Forget everything you thought you knew about the Northwestern offense.
A unit that's looked sluggish through a rough 1-3 start came to play Saturday, scoring touchdowns on three consecutive second-half drives to pull an upset 38-31 win over Iowa at Kinnick Stadium.
Down 24-17 early in the third quarter, the Wildcats scored on touchdown drives of 75, 77 and 80 yards, all the while the defense holding the Hawkeyes to just a pair of three and outs in that same span.
Clayton Thorson hit Austin Carr for touchdowns on two of those drives — Carr had three touchdown catches on the afternoon — and Justin Jackson sprinted away for a 58-yard scoring rush as Northwestern put a two-score gap between itself and Iowa. Even a fourth-quarter score by the Hawkeyes couldn't close that gap.
The Cats piled up a not-all-that-impressive 362 yards of offense, but it was plenty compared to the Hawkeyes' 283 yards. Northwestern out-rushed Iowa, 198-79.
The game started in almost near-perfect fashion for the Cats, with Thorson running in for a touchdown after a long punt return by Flynn Nagel. But the Hawkeyes evened the score shortly thereafter, Akrum Wadley rushing in for a touchdown after a long punt return by Desmond King.
After a field goal, Thorson hit Carr for the first time on the day to put Northwestern up 17-7, but the momentum turned from there. Iowa scored on a short field off a punt, Jay Scheel making a great catch on a C.J. Beathard pass to set up another Wadley touchdown run. Then Brandon Snyder forced a Jackson fumble, and the Hawkeyes turned that into another score, Beathard finding Riley McCarron for a go-ahead touchdown before halftime.
But after an Iowa field goal, Northwestern's offense took over in the third quarter. The Cats got a score to cap a 75-yard drive with Carr making a highlight-reel catch in the end zone. Then the defense forced a three and out. Then Jackson scampered for that 58-yard score. Then the defense forced a three and out. Then an 80-yard drive wrapped with Thorson finding Carr on a crossing route, and the receiver bounced off a would-be tackler to reach the end zone for a two-score lead.
Iowa did score once more in the fourth quarter, Beathard leading a nice 75-yard touchdown drive. But once more the Northwestern defense stood tall and picked off Beathard at game's end to secure the upset.
The Cats looked like a totally different team on both sides of the ball, particularly after an ugly, mistake-filled loss to Nebraska last weekend. The offense was incredibly productive for that second-half stretch, 38 points being the most Northwestern has scored in a game since last September's win over Eastern Illinois and the most scored against an FBS team since November 2014 wins over Purdue and Notre Dame.
The defense deserves a heck of a lot of credit, too, limiting Iowa's offense to just 283 total yards and just 79 rushing yards a week after getting shredded by Nebraska for 556 yards. Ifeadi Odenigbo sacking Beathard four times and doing so in clutch moments, all four of his sacks coming on third down. The Cats had six sacks on the game.
Meanwhile, Iowa continued to have offensive struggles two weeks after falling to North Dakota State and one week after mustering just 14 points in a one-touchdown win over Rutgers. And the defense, as it did in those two games, had more trouble shutting down the run as Northwestern racked up 198 rushing yards.
The win sent the Cats to 2-3 on the campaign, and they have a bye next weekend before a trip to Michigan State.
The Hawkeyes fell to 3-2 with the loss and face Minnesota in the Floyd of Rosedale game next weekend.