Northwestern (2-3, 1-1 B1G) played its best game of the young season and shocked 13.5-point favorites Iowa (3-2, 1-1 B1G) 38-31 in Iowa City.
The early first quarter was a battle of field position. The ‘Cats and Hawkeyes traded quick touchdowns set up by lengthy punt returns from Flynn Nagel and Desmond King, respectively.
After a three-and-out on its second drive, Northwestern’s offense put together two lengthy drives, which resulted in a Jack Mitchell field goal and an 11-yard touchdown from Clayton Thorson to Austin Carr.
Iowa responded with a 7-play, 55-yard touchdown after another agile punt return from King to bring the score to 17-14. Iowa safety Brandon Snyder stripped Justin Jackson on the Northwestern 35 yard line on the ensuing Wildcat drive, and the Hawkeyes again used good field position to tack on another touchdown.
Just like that, Northwestern’s 10-point lead had turned into a 21-17 deficit entering halftime.
The game was paused early in the second half when Northwestern redshirt junior LB Brett Walsh went down with an injury on a kick return. Walsh was down on the field for over five minutes. Walsh was fully conscious and moving his extremities, per NU Football’s Twitter, and gave a handshake to coach Pat Fitzgerald a thumbs up to the crowd as he was carted off the field.
Northwestern was able to respond well to the frightening moment. The offense scored touchdowns on its next three drives, including a 58-yard score on the ground from Justin Jackson. The defense held, forcing Iowa to punt on its two drives following the stoppage of play. The Wildcats led 38-24 at the 12-minute mark of the fourth quarter.
Iowa was able to tack on another touchdown, but the Wildcat defense held strong the rest of the game. After Iowa had used its final timeout, defensive back Trae Williams made the interception to seal the game for Northwestern with just over a minute to go.
The Wildcat offense had by far its best showing of the season. The offensive line did well to protect Thorson, who looked the most confident he has perhaps in his entire career. He finished the game 18-for-30 with 164 yards, three touchdowns and one rushing touchdown. Senior receiver Austin Carr was on the receiving end off all three TDs and finished with 73 receiving yards on the day.
Justin Jackson was a true workhorse for the ‘Cats, carrying the ball 26 times for 171 yards and the aforementioned 58-yard score.
The 31 points allowed did not quite tell the whole story for the Wildcat defense. Iowa only had two drives of 50+ yards; most of its points were a product of great field position resulting from poor kick and punt coverage. Coach Fitzgerald and the Wildcat special teams will have a lot to look at from this game heading into the bye week.
The ‘Cats' next test will come after a bye week on October 15 against the Michigan State Spartans in East Lansing at 2:30 p.m. CST.