The Iowa-Northwestern rivalry


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Jake Rudock wasn’t alive when Iowa beat Northwestern 21-straight times. During the Bob Commings and Hayden Fry eras, the teams clad in Black and Gold mercilessly bullied their purple neighbors to the east by an average of 27 points from 1974-1994.

These days, the games between the Hawkeyes and Wildcats are more evenly matched; the scores a lot closer; and at times, the stakes are much higher.

“We respect them a whole heck of a lot. They’ve proven they can play with the best of them,” Rudock said. “They’re a really solid team, very well-coached. These games go back and forth a lot.”

Iowa has historically owned Northwestern, 48-24-3, but the Wildcats have won six of the last nine, including three of the last five in Kinnick. Even more, four the last six contests between the two programs have been decided by a touchdown or less.

This recent successful run by Northwestern has helped turned a once one-sided series into more of an actual rivalry, says Wildcat head coach Pat Fitzgerald.

“We weren’t competitive with Iowa for a long time,” he said. “We became competitive, basically, in 1995. I think the games, since then, have been pretty darn good football games.

“I think it evolved because we became competitive. That’s the bottom line. Before that, it was pretty irrelevant, because the games were pretty lopsided.”

Before 1974, Iowa had a 20-14-3 series advantage. The Hawkeyes won the inaugural meeting in 1897, 12-6, under head coach Otto Wagonhurst.

After Commings and Fry combined for 21-straight wins over Northwestern, head coach Gary Barnett guided the Wildcats to a 31-20 victory in 1995, the first of three-straight victories for the program.

Since 1995, Northwestern is 10-7 against Iowa. The games have not been easy, though — the Wildcats won those 10 games by an average of 8.3 points, and six of those wins have been by 7 points or fewer.

“This has become a good rivalry over the years,” Fitzgerald said. “I know our guys will be up for the challenge.”

Now in his ninth season as head coach, Fitzgerald said he doesn’t coach his players any differently in the week leading up to the team’s game with Iowa. He stays consistent at practice, noting that he’s always “pretty crazy. I don’t think this week will be any different.”

Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz offered a bit of a different perspective.

“I’ve read the story about Gary Barnett and Coach Fry, and Gary Barnett did a wonderful job there, and Pat played on that football team, so it’s got to be very personal to him, I’m sure,” Ferentz said. “But bottom line, as you’re aware, in the ’80s, that wasn’t much of a series. That’s well-documented.
“Since I’ve been back, it’s been a really tough series. They’ve had excellent football teams. If you look at even last year, which was a disappointing year, how close they were going back to the Ohio State game. So I just look at it, and since Pat’s taken over, they’ve played really well.”

This year’s matchup is further heightened for both teams, the Hawkeye head man said. Iowa is just one win away from bowl eligibility, and Northwestern needs a victory to avoid falling to 3-5 overall.

“I mean, since ’95, these guys have been really good. They’ve got a proud tradition, and they play like they have a proud tradition,” he said. “… They are well coached, play hard, and work extremely well, so we’re going to have to be at our best certainly and expect a tough contest.”

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