Maybe Michigan hasn’t quite gotten everything fixed on offense, or maybe Iowa is just a better opponent than Rutgers. Or maybe it’s a little from Column A and a little from Column B. Either way, Michigan leads Iowa 10-3 at the end of the first half.
Things could not have started too much better for Michigan. Although the offense was forced to punt after a short drive to start the game, Iowa’s Mekhi Sargent fumbled on Iowa’s first offensive snap and the Wolverines pounce don the ball at the Iowa 18-yard line. Michigan had to settle for just a field goal after the Hawkeyes defense came through with a big stop, but the offense still was slow out of the gate. Michigan took a 10-0 lead on their next offensive series with a Zach Charbonnet run from the two-yard line. A big pass from Shea Patterson to Nico Collins for a gain of 51 yards got the drive started.
Since Michigan took the 10-0 lead though, this has turned into a throwback Big Ten slugfest led by the defenses. Entering this week, Iowa quarterback Nate Stanley had not thrown an interception since last season. In the first half, he threw two.
Northwestern (6-4, 6-1 Big Ten) is heading to the Big Ten championship game. The Wildcats clinched the Big Ten West Division crown on Saturday with a 14-10 win at Iowa on the same day Wisconsin and Purdue each lost, eliminating the Badgers and the Boilermakers from the running.
Clayton Thorson completed a 32-yard pass to Bennett Skowronek with 9:27 to play in the fourth quarter to give Northwestern a 14-10 lead after an instant replay confirmed the call on the field and an extra point. It is a play that will likely be played in the Northwestern highlights for years to come.
Northwestern still had some football to be played though, and the defense rose to the occasion by forcing Iowa to a three-and-out on the ensuing possession. With a chance to add to the lead, however, Northwestern quickly saw their next drive stall in part due to a false start penalty on a 3rd & 1. With Iowa making their way to midfield on the following possession, the Northwestern defense forced Mekhi Sargent to fumble and Cameron Ruiz came up with the loose ball with 4:26 to play in the game. With one more chance, Iowa again fumbled away the football around midfield in the final minutes of the game.
Thorson completed 15 of 30 passes for 122 yards and the go-ahead touchdown, more than making up for the two interceptions he tossed earlier in the game on this particular day. Freshman running back Isaiah Bowser had a career day with 165 rushing yards and a touchdown. A fourth down run to pick up a first down in the final minute allowed Northwestern to run out the clock on the clincher.
Northwestern still has two more games to play in the regular season, beginning next week on the road at Minnesota. The Gophers just demolished Purdue, helping Northwestern accelerate their division-clinching scenario in the process. No matter what happens next week against Minnesota or the week after at home against Illinois, Northwestern will be heading to Indianapolis to play in the Big Ten Championship Game on Dec. 1. Their opponent is still to be determined, although it will pit the Wildcats in a rematch against Michigan or against Ohio State. The Big Ten East Division may not be decided until the final day of the regular season when Ohio State hosts Michigan, although it is possible for the Wolverines to wrap up the East division next week with a win and an Ohio State loss.
Iowa has now lost three straight games and will have to try snapping their losing ways on the road next week at Illinois.