Four things the football teams from Iowa and Northwestern can do to put themselves in a position for success in Saturday's 11 a.m. game at Ryan Field:
Northwestern (3-3, 1-2)
1. Create havoc
When Northwestern has been at its best offensively, the Wildcats have blended the running of Justin Jackson with an effective passing attack led by Clayton Thorson.
The junior quarterback has the ability to pick apart defenses as Northwestern works a myriad of underneath crossing routes in the pass game.
He doesn't necessarily have a go-to receiver as he did a year ago with Austin Carr, but Thorson has spread the ball around well. Flynn Nagel has been the Wildcats' leading receiver with 22 catches, but Bennett Skowronek, Garrett Dickerson and Jackson have 21 receptions apiece.
Skowronek presents some issues with his 6-foot-4 size and both Dickerson and Cameron Green at the super back position bring some physical strength in a receiving role to an offense which has topped 500 yards in its three wins, but has averaged around 300 in its losses.
2. Stay aggressive
One of the expected strengths of a Northwestern team that was mentioned as a possible darkhorse in the Big Ten West Division can be found on its defensive front.
The Wildcats, like Iowa, are rotating eight players across the front four and Northwestern features a blend of size and strength complemented by a good deal of experience.
The group has helped the Wildcats record 21 tackles for a loss and seven sacks in Northwestern's last two games.
Senior tackle Tyler Lancaster anchors things. The 6-foot-3, 315-pound senior has recorded four tackles for a loss, one fewer than 6-3, 261-pound freshman Samdup Miller has contributed to go with three sacks from an end position.
3. Let Justin be Justin
When Justin Jackson has been on his game, he's been a handful as was the case a year ago when he rushed for 171 yards against Iowa. That opened things up in the passing game which led Northwestern to a 38-31 win at Kinnick Stadium.
A year earlier, the Hawkeyes held the 5-11, 200-pound back to 30 yards on the ground in a 40-10 Iowa win at Ryan Field.
Iowa's work defensively begins with defending Jackson. His ability to elude those attempts will be critical to Northwestern's chances.
4. Beat the opponent, not yourself
During a 3-3 start, Northwestern has been its own worst enemy at times.
The Wildcats have had offensive line issues, surrendering a Big Ten-worst 20 sacks through six games. Wisconsin got to Clayton Thorson eight times. Penn State sacked him four times the following week.
Sacks totaling 154 yards have impacted the bottom line for Northwestern, as have the nine interceptions thrown by the Wildcats' junior quarterback. Thorson has completed just eight touchdown passes this season while completing 60.4 percent of his 227 attempts.
Northwestern's turnover margin of minus-six ranks 13th in the Big Ten, ahead of only Indiana and its ugly minus-nine.
Iowa (4-2, 1-2)
1. Establish the run
Brian Ferentz cut straight to the point during his bye week media session when he said Iowa will have a tough time winning games the rest of the year if it doesn't improve its average of 3.7 yards per rush.
He's spot on and again, the Hawkeyes can help themselves if they are able to move the ball on the ground.
Akrum Wadley is averaging 4.1 yards per carry but needs continued growth as Iowa's lead back.
James Butler is back on the practice field this week, but the Hawkeyes' second-leading rusher isn't expected to play as he adjusts to competing with a brace on the right elbow he dislocated a little over a month ago.
Some of Iowa's issues on the ground have started up front, where there did seem to be some growth in the second half of a game against Illinois two weeks ago.
True freshman Tristan Wirfs is expected to make his second start at right tackle against Northwestern, a move which has allowed Sean Welsh to slip inside to a guard position where he is both comfortable and effective.
2. Stop the run
Opponents are gaining 4.5 yards per carry against the Hawkeyes, a rarity for a Kirk Ferentz-coached team and a number last touched in 2000.
Ferentz would like to see the yards-per-carry on offense and defense flip during the second half of the season. Iowa will need some improvement there although it will be tested by three of the top four rushers in the Big Ten over the next four weeks.
Northwestern's offensive line has been shaky and that could provide the Hawkeyes with some opportunities. The Wildcats were held to 22 rushing yards by Duke, a game when starting running back Justin Jackson was limited to seven carries, and to 25 yards by Wisconsin and 95 by Penn State.
3. Make a connection
Nate Stanley said he spent the bye week trying to sharpen the connection he has with his receivers.
Development in that area will be critical during the second half of the season as Stanley works to improve on his completion rate of 57.7 percent.
Nick Easley has become Stanley's go-to guy, catching 27 passes over six games. Akrum Wadley and Matt VandeBerg have caught 15 apiece.
The deep ball remains a work in progress, but the threat of it is having the desired impact and is softening opposing defenses to a degree. Eventually, connections there will only help Iowa.
4. Embrace the moment
This stacks up as a pivotal game for both teams after 1-2 starts in Big Ten play.
The difference between 2-2 and 1-3 in league play is canyon sized an Saturday's loser realistically has played its way out of the title chase in the Big Ten West.
For Iowa, with games on the horizon against Ohio State and Wisconsin looming following next week's match-up with Minnesota, success against Northwestern becomes as much of a requirement as a freshman rhetoric course.