Iowa Football: Why Northwestern Is Always a Tough Win

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Iowa Football: Why Northwestern Is Always a Tough Win
David Purdy/Getty Images

Earlier this week, Northwestern freshman tailback Adonis Smith provided some bulletin board material for Iowa in its preparation for this Saturday's game in Evanston.

"Coach? I really haven't heard anything from him, he's just...he hates them. I know that for a fact. He hates Iowa."

For one, this is precisely why Iowa's true freshman aren't allowed to talk to the media, but that's beside the point. So, too, is Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald's stance on the the Hawkeyes.

Iowa shouldn't need any more bulletin board material than it already had. Although the players won't admit it—Ferentz makes sure they don't give out bulletin board material—the Hawkeyes will have revenge on their mind this Saturday. Revenge on a team that hurt their star quarterback. Revenge on taking away the possibility of a perfect season.

Recently Northwestern has had Iowa's number. The Wildcats have won the last two contests between the teams—both in Iowa City—four of the last five and eight of the last 13. And typically Iowa has had the better teams over the last 13 years.

Every team has that one opponent they just can't beat. For instance, Iowa is to Penn State what Northwestern is to the Hawkeyes.

Kirk Ferentz has owned the Nittany Lions, compiling an 8-2 record against JoePa and company during his career as Iowa's head coach. That includes a win in Iowa City in 2008 that ruined Penn State's national championship hopes.

But Penn State's woes against Iowa are a different story.

Save for three meetings since 1999, Iowa has had the better team. Penn State won two of those three meetings and met a very hot Iowa team in Iowa City in 2008 that was much better than its record showed.

Last year's win in State College looked like an upset at the time, but it turned out Iowa had a pretty darn good team. So although Penn State has a better history, Iowa's recent superior record is perfectly explainable.

Northwestern's recent success against Iowa, however, is an unexplainable conundrum. Well, not exactly. It's actually very explainable. But it's the explanation that pains Hawkeye fans.

Unlike the Penn State scenario, Iowa has had a better team than Northwestern, even in its losses. The Wildcats are definitely on the rise and Pat Fitzgerald has the program headed in the right direction. But especially over the past few years, Iowa has clearly had the superior team.

The problem over the past few years has been a string of bad luck and turnovers.

In 2008, the Hawkeyes went up early on Northwestern, but Shonn Greene was injured and a number of turnovers allowed the Wildcats back into the game and they eventually took the lead. Ricky Stanzi, a young quarterback at the time, couldn't convert on fourth down in the red zone and Northwestern was able to pull out the win in Kinnick.

A year later, injuries plagued the Hawkeyes once again. Again they pulled out to an early lead, this time a 10-0 margin thanks to a big Marvin McNutt touchdown pass, but Stanzi was injured on a sack in the endzone. He fumbled, NU recovered and the Wildcats narrowed the deficit to 10-7. New quarterback James Vandenberg was shell shocked and the offense couldn't score again. The defense couldn't hold either and Northwestern pulled out a 17-10 victory over then No. 4 Iowa.

It's one thing to be beaten by a team that is better than you, but it's another to be beaten by a clearly inferior foe.

The good thing for Iowa is that Northwestern's recent success really is just a fluke. No, there's no secret formula that Pat Fitzgerald uses and there really is no reason, other than injuries, that Iowa lost those games.

This Saturday, Iowa will bring a superior team to Evanston once again. On paper, the Hawkeyes should win. Northwestern's pass defense is abysmal and the offense is nothing special.

Barring injury, Iowa should handle the Wildcats and move ahead to a battle with Ohio State next weekend that will have major Big Ten championship ramifications.

There's no hex. There's no secret formula. And bulletin board material or not, Iowa has a better team this weekend. And this time, the better team will win.

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