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updated: 10/26/2012 10:33 AM

Northwestern, Iowa hoping to bounce back

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  • Northwestern running back Venric Mark, here heading for an 80-yard touchdown against Nebraska, leads the Big Ten in all-purpose yards per game and has rushed for more than 100 yards in five games this season.

      Northwestern running back Venric Mark, here heading for an 80-yard touchdown against Nebraska, leads the Big Ten in all-purpose yards per game and has rushed for more than 100 yards in five games this season.
    Associated Press

  • Until he was held to just 9 yards against Penn State, Iowa fullback Mark Weisman of Buffalo Grove had scored 8 touchdown in four games. Banged up against Penn State, Weisman is expected to be healthy when the Hawkeyes play at Northwestern on Saturday.

      Until he was held to just 9 yards against Penn State, Iowa fullback Mark Weisman of Buffalo Grove had scored 8 touchdown in four games. Banged up against Penn State, Weisman is expected to be healthy when the Hawkeyes play at Northwestern on Saturday.
    Associated Press

 
By Luke Meredith
AP Sports Writer

Northwestern and Iowa have spent the past week trying to get over crushing home defeats.

At least the Wildcats were close.

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Northwestern (6-2, 2-2 Big Ten) blew a 12-point lead midway through the fourth quarter and lost a college football heartbreaker to Nebraska, 29-28, last Saturday. The Hawkeyes (4-3, 2-1) let Penn State jump out to an early lead and got crushed, 38-14, in one of the worst losses of coach Kirk Ferentz's 14-year tenure.

The results gave the teams an added sense of urgency heading into Saturday's game at Northwestern (11 a.m. ESPN2, WGN 720-AM) since both are in danger falling out of contention in the Big Ten Legends Division.

"It falls on the leadership. There's no question about it. There's a certain formula we have around here, win or lose. We stick to that formula," Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said. "The guys understand what happened, what we did and what we can do better."

Northwestern took away its fair share of positives before it collapsed against the Huskers. Nothing went right for the Hawkeyes against the Nittany Lions.

Iowa's defense, which had been mostly solid this season, was gashed in every way possible by Penn State's up-tempo attack. The struggling Hawkeyes offense hit rock bottom with just a single touchdown scored, long after things had been settled.

Iowa also lost a pair of starting offensive linemen, Brandon Scherff and Andrew Donnal, for the season to injuries. But the Hawkeyes will likely have Mark Weisman back at close to 100 percent after he struggled with a sprained ankle last week.

Weisman, who grew up Buffalo Grove and starred at Stevenson High School, rushed for 623 yards and 8 touchdowns in the four games preceding the loss to Penn State. He's been by far the best player on an offense that's struggled behind senior quarterback James Vandenberg, but Weisman was held to just nine yards rushing against the Nittany Lions.

"He's further ahead than last week, and hopefully he can do a little bit better this week," Ferentz said.

While Weisman is the biggest surprise at running back in the Big Ten, Northwestern's Venric Mark might be the most productive back in the league.

Mark leads the Big Ten and is fifth nationally with 183 all-purpose yards per game. He has five 100-yard rushing games, matching stars Montee Ball of Wisconsin and Braxton Miller of Ohio State.

"He's a guy that you better have accounted for no matter what the phase of the game is. If he's the one on the field, you need to really try to keep him contained, because he's a very tough player to defend," Ferentz said of Mark.

The Hawkeyes and Wildcats have split their last 12 meetings and it's often been an entertaining matchup.

The Hawkeyes lost to the Wildcats at home, 22-17, in 2008 after failing to score on four plays inside Northwestern's 10-yard line on their final possession. The Wildcats beat a 9-0 Iowa team in 2009, knocking out quarterback Ricky Stanzi and ending the Hawkeyes hopes for a spot in the national title game.

Iowa's last trip to Evanston was just as miserable. The Hawkeyes blew a 10-point lead and lost 21-17 in 2010.

The Wildcats are the favorites this time around. But they know that what's expected to happen usually doesn't happen when they face the Hawkeyes.

"Two teams who have a ton of respect for each other. I know we do on our end. They have been battles down to the wire here over the last decade," Fitzgerald said. "They'll be well prepared and well coached. Like us, wounded from their last experience and hungry for a win."

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