It’s fair to say that the Northwestern Wildcats were exposed by Notre Dame last week. But they weren’t exposed as a poor Power-5 team – just a squad that cannot, at this point, wrestle with a Top 5 unit and come out on top.
That doesn’t necessarily mean that the Chicago-area program can’t beat Iowa this week. But the dreary loss to UND is fresh in Vegas odds-makers’ minds.
Has it led to a mistaken point spread for this Saturday afternoon’s Big Ten battle? The Iowa Hawkeyes are favored to beat Northwestern by (-10.5) points in a scrum with only a (45) Over/Under total, indicating that Vegas expects a 27-17 or similar solid win for the hosts in Iowa City.
Northwestern is having a roller-coaster of a season in 2018. The Wildcats have wins against Purdue and Wisconsin along with a 3 point loss to the Michigan Wolverines, but they’ve also lost to Duke and Akron.
The ‘Cats have a hard time running the ball, can hardly pass without serving-up interceptions, and do not have the most dominant defense in their conference. Yet somehow they’re in control of the Big Ten West with a conference record of 5-1.
QB Clayton Thorson has thrown for 2,213 yards in 2018 but his 11 TDs to 10 INT ratio leaves something to be desired. Sophomore Jeremy Larkin still leads the team in rushing despite being forced to retire after Week 3 for medical reasons, underscoring what type of down-and-distance problems Thorsen has been running (or more accurately, passing) into.
Larkin is now a coach on the sideline, helping new starting freshman RB Isaiah Bowser. The Super Mario Bros. villain-turned-tailback is averaging 3.9 yards per carry and has 3 TDs on the season.
Defensively, Pat Fitzgerald’s group has been decent, ranking 49th in FBS while allowing 24.4 points per game. The unit ranks 43rd against the run and 73rd against the pass. Sophomore LB Blake Gallagher leads the team with a solid 86 tackles, good for 30th nationally, and had a big fumble recovery in a losing cause last week against the Irish. Senior DL Fred Wyatt had a nice game as well, but there just weren’t enough great individual performances to muster a massive upset bid against an unbeaten dynamo when the chips were down in the 2nd half.
All in all, the Wildcat OL blocked pretty well against a tough DL, springing Bowser for almost 100 yards rushing.
The favored Hawkeyes are coming off of a heartbreaking loss to Purdue last week, falling to the Boilermakers 38-36. Spencer Evans booted the game winner through the uprights with 8 ticks left on the clock and Iowa dropped to 6-3 on the season and 3-3 in conference play.
Junior QB Nate Stanley was poised in last Saturday’s outing, going 21 of 32 for 275 yards, 1 TD, and no picks. But the Hawkeyes ran a RB by committee approach against Purdue with Sophomore Mekhi Sargent leading the way with 39 yards and 2 TDs. It’s a far cry from the galloping ground game a squad like Iowa needs to have in the bag in order to contend for titles.
However, the Iowa defense is living up to its reputation in 2018. The unit ranks 14th in the nation in points allowed per game with 18.6. They are 5th in rushing yards allowed and 36th against the pass. Sophomore DE A.J. Epenesa leads the team with 7 sacks, tied for 17th in the nation, and Iowa has snagged 12 INTs…good for 14th in FBS.
That last statistic definitely has a lot to do with the point spread.
Iowa should prevail unless there’s a defensive lapse, but (10.5) is a tricky point margin ATS.
Instead of an ATS bet, I’m liking the Over (45). Northwestern’s OL grew up a little bit last week, but the Wildcat defense left it all on the field against UND. Iowa should be able to score 4 TDs in the comfortable setting at Kinnick Stadium.
Kurt has authored close to 1000 stories covering football, soccer, basketball, baseball, ice hockey, prize-fighting and the Olympic Games. Kurt posted a 61% win rate on 200+ college and NFL gridiron picks last season. He muses about High School football on social media as The Gridiron Geek.