After losing double digits leads in each of the last two weeks, Northwestern will attempt to win its first Big Ten game of 2011 at Iowa Saturday. The Wildcats lost to Michigan last week after being shutout 28-0 in the second half. Illinois came from back from a 28-10 deficit the week prior to defeat NU 38-35.
The Wildcats invade Kinnick Stadium trying for their sixth win in the last seven meetings against the Hawkeyes. Northwestern came from behind to defeat Iowa last season. NU outscored Iowa 14-0 in the fourth quarter to pull the upset at Ryan Field. Persa’s season ended on the game winning touchdown pass to Demetrius Fields. He wasn’t able to return until the loss to the Illini two weeks ago from the Achilles injury he suffered against the Hawkeyes last season.
The key for Northwestern is going to be how the defense plays in the second half. The Wildcats have blown double digits leads at least four times in the last two years, including the last two weeks. The Wildcats have been outscored by 35 points in the second half this season, including 56-28 in the fourth quarter.
The Wildcats have had good balance on the ground in 2011. Five Wildcats have rushed for at least 135 yards, led by backup quarterback Kain Colter with 294. NU Coach Pat Fitzgerald that they will try different ways to keep Colter in the lineup now that Persa is back.
Iowa struggled offensively last week at Penn State in a 13-3 loss. James Vandenberg ranks second in the Big Ten with 252 yards per game. Marcus Coker is sixth in the Big Ten in rushing at 90.8 yards per game. These two teams have had some wild games in the past. This year might not be any different. Both teams are near the bottom of the standings in most of the defensive categories.
Jeremy Ebert continues his stellar career for Northwestern. He ranks fourth in receptions per game and eight in yards receiving per game. Last season the Wildcats struggled running the football. The Wildcats average just 199.8 yards passing per game, just eighth in the Big Ten. In 2011, the passing game has lagged behind. Marvin McNutt leads the Iowa receiving corps ranking third in the Big Ten in both receptions per game and yards per game.
Persa had a career day in the loss to Michigan. His 32 completions for 331 yards both set career highs. The 32 completions tied his total in last season’s come from behind win against Iowa at Ryan Field. Persa also threw for 318 yards with two touchdowns and one interception.
Turnovers will likely play a key in the outcome. In Northwestern’s dominance in the series since 2005, NU is a plus six in their five wins over Iowa.
The Hawkeyes and Wildcats will kickoff at 6pm CDT at Kinnick Stadium on the Big Ten Network.