Iowa hosts Northwestern in pivotal league matchup

IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) Iowa could use a morale-boosting win on Saturday ahead of their toughest stretch of the season.

Perhaps it's not the best time for the Hawkeyes to host Northwestern, which typically gives Iowa all it can handle in Kinnick Stadium. The Wildcats (3-4, 2-2) have split their last six games in Iowa City and have beaten the Hawkeyes in six of their last nine overall meetings.

Last season, Iowa (5-2, 2-1) needed overtime to beat the Wildcats 17-10.

''They've done a wonderful job there. They're an outstanding program. I don't think they get the respect they deserve by a lot of people,'' Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said.

Northwestern and Iowa are both coming off their second and final byes ahead of a five-week push in the Big Ten West.

Both are also coming off a loss - and another one could prove fatal for their division title hopes.

The Wildcats have dropped two in a row. They hung close before losing at Minnesota, 24-17, and then got rolled in the second half of a 38-17 home loss to West-leading Nebraska.

''We had to get some things cleaned up from a schematic standpoint as coaches,'' Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said. ''Some guys that are playing too inconsistent, we've got to work really hard with them one-on-one to figure out where their issues are.''

Iowa blew a 14-0 lead at Maryland on Oct. 18. The Hawkeyes allowed the Terrapins to outscore them 38-7 during one stretch that featured uncharacteristically poor play on both sides of the ball.

''If we don't tackle well and don't protect the football, it's going to be tough to win. It's tough to win in this conference doing that. That is the bottom line,'' Ferentz said.

Here are some of the things to watch out for as Northwestern visits Iowa for the third time in four years:

RUNNING ON EMPTY: Iowa used to be among the nation's best rush defenses. But after letting up more than 500 yards rushing in their last two games, the Hawkeyes are searching for answers. ''A lot of little technique things and angles, those types of things. But just in general terms. Even if you let a run outside the tackles; six, seven, eight-yard gains aren't going to kill you. But if they go beyond that, those things really take their toll,'' Ferentz said.

ACTION JACKSON: Iowa's recent inability to stop opposing running backs could be a good sign for Northwestern freshman Justin Jackson. He's cracked the 100-yard plateau in three straight games, and his 90 yards per game average is fourth-best among power conference freshmen. ''He's going to play a great defense this week,'' Fitzgerald said. ''They do what they do and they do it well, and they do it physically. They play well together. So it'll be a huge challenge for him.''

ROTATED: Iowa could return to its two-quarterback rotation on Saturday. Starter Jake Rudock took all the snaps in the loss to Maryland as backup C.J. Beathard recovered from a hip pointer. ''It was hurting. But I like to play,'' Beathard said. Rudock was 32 of 56 passing for 317 yards and two touchdowns against the Terrapins.

CLAW-LESS: Northwestern's Trevor Siemian is fourth in the Big Ten with 220.5 passing yards in league games, but he's only thrown two TD passes in four Big Ten starts. Iowa is fourth in the league is passing defense at 201.1 yards per game.

FITZ AND FERENTZ: It might be hard to believe given that he's just 39, but Fitzgerald is the Big Ten's second-longest tenured coach. Fitzgerald has been at Northwestern for nine seasons, with a record of 58-50. Ferentz, of course, ranks first with 16 years at Iowa City. He's 66-57 in league games with the Hawkeyes. Both coaches are signed through 2020.

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Follow Luke Meredith on Twitter: www.twitter.com/LukeMeredithAP

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