GAME NOTES: The 13th-ranked Iowa Hawkeyes will try to remain in the hunt for the Big Ten title this weekend, as they take on the Northwestern Wildcats at Ryan Field.
The Big Ten race is closely contested, to say the least, as four teams have just one loss in conference action. Iowa is one of those clubs and the Hawkeyes kept their title hopes going after surviving Indiana, 18-13, last weekend.
"We made more than our share of mistakes," said Kirk Ferentz, who picked up his 100th career coaching victory. "We're fortunate to get out of here with a win."
It was the second consecutive victory for the Hawkeyes, who are now 4-1 within the conference and have Ohio State next on tap.
Northwestern meanwhile, continued to tumble following last weekend's 35-21 loss to Penn State, which delivered Joe Paterno his 400th career victory.
"We have a darn good football team and I'm proud of them," stated head coach Pat Fitzgerald. "We just have to find a way to execute and play better in the second half."
The Wildcats have now fallen in three of their past four games and sit at just 2-3 within the league.
As for the all-time series, Iowa holds a 46-22-3 advantage over Northwestern in a series that began in 1897. The clubs have split the last 10 encounters, but the Wildcats have taken the last two meetings and four of the last five.
The Hawkeyes settled for four field goals before Ricky Stanzi threw a game- winning 52-yard TD pass to Marvin McNutt with 52 seconds left of an 18-13 decisions over Indiana last weekend.
"It was great to see us finally get a touchdown," Ferentz said. "That was a huge play and a huge drive. We needed that badly because everything came hard today."
Stanzi finished the game 22-of-33 for 290 yards, while McNutt had six receptions for 126 yards. It was another strong game for Stanzi, who has completed 68.3 percent of his attempts with 20 TDs against only three INTs. McNutt has been one of his favorite targets with a team-best 588 receiving yards, while Derrell Johnson-Koulianos tops the roster with 36 catches and eight TDs.
In the backfield, Marcus Coker replaced the injured Adam Robinson last weekend and the true freshman rushed for 129 yards on carries. With leading rusher Robinson (806 yds, 10 TDs) listed as questionable with a concussion, Coker could end up the starter once again.
The Iowa defense was stingy once again last weekend, but the unit also benefited from a dropped TD pass by Indiana in the final moments. Still, the defense was tough and limited Indiana to just 313 total yards.
The Hawkeyes have one of the toughest defensive units in the Big Ten, holding opponents to just 14.3 ppg and 294.6 total ypg on the season. The run defense has been especially good for Iowa, which is keeping opponents to 85.2 ypg on the ground. The pass defense has been a bit more vulnerable, but has compensated with 14 INTs.
Brett Greenwood tops the defense with four INTs, including one last weekend, while Mike Daniels is the team's best pass rusher with four sacks and 11 TFLs to his credit.
The Wildcats jumped out to a 21-0 first-half lead before going cold and watching Penn State score the final 35 points of last weekend's loss. It was certainly a disappointing finish for Northwestern, which failed two score on two of its five trips to the red-zone.
"We lost momentum at the end of the first half when we had a couple plays go against us that we didn't execute very well and they did. And then we lost momentum," said coach Fitzgerald.
QB Dan Persa, though, was once again terrific in the win, completing 16-of-25 pass attempts for 201 yards and a TD. He also rushed for 109 yards and two TDs on 25 carries. It was another superb all-around effort from Persa, who leads the team in rushing with 469 yards and eight TDs. He is just as effective with his arm, completing an efficient 73.4 percent of his tosses with 13 TDs and only three INTs.
Jeremy Ebert is clearly's Persa's favorite target, leading the team with 48 receptions for 789 yards and seven TDs. He played a factor last weekend as well, finishing with six receptions for 111 yards.
Defensively, Northwestern simply could not slow down Penn State last weekend, allowing 528 total yards, including 260 on the ground. The unit surrendered four of its five TDs through the air and permitted Penn State to convert 9- of-16 third downs.
It was clearly a big letdown for a defense that has fared better on the year. Opponents are converting just 35 percent of the time on third downs against Northwestern on the season, and the Wildcats are keeping foes to 388.8 total ypg.
Brian Peters is the leading tackler for the Wildcats with 63 stops, and Vince Brown is the top pass rusher behind six sacks and 11.5 TFLs. The duo combined for 21 tackles and 2.5 TFLs in last weekend's setback.
The Hawkeyes snuck away with a victory last weekend, but that kind of effort won't get the job done against a tougher Northwestern club. As a matter of fact, behind the arm and legs of Persa, look for the Wildcats to spring the upset this weekend.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Northwestern 24, Iowa 20