When one things seems to be going well, another seems to go wrong. Grabbing any bit of momentum and seeing the glimpse of what this season was supposed to be, immediately slips out of reach.
This is where we are at right now as Northwestern faces the stark reality that a bowl game is going to be a chore this year. Sure, Northwestern had a five-game losing streak the last time it traveled to Lincoln, but that team did not have the expectations, the hype or the talent this year’s team seems to have. Getting to Texas, let alone a bowl game at all, sounds really peachy.
Once again, the defense did its job, keeping the margin manageable and giving Northwestern’s offense all the time in the world to make its comeback. The end though came down to Jake Rudock facing a blitz from Ibraheim Campbell and Chi Chi Ariguzo and lofting the ball to the corner of the end zone where C.J. Fiedorowicz was waiting for an 8-yard reception and a 17-10 overtime victory for the Hawkeyes at Kinnick Stadium on Saturday.
Northwestern’s possession was a complete mess as Kain Colter was pushed out of the pocket, took a coverage sack, threw an incomplete pass that was dropped and then was forced out of the pocket and forced to make a play that simply was not there on fourth down. Colter trusts his legs more than his arm. And that is a limitation on Northwestern’s offense.
First the Wildcats had to find their offense first.
The first half was an absolute offensive mess as the team struggled to find any rhythm and get the ball moving. The one drive in the first half the Wildcats did, Mike Trumpy fumbled the ball. That would be a recurring theme as Trumpy fumbled an option pitch from Kain Colter in the fourth quarter. Fortunately, Iowa failed to convert on a fourth down in Northwestern territory going into the wind and NU forced overtime.
The Wildcats were playing from behind at the get-go and needed some offensive fluidity. Northwestern found it in the third quarter, putting together an 8-play, 81-yard drive capped off with a Colter touchdown throw to Dan Vitale and a 16-play, 69-yard drive to tie the game on a Jeff Budzien field goal.
Northwestern outgained Iowa 329-305 including 225 yards rushing. The Wildcats found their offensive rhythm in giving the ball to rising star Stephen Buckley and his 17 carries and 99 yards. Mike Trumpy, despite those two fumbles, still managed 51 yards on 13 carries. Kain Colter had 60 yards on 15 carries. The passing game did not find its rhythm as Colter played the whole game (minus a few plays when he appeared to injure his knee.
The defense gave the offense all the time in the world to make its way back into the game. It was an impressive performance from the Wildcats defense.
The Hawkeyes went 14 plays and 74 yards on the opening drive for a touchdown, picking up most of those on the ground by pushing the Wildcats off the line. NU made adjustments and started shutting down the run. They had 136 total rushing yards, that would be only 62 yards the rest of the game.
The Wildcats defense did its job. Again. The offense? Did not.
Northwestern did some things very well. The Wildcats started getting things going in the right direction. It looked the best it has since the Ohio State game. It took too long for it to come.
The Hawkeyes stepped up in overtime. Northwestern’s offense curled into its shell. This is not a team that can play under those pressure situations. Especially with the way the offensive line is banged up — and Dan Vitale did not help with a pair of critical holding penalties that killed drives.
The offense is the problem. That is a new place for Northwestern to be. It seemed to be going in the right direction at the end of this week’s game, but there is still a lot to work on. A lot.
It is desperation time now as the Wildcats face being 0-4 halfway through the Big Ten season. And the even starker reality of being 4-4 and possibly missing a bowl game.