By JAMES ALLAN
IOWA CITY, Iowa — Northwestern’s Trae Williams’ interception with 1:05 remaining sealed the Wildcats’ 38-31 victory over the University of Iowa football team on a Homecoming Saturday afternoon inside Kinnick Stadium.
Northwestern’s win snaps Iowa’s nine-game regular-season Big Ten winning streak. Iowa is 3-2 overall and 1-1 in league play.
“Today was a disappointing outcome for our players, coaches, and fans,” said UI head coach Kirk Ferentz. “This was a not a good way to finish this up. We didn’t play or coach well enough, and Northwestern did a better job today.
“As we move forward, the biggest thing is we have to eliminate the things holding us back right now. It’s a fine line between winning and losing. There are a lot of issues that we have to get cleaned up — third downs, stopping the run, and playing cleaner and more efficient.”
Iowa’s offense took over possession with 2:11 remaining with a chance to drive for a game-tying score. Senior quarterback C.J. Beathard’s 18-yard completion to senior George Kittle moved the Hawkeyes to midfield, but Northwestern’s defense made a stand.
On third-and-6, Beathard was flushed from the pocket and he targeted Kittle along the Northwestern sideline, but Williams stepped in front of the Hawkeye senior tight end for the interception to give the Wildcats their second victory of the season.
Northwestern is 2-3 overall and 1-1 in league play.
The Wildcats outgained Iowa, 362-283, for the game, which included 198 yards on the ground. Northwestern scored 38 points after entering the game with a 16.3 scoring average, and its defense surrendered a season-low 283 yards after giving up 556 yards to Nebraska last weekend.
Northwestern finished the game with six sacks and limited the Hawkeyes’ rushing attack to 79 yards on 41 attempts.
Beathard finished 19-of-27 for 204 yards with one touchdown and one interception. Senior LeShun Daniels, Jr., rushed for 72 yards on 17 attempts, and senior Riley McCarron made a career-high eight receptions for 78 yards and one touchdown.
Iowa’s special teams — most notably the punt and kickoff return games — were a bright spot on a tough afternoon. The Hawkeyes had 254 return yards — 139 kick and 115 punt — from Desmond King and McCarron.
Defensively, junior Josey Jewell made a career-high 16 tackles, including six solo stops, 1.5 tackles for loss, and half a sack. It was his third straight game with 10 or more tackles. Sophomore Brandon Snyder had nine stops and forced a fumble for a second straight game.
Northwestern’s Clayton Thorson finished 18-of-30 for 164 yards and three touchdowns, running back Justin Jackson ran for 171 yards on 26 attempts with a touchdown, and wide receiver Austin Carr had six catches for 73 yards and three scores.
Trailing 17-7 early in the second quarter, the Hawkeyes scored on consecutive possessions to take a 21-17 lead. King gave Iowa strong starting field position with a 32-yard punt return to the 45. Sophomore Jay Scheel made a leaping catch for 22 yards on a busted play to the 6 before junior Akrum Wadley scored on the next play, making the score 17-14.
Iowa’s defense forced the game’s first turnover on the ensuing series when Snyder stripped Jackson and sophomore Matt Nelson recovered at the Wildcat 35. Beathard found McCarron for 20 yards on first down to the 15 and the senior wide receiver hauled in a 15-yard touchdown pass to give Iowa its first lead at 21-17.
Early in the third quarter, Iowa added to its advantage with a six-play, 24-yard scoring drive. McCarron gave Iowa a short field with a 38-yard punt return to the NU 28, but Iowa couldn’t punch it into the end zone and settled on a 24-yard Keith Duncan field goal, making the score 24-17.
Northwestern responded with 21-unanswered points. The Wildcats used a 75-yard scoring drive, capped off by a 16-yard completion from Thorson to Carr in the corner of the end zone to tie the game, Jackson had a 58-yard touchdown run on the next series to give the Wildcats the lead, and Carr hauled in a 25-yard touchdown pass to make the score 38-24 with 12:06 to play.
Iowa answered the bell with a seven-play, 80-yard drive. Beathard hooked up with sophomore Jerminic Smith for a 46-yard gain off play action and Daniels, Jr., scored from 1-yard out two plays later to make the score 38-31 with 8:10 remaining.
The Hawkeyes had two chances to drive for the game-tying score, but Northwestern’s defense stepped up.
Iowa moved to midfield on its second-to-last possession, but the Wildcats halted the drive when Ifeadi Odenigbo sacked Beathard for an 11-yard loss on third down. The Hawkeyes moved into NU territory on its last drive before Williams’ interception sealed Iowa’s second straight loss in Kinnick Stadium.
Special teams accounted for the game’s first two touchdowns. After a three-and-out on its first drive, Northwestern’s Flynn Nagel fielded Ron Coluzzi’s 34-yard punt in Wildcat territory and returned it 47 yards to the 5. Two plays later, Thorson scored from 4-yards out on a read option keeper, giving the Wildcat’s a 7-0 lead less than three minutes into the game.
On its second possession, Iowa moved 44 yards over 11 plays to the Northwestern 35. Iowa lined up to go for it on fourth-and-8, but Beathard quick-kicked the ball out of a shotgun formation where it was downed on the 1.
After Iowa’s defense kept the Wildcats’ in their end zone to force a punt, King fielded a Hunter Niswander punt at the 37-yard line and returned it 32 yards to the 5. Wadley scored on the next play, tucking the ball inside the pylon to tie the game at seven with 5:07 left in the first quarter.
The Wildcats scored on their next two possessions to build a 17-7 lead. Northwestern moved 67 yards over 11 plays, but the drive stalled when Jewell stopped Jackson for a 1-yard loss on third-and-1. Jack Mitchell connected on a 25-yard field goal to give the Wildcats a 10-7 advantage.
On its first series of the second quarter, Northwestern covered 54 yards on nine plays to stretch its lead to 10 points. On third-and-6 from the 11, Thorson connected with Carr for a score, giving the Wildcats a 17-7 lead with 10:33 remaining.
Iowa returns to action Oct. 8, traveling to Minneapolis to face the Golden Gophers in a battle for the Floyd of Rosedale. Game time is 11 a.m. (CT).
“We have three games until our bye week and then another four (games), so we still have seven games and there is a lot of football ahead,” said Ferentz. “What’s important is what we do and what we do to correct problems and issues.
“We’re going to have to do it faster, work on it faster, and get their faster because we’re going to play another good football team next week. The focus right now is on the next six days, how much improvement, how we can get better, and be better prepared to play a better game.”