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Game Preview: Can Northwestern Right The Ship Defensively Against No. 19 Iowa's Offense?

The Hawkeyes rank only 10th in the Big Ten in passing yards and 13th in rushing yards. Can they have a breakout game against the Wildcat defense?

Another week, another opportunity for Northwestern to try to right the ship defensively. The Wildcats are coming off back-to-back disappointing defensive performances against Michigan and Minnesota. This past weekend Minnesota’s freshmen running back duo of Mar’Keise Irving and Ky Thomas led the Gophers to a 41-14 win while combining for over 200 rushing yards. This weekend, Northwestern matches up with the No.19 Iowa Hawkeyes.

The good news for the Wildcats is although Iowa is ranked, their offense is not the main reason why. On average, the Hawkeyes only throw 186 passing yards per game, which is ranked 10th in the Big Ten.

Going back to last week, the Wildcats did a good job containing the pass, only allowing Tanner Morgan to throw for only 124 yards, 70 fewer yards than what their defense allows per game. This week, the man in the pocket for Iowa will be junior quarterback Spencer Petras. Petras is entering Saturday’s game with Northwestern after throwing for only 93 yards and being sacked five times in a loss against Wisconsin. Before that dud, Petras had thrown for over 190 yards in every game for five straight weeks. The Wildcats will have to keep the pressure on and make him uncomfortable to keep him from having a big game.

The Hawkeyes' top receivers this year have been junior tight end Sam LaPorta, junior wide receiver Nico Ragaini and freshman receiver Keagan Johnson. All three have totaled more than 200 receiving yards this season, with LaPorta well over 300.

Iowa’s rushing offense is also largely unspectacular. The Hawkeyes rush for an average of 105 yards per game, which ranks 13th in the Big Ten. With that being said, the weakest part of Northwestern’s defense all year has been the run defense. They rank last in the Big Ten in rushing yards allowed per game, allowing 229.5, which also puts them 125th in the country out of 130 teams.

Junior running back Tyler Goodson is the clear number one running back option for the Hawkeyes. He’s ran for a total of 613 yards and the person with the next most rushing yards is more than 400 yards behind him. The Wildcats will have to be locked in on Goodson to ensure he doesn’t have a career performance.

Whether Northwestern can keep Iowa at or below their rushing yard average will likely be one of the pivotal questions of the game, along with whether the Wildcats' offense can score against Iowa's top-five defense. If Northwestern can keep Iowa’s backs in check, something they've struggled to do all season, and have a productive offensive showing they might be able to keep this one competitive.

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