Saturday, October 15, 2011
Final: Iowa 41, Northwestern 31
By Brian Bennett
The purple reign over Iowa has come to an end.
The Hawkeyes -- who saw their own series dominance over Penn State get reversed last week -- finally got over their Northwestern hump, and with some gusto. Iowa exploited the ever shaky Wildcats defense in a 41-31 win at home.
It was a key win for the Hawkeyes, who could not afford to get off to an 0-2 start in Big Ten. While the loss at Penn State still stings, Iowa does control its destiny in the Legends Division.
For a while it looked like Northwestern was going to make things very interesting. Iowa's 17-7 halftime lead was quickly erased in the third quarter. But Kirk Ferentz's team exerted its will over the final quarter and a half. Marcus Coker ran for 113 yards and two touchdowns behind a line that controlled the action up front. When Coker wasn't pounding it out on the ground, James Vandenberg was going over the top for big strikes. He threw for 224 yards and two scores, including one to Marvin McNutt, who tied the school record for career touchdown catches. The offense was far more balanced and efficient than last week in State College, when it managed a measly three points.
Iowa's secondary also came up with some big plays, including Tanner Miller's 98-yard pick six and a second-half forced fumble that led to a score. The Hawkeyes defense still has its issues, but it was good enough in this one.
It was the same old story Northwestern, which couldn't get enough big stops on defense and couldn't keep a consistent flow going on offense. The Wildcats have given up at least 38 points in all three conference games, and that's no way to win in this league. They have now lost four straight and are 0-3 in the Big Ten for the first time since 2006. At 2-4 overall, Pat Fitzgerald's team now has a lot of work to do just to gain bowl eligibility. A losing season in Evanston would qualify as a major disappointment given all the excitement in the preseason over Dan Persa's Heisman campaign.