It was too little too late for the University of Iowa football team. The Hawkeye offense scored the final 14 points, but it came too late in a 28-17 loss to Northwestern on Saturday afternoon at Ryan Field.
The Wildcats improve to 7-2 overall and 3-2 in Big Ten Conference play; the Hawkeyes fall to 4-4 overall and 2-2 in the league.
After taking a 14-3 lead into the half, Northwestern scored 14 points over the first five minutes of the second half to take control and build a commanding 25-point lead.
Special teams led the first score, as Wildcat senior Tyris Jones broke free up the middle and blocked Hawkeye freshman Connor Kornbrath's punt, giving Northwestern possession at the Iowa 4.
NU quarterback Kain Colter then found the end zone on the first play of the drive. He started to the right before reversing course and scoring on a 3-yard run up the middle to extend the Wildcat lead to 21-3.
After forcing a second-straight Iowa three-and-out, Northwestern covered 57 yards over four plays to push its advantage to 28-3. Colter accounted for his fourth touchdown of the game when he found wide receiver Christian Jones for a 47-yard touchdown.
"The early part of the third quarter was certainly a turning point," said UI head coach Kirk Ferentz. "We had the ball and couldn't convert right off the bat. We had a miscommunication and gave up the punt block. That's never a good thing and then we gave up the big play defensively. That made the hole deeper, but the guys kept battling."
The Hawkeye defense gave the offense a jump start after forcing a turnover on downs when Northwestern attempted converting a fourth-and-3 from the Iowa 42. Iowa followed with its best drive of the day -- 12-plays, 59-yards -- to cut into the Northwestern lead.
Vandenberg opened the series with a 16-yard completion to freshman Tevaun Smith on first down before sophomore Damon Bullock rushed for eight, six, seven and four yards to move the Hawkeyes into the red zone. It then took Iowa seven plays to advance the final 18 yards before Vandenberg scored on a quarterback sneak from 1-yard out.
The Wildcats rushing attack continued piling up yards, advancing 69 yards down to the Iowa 3. On first and goal, Northwestern center Brandon Vitabile snapped it over Colter's head and senior Micah Hyde recovered, giving Iowa possession at its 16-yard line.
The Hawkeyes kept their hopes alive with a nine-play, 84-yard scoring drive to make the score 28-17. The first big play came on a pass interference penalty on Northwestern safety Ibraheim Campbell, moving the ball to Iowa 44. Vandenberg then followed with a 15-yard completion to redshirt freshman Jacob Hillyer to move into Northwestern territory.
Following two Bullock rushes for 13 yards, the Wildcats' Quentin Williams was called for roughing the passer, advancing the ball to the 14. Vandenberg then found Bullock for a 13-yard gain out of the backfield before scoring his second touchdown via the quarterback sneak.
The Iowa defense followed by forcing a three-and-out, keeping the team's hope alive and giving the Hawkeyes possession at its own 43 with 4:23 remaining. Vandenberg completed five passes on the drive to move Iowa to the Northwestern 24, but the comeback was halted when the Hawkeyes couldn't covert a fourth-and-3 to turn the ball over on downs with less than two minutes remaining.
"We thought we could convert that (the fourth down)," said Ferentz. "That was my call to make. We needed a three pointer and an eight pointer -- at touchdown and two-point conversion. We were moving the ball and had been moving the ball. We thought that was our best shot at that point."
Northwestern piled up 433 yards of total offense -- 349 on the ground -- despite running 19 fewer plays than Iowa. The Hawkeyes finished with 336 yards of total offense with 214 through the air and 122 on the ground.
Vandenberg completed 24-of-38 attempts for 214 yards, while Bullock rushed for 107 yards on 22 carries in his first game action since Sept. 15 against Northern Iowa. Redshirt sophomore Kevonte Martin-Manley had seven receptions for 46 yards, while Bullock also caught five balls for 41 yards.
Northwestern's Colter and Venric Mark both went over the 150-yard mark on the ground. Colter finished with 166 yards on 26 attempts with three touchdowns, while Venric had 162 yards on 16 carries, averaging 10.1 yards per attempt. Colter was also 6-of-9 passing for 80 yards with one touchdown.
Northwestern took the opening kickoff and drove 75 yards over 11 plays to set the tone and take a 7-0 lead. The Wildcats ran the ball down the Hawkeyes' throat, rushing 10 times for 75 yards. Colter had 43 yards on the ground, including 18 and 20 yard scrambles on third down before scoring on five-yard run on third and goal.
The Hawkeye offense answered with an 11-play, 52-yard scoring drive. On third-and-7 from the Wildcat 44, Vandenberg connected with sophomore Mark Weisman on a swing pass for a 15-yard gain to the NU 29. The drive stalled, however, following a Vandenberg fumble and an 11-yard pass to Bullock came up three yards short of moving the chains. Junior Mike Meyer made the score 7-3 with a 40-yard field goal.
Iowa forced the game's first turnover on the following possession when Colter over shot Tony Jones on a deep post route on a play-action pass. Junior cornerback B.J. Lowery came up with the interception, giving the Hawkeyes possession at their own 29.
Iowa moved the ball 33 yards into Northwestern territory before the drive stalled. With the offense going into the wind, the Hawkeyes lined up to go for it on fourth-and-3 from the 33, but was whistled for a delay of game penalty, forcing a punt. Senior John Wienke gave the Hawkeyes momentum with a 37-yard kick that was downed at the 1-yard line by Hyde.
With the goal line at its back, Mark ran up the middle for a 72-yard gain on first down before being caught from behind by Hyde at the Iowa 27 to save a touchdown. Six rushing attempts later, Colter scored his second touchdown of the game on a three-yard option keeper to make the score 14-3.
Iowa returns to action next Saturday at Indiana. The game time has yet to be announced.
Courtesy: Iowa Media Relations
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