Northwestern Named Fiesta Bowl Team of the Week

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By Paul M. Banks

From the Football Writers Association of America press release

DALLAS (FWAA) – With their 17-10 win at No. 4 Iowa, the Northwestern Wildcats (6-4) are the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl National Team of the Week for games of the weekend of Nov. 7, as chosen by the board of the Football Writers Association of America. Trailing 10-0, the Wildcats forced four second-quarter turnovers to ignite the rally. Corey Wootton sacked Iowa’s Ricky Stanzi and forced a fumble that was recovered for a touchdown by Marshall Thomas to put Northwestern on the board. Stanzi was injured on the play and did not return to the game.

On Iowa’s next possession, a Quentin Davie interception led to the go-ahead score. Drake Dunsmore caught a 4-yard touchdown pass to cap the drive and give the Wildcats a lead they would not relinquish. The win was Northwestern’s third straight in Iowa City and ended Iowa’s 13-game winning streak.

“We fully expected if we could put together 60 minutes of Wildcat football together in all three phases we’d have an opportunity to compete,” Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald said after the game. “And, to our young men’s credit, we did.”

Other Tostitos Fiesta Bowl Bowl National Team of the Week nominees for the weekend of Nov. 7 included:

Navy (7-3): Ricky Dobbs threw a touchdown pass and ran for another as the Midshipmen upset No. 19 Notre Dame, 23-21, in South Bend. The win secured a Texas Bowl berth for the Midshipmen.
Stanford (6-3): Toby Gerhart ran for a school-record 223 yards and three touchdowns as the Cardinal stunned No. 7 Oregon, 51-42.

Northwestern Gives #8 Iowa First Loss 17-10

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By Paul M. Banks

All year long, Iowa wasn’t just wining ugly, they were winning HIDEOUSLY. To their immense credit, the un-sexiest 9-0 team in college football history kept winning, despite a starting quarterback, Ricky Stanzi who is to throwing interceptions what cable news is to covering celebrity deaths. The Iowa Hawkeyes got off to the best start in school history with mediocre-to-bad statistical rankings in every major category and zero skill position players that anyone other than the geekiest of college football geeks has ever heard of. Yet, their solid running game, seasoned linebacking corps, and loads of NFL ready talent on both lines kept them perfect and grabbed them the cover of Sports Illustrated. Dreaded SI cover jinx anyone?

They were finally done in by their deficiencies, some bad luck, and the bite from the injury bug swelling to crippling infection. They entered the game down to their third string tailback. Stanzi, their starting QB, went down with an ankle sprain in the first quarter and the Hawkeyes were forced to play backup James Vanderbeek. Whoops, I meant to say James Vandenberg. The freshman from Keokuk, not the actor best known as Dawson from “Dawson’s Creek,” who played a QB in two different films (“Angus” and “Varsity Blues”)

But Vandenberg was about as effective in running the Iowa offense as “Dawson’s Creek” writers were to having characters with realistic dialogue. The Northwestern secondary truly shut him down.

Coincidence that the team finally doing them in, the bowl-eligible 6-4 Northwestern Wildcats, have likewise experienced a season filled with injuries and insanely erratic play. Northwestern gave Iowa, the #8 team in the AP, #4 in the BCS, their first loss despite missing their MVP Mike Kafka for much of it.kafkadualthreat

The senior QB leads the team in rushing and leads the Big Ten in both passing and completions. He started, but a hamstring injury limited his passing effectiveness, and completely “hamstrung” his ability to run out of the pocket.

Therefore, the Wildcats were forced to go with backup QB Dan Persa much of the day, a former state of Pennsylvania high school player of the year, who like Kafka has a great ability to run, but has yet to have a Kafka like metamorphosis in the air attack.

Northwestern has had a perplexing season, losing to lowly Syracuse, but also holding a 4th quarter lead in every game but one this season, even when they were playing much more talented competition. They truly embody that cliché of “playing up (or down) to their competition.” Two of their non-conference wins were alarmingly close over two of the absolute worst squads of the 120 team FBS. (Miami of Ohio, Eastern Michigan). But this win, ugly as it was for both sides, was as sweet as it gets for Northwestern.

It’s the “signature win” that Head Coach Pat Fitzgerald was looking for. One of the youngest coaches in the FBS, he’s guided his Wildcats to three bowl-eligibility seasons during his four year tenure, but this is his first win over a top ten team. He’s known as one of the most emotionally intense coaches in all of college football, so he is no doubt grinning ear-to-ear today

And he truly has Iowa’s number: Northwestern has won 4 of their last 5 against the Hawkeyes, and three straight overall in Kinnick Stadium, where almost nobody wins.

And for the Hawkeyes, the nation’s second longest winning streak ends. Their most recent loss prior to today came at the hands of the Illinois Fighting Illini in November of 2008. With the loss to a team that calls Evanston, IL home this afternoon, I’m guessing Hawkeye Nation has a very bitter view of the Prairie State right now!