By Sam Kienzle
Northwestern comes to Kinnick Stadium tomorrow night for a prime time showdown in which fans are encouraged to dress to stripe. Last year, Iowa fans wore black or gold, depending on their seating location, and pulled off the striped stadium look fantastically. To think that Iowa hasn’t beaten Northwestern at home since 2002, the aesthetics of the striped bowl may make no difference. At least it will look cool.
That’s right, 0-3 since 2002 at home are the Hawkeyes against the Wildcats. If the night game atmosphere with a crazy looking crowd and a revved up offensive lineman can’t beat NU, what do we have left? Nothing! Alright, I’m sorry. I’m turning into a Woody Allen Hawkeye fan. Every time the Northwestern game comes around, we either turn into quirky, self-conscious Woody Allen types or foam-at-the-mouth Iowa fans itching for a Wildcat bloodletting. The similarity is that we both want a win but don’t get it. Northwestern puts the “n” in nemesis. Northwestern puts the “n” in neurotic. They have become our unequivocal nemesis, and it has made us mostly neurotic and bitter. I don’t want to speak for everyone, but have you noticed the ways the Hawkeyes have lost in the last few seasons? It’s always a last second this or a last second that, a last second touchdown catch or a last ditch incompletion (ahem, 2008, cough cough). Sometimes the difference has been a broken ankle or a broken ball carrier. 2006? That was just a soul-sucking truncheon beating by a winless-in-conference Northwestern team. Please, no more! Our egos are bruised purple! The Iowa Athletic Department scheduled this game at night for a reason. It’s a nod of respect to Pat Fitzgerald and an opportunity to exorcize the demons.
Dan Persa is back. He missed the first three games recovering from a torn Achilles tendon suffered at the end of the win against Iowa in 2010. In the past two games, he has completed 42 of 58 passes for 454 yards and 4 touchdowns. The Wildcats have lost their last two games, though, giving up 38 points and 42 points to Illinois and Michigan, respectively. They also had favorable leads in those games, blowing an 18 point lead against Illinois and a 10 point lead against Michigan. Illinois’ A.J. Jenkins, one of the league’s most fluid wide receivers, torched Northwestern’s secondary off routine play-action passes from Nathan Scheelhaase for 286 receiving yards and three touchdowns. In a loss to Army, Northwestern allowed 381 rushing yards. They are finding diverse and exciting ways to lose. One would not confuse Denard Robinson with Andrew Luck as a passer, but Robinson still blew the shingles off Northwestern’s secondary with 337 yards after giving away a few easy interceptions in the first half, keeping Northwestern in the game with a ten point lead. Mike Trumpy, one of Northwestern’s top rushers, is out for the year with a torn knee ligament. Against Iowa, such adversity and poor play really mean nothing. Fitzgerald always seems to have his players ready to hit and stay vigilant for loose balls and quick passes through tight windows. That being said, I’m taking Iowa in this game. The last time Iowa lost to Penn State, it beat Northwestern. In that 28-17 win, Iowa forced three C.J. Bacher interceptions and dug its way out of a first half deficit. Tomorrow, with the game under the lights and stripes, a motivated Hawkeye team, and a reeling Northwestern defense, Iowa has every tool it needs to win. Prediction: Iowa 31, Northwestern 20
Other thoughts on other games
-Oklahoma pulled down Texas’ pants last week in the annual Red River Rivalry, 55-17. I took two ponderings away from this game: One, Big Game Bob is back. Head coach and Iowa alum Bob Stoops had the nice Fiesta Bowl demolition of Connecticut in January and then the validating win over previously unbeaten Texas. Second, I could easily see this battle of loyalties play out in any Texas-Oklahoma border town, no matter the time of year. In Wichita Falls, perhaps?
-Michigan and Michigan State play tomorrow and both are ranked. I don’t know if Michigan State’s offense can keep up with Michigan. It may not have to if Michigan State’s forceful defense can stop Denard Robinson’s common jump ball passes. A team cannot go undefeated using the jump ball. Eventually, the jump ball will fail and turn into an interception.
-Indiana plays at Wisconsin. Last year, Wisconsin put 83 points on the scoreboard against the Hoosiers. Perhaps they will shoot for 100 tomorrow.