With new life, No. 20 Iowa looks to beat Northwestern
No. 20 Iowa (5-2, 2-2 Big Ten) at Northwestern (1-5, 0-4), Saturday at 12 p.m. EDT (ESPN2).
Line: Iowa by 10 1/2.
Series record: Iowa leads 50-27-3.
WHAT’S AT STAKE?
Iowa snapped at two-game losing streak with a lackluster 26-20 win over Purdue last week and got some new life in the Big Ten West race with Wisconsin getting stunned at Illinois. They trail the Badgers by a game and Minnesota by two. But if the Hawkeyes go unbeaten the rest of the way — a stretch that would include a road win at No. 13 Wisconsin and a victory at home against the 17th-ranked Gophers — they would get to the conference championship game if Minnesota loses once more. The Wildcats are staggering, coming off a 52-3 beat-down by Ohio State. That gave them four straight losses and matched their worst skid since 2014.
Iowa quarterback Nate Stanley vs. Northwestern’s defense. Stanley has thrown for more yards than any other Big Ten quarterback this season. But he will be missing his top target with Brandon Smith — 33 catches — expected to miss three to five weeks after being carried off by his teammates last week with a leg injury. That could lead to more opportunities and more double-teams for Ihmir Smith-Marsette, the Hawkeyes’ main deep threat and leader with 443 yards receiving.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Iowa: RB Mekhi Sargent. Iowa managed just 102 yards rushing on 33 attempts last week. But Sargent came through in the fourth quarter, breaking of runs on 21 and 14 yards on consecutive plays for the winning touchdown.
Northwestern: QBs Aidan Smith and Hunter Johnson. The two have combined to throw nine interceptions and two touchdowns. Johnson started the first four games before leaving the loss at Wisconsin Sept. 28 because of a lower body injury. Smith has started the past two.
FACTS & FIGURES
Iowa ranks fifth in the nation in scoring defense (11.6 points per game), eighth in rushing defense (91.1 yards per game) and 10th in total defense (275 yards a game). … The Hawkeyes have lost three straight to Northwestern by a total of 18 points. … Northwestern ranks 127th in yards per game and 128th of 130 teams in scoring offense.