Northwestern quarterback Clayton Thorson drops back to pass during the Wildcats' 2016 game against Iowa at Kinnick Stadium. The senior ranks seventh on the Big Ten career passing charts as he prepares to make his 49th straight start under center for Northwestern when it visits Iowa on Saturday.

Four things the football teams from Iowa and Northwestern can do to enjoy success in Saturday's 2:30 p.m. game at Kinnick Stadium:

Northwestern (5-4, 5-1)

1. Stay the course

A quick look at statistics don't tell the story of Northwestern's season.

The Wildcats don't rush the ball particularly well -- they're last in the league at 93 yards per game -- and the passing game has been solid at 264.7 yards per game, third in the Big Ten, but when it steps on the field against a Big Ten opponent, Northwestern has one thing down.

The Wildcats know how to win and have won their last six Big Ten road games.

Northwestern has won 12 of its last 13 games against Big Ten opponents and leads the West Division this season with a 5-1 start. The lone blemish is a 20-17 loss to a Michigan team that leads the East with a 6-0 record.

Defense continues to be at the core of that success as well and the longer the Wildcats can hang around, the more they like their chances.

Northwestern typically doesn't beat itself. The Wildcats are the least-penalized team in the country, flagged just 26 times through nine games. That's seven fewer penalties than Navy, which is the second-least penalized team in the nation.

2. Ride the horse

Clayton Thorson has started 48 consecutive games at quarterback for Northwestern and is the engine that powers the Wildcats' offense.

The senior from Wheaton, Illinois, has the second longest starting streak under center in the Football Bowl Subdivision, topped only by Washington's Jake Browning, and he arrives at Iowa needing 13 completions, 31 attempts and 820 passing to pass Brett Basanez as the Wildcats' career leader in those categories.

He's currently seventh on the Big Ten career passing list already has thrown a school record 55 touchdown passes in his career.

Flynn Nagel has been his top target, catching 63 passes for 744 yards, but Cameron Green and Bennett Skoronek have caught 39 and 34 passes respectively.

3. Get defensive

Northwestern has held five of its six Big Ten opponents below their season scoring average.

The exception was Nebraska, which topped its season average by 1.1 points with 31 points in an overtime loss to the Wildcats.

Linebacker play has been at the core of Northwestern's success. The Wildcats' Blake Gallagher and Paddy Fisher have combined for 155 tackles through nine games.

Gallagher is second in the Big Ten with an average of 9.2 stops per game and shares the league lead with five double-digit tackle performances this season.

Fisher is the first sophomore selected to captain a Northwestern team in Pat Fitzgerald's tenure and he leads the team with two forced fumbles this season.

The Wildcats' secondary is led by cornerback Montre Hartage, a senior who has broken up 13 passes this season.

Injuries are expected to keep two Northwestern starting defensive backs off the field Saturday. Safety Jared McGee and cornerback Trae Williams are not expected to face Iowa.

4. Establish the run

The retirement of Jeremy Larkin after four games because of a medical condition has impacted the Wildcats' rushing attack.

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Five games since shifting into the role of a student coach, Larkin remains the Wildcats' leading rusher although freshman Isaiah Bowser has gained traction in recent weeks.

The 6-foot-1, 216-pound Bowser has topped 90 rushing yards in Northwestern's last three games and made his first career start last week against Notre Dame. He's averaging 64 yards per game, seventh most among first-year backs at the FBS level.

Iowa (6-3, 3-3)

1. Finish

The common denominator in Iowa's three losses this season has been the in ability to finish.

The Hawkeyes led Wisconsin and Purdue into the final minute of the game and missed an opportunity to gain a late lead at Penn State when Nate Stanley was intercepted at the 2-yard line on a first-and-goal play with just over 3 minutes remaining in the first of two straight frustration-filled road losses for Iowa.

There was growth in the red zone last week at Purdue, when Iowa collected touchdowns on five of its six drives inside the Boilermakers' 20-yard line and scored a field goal on the sixth.

That's progress, but Iowa must find a way to finish against an opponent that has turned that part of the game into an art form while going 3-1 in Big Ten games decided by four points or less.

2. Establish the run

The Hawkeyes ability to control the ball and the clock will be important against the arm of the Wildcats' Thorson, who is third in the Big Ten with a passing average of 245.9 yards per game.

Iowa now averages 156.8 yards per game on the ground, ninth in the Big Ten, and will continue to look for a hot hand among sophomores Ivory Kelly-Martin, Toren Young and Mekhi Sargent.

The Hawkeyes' offense has been at its best this season when it has been able to blend the run and pass effectively.

3. Don't look back

This week will test Iowa mentally as much as it will physically.

At 3-3 in the Big Ten, the Hawkeyes' season could twist and turn in a multitude of directions during the final three weeks of Big Ten play.

Moving past the sting of last week's 38-36 loss at Purdue has been a theme this week at Iowa practices and it presents one of the biggest hurdles the Hawkeyes have dealt with this season.

Get over it, and Iowa still has a chance to complete the regular season at 9-3. Trip again and who knows where things will end up

4. Secondary is primary

As Iowa prepares to face a senior quarterback for the third straight week, the play of the Hawkeye secondary will be important against Northwestern.

Purdue's David Blough torched Iowa for 333 yards through the air last week, the most productive passing day in the last 19 games for an Iowa opponent.

The ability of freshmen Julius Brents and Riley Moss to bounce back from a rough outing and the return of healthy Matt Hankins to the mix will important.

Iowa's defense has become more opportunistic in recent games, recording 10 interceptions in the last five weeks after picking off just two passes in the first four games of the season.

That type of opportunity may be there again this week. Thorson has completed 60.2 percent of his passes, but has been intercepted 10 times in 347 attempts.

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