|No. 20 Iowa seeks to stifle Northwestern's sputtering offense|
It's been quite a fall for Northwestern, and not in the sense that it is having a good season.
After playing in the Big Ten title game last year, the Wildcats are 1-5 overall and 0-4 in the conference as they head into Saturday's Homecoming game against No. 20 Iowa in Evanston, Ill.
Fresh off Friday night's 52-3 loss to then-No. 4 Ohio State, Northwestern is averaging just 12.5 points per game, the third-worst mark in the nation.
The Wildcats won't play for this year's conference title -- and won't even make a bowl game unless they reverse their first-half record. But coach Pat Fitzgerald is telling his team that there's still plenty of football left.
"We got a big next half of the season coming up," he said. "It's been a challenging start to the season. Let's flush it, let's leave it here. Let's not look in the rearview mirror. Let's look forward and get our seniors into the postseason, and you have to do that by going 1-0."
Based on the first six games, that might be easier said than done.
Northwestern's unproductive offense must deal with the Hawkeyes' defense, which hasn't allowed more than 20 points in a game. Last week's 26-20 win over Purdue was the first time they have yielded more than 17.
Iowa is fifth nationally in scoring defense, giving up 11.6 points per game.
But in a league in which Wisconsin lost as a 30-point favorite last week at Illinois, there are no certainties. And the fact that Iowa (5-2, 2-2) is likely to play without leading receiver Brandon Smith (ankle) and middle linebacker Kristian Welch (unspecified injury) doesn't hurt the Wildcats.
What's more, Northwestern boasts a recent track record of success when Iowa is its opponent. It has won the teams' last three meetings, including a 14-10 verdict last year in Iowa City that was instrumental in the Wildcats' winning the Big Ten West.
"What is more important to us is winning two in a row (this season)," Hawkeyes coach Kirk Ferentz said when asked about Northwestern's streak of victories against his team. "That is the more important figure."
Smith caught nine passes for 106 yards in a career-best performance last week, but his last catch was costly. He was carried off the field after a 5-yard gain and wasn't listed on the depth chart that Iowa released on Monday.
Smith has 33 catches for 407 yards, including one of the year's best grabs, a 33-yard touchdown catch over a Penn State defender late in a 17-12 loss to the Nittany Lions on Oct. 12.
Welch also wasn't listed on the depth chart, a sign that he's probably going to sit out his second straight game. Freshmen Dillon Doyle and Jack Campbell, who have combined for 67 stops in seven games, will likely share playing time.
Iowa scored a total of 15 points in back-to-back losses to Michigan and Penn State before beating Purdue. Senior quarterback Nate Stanley has struggled at times, with his passing efficiency rating of 133.7 ranking 67th nationally. He has thrown for nine touchdowns, with five interceptions.
--Field Level Media