Iowa’s run defense, receiver depth key against Northwestern

Iowa has lost three-consecutive games to the Wildcats, and defending the run will be key to ending that streak.

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Iowa’s run defense, receiver depth key against Northwestern

Northwestern running back Isaiah Bowser is tackled by Iowa defense during the Iowa/Northwestern football game at Kinnick Stadium on Saturday, November 10, 2018. The Wildcats defeated the Hawkeyes, 14-10. (Lily Smith/The Daily Iowan)

Northwestern running back Isaiah Bowser is tackled by Iowa defense during the Iowa/Northwestern football game at Kinnick Stadium on Saturday, November 10, 2018. The Wildcats defeated the Hawkeyes, 14-10. (Lily Smith/The Daily Iowan)

Lily Smith

Northwestern running back Isaiah Bowser is tackled by Iowa defense during the Iowa/Northwestern football game at Kinnick Stadium on Saturday, November 10, 2018. The Wildcats defeated the Hawkeyes, 14-10. (Lily Smith/The Daily Iowan)

Lily Smith

Lily Smith

Northwestern running back Isaiah Bowser is tackled by Iowa defense during the Iowa/Northwestern football game at Kinnick Stadium on Saturday, November 10, 2018. The Wildcats defeated the Hawkeyes, 14-10. (Lily Smith/The Daily Iowan)

Robert Read, Assistant Sports Editor

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Northwestern clinched the 2018 Big Ten West title at Kinnick Stadium last season after downing the Hawkeyes, 14-10, in an ugly game for both sides.

The Wildcats paraded around the field celebrating the victory as Iowa exited to the locker room knowing conference title hopes were gone. It was the third year in a row Northwestern beat Iowa, a streak the Hawkeyes will look to break this weekend.

“There’s a lot of history behind this game,” linebacker Djimon Colbert said. “In recent years, we haven’t been able to catch these guys. That’s been the goal this week: to come out and try to change that.”

Iowa seemingly controlled last year’s matchup, but Northwestern made the big plays necessary to earn the hard-fought victory.

“Last year, they had that long pass, [and] the receiver made a crazy catch in the end zone,” Colbert said. “They also had a [34-yard] run for a touchdown last year. Those were the only two touchdowns they had. I think just trying to limit the big plays and trying to get some going on our side is going to be key for us.”

A constant from last season’s Northwestern offense to this year is running back Isaiah Bowser. As a freshman last season, Bowser rushed for 165 yards and a touchdown on 31 carries against the Hawkeyes.

But quarterback play has been wildly inconsistent for the Wildcats this season. It’s still a question as to which signal-caller will be under center for Northwestern this weekend. No matter the quarterback, the Iowa defense is prepared for Bowser to get his fair share of carries.

“He’s a physical runner, and he has very good vision, too,” Colbert said. “He sees how the play is setting up. He’s very patient. We’ve got to rally to him, swarm to the ball. I think we’ve done a good job of that this year, stopping the run, but it’s going to be another challenge coming up this week.”

‘Next man up’ at wide receiver

Iowa wide receiver Brandon Smith is out for an extended period of time after leaving last weekend’s game against Purdue with an injury.

Smith has been quarterback Nate Stanley’s go-to target of late, catching 16 passes for 192 yards and a touchdown in the past two games.

“He’s obviously made some big plays for us,” head coach Kirk Ferentz said. “Made a couple on Saturday. His growth has really been fun to watch. He’s just developed every time out there. [The injury has] taken one of our better threats off the field.”

Ferentz said Smith will likely be out for three-to-five weeks.

Without Smith in the lineup, other pass-catchers will be responsible for making up that production. Receivers Tyrone Tracy, Calvin Lockett, and Oliver Martin are all expected to see increased playing time in Smith’s absence.

“First thing we’ll do is shift Tyrone Tracy out there. He’ll start the game at that position,” Ferentz said. “We got a good group of receivers — certainly better than we did two years ago, even a year ago. Just spreads it around a little bit more, a little bit more opportunity for the other players. It’s part of football, everybody absorbing part of that loss.”

No matter which receiver is thrust into action without Smith in the lineup, Stanley won’t hesitate getting them the ball.

“I feel comfortable with whoever’s in there,” Stanley said. “I’m confident they’ll make plays for us. All those guys have enough reps to feel confident on the field.”

Wide-open West

 The Big Ten West is again up for the taking this season. Minnesota is currently undefeated but will be tested in the coming weeks in the more difficult portion of its schedule.

Illinois upset Wisconsin — the Big Ten West favorites — last week to put Iowa back in the running for the division title.

The upset by the Illini also reinforced a fact coaches are already well aware of: there are no easy games in the Big Ten.

“It reminds us that every week is important — you can’t look over any teams,” Colbert said. “The Big Ten West is open, so we just have to come out each week and focus on that week individually, and hopefully, that should lead us to [Indianapolis] at the end of the road.”

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