Iowa Northwestern Football

Iowa defensive end Joe Evans sacks Northwestern quarterback Aidan Smith during the second half of the Hawkeyes' 20-0 win Saturday, one of a season-high five sacks by Iowa in the win at Ryan Field.

EVANSTON, Ill. -- From the first day of camp, the idea is to be playing meaningful football games in November.

Iowa positioned itself to do that with Saturday's 20-0 win at Northwestern, having a bye week before dealing with the other two teams currently hovering at the top of the Big Ten West standings, Wisconsin and Minnesota.

Here are five things to think about as the Hawkeyes take a 6-2 record into the final month of the regular season:

1. The good

Iowa's first shutout of Northwestern since a 64-0 win in 1981 was a defensive gem.

It was the Hawkeyes' fourth in their last 11 Big Ten games, but this differed from wins over Maryland and Illinois during the second half of 2018 and Rutgers earlier this season.

While Northwestern has struggled mightily on offense this season, Iowa's effort against the Wildcats was dominant from start to finish.

The Hawkeyes limited Northwestern to its second-lowest offensive output of the season, a 202-yard total that was three yards better than what the Wildcats mustered a week earlier against Ohio State.

It was also the fewest yards allowed by Iowa since holding Maryland to 115 total yards during a 2018 shutout at Kinnick Stadium.

Daviyon Nixon finished off Iowa's season-best work of five sacks, recording a pair within a span three plays late in the fourth quarter and he was among seven Hawkeyes who contributed to Iowa's season-high nine tackles for a loss.

2. The deceptively good

After taking a conservative approach at the end of the first half, Kirk Ferentz showed faith in his football team on Iowa's first drive of the third quarter.

The Hawkeyes had punted the ball away twice in the final minutes of the second quarter, preferring to punt on a pair of fourth-and-1 opportunities and take a 10-0 lead in the locker room at the half.

After the break, Iowa went for the jugular on fourth and 8.

"In the first half, I didn't think there was much to be gained from it,'' Ferentz said. "Second half, it was a little different situation.''

Nate Stanley hit Shaun Beyer with an 11-yard pass to the Wildcats' 19-yard line, extending a quarter-opening touchdown drive which gave the Hawkeyes a 17-0 lead and essentially secured the victory.

"We were frustrated in the first half because we're used to going for it on fourth down,'' receiver Tyrone Tracy said. "I thought we might go for it, but when we did, we made it count.''

3. The not so good

Iowa numbers illustrate the inconsistency that continues to be an issue for the Hawkeye offense.

Heading into November with a 6-2 record, Iowa ranks 83rd in the Football Bowl Subdivision in total offense at 392.6 yards per game and is 95th in scoring at 24.4 points.

"We have to go out there and sustain drives. We have to go out and get in the end zone,'' running back Mekhi Sargent said. "Our defense is one of the best out there right now. They are so good at getting the ball back to us.''

Sargent said the Hawkeyes must work to grow offensively.

Iowa averages 145.8 rushing yards per game, sitting at 88th on the FBS charts this week, something that has been balanced out by the arm of Stanley.

Iowa ranks 50th in the country in passing, averaging 246.9 yards per game.

4. The horizon

As well as Iowa's defense is performing this season, a peek into the future suggests even better things could be on the horizon.

"It's not like we have a bunch of seniors playing defensively,'' Ferentz said. "If we're doing things right, we're getting better and improving during the course of each week. That's something we really emphasize.''

Iowa started three seniors, three juniors, three sophomores and two freshmen on defense against Northwestern.

Ferentz said the group seems to be "wired in'' to what coaches want to accomplish.

The numbers back that up. Iowa has not allowed an opponent to score more than 20 points this season and has held six of its eight opponents to season-low point totals.

5. The breather

Iowa's second bye week of the season comes at a good time.

The Hawkeyes will have a chance to catch their breath, heal a few injuries and then start to turn their attention to Wisconsin in the middle of the week. 

The Hawkeyes and Badgers, who also have a bye on their schedule this week, will carry identical 6-2 records and 3-2 Big Ten marks into the pivotal Nov. 9 conference game at Camp Randall Stadium.

Both sit two games behind unbeaten Minnesota in the Big Ten West race with dates against the Golden Gophers among opponents left on the schedule.

"Coach (Kelvin) Bell says it all the time. All of our dreams and aspirations for this season, for this team, are still in front of us,'' defensive end A.J. Epenesa said, referencing the words of the Hawkeyes' defensive line coach. "We still have the opportunity to do great things. It's all about taking advantage of our opportunity and never settling for anything less than our best.''

That's what meaningful November football is all about.

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