All season long the Iowa Hawkeyes (4-3,1-2 Big Ten) have heard the critics speak on the improvements they’ve made on the field. The only problem is they haven’t been able to translate that onto the win column.
On Saturday, the Hawkeyes will face off against Big Ten rival Northwestern (4-3, 0-3).
The Hawkeyes and the Wildcats are both reeling from a rough start to their conference schedules. Iowa has lost two in a row, while Northwestern has lost its first three games. This match is an opportunity for both teams to turnaround their respective seasons.
Iowa lost its season-opener against Northern Illinois and Jordan Lynch but went on to win its next four games. With health and an improved offense it seemed that the Hawkeyes were poised for conference play. With its recent 10-point loss to Ohio State, Iowa showed that they still have work to do to become an elite team in the Big Ten.
Quarterback Jake Rudock is the focal point to Iowa’s hopes this season and in the future. Rudock hadn’t stepped onto the field until this year and has played admirably in second-year offensive coordinator Greg Davis’s system. He has 16 touchdowns on the season – 11 through the air and 5 rushing – but has thrown 7 interceptions.
So far Rudock has been more a game-manager, than a game-changer. He is only a sophomore however, and has shown flashes of becoming a very talented Big Ten quarterback. He’ll need a big game against Northwestern to keep his believers satisfied.
While Rudock is the key on offense, there are still questions about the Hawkeyes defense.
The issue that has plagued Iowa’s front-seven all season is its inability to pressure the quarterback. The Hawkeyes have managed an abysmal 8 sacks through seven games.
Iowa’s offensive line is one of the best in the country – the Hawkeyes have only allowed Rudock to get sacked five times, which is the seventh-best total in the country. Head coach Kirk Ferentz is an offensive line guru but has lacked the knowledge on the other side of the ball since star defensive end Adrian Clayborn help lead Iowa to an Orange Bowl win in 2010.
Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald has revitalized the football program in Evanston, Il since taking over in 2006 - last year the Wildcats finished 10-3 and beat Mississippi State in the Taxslayer.com Gator Bowl – but is still seeking the team’s first Big Ten win of the season.
Iowa and Northwestern have both experienced Big Ten success in the past few years. This year that hasn’t been the case and for each team to finish the conference season on a high note they’ll need to start by adding a win on Saturday.