IOWA CITY — Perhaps no statistic illustrates Northwestern’s three-game winning streak against Iowa better than third-down conversions.
In the last three seasons, Northwestern has converted 27 of 53 third-down opportunities. Iowa, conversely, has converted just 9-of-37 on third down.
Those statistics don’t tell the entire story of Northwestern’s triumphs against the Hawkeyes, but they add layers to final outcome.
“I just think we’ve been fortunate, No. 1, we’ve taken care of the ball. No. 2, we’ve won on third down,” Northwestern Coach Pat Fitzgerald said. “That’s going to be critical again on Saturday. We’ve got to win on third down, and I’m sure Kirk will say the same thing.”
Northwestern quarterback Dan Persa has helped pull out many of those third-down conversions, especially in last year’s 21-17 Wildcats’ win. That’s where the challenge lies for the Iowa defense.
“A guy like that could cover five yards in half a second,” Iowa middle linebacker James Morris said. “Plus, he’s a very accurate passer. So if you think about it too long, it will give you a headache about how dangerous they are on third and short. That’s why first and second down are very important.”
But as successful as Northwestern has been on third down against Iowa, the Wildcats have been unable to sustain that success in 2011. Northwestern ranks last in the Big Ten in opponents’ third-down conversions at 54.8 percent. The Wildcats ara eighth on offense, converting just 40.8 percent on third down.
“On defense, we’ve given teams too many third and manageables, too many third-and-fives or less,” Fitzgerald said. “The pendulum swings a little bit there to the offense. We just haven’t put guys in position to make enough plays. We’re looking hard at what we’re doing schematically and making sure we’re playing to our guys’ strengths.
“On offense, little bit of a combination of things. No. 1, it’s a breakdown in the scheme, things we’ve got to fix. Also a breakdown in execution, a one-man breakdown here, a one-man breakdown there. It’s critical on third down; it’s a big down to sustain drives.”
Within a few weeks Iowa plans to break ground on its new $20-25 million football practice facility. It will overlap Iowa’s southernmost grass practice field and take up the entire parking lot west of the recreation building.
That likely will cause some parking issues for Iowa’s final two home football games on Nov. 5 and Nov. 12.
“We’ve known all along that sometime in the middle of the season we’d have some disruption in the parking and it was mostly related to where the RVs park,” Iowa Athletics Director Gary Barta said. “We’d already moved them out. So the disruption will be there, I’d hate to call it minimal, but compared to what it could be it will be minimal.”
Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz said sophomore cornerback B.J. Lowery has returned to practice and could play as soon as Saturday.
Lowery suffered a broken wrist in training camp and will wear a cover over his arm at practice and in games. Lowery played in seven games last year as a true freshman and could play special teams this weekend.
“He hasn’t practiced in pads now since August, and he was practicing well,” Ferentz said. “He did a good job in the spring and so that’s good news. But the reality is, he has not practiced with the pads on or a helmet on basically two months.
“So at least it’s a start back and we can get him going and get him back with the football team and maybe he can help us out depth wise, that type of thing and we’ll just keep bringing him along.”
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