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Pesky Northwestern next for traction-gaining Hawkeyes

[ 0 ] October 20, 2013 |

Uh oh, look who’s coming to town.

Just when the Iowa football team seems to be gaining a little traction, Northwestern is poised to pull another rug out from under the Hawkeyes.

We’ve seen it so many times — the Wildcats have won six of the past eight meetings — that Saturday’s 11 a.m. game at Kinnick Stadium is bound to make some folks squeamish.

Of course, there are reasons for optimism.

Injuries have hit Northwestern (4-3, 0-3 in the Big Ten Conference) and Iowa (4-3, 1-2) is coming off a solid, albeit losing, effort at Ohio State.

‘The real key is what we do moving forward,” Hawkeye coach Kirk Ferentz said after the 34-24 defeat. “How we approach this week of practice.  We’ve got to be there every day.”

The defense definitely has work to do.

Allowing the Buckeyes’ Braxton Miller to complete 22 of 27 passes for 222 yards is forgivable.

He’s the Big Ten’s premier quarterback.

But the Hawkeyes made Michigan State’s Connor Cook look like an all-conference candidate, until Saturday, when he went 13 of 25 and repeatedly misfired against Purdue.

It’s a problem that contributed to Iowa squandering halftime leads in all three losses this season.

“We’ve just got to learn how to finish,” safety Tanner Miller said. “We’ve just got to take the things we know we can do well in the first half, and carry them over into the third and fourth quarter.

“That’s the thing we need to get better at, being able to match the tempo teams are going to be coming out with and work on finishing games.”

Offensively, the Hawkeyes are finding a groove.

Sophomore quarterback Jake Rudock is progressing before our eyes, showing his command of coordinator Greg Davis’ system.

His finest moment Saturday may have come in the second quarter, when he audibled, took the snap just before the play clock expired and made a touch pass to Kevonte Martin-Manley for a 6-yard touchdown.

“That’s kind of how (Davis) runs things,” Rudock said. “He gives us a lot of freedom. He understands, ‘Hey, he’s not out there playing.’

“We see things differently than he might upstairs.”

Reigning in Rudock would be a mistake.

In the past, Iowa was cast as an uptight favorite. Northwestern, the free-wheeling foil.

The Wildcats took chances, recovered onside kicks and pulled off improbably victories.

They began this season as a sleeper pick to win Legends Division, but have dropped out of contention with losses to Ohio State, Wisconsin and Minnesota.

“I see a team that’s not executing very well right now,” Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald told reporters. “There are some inopportune drops, there are some decisions and choices with the ball. All we have to do is make smart decisions and choices with the football and we win a football game.”

The Wildcats have also been hampered by the aching ankles of quarterback Kain Colter and running back Venric Mark.

Fitzgerald told the Chicago Sun-Times that Coltar and Mark could return this weekend.

“Yeah, I’m optimistic,” he said. “Both of those guys are day-to-day, so we’ll see.’’

If the Wildcats are at full strength, they’ll be tough. But if the Hawkeyes maintain the momentum they gained in Columbus, Ohio, it shouldn’t matter.

“I think we realize it’s a matter of what we have to do to be in a better situation,” Ferentz said, “the next time we get this chance.”

Andrew Logue cover Hawkeye football and sports media for the Register. Follow him on Twitter @AndrewMLogue.

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Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football

About Andrew Logue: Andrew has been with the Des Moines Register for 19 years, covering everything from preps to Hawkeye and Cyclone sports, as well as the Drake Relays. View author profile.

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