By Courtney Baumann
The last time the Iowa football team traveled to Northwestern, the Hawkeyes were a very different team.
Few still on Iowa’s roster were starters in that game. Interestingly enough, Akrum Wadley, who seems to have long been a staple of Iowa’s game plan, had his coming-out game on Oct. 17, 2015. Sean Welsh and James Daniels were the only two still around on the offense line who started in that game.
Northwestern, on the other hand, had a lot of young talent at the time and has quite a few returning from the team that the Hawkeyes ran all over two years ago.
They were there for the Wildcats last year, when Northwestern came into Kinnick and defeated Iowa on Homecoming, 38-31. The Hawkeyes had a chance to tie it up after trooping into Northwestern territory with a minute left in the game, but Trae Williams, just a freshman at the time, intercepted C.J. Beathard. Northwestern took a knee twice to put away the game.
With the exceptions of 2014 and 2015, the teams have had a history of playing close games like the one last year. Of the last 12 matchups between Iowa and Northwestern, nine have been decided by 11 points or fewer. Five have had a difference of just one score.
“The games have gone back and forth, they’ve been hard-fought. There have been a couple that have gone either way, but for the most part, they’ve gone right down to the wire,” Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said. “We know we’re going to have a real challenge on our hand, and there have been ups and downs, but typically, it goes right down to the last series, last play, that type of deal.”
The rushing attack has been the difference-maker in the past few matchups. In 2016, Northwestern ran for almost 200 yards as opposed to Iowa’s 79, and the year before, Iowa managed 294 — making the Wildcats’ 51 look absolutely pathetic.
This year, though, the teams’ statistics look pretty similar. Each are averaging between 135 and 139 rushing yards per game, making it a tossup which will have the advantage on Saturday.
Northwestern senior running back Justin Jackson has put together 4,639 rushing yards so far in his career with the Wildcats. Like Wadley on the other side, he has been a weapon his team has reached for to make a difference.
While Wadley has used healthy competition with another running back as fire before, this week he’s not so focused on a grudge match between him and his counterpart.
“Justin Jackson, he’s a really good running back,” Wadley said. “I don’t really think about their offense … I’m only focused on how they play defense. But he’s a really good back.”
The rest of the team isn’t really too worried about how the Wildcats play, or how they have played in the past, either. Instead, the Hawkeyes continue to focus on how they play and making the adjustments they need in order to win.
That means getting revenge for last year’s game isn’t too high on the agenda — though it is still in the back of some players’ minds.
“If people want to use it as motivation, by all means, I would encourage that,” Parker Hesse said. “You just have to focus on your game plan more. Every year, it’s going to be different game plans, different schemes, stuff like that. You have to focus on what you’re doing right now.”