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EVANSTON, Ill. (AP) — For Iowa's defense, the goal is the same every week — dominate.
The 20th-ranked Hawkeyes accomplished their mission on Saturday, allowing just 202 yards in a 20-0 rout of Northwestern. The Wildcats' deepest advance into Iowa territory was the 28-yard line late in the third quarter.
Iowa, which entered the game fifth in the nation in scoring defense and 10th in total defense, earned its second shutout of the season and fourth since the beginning of last season.
It all started with preparation.
"A few weeks ago, I said you can beat any team if they don't score," defensive end Chauncey Golston said. "Practice this week, it was something crazy. The tempo was great, everybody was flying around, and we did the same thing today."
When asked when he started thinking about a shutout, Golston said: "Before we even got off the bus. We think that every game."
The offense did enough. Nate Stanley had 179 yards passing with a touchdown, Mekhi Sargent had a rushing touchdown and Tyler Goodson added 58 yards rushing on 11 carries as Iowa (6-2, 3-2 Big Ten) won its second straight.
Aidan Smith completed 18 of 32 passes for 138 yards with an interception for Northwestern (1-6, 0-5), which dropped its fifth straight.
"I think we're going to watch the tape and be disappointed," Wildcats coach Pat Fitzgerald said. "There were some opportunities there to make some plays. We've got to be more efficient at that position."
Iowa took a 7-0 lead midway through the first quarter on a 50-yard touchdown pass from Stanley to wide receiver Tyrone Tracy. Tracy caught the ball at about the 30-yard line over the middle, broke a tackle with a spin move and raced down the sideline into the end zone.
Keith Duncan hit a 40-yard field goal early in the second quarter for a 10-0 halftime lead. The Hawkeyes stretched the lead to 17-0 on a 1-yard run by Sargent with 5:23 left in the third.
Duncan added a 28-yard field goal early in the fourth to close out the scoring.
"Rarely is anything easy in conference play, and there's certainly nothing automatic," Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. "A lot of good things out there, and probably the most important thing was playing clean football. We protected the football.
"What can I say about the defense? Obviously, I'm very, very pleased with what they did."
Stanley's touchdown pass was the 62nd of his career, breaking a tie with Drew Tate and moving him into second place on Iowa's all-time list. Chuck Long leads the list with 74.
PLAYING IT SAFE
Leading 10-0 with just under a minute left in the first half, Iowa faced a fourth-and-1 from the Northwestern 45. Ferentz was tempted to go for it but decided not to because the defense was playing so well.
"There was nothing to be gained there," he said.
In the third quarter, facing a fourth-and-8 at the Northwestern 30, the coach did go for it. Stanley completed an 11-yard pass to tight end Shaun Beyer to set up Sargent's touchdown.
A year after winning the Big Ten West, Northwestern is struggling mightily and the fan base is expressing its frustration.
"I get it," Fitzgerald said. "I'm a fan first and I graduated from here. We have high expectations and we should have high expectations. We aren't living up to them. I would prefer people instead of being negative just continue to support our guys. They can be negative with me all they want."
Iowa: The Hawkeyes have a two-game winning streak heading into a bye. With games against Wisconsin and Minnesota following the week off, they have a chance to take control of the Big Ten West. It's unclear when leading receiver Brandon Smith (leg injury) will be ready to return.
Northwestern: Whether it's Smith or Hunter Johnson under center, the offense continues to sputter. The Wildcats managed just 70 yards of total offense in the first half. At 1-6, they'd have to win out to become bowl eligible. A more realistic goal for the remainder of the season would be either Smith or Johnson showing some consistency heading into the offseason.
Iowa could move up in the next rankings, but that will depend on other teams. Though Iowa dominated, this win won't merit much of a jump because Northwestern has struggled so much lately.
Iowa: At No. 13 Wisconsin on Nov. 9.
Northwestern: At Indiana next Saturday.