EVANSTON, Ill. - For the second straight week, Iowa fell way behind before showing life on offense.
The Hawkeyes rallied late, scoring a touchdown late in the third quarter and another touchdown midway through the fourth before falling 28-17 to Northwestern on Saturday.
"We kind of tightened up and played good football (in the fourth quarter)," said Hawkeyes safety Micah Hyde, who recovered a fumble. "The matter is just getting it done earlier in the game."
Northwestern quarterback Kain Colter scored three rushing touchdowns and threw for another score.
Iowa (4-4, 2-2) has lost two straight to fall further out of contention in the Big Ten Leaders Division. Last week, the Hawkeyes trailed Penn State by 38 in Iowa City before losing 38-14.
This time, Iowa fell behind 28-3 in the third quarter. The Hawkeyes cut the lead to 28-17 with 6:37 remaining on quarterback James Vandenberg's 1-yard run to cap an 84-yard drive after Iowa recovered a fumble.
Iowa drove to the Northwestern 24 with 1:49 left, but Vandenberg threw an incomplete pass on fourth-and-3 to end the threat. Vandenberg finished 24 for 38 for 214 yards and ran for two touchdowns.
Iowa finished with 336 yards on offense, and Vandenberg was sacked three times.
"We got backed into a corner where you have to start going no-huddle and start throwing the ball around," Vandenberg said. "We were able to get some stuff done that way. But ultimately it was the flaws of the first half that cost us the game."
Running back Damon Bullock rushed for 107 yards on 22 carries and caught five passes for 41 yards in his first action since suffering a concussion against Northern Iowa on Sept. 15.
"Damon did a lot of good things out there, especially considering how long it's been since he's played," coach Kirk Ferentz said. "He gave us a little bit of a spark out there."
Iowa turned to Bullock after top running back Mark Weisman exited late in the second quarter with an undisclosed injury. Ferentz declined to elaborate on Weisman's injury and said he will be assessed next week. The Hawkeyes next play at Indiana.
Weisman sprained an ankle two weeks ago against Michigan State. He rushed for 9 yards against Penn State last week.
Northwestern (7-2, 3-2) has won four of its last five against Iowa. The Wildcats have been struggling with their passing game but found success with their running game.
Colter rushed for a career-high 166 yards on 26 carries. Venric Mark ran for 162 yards to become Northwestern's first 1,000-yard rusher since Tyrell Sutton in 2006. The Wildcats rushed for 349 yards, its second-highest total of the season.
"You can't just isolate on one guy, certainly," Ferentz said. "You get the ball going one way, and (Colter will) pull it down and bring it back the other way."
Northwestern has used two quarterbacks, Colter and Trevor Siemian, this season. The Wildcats stuck to Colter on Saturday, as Siemian completed his one pass attempt. Colter went 6 for 9 for 80 yards and a touchdown with an interception.
"Some of the things that we have done well have had Kain there at quarterback, so we made some decisions to kind of focus on that, and for the most part, that worked out efficiently today," coach Pat Fitzgerald said.
Northwestern jumped on Iowa early in the homecoming game. The Wildcats scored on their opening drive on a 5-yard run by Colter. He surpassed his previous career high of 161 rushing yards.
"He's dynamic. He's an explosive athlete who can do a lot of things and do them well," Fitzgerald said. "Every time he touches the ball, he has a chance to make a big play happen."
Northwestern took a 14-3 lead after marching down the field 99 yards, with Mark running for 72 yards on the first play. Colter scored on a 2-yard run. The Wildcats grabbed a 21-3 lead shortly after halftime after Tyris Jones blocked a Hawkeyes punt and Colter scored his third touchdown on a 4-yard rush.
Northwestern took control on Colter's 47-yard touchdown pass to Christian Jones with 10:43 left in the third quarter.
Iowa scored its first touchdown on Vandenberg's 1-yard run with 22 seconds left in the third quarter to make it 28-10.
"I thought we moved the ball pretty well, but we just weren't punching it down once we got to the 25, the 20," Vandenberg said. "We weren't able to get some things done. And against a team like that, that will score points, you've got to get seven when you put those drives together."