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Saturday, November 7, 2009
It's game day at Kinnick Stadium

By ESPN.com staff
ESPN.com

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- I'm back at Kinnick Stadium today to see if No. 4 Iowa can continue its perfect season and remain in the national title discussion as it takes on Northwestern.

To be perfectly honest, if you told me before the season that I'd be anywhere but State College today, I wouldn't have believed you. But Iowa has become the Big Ten's top team and one of the top national storylines, and given the Hawkeyes' knack for drama, I couldn't be anywhere else. Northwestern has won three of the last four in this series, including the last two right here at Kinnick.

The weather is gorgeous and unseasonably warm, with partly cloudy skies and temperatures in the mid-60s for most of the game. It might even reach 70. The winds are calm and shouldn't be a major factor like last week, much to the delight of Iowa quarterback Ricky Stanzi.

Injuries: Northwestern's official injury report can be found here. Quarterback Mike Kafka (hamstring) isn't on it, which bodes well for the Wildcats. Kafka is expected to play, but his mobility likely will be limited. Northwestern also will use backup Dan Persa at quarterback. Cornerback Sherrick McManis (leg) also is expected back, though safety Brendan Smith (thumb) is out. Iowa starting safety Brett Greenwood (neck) is questionable, and reserve wide receiver Colin Sandeman (head) likely won't play.

THREE KEYS FOR NORTHWESTERN

1. Protect the pocket: Kafka won't be moving as well as he normally does, and Iowa's defensive linemen are extremely good at getting into the backfield. Northwestern's offensive line, which has underachieved this season, must have its best game to protect both Kafka and Persa.

2. Make Iowa earn its points: Indiana failed to do so last week and squandered two double-digit leads. Northwestern must make Iowa march downfield and limit big pass plays from Stanzi to wideouts Marvin McNutt and Derrell Johnson-Koulianos and tight end Tony Moeaki. The Wildcats did an excellent job on defense last year in beating Iowa.

3. Take care of the football: Iowa's secondary feasts on turnovers, but Kafka has thrown only seven interceptions this season, three of which came in one game. Kafka and Persa need to be precise with their short throws and very careful when they attack downfield, as Iowa safety Tyler Sash will be waiting.

THREE KEYS FOR IOWA

1. Avoid a slow start: I know slow starts are Iowa's M.O. this season, but Northwestern doesn't exactly sprint out of the gate, either. The Wildcats have been outscored 55-47 in the first quarter. Iowa will have a chance to take control early and perhaps avoid a comeback for once. Then again, the Hawkeyes own the fourth quarter.

2. Attack the secondary: The Hawkeyes might be known for defense and special teams, but they boast some big-play threats in the passing game as well. Northwestern's secondary has been banged up all season, and Stanzi will have opportunities to attack with intermediate and deep passes. Moeaki said this week that opposing defenses have been bracketing him, but that opens up chances for McNutt and Johnson-Koulianos.

3. Don't get comfortable: Northwestern does have one big similarity with Iowa this season: The Wildcats seem to be at their best with their backs against the wall. They have mounted several huge comebacks, so if Iowa does get a sizable lead, the Hawkeyes must keep the pedal down.