Vandenberg lifts Iowa past Northwestern 41-31

Northwestern had plenty of offense, but its defense couldn’t

stop Iowa when it mattered most Saturday.

James Vandenberg threw for 224 yards and two touchdowns as the

Hawkeyes beat Northwestern 41-31, snapping a three-game losing

streak to the Wildcats.

Marcus Coker added 124 yards rushing and two TDs for the

Hawkeyes (4-2, 1-1 Big Ten), who won despite allowing 495 yards and

29 first downs to Northwestern.

Iowa blew a 17-0 second-quarter lead, then pulled ahead 24-17 on

Coker’s 1-yard TD run with 13:55 left. Vandenberg pushed the lead

to 31-17 on a 35-yard TD pass to Marvin McNutt, and Coker’s 1-yard

touchdown run with 3:56 to go sealed just Iowa’s second win over

the Wildcats in seven tries.

Northwestern (2-4, 0-3) has now allowed 121 points in Big Ten

play. Worse yet, Iowa scored 41 points despite holding the ball for

less than 22 minutes and running just 50 plays.

The Wildcats allowed 24 points in the fourth quarter alone –

which is more than Iowa scored against them in each of their

previous three meetings.

”We are going to find a way to create a plan for our guys, come

back home (next week against Penn State) and find a way to get a

win,” Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said.

Dan Persa threw for 246 yards on 31 of 40 passing for the

Wildcats, who dropped their fourth straight game.

Northwestern dominated the box score – but it let Iowa make the

most of its opportunities.

Northwestern trailed by 10 at the break despite leading the

Hawkeyes in nearly every statistical category. The Wildcats

continued to rack up yards at the start of the second half though,

pulling within 17-14 on Adonis Smith’s 4-yard run and tying the

game on Jeff Budzien’s 47-yard field goal with 4:19 left in the

third quarter.

Though the Hawkeyes could barely stop Northwestern on third down

– the Wildcats converted a staggering 16 of them in 22 tries – they

made it count when they did.

The Wildcats trailed 24-17 when they drove to Iowa’s 23-yard

line with 10 minutes left. But Kain Colter, in at quarterback, got

drilled as he threw a wayward backward pass on third-and-5.

Budzien then missed from 47 yards, and three plays later

Vandenberg found McNutt streaking down the middle of the field for

a backbreaking touchdown.

Northwestern’s shot at another rally fizzled after just two

plays.

Persa lost a fumble deep in Iowa territory, and Mike Meyer’s

40-yard field goal put Iowa ahead 34-17 with 6:49 left.

”This season has been a journey and right now we’re just facing

a storm,” Colter said. ”We just faced the worst part of the

storm, and we could turn around and go back or we can keep pushing

on.”

Northwestern responded with an 18-yard TD pass from Colter to

Drake Dunsmore with 4:50 left. But McNutt, whose TD reception was a

school record-tying 21st of his career, recovered an onside kick

and brought it back deep into Wildcats territory.

Persa’s creativity crushed the Hawkeyes in a 21-17 Northwestern

victory in Evanston in 2010, using his arm and legs to keep a pair

of fourth-quarter touchdown drives alive.

In the opening quarter, Persa pushed his limits too far.

On a first-and-goal from Iowa’s 7-yard line, Persa floated a

pass to the middle of the field despite being harassed by a pair of

Hawkeyes. The effort floated aimlessly into the thankful arms of

Tanner Miller, who took it back for an easy 98-yard touchdown

return.

Miller’s interception return put Iowa ahead 10-0 with 4:08 left

in the first quarter and tied the longest in school history.

”We got all the momentum and we’re going down on the drive to

score and we turn it over and it’s a pick-six,” Fitzgerald said.

”That was a big change in momentum on the road and it’s tough to

overcome.”

The Hawkeyes made it 17-0 on a pair of long tosses from

Vandenberg to a wide-open Davis.

The first covered 31 yards and came over the top of

Northwestern’s secondary. The second looked like the same play –

but this time Davis cruised into the end zone for a 47-yard

touchdown with 9:34 left before halftime.

Northwestern got one back on Persa’s 6-yard touchdown pass to

Jeremy Ebert with 3:54 to go. But after leading at the break in

each of their first two Big Ten games, the Wildcats trailed

17-7.

”In the heart of the storm you stay the course and find a way

to get some things fixed,” Fitzgerald said.