Kirk Ferentz has done a tremendous job with Iowa this season as the Hawkeyes returned only twelve starters and several factors were pointing towards a down year. However, Ferentz is known for over-achieving when the expectations or low, and the veteran coach has certainly done that as the Hawkeyes are 6-0 SU and 4-2 ATS in 2015.
With only five returning starters on the offensive side of the ball, Iowa’s attack was expected to struggle this season. The Hawkeyes are averaging 31.7 points per game and 409 total yards at 5.9 yards per play against teams that would combine to allow just 5.6 yards per play.
Overall, Iowa’s offense has been 0.4 yards per rush attempt, 0.5 yards per pass attempt and 0.3 yards per play better than average, which is a credit to the outstanding job fourth-year offensive coordinator Greg Davis has accomplished with this inexperienced unit. The question is whether Davis’ unit can successful move the ball against a stout Northwestern defense that has pitched two shutouts in its first six games.
Northwestern is allowing just 12.2 points and 269 total yards at 4.2 yards per play to teams that would combine to average 5.2 yards per play. Overall, the Wildcats are 0.4 yards per rush play, 1.9 yards per pass play and 1.0 yards per play better than average defensively, which gives them a substantial advantage over Iowa’s attack. The Wildcats are also 4-0 SU and 3-1 ATS at home this season where they are limiting opponents to a mere 6.2 points per game and 227 total yards at 3.7 yards per play and 36.4 yards per point.
Northwestern boasts a stout front seven that welcomed back four returning starters on the defensive line, together with a veteran secondary that returned seven of its top 8 performers from last year. The Wildcats’ stop unit (8 returning starters overall) possesses a 0.7 yards per play advantage over Iowa’s offense so it’s difficult to envision a scenario wherein the Hawkeyes consistently move the chains in Evanston Saturday afternoon.
Northwestern’s issue has been a stagnant offense that is averaging 21.2 points per game at 4.6 yards per play against teams that would combine to allow 4.8 yards per play to a mediocre offensive squad. Being 0.2 yards per play worse than average offensively is not good enough to have success against a very good Iowa defense that has been 0.5 yards per play better than average (4.6 yards per play to teams that would combine to average 5.1 yards per play).
There is a significant disparity in the team’s respective strengths of schedule as Iowa has played a significantly weaker schedule to date. Specifically, Iowa has played Illinois State, Iowa State and North Texas, whereas the Wildcats have faced off against Stanford (upset win), Duke (upset win), Minnesota and Michigan.
Finally, if there is a coach in college football,who can motivate his team following a devastating loss it is Pat Fitzgerald. Indeed, the Wildcats are 6-1 ATS in their last seven games off a loss by more than twenty points and 8-2 ATS in their last ten games after accumulating less than 275 yards in their previous contest.