By DARREN MILLER
IOWA CITY, Iowa — First it was Trace McSorley, then David Blough. Next is Clayton Thorson.
When the University of Iowa hosts Northwestern in a Big Ten West Division showdown Nov. 10, it will be the third consecutive week that the Hawkeyes have played a bowl championship team starting a fifth-year quarterback.
Iowa looks to reverse the outcomes against Penn State and McSorley (30-24 loss) and Purdue and Blough (38-36 loss) when the Hawkeyes and Wildcats meet at 2:30 p.m. (CT).
“This whole season is basically down to three weeks now,” Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said Sunday in an interview with hawkeyesports.com. “We need to invest in our preparation — Northwestern has an excellent quarterback as well. It is the third straight week we have played a veteran guy who has had a lot of success. (Northwestern is a) very good football team, so we will have to do our best to get ready and hopefully we’ll get back to playing the kind of football we want to play and come out victorious.”
The good news is that unlike the games against Penn State and Purdue, the Hawkeyes will be in Kinnick Stadium against Northwestern. Iowa opened the season with four home games, then has been on the road for four of the last five games.
“We’re eager to get back in Kinnick,” Ferentz said.
The Hawkeyes are 6-3 overall, 3-3 in the Big Ten. Northwestern is 5-4, 5-1.
In Iowa’s three losses, it led Wisconsin (on Sept. 22), 17-14, with less than a minute to play; trailed by six points, but had the ball on Penn State’s 3-yard-line with 3 ½ minutes to go; lead at Purdue, 36-35, with 11 seconds remaining.
“What I want the players to understand is basically in all three of those games we have been a possession away from being successful,” Ferentz said. “It is a fine line; those are three good teams we have lost to. It emphasizes the importance of the little things, because it is a fine line and we have to try to be more detailed.
“I have been pleased with the effort and determination our guys have played with. The last two weeks we have been in tough environments against good teams. We got in the hole, but fought to try to get out of it and gave ourselves a chance to win right at the end.”
Purdue entered Saturday’s game ranked second in the Big Ten in red zone defense. Iowa was 6-for-6 on red zone chances, scoring five touchdowns and kicking a field goal.
“We thought the red zone topic was one big challenge going into the game,” Ferentz said. “(Purdue) has done a good job offensively and defensively in the red zone. For us to get down there, we emphasized to our team how important it was going to be to score touchdowns, not just field goals. The guys responded there and a big part of that was (quarterback) Nate (Stanley). Nate played a good game for us, made good throws, and made a lot of good decisions out there.”
Stanley completed 21-of-32 passes for 275 yards with a touchdown and no interceptions.
On defense, the Hawkeyes intercepted two passes in the second half and limited Purdue to 56 yards of offense in the final quarter.
“Our defense finally anchored in there a little bit,” Ferentz said. “Purdue is an explosive offensive football team, we knew that going into the game. All in all, we had a chance to win in the fourth quarter, just couldn’t quite get it done.”