Iowa (4-3) at Northwestern (6-2)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Saturday, October 27, 12:00 p.m. (et)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Ryan Field (47,130) -- Evanston, Illinois. Television: ESPN 2. Home Record: Iowa 2-3, Northwestern 4-1. Away Record: Iowa 1-0, Northwestern 2-1. Neutral Record: Iowa 1-0, Northwestern 0-0. Conference Record: Iowa 2-1, Northwestern 2-2. Series Record: Iowa leads, 47-23-3.
GAME NOTES: The Northwestern Wildcats will celebrate their Homecoming on Saturday afternoon when they host the Iowa Hawkeyes in a Big Ten Conference showdown at Ryan Field in Evanston, Illinois.
Iowa started off its Big Ten schedule in impressive fashion, defeating Minnesota at home (31-13) and Michigan State on the road in double-overtime (19-16). The Hawkeyes put forth a lackluster effort last week however, falling at home to Penn State, 38-14, snapping a four-game win streak over the Nittany Lions at Kinnick Stadium.
Northwestern's season got off to a flying start as it soared to 5-0, finding itself ranked in the Top-25 at the end of September. The Wildcats have come back to Earth a bit since then however, losing two of their last three in conference play, including a heartbreaking 29-28 decision to Nebraska last week, a game in which they squandered a 12-point lead in the fourth quarter. Despite the loss, they are still 6-2 in their last eight games in Evanston.
The Hawkeyes have a stronghold on the all-time series with the Wildcats, 47-23-3. Northwestern had won three straight games in the series before Iowa's 41-31 win at home last season.
Iowa's offense has been far from exciting with averages of just 20.9 ppg and 324.4 ypg. It has scored fewer than 20 points in five of seven games and tends to stall in the red zone, scoring touchdowns on only 40 percent of visits inside the opponent's 20-yard line.
James Vanderberg has taken every snap this season but hasn't turned many heads with his performance, completing less than 56 percent of his passes for 189 yards per game with three touchdowns and five interceptions.
Keenan Davis (36 receptions, 456 yards, TD) has been consistently reliable as a receiver, recording at least four catches and 50 yards in six consecutive games. Kevonte Martin-Manley (29 receptions, 305 yards, TD) has also been effective.
Mark Weisman has been a pleasant surprise in the backfield, rushing for 640 yards and eight touchdowns, but he was limited last week against Penn State with a sore ankle, finishing with just nine yards on five carries.
Last week's 38-point breakdown not withstanding, impressive play by the defense has kept the Hawkeyes in most of their games (20.1 ppg).
Anthony Hitchens is one of the nation's top tacklers, recording 86 total stops, while Tom Donatell and Greg Castillo have two interceptions apiece, and Joe Gaglione has four of the team's nine sacks.
Northwestern ranks in the upper half of the Big Ten in scoring with just over 30 ppg, thanks in large part to a fantastic rushing attack, which ranks third in the league at 222.4 ypg.
Venric Mark has been outstanding at running back, ranking fourth in the conference in rushing yards with 910, just behind superstars Le'Veon Bell, Montee Ball and Braxton Miller. He's been especially strong lately, scoring eight of his nine touchdowns in the past five games.
The coaching staff allows backup quarterback Kain Colter (56-of-80, 437 yards, two TDs, INT) plenty of opportunities to run the ball, as he's amassed 456 yards and eight touchdowns. Trevor Siemian is the more conventional signal- caller, although he's been underwhelming in the passing game (95-of-162, 927 yards, four TDs, INT).
With such an emphasis on the running game, no receiver averages more than 34 yards per game. Demetrius Fields leads the team with 25 catches, and Tony Jones has 266 yards and a pair of scores.
The NU defense has played well for the most part (23 ppg), but the unit surrendered two touchdowns to Nebraska in the final six minutes last week to allow the Cornhuskers to come back and win the game. The Wildcats are also vulnerable when it comes to defending the pass (279.8 ppg).
Damien Proby (74 tackles) and Chi Chi Ariguzo (62 tackles, 6.5 TFL, INT, two FR) lead the defense from the linebacker position. Tyler Scott is one of the best pass-rushers in the conference with 7.5 tackles for loss and six sacks.
Despite last week's tough loss, Ryan Field has been a great home field advantage for Northwestern lately, and the Wildcats will surely be out to redeem themselves on Saturday afternoon. Iowa has put together some quality wins, but it'll need Vandenberg to step up and make some big plays against a suspect Northwestern secondary if the Hawkeyes have any hope of winning, although that doesn't appear to be likely.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Northwestern 24, Iowa 17
10/24 10:33:12 ET