EVANSTON, Ill. – The memories haven’t faded inside the Iowa locker room.
The Hawkeyes can still see Northwestern wrecking their perfect season, breaking their quarterback and celebrating yet another victory in Kinnick Stadium.
They can see it in their minds. They can see it on the walls the Iowa football complex.
“The whole program brings (the Wildcats) up,” Iowa cornerback Shaun Prater said. “(The coaches) hang up pictures and posters of them, quotes that their players say about us.”
So what are the Wildcats – winners of four of the last five games in the series – saying going into to-day’s game against the No. 13 Hawkeyes?
“Basically, they say this is a statement game for them, for their whole season when they beat us,” Prater said. “As a team, we should think like that. This is a statement game for us because they beat us the past two years, they always play us tough and we have to win this game.”
Yes, the Hawkeyes (7-2, 4-1 Big Ten) have to beat Northwestern (6-3, 2-3) at Ryan Field to preserve their Big Ten title hopes. Kickoff is scheduled for 11 a.m.
Iowa has been in must win mode since it lost three weeks ago against Wisconsin. The Hawkeyes share the league lead with Michigan State, Wisconsin and Ohio State entering the final three weekends of the Big Ten season.
The Hawkeyes have been in this position before – in November with the conference crown within reach – only to have Northwestern wreck their Big Ten title hopes.
The Wildcats knocked Iowa out of the race in 2005, rallying from 17 down at halftime and scoring two touchdowns in the final three minutes to win 28-27.
The 2006 meeting was the “fat cats” game. The Hawkeyes were heavy favorites at home against a Northwestern team that was winless in the Big Ten. The Wildcats won 21-7 and Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz called his team a bunch of “fat cats” after the defeat.
“We showed up like fat cats in that game and they showed up like hungry cats – pardon the pun – and just nailed us,” Ferentz said. “We deserved it.”
The Hawkeyes spotted Northwestern a two-touchdown lead in the first quarter in 2007, but came back for to win 28-17 on the road.
The last two meetings have followed a similar script – the road team has rallied from an early deficit to win.
The Hawkeyes led by two touchdowns late in the first half in 2008, but five turnovers contributed to their 22-17 demise in the conference opener.
Then there was last year’s 17-10 defeat against the Wildcats. Iowa was 9-0, fourth in the BCS stand-ings, in sole possession of the conference lead. The Hawkeyes scored on their first two possessions and led 10-0 when they lost quarterback Ricky Stanzi for the rest of the regular season on an ill-fated bootleg early in the second quarter.
The key to Northwestern’s recent success in the series?
“An oblong football that bounces a lot of different ways,” Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said at the Big Ten Kickoff Luncheon. “We’ve been very fortunate. I can’t put my finger on why we’ve had a little bit of a good run.”
Turnovers have factored heavily into the last two Wildcat wins. Iowa lost four fumbles in 2008. The Hawkeyes turned it over four more times last season. In all, Iowa has turned it over nine times in the last two games while Northwestern has committed just two turnovers.
“Not to discredit Northwestern, but in this series, it starts with us,” Ferentz said. “The last two years we didn’t protect the football very well, so we need to really focus on making sure we play good, clean (football). We have to give ourselves a chance to win against a good team.”
The Hawkeyes have secured the football this season. They’re third nationally in turnover margin. They’ve yet to lose a fumble in Big Ten play and Stanzi has only thrown three picks in 230 attempts.
His counterpart, Northwestern junior Dan Persa, has completed 73.4 percent of his passes and leads the Wildcats with 469 yards rushing and eight touchdowns. Persa led Northwestern in rushing last year against Iowa and threw the go-ahead touchdown pass in relief of starter Mike Kafka.
The Hawkeyes haven’t forgotten. The memories haven’t faded.
“Northwestern is certainly a team that motivates us,” Iowa offensive lineman Julian Vandervelde said. “It’s a respect thing. I think we feel they really don’t respect us and the way we play football. Everyone has a different style and our styles are very different, and for the most part, I think they think our style isn’t right, I guess. I can’t really think of a more appropriate word for it.”
Vandervelde said it comes down to “wanting to gain that respect.”
“They want to beat us to gain respect in the conference and nationally,” he said. “We want to beat them to gain respect from them.”
Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football