|The Big Ten season begins on Saturday as Northwestern comes to Iowa City hoping to improve on their best start in 46 years. For the first time since 1962, the Wildcats are 4-0 and hoping to stay perfect with a win against Iowa. The Hawkeyes will try to rebound from a very disappointing and head scratching 21-20 loss last weekend at Pittsburgh. Here’s our list of five things to watch for during Iowa’s Big Ten opener.|
Through four games, Shonn Greene has been Iowa’s best and most consistent player on offense. Greene has rushed for over 100 yards and scored a touchdown in each of the Hawkeye’s first four games. The only questions left to answer are: 1.) How much can he be relied on to carry this year’s offense, and 2.) Can he continue racking up the yards against Big Ten defenses? Hopefully as the schedule continues, Greene’s carries will continue to grow. He carried the ball 23 times (season high) in Iowa’s loss at Pitt and only three times in the entire 4th quarter. Whether it was tired legs or strange play calling, Greene needs to be a bigger part of the Hawkeye’s offense early, late, and often. As for Big Ten defenses, Iowa will be going up against a much-improved Northwestern defense on Saturday. The Wildcats’ rush defense is ranked 28th in the nation through four games after holding Ohio to only four total yards rushing last Saturday.
Stanzi is back off the bench and starting again at quarterback on Saturday. After Jake Christensen failed to impress in the 2nd half against Pittsburgh, Coach Ferentz seems poised to end Iowa’s quarterback rotation and make Stanzi the permanent starter…for now. Ricky was impressive in the Hawkeye’s first two wins at home over Maine and Florida International before taking a step back in his start against Iowa State. While he is certainly the best option Iowa has at quarterback this season, Stanzi is still a young QB with a lot to prove. Ricky has yet to throw for a touchdown against any team not named Florida International (he threw for 3 TD’s in Iowa’s win over FIU). One thing is for sure, as defenses start to focus more and more on stopping Shonn Greene, Stanzi’s arm and decision making will be a major key towards Iowa’s success, not only this Saturday but throughout the rest of this season.
Tyrell Sutton’s Hamstring
The key to Northwestern’s offense is without a doubt senior tailback Tyrell Sutton. Sutton is averaging 6.1 yards per carry this season with 5 TDs. He has also caught 12 passes for 84 yards and a touchdown out of the backfield. His importance to the Wildcat offense was scene first hand in their victory over Ohio. Sutton left the game in the 2nd quarter due to a hamstring injury, the NU offense struggled mightily without him. The Wildcats did not score a point after halftime against the Bobcats, in their 16-8 win. Sutton has said this week that he is “100%” and ready to go against Iowa, and Northwester coach Pat Fitzgerald says he will start on Saturday. How effective he will be and how serious the hamstring injury really is remains to be seen. Sutton has definitely tormented the Hawkeyes in past meetings, and an Iowa defense that has not allowed a touchdown at home will have their hands full if Tyrell is at full strength on Saturday.
All the La-Z-Boy offensive coordinators returned in full force after Iowa’s disappointing loss last Saturday and rightfully so. Offensive play calling has been a hot topic in Iowa City for quite a few years and this season will certainly be no different. There were quite a few heads being scratched during the second half against Pittsburgh and many questions being asked after the loss. Among the questionable decisions were rolling left-handed Jake Christensen out of the pocket to his right on a fist down play after an interception by Amari Spievey. Also, we were not alone in voicing displeasure with the fact Shonn Greene was not handed the ball once in the final five minutes of the fourth quarter. Even Kirk Ferentz was second-guessing those decisions when brought to his attention during this week’s press conference. Bottom line is play calling in the second half against Pittsburgh left a lot to be desired and needs to improve. If it doesn’t we may be sitting through another long season in Iowa City.
Who's the kicker?
Much like at quarterback, the Hawkeyes have also been rotating kickers through the non-conference schedule. Ferentz has said that freshman Trent Mossbrucker will handle most of the field goal duties on Saturday against Northwestern. Mossbrucker has connected on 5 of 6 kicks this season with a long of 39 yards. He has been splitting time with Daniel Murray who has made just 1 of 3 field goals, that one being a 44-yarder. Murray has been booting the longer kicks and Mossbrucker has handled almost every field goal under 40 yards. Iowa saw first hand how important three points can be in their one-point loss at Pitt. Mossbrucker has been more consistent through four games and appears to have won the kicker job, although we may still see Murray trying kicks longer than 45 yards. With the make up of this year’s team (strong defense, inconsistent offense), the Hawkeyes are going to be in their fair share of tight games and field goals will continue to be very important.
The Hawkeyes have won in 4 of their last 6 meetings with Northwestern, including last year’s 28-17 win in Evanston. This year the Wildcats bring one of their most balanced teams in recent history into Kinnick Stadium. This isn’t your granddad’s Northwestern. The Hawkeyes will have to play focused and inspired football to get back in the win column. It’s hard to imagine a “must win” game in September, but if you collectively asked the Iowa fanbase, this game is extremely important. The sour taste of last year’s 6-6 season is still very evident and fan’s impatience was confirmed by the grumbling heard after a one-point road loss last Saturday. It is also homecoming weekend in Iowa City, and Kinnick will be rockin’ as usual.