As with all 2017 opponents, this isn't the first Iowa's played Northwestern, and it wouldn't be the first time we've beaten them. Here's a look back as we turn yesterday's victories into today's lessons.
There have been a few "crossroads" moments in Iowa football history — one could argue the current team is close to one now — but let's take a look back at the very first one of the Kirk Ferentz era. Iowa was coming off an unexpected 26-23 overtime win at (fading) Penn State to move to 2-8 in the 2000 season, while No. 18 Northwestern had designs on its first Rose Bowl of the Randy Walker era after knocking off Michigan 54-51 the week prior. So sure, Northwestern was primed for a "letdown game," but Iowa was too. And this team knew a lot about squandering momentum, having not won consecutive games since 1997.
We all know what ensued, but let's all watch just the same:
Some keys to victory:
A fight's easier when your big brother shows up. It's remarkable what effect a great safety can have on an entire defense. When the safeties need help, the linebackers are already playing backwards and the line of scrimmage is there to be plundered. When the back line is taken care of, the rest of the team can attack, attack, attack, and that's what the Hawkeyes did to Northwestern with Ryan Hansen and the slightly-better-known Bob Sanders anchoring the secondary. Iowa was free to take direct aim at Damien Anderson, and while Sanders collected 14 tackles, the game-high went to MLB Roger Meyer, who had 16 tackles and 3 for loss. Altogether, the Hawkeye defense registered a season-high 14 tackles for loss and 7 sacks; their next-best totals in 2000 were 8 TFL and 4 sacks.
Confidence is infectious. The Iowa crowd was incredible that bitter November day, spending basically the entire game at a rolling boil, but the fans were feeding off the players as much as vice versa. Even Nate Kaeding eggs the fans on after his two made field goals, including one fortuitous doink inside the left upright.
Even as Iowa scored five times to great mirth and excitement, we went with the cover photo above because it's half the defense swarming to a huge tackle for loss and a forced punt. It was early in the game, but by that point everybody in the building — including on both sidelines — knew exactly what kind of a game it was going to be, and that the Hawkeyes were here to play with their hair on fire. Even LeVar Woods, and he didn't even have any hair back then either.
I found Large Chris Pratt, you guys. I guess that's not really a key to the game, but check out 5:26. That's gotta be him!
It's easier to "bend but not break" when there's plenty of room to bend. Did you know Northwestern outgained Iowa? It wasn't by much — 377 yards to 355, thanks in large part to two late touchdown drives — but it took the Wildcats 95 plays from scrimmage to do it, compared to Iowa's 67.
Jason Baker pinned the Wildcats deep early and often on punts, giving the defense ample room and limiting the impact of Northwestern's 26 first downs. Iowa also didn't let Northwestern into the end zone until late in the 3rd quarter, when the lead was up to 17 points; that's the lead "bending but not breaking." Meanwhile, Iowa made the most of its yardage by turning it into three touchdowns and two field goals (46 and 42 yards). The Hawkeyes took their time getting to the end zone too, but when Kahlil Hill outran a defender to the pylon with 35 seconds left in the first half, the bedlam had begun.
This year, the conditions are slightly different; the Hawkeyes play at Ryan Field on a warm and sunny day, and the crowd will only be about 50% pro-Iowa at that graveyard of a stadium. Still, for an offense still finding its way and a defense dealing with a backfield that knows how to put drives together, a star-led team effort is crucial for pulling out a victory.
NOTE: the title of this feature, uh, "borrows heavily" from The Memory Palace, a truly world-expanding podcast by Nate DiMeo. Add it to your podcasts and to your life, if you haven't already; you'll be better for it. We imitate because we admire, and because it's not plagiarism if you link to it.