BY HERB GOULD
For the Sun-Times
There are losses. And there are Losses.
This 40-10 homecoming disaster against No. 17 Iowa was a capital-L loss for No. 20 Northwestern, which had been hoping to prove the 38-0 drubbing at Michigan last week was a fluke.
Instead, NU (5-2, 1-2) has raised the question of whether its rousing 5-0 start was the fluke.
‘‘I’m disappointed in the outcome of the game,’’ coach Pat Fitzgerald said. ‘‘I thought we’d compete better than we did. The team has to make a decision. [Are we the] team that won five games and made plays all over the place, or a team that quite frankly the last two weeks has been devoid of making plays?’’
Fitzgerald was obviously disturbed by this performance in front of his Rose Bowl teammates, who were marking the 20th anniversary of that magical 1995 season at this homecoming.
‘‘I despise losing with a passion,’’ Fitzgerald said. ‘‘I’ll just leave it at that. How does that sound?’’
‘‘I’m going to yell at them a lot,’’ Fitzgerald said, ‘‘from a motivational standpoint, to get them to do what we’re asking them to do. Today it was just fundamental things. Blocking and tackling. Throwing and catching.’’
In a game that seemed to be a clash between the best in the Big Ten’s shaky West, the Hawkeyes, who are 7-0 for the first time since 2009, seized the reins. And they did it with an unheralded running back.
After Jordan Canzeri, the Big Ten’s third-leading rusher, hobbled off the field late in the first quarter, sophomore Akrum Wadley, who was Iowa’s third or fourth running back when everyone was healthy, put the Hawkeyes on his back.
The 5-11, 185-pound backup from Newark, New Jersey, ran 26 times for 204 yards and four touchdowns, scoring from 35, 4, 2 and 4 yards. The four rushing TDs tied a school record. Before feasting on the Cats, Wadley, who has had fumble issues, had run for 221 yards in his 11-game college career.
‘‘I don’t want to diminish the young man’s game,’’ Fitzgerald said. ‘‘But I think we helped him. He had a great game, but I really think we helped him.’’
Sophomore Derrick Mitchell Jr. added 79 rushing yards and one TD against NU’s sagging defense, which was torched for 492 yards. The Cats had been allowing 269.5 yards, ninth in the nation.
Iowa, 3-0 in Big Ten play, won the turnover battle 3-1 and controlled the ball for more than 37 minutes in dominating NU.
The Wildcats missed tackles on defense, and they dropped the ball when they had it. Freshman quarterback Clayton Thorson completed only 17 of 35 passes for 125 yards.
‘‘Nobody wants any dropped passes,’’ senior receiver Christian Jones said. ‘‘We have to find a way to fix it. It’s personal. It’s a pride thing. It came down to who wanted it more. And we just didn’t do it.’’
Where does Northwestern go from here? Nebraska.
‘‘It’s very disappointing, the performance of the last two weeks,’’ defensive end Dean Lowry said. ‘‘We know we can do better. We have to look ourselves in the mirror and ask ourselves, are we the team that beat Stanford and Minnesota, or the team that came out today? I think this game will bring a lot of reflection these next few days.’’
The Cornhuskers, who have their own issues, won’t be sympathetic.
Follow me on Twitter@HerbGould.