Two unexpected teams have risen to the top of the Big Ten West.
Both Northwestern and Iowa used stellar defensive efforts to improve to 5-0 with impressive wins on Saturday to kick off Big Ten play.
No. 16 Northwestern was already on the national radar with wins over Stanford and Duke, but Pat Fitzgerald’s team let any doubters know that it is for real with a dominant 27-0 takedown of Minnesota. Sure, Minnesota doesn’t have the greatest offense, but the Wildcats made the Gophers look completely lifeless.
The Northwestern defense held Minnesota to just 173 yards of total offense while forcing two turnovers and stopping Minnesota on all three of its fourth-down attempts.
On the other side of the ball, redshirt freshman quarterback Clayton Thorson continues to improve for the Wildcats. Thorson completed 14-of-19 passes for only 128 yards, but he showed his dual-threat capabilities with two more rushing touchdowns – giving him four on the season. Thorson had plenty of help from his ground game as well, with sophomore Justin Jackson racking up 120 yards on the afternoon.
The Wildcats’ offense is far from explosive, but it doesn’t have to be in order to win games, especially when the defense has given up only three touchdowns in five games.
And while the Northwestern defense displayed its dominance in Evanston, Iowa went on the road to Wisconsin and flexed its defensive muscles. In a game that was fairly sloppy on both sides, Iowa forced four Badgers turnovers to eke out a 10-6 road win.
All four of Wisconsin’s turnovers came from quarterback Joel Stave, who couldn’t get much going against a swarming Hawkeyes defense. Stave was intercepted twice by Desmond King and lost two fumbles, including a crucial botched handoff in the fourth quarter.
Iowa’s offense didn’t put up its most sparkling effort, but running back Jordan Canzeri (26 carries, 125 yards) was a bright spot, providing a boost for a struggling C.J. Beathard (9/21, 77 yards, TD, INT). The Hawkeyes scored their only touchdown when Beathard hit tight end George Kittle on a goal-line play late in the first half.
The Hawkeyes added a field goal before halftime and it was all they would need to pull out the win.
Wisconsin and Nebraska were the perceived favorites in the West coming into the season. But through five weeks, Northwestern and Iowa look like better teams with the Badgers and Huskers already having two losses apiece.
Sure it’s early in the year, but all of a sudden Iowa’s Oct. 17 trip to Northwestern looks like a heck of a matchup.
For more Northwestern news, visit WildcatReport.com.
For more Iowa news, visit HawkeyeReport.com.
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