the Northwestern's passing attack and make them run the ball, something Iowa can actually stop ::cough:: unless it's Matt McGloin running ::cough::.
You're absolutely right. Iowa's defense, on paper, should stop this Northwestern offense. Trevor Siemian has been an absolute disappointment the last couple weeks, and for some reason Kain Colter has only attempted 15 passes in B1G play, completing 12 for 70 yards. Siemian has, by comparison, attempted 110 passes, completing only 59 for 563 yards. Consider, now, that 22 of those completions and 308 of those yards came against Indiana. I have yet to meet a Northwestern fan who has much of an answer for why Kain Colter has at least not been given a real chance to lead the offense in B1G play. When Northwestern has the ball, you're exactly right: it will come down to Iowa trying to stop a Northwestern rushing attack which averages over 5 ypc. Something, it would seem, has to give.
Speaking of rushing defense though...haaaaave you met Northwestern? The 'Cats defense, while torched to the tune of 500+ yards last weekend, are ranked 29th in the nation in rushing defense (yes, that's higher than 39th-ranked Iowa SUCK IT HATE YOU). Overall, NU allows 3.61 ypc to Iowa's 3.56 ypc. This could be an ugly, ground-based game, with James Vandenberg and Trevor Siemian having a passing slapfight. (all stats courtesy of ncaa.com)
As of Tuesday morning, according to CBS Sports, the O/U for this game is 49.5. Is there any reason I should go put money on the over? I see none, unless Venric Mark rips off another punt return touchdown.
Quarterback you say? Absolute disappointment you say? A head coach making questionable decisions when it comes to his captain of the offense? Well, sounds like we have a lot in common. All Northwestern quarterback problems aside, it seems like they have a real penchant for figuring it out against Iowa. In 2008, C.J. Bacher threw for a regular season high 284 yards, in 2010 Persa threw for an absurd 318 yards and in 2011 he went for another 250. The "something has to give" line seems cliche but then again, it always seems to give against Iowa.
It's also great that Northwestern has a good rushing defense, considering Iowa's stable of running backs right now. LOL JK. The Mark Weisman strategy was as follows: we're going to run, you know you're going to run, we don't care and there's nothing you can do about it. Unless of course, Weisman is banged up and your starting left tackle is lost for the season due to a gruesome leg injury. Reportedly, Weisman should be healthy and ready to go against Northwestern but considering their stout run defense it would be advantageous if there were someone to lessen his load. Unfortunately, there isn't anyone else. If Iowa is to be successful they'll need a healthy Weisman to pound, pound, pound, deep breath, pound, pound pound and so on.
Several times throughout my blogging "career" (if that's what you want to call it) I've come across a game where there's a complete imbalance between each teams offense and defense. Northwestern isn't exceptional at passing the ball and Iowa's defense is decent. Iowa isn't exceptional at running the ball and Northwestern's run defense is very good. The best advantage Iowa has is that Northwestern's pass defense is the worst in the league and they're said to be down a couple corners. Does that mean we'll take advantage and score a lot of points? Um...have you seen James Vandenberg play this year?
With that said, no, absolutely DO NOT take the over in this game. Iowa's defense is average and their offense is hilarious. Northwestern's offense is good and their defense is below average because their pass D is so bad. There's no way this game will be efficient in any sense. I see a couple turnovers, lots of 3 and outs and OLD MAN BIG TEN FOOTBALL.
Regarding Venric Mark, man, that guy is insane. He reminds me of Tim Dwight. If Iowa can somehow manage to bottle him up do you think Northwestern can figure out another way to score, or are they kind of a one trick pony? I could be wrong, but everytime I see Northwestern scoring points it's usually him.
That's "something has to give" line sounds good. I could do that. But forgive me for not buying it this week. Trevor Siemian is not Dan Persa. He is not CJ Bacher. The one kid who I have faith in to do that? Kain Colter. An open letter:
Dear Pat Fitzgerald,
I have been a good guy this year. I've watched what I've eaten*, what I've drank*, and what I've said and done*. As a first-year college graduate, I bought season tickets and made the trek to Evanston from Minneapolis every weekend. I went to the Minnesota game, and I'll be at the Michigan State game and whatever bowl game we go to.
That said, I have but one wish: Please, please, please, let Kain Colter play quarterback. I can't stomach Trevor Siemian's yardage per completion being below 6.0 or whatever the hell it is. Kain is just better. I believed, like you, that Trevor could do it. I was wrong. Please, remember Dan Persa's ability to take off and run for his life against Iowa. Please.
*Except on Saturdays.
Where was I? Oh, yeah. I'll admit it: after the Minnesota game, I was positively dreading what Mark Weisman could do to the Northwestern run game. I'm gradually beginning to believe in the 'Cats run defense. As we all know, that means I will be disappointed. Regardless, if Northwestern stacks the box and makes Vandenberg beat us, based on the absolute meltdown that occurred on BHGP today, there's a fair chance we could actually stop a quarterback that doesn't play for a tire fire offense. But yeah, OLD MAN BIG TEN FOOTBALL is exactly right.
Regarding Venric Mark: Northwestern can, in fact, score without him on offense. They just won't score as much. Unless something drastic changes with the quarterback situation, our passing offense will get us nowhere, the Hawkeye defense will do a better job of bottling up Colter's running, and Venric Mark is the only thing left to stop. The nice thing? Venric Mark finds new and creative ways to score and jump start this team. Against Penn State? Did you SEE that punt return? Against Minnesota, see the first offensive play. Against Nebraska, see the 80-yard sprint. Guy's just ridiculous. What Pat Fitzgerald and Mick McCall need to do now is gameplan to back up Mark with some semblance of a supporting cast, preferably passing to keep the defense honest.
What I'm curious about: does Kirk Ferentz have an ace up his sleeve? Is there a trick (not named a 4th quarter lead) that Northwestern will inevitably fall prey to? I know that both our fanbases are all gloom and doom right now, but there has to be some ray of light from Iowa City that could propel this team to victory.
Ace up his sleeve? Kirk Ferentz? Nah, I don't think so. If there's one positive about Kirk Ferentz it's that his teams never go off the deep end and are always coached up following a tough loss. Games that come to mind:
2005: Iowa wins at Wisconsin 20-10, in Barry Alvarez's last home game, following their 27-28 last minute/second meltdown to Northwestern in Evanston.
2006: Iowa beats down Purdue in Kinnick 47-17 after getting demolished by Ohio State on ABC primetime.
2007: Iowa beats #19 Illinois in Kinnick after getting Morelli'd by Penn State.
2008: Iowa beats #3 Penn State in Kinnick following a 24-27 last second loss to Illinois in Champaign.
2009: Iowa nearly beats #11 Ohio State in OT despite losing Rick Stanzi to the Wizgerald.
2010: Iowa destroys #5 Michigan State 37-6 following their heartbreaking loss to Wisconsin. /clock management'd
2011: Iowa defeats #13 Michigan after a BRUTAL game in Minnesota...again. /onside kick'd
Now trends are trends and they don't always hold true, but if the trend is to be followed then the Hawkeyes should be ready to play. You want actual reasons? You want ACTUAL evidence as to WHY the team will miraculously play better? I don't have any. This Iowa offense is awful. Their quarterback is broken. Yet, somehow, some way, Kirk Ferentz finds a way when things are the worst. I can only hope that the run game gets going, Vandenberg doesn't screw up and the defense holds.
While we're on the discussion of trends: how does it feel to be the favorite? Since 2000, Northwestern has been favored against Iowa twice: 2000 and 2007. Northwestern lost both of those games. Much like Iowa State, I'm always interested to see how an "emotional coach" handles being the favorite.
Regarding something we can actually talk about, why is Northwestern's pass defense so bad and how important were these cornerbacks who won't play?
I like it, quite frankly, and not even because of our emotional coach. This team needs to flat-out learn how to play when expectations are up. A lot of Northwestern fans had considered this season a rebuilding year, so why not learn how to play when you're favored to win a historically (recently speaking) competitive game?
But yeah, this has been a pretty depressing week leading up to the game. Neither team's fanbase feels very good about their chances, and this game has all the makings of a "meh"-fest. As far as Northwestern's cornerbacks go, all signs yesterday pointed to Nick VanHoose and Quinn Evans being "doubtful" for Iowa, which more or less means they won't go. It's an awful sign for this secondary. Simply put, the backups, namely Daniel Jones and Demetrius Dugar, just do not defend a man well and are undersized and undermanned when it comes to making the play. It means this is James Vandenberg's chance to not be JC6, really. Northwestern lacks the athleticism in the secondary to consistently defend the pass, and if the first line of defensive backs are cracked or out, the second line just is a step slow to the ball.
Unless you'd like to beat our limping horses to death, I'll summarize: these are two football teams with a history, glaring weaknesses, and obvious strengths that match them up incredibly well. That said, who ya got?
With a line at Northwestern -6 and 49 O/U, I'm firmly set on the under, but barely... Northwestern 27, Iowa 21. And now I will crawl into my bunker and wait for it to be Sunday.
JC6? At this point I think plenty of Iowa fans would take JC6 over JV16. And seriously, what's with Northwestern players having hilarious names? Nick VanHoose? Demetrius Dugar? Where on the depth chart is Wellington Windsworth III or James L. Longfellowbottomtooth?
As far as the predictions go, I think yours has far too much scoring. I see lots of bend don't break, a few DERP turnovers and a score coming on a fluke play. I'll go Northwestern 17, Iowa 13. I've got Iowa covering. The best part about this game is that I don't have very high expectations so if we lose, my world won't coming tumbling down around me. Then again, losing here and losing next week would put Iowa at 4-5. Yeah...I don't want that.
Don't forget, losing means you have to deal with Northwestern fans lording it over you for the next year. And do you really want to deal with that?
Well of course I don't WANT to deal with that but it's nothing I can't handle. I suppose there's always solace in knowing that Iowa actually has a chance at winning their bowl game, regardless of the opponent. Northwestern: winning the battle but always losing the war.
Well, there you have it: both our Iowa writer and one of our NU writers are picking lots of lolz--and the ‘Cats to win! Naturally, this means JV16 will go 30/35 for 375 and a few scores, Trevor Siemian will do his best Geno Smith impression, and this game will be a 48-45 defensive struggle.