Preview, Prediction: Plenty on Line for Hawkeyes, Huskers
IOWA CITY, Iowa – It seemed like a good idea when Nebraska joined the Big Ten for the 2011 season. Playing Iowa to end the regular season on Black Friday made sense. Some wondered if the rivalry would be manufactured.
Well, it had to start somewhere. And to the credit of the schools and conference, it’s been building.
The Huskers have won three of the five Heroes Game contests so far. The last four meetings have been captured by the road team. They’ve played to a national television audience with little competition for eyes.
They’ll face off again Friday (2:30 p.m. CT, ABC) with a piece of the West Division title in play. The winner would need Minnesota to knock off Wisconsin for a share. The Huskers still could reach the Big Ten Championship game in Indianapolis next week.
No. 18 Nebraska is trying to reach 10 wins for the first time since ’12. The Hawkeyes (7-4 overall, 5-3 Big Ten) would like to finish the regular schedule with three wins in a row. Both teams are working on bowl resumes.
These are the things that make rivalries.
“It seems like a really great natural rivalry that will just do nothing but grow and become bigger and bigger. I mean, just the proximity, kind of the like-mindedness, I just think it’s a perfect fit that way,” Husker coach Mike Riley said. “The guys in this program see them as, they’ll be a constant competitor for this Western Division deal. So every game will be big, and you know, I think the rivalry part of it will be great for all of us surrounding, the fans, and I think it will become more and more real.”
The programs are built on a desire for stingy defense and an ability to run the ball creating balanced offense. Nebraska has rushed for 2,048 yards while throwing for 2,368. The Hawkeyes sit at 1,799 and 1,792.
The Huskers have won the last two meetings in Iowa City by a total of nine points. That included a 37-34, overtime victory two years ago. Iowa prevailed, 28-20, last November at Memorial Stadium to cap off a 12-0 regular season.
Nebraska jumped out to a 7-0 start this fall and sat at No. 10 in the first College Football Rankings released on Nov. 1. Wisconsin slipped by the Huskers, 23-17, in overtime during Week 8 and the next Saturday they got blasted, 62-3, at Ohio State. They bounced back with home wins against Minnesota and Maryland.
The Huskers come into Saturday with injuries at their most important position. Starting quarterback Tommy Armstrong is questionable with a hamstring issue that kept him out last Saturday. His backup, Ryker Fyfe, broke his left wrist (non-throwing) against Maryland and his status is up in the air.
Riley said they would know more on the situation by the end of Tuesday night’s practice, at the earliest. They could keep Iowa wondering up until kickoff.
Sophomore Zack Darlington, who arrived in Lincoln as a quarterback before moving to wide receiver, is being worked behind center, Riley said. After that, it’s anyone’s guess who would lead the offense.
“Where we are and how we’re going to fight through with our quarterback, it’s just going to be a different situation. We’re going to be fine, but we’ve got to figure out what that means, and then mentally and physically be ready to play our toughest game, because you’re kind of gutting it out right now. You’ve got to finish strong and hard and it’s going to be physical and it’s not going to be 75 degrees, so it’s going to be just getting ready to play physical,” Riley said.
Slot receiver Jordan Westerkamp leads Nebraska in catches (34), and yardage (476) and touchdowns (5) receiving despite missing two games. He is supported by Stanley Morgan Jr. (28-397-1) and Alonzo Moore (20-375-2).
“It’s been a tough year for us with injuries, but that’s just kind of how football is,” Westerkamp said. “You know no matter whose back there (at quarterback), we will have a great game plan. And we will be ready to go.”
Senior running back Terrell Newby has rushed for 825 yards and seven touchdowns with 707 of his ground production coming in Big Ten play. Armstrong’s 499 rushing yards ranked second on the team and while his eight running scores were tops.
The Huskers biggest improvement from a year ago has come on defense, where the 21.2 points per game they allow ranks fifth in the Big Ten. They yield an average of 345.4 yards, fourth in the conference. That included giving up just 129.8 on the ground, fifth fewest in the league.
Nebraska has picked off 16 passes this season. Kieron Williams has led the way with five while Nathan Gerry has four.
Linebacker Josh Banderas leads a balanced unit with 80 tackles. Senior defensive end Ross Dzuris paces the outfit with 5.5 sacks and 10 tackles for loss. The defense has 73 tackles for loss.
“In our room, we don’t even talk about the offense,” said defensive tackle Kevin Maurice, who has three sacks and five tackles for loss. “We put everything on our shoulders and we understand that if we do what we are supposed to do and if we control them, they can’t score points and they won’t win. Obviously we need our offense. We rely on ourselves as well.”
The plan against Iowa will be pretty straight forward.
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“They are going to try to run the ball and being able to stop the run and make them throw the ball it’s going to be real important this week,” Maurice said.
The last team to visit Kinnick Stadium was No. 3 Michigan on Nov. 12. The Hawkeyes pulled off the upset, 14-13, on a last-second field goal by freshman Keith Duncan.
Wolverines coach Jim Harbaugh had his crew cover up the visiting pink locker room with Michigan signage.
“I heard about that. I don’t think that that worked out so well for Michigan, so we’re just going to go in there and play. Unless someone comes up with a real good idea for me, I’m not going to think about it too much, actually,” Riley said.
Said Westerkamp: “We have never done anything like that to that extent. The pink locker room is unique. I don’t believe in any of that stuff, but it is unique.”
TV ANNOUNCERS: Allen Bestwick, Mike Bellotti, and Kris Budden.
SERIES: Nebraska holds a 29-14-3 advantage in the series that began with a 22-0 Iowa win in 1891 in Omaha. The Hawkeyes snapped Nebraska’s five-game winning streak in the series with a 38-17 victory in Lincoln in 2013, and won 28-20 in Lincoln a year ago to cap a perfect regular season. The visiting team has won the last four meetings.
BETTING LINES: Iowa was listed as a 3-point favorite at the Wynn casino in Las Vegas as of Tuesday morning. No total was listed.
-Nebraska is 4-1 Against The Spread in its last 5 games on the road.
-Nebraska is 2-4 ATS in its last 6 games when playing Iowa.
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-Iowa is 2-8-1 ATS in its last 11 games at home.
-Iowa is 4-2 ATS in its last 6 games
NEBRASKA PLAYERS TO WATCH
-Jordan Westerkamp, WR – One of the most productive pass catchers in program history, Westerkamp leads the Huskers with 34 receptions for 476 yards and five touchdowns despite missing two games with an injury. His 163 career grabs rank third on the school’s all-time list. Westerkamp does a lot of his damage across the middle of the field but he also has the speed to get behind the secondary.
-Terrell Newby, RB – Newby has seized control of the Nebraska backfield after sharing it earlier in the season. In Big Ten play, the senior has produced 707 of his team-leading 825 rushing yards. His 88.4 yards per game on the ground during conference action ranks sixth in the league. He’s scored seven touchdowns and 364 of his 707 yards in the league have come in the fourth quarter.
-Nathan Gerry, S – The Husker senior was ejected from last year’s Iowa game after being called for targeting. His absence was felt as Hawkeye running back Jordan Canzeri sliced through the defense in the second half. Gerry is having an outstanding final campaign in Lincoln with 68 tackles (second on the team), four interceptions, seven tackles for loss and eight pass breakups.
KEYS TO VICTORY
Nebraska: Nebraska has been much better against the run than most of Iowa’s opponents, yielding just 129.8 yards per game. If it can take away the Hawkeye ground attack, it stands a good chance of winning.
Iowa: The Hawkeyes probably will need to win the game on defense and special teams. It’s hard to count on the offense at this point.
-Nebraska’s 14.1 yards per completion ranks 21st in the nation. The Huskers had five passing plays of at least 25 yards against Wyoming and had five of 20 or more vs. Purdue.
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-Nebraska owns a nation-best 88-point advantage in fourth-quarter scoring.
-Nebraska has intercepted 16 passes to rank eighth in the nation.
-Nebraska is 76-of-162 on third downs (47 percent), to rank 19th in the nation. The defense has limited opponents to 58-of-152 (38 percent).
-Nebraska averages 32:58 of time of possession to rank fourth in the Big Ten and 18th nationally in that category.
-Iowa’s 2016 senior class has won 34 games since 2013, including 22 Big Ten games, third most by any senior class under Ferentz. The 2005 senior class won 25 Big Ten games, and the 2004 senior class won 24 Big Ten games.
-Iowa’s last home win against Nebraska was in 1981 (10-7).
-Iowa QB C.J. Beathard has a 20-6 career record and is one of five players in program history to win 20 games as starting quarterback. The other include Chuck Long (34), Ricky Stanzi (26), Matt Rodgers (21) and Drew Date (21).
-Iowa is playing its fourth rivalry trophy game this season. Iowa entered the year in possession of all four rivalry trophies and has successfully defended the Cy-Hawk (W 42-3 vs. Iowa St) and Floyd of Rosedale (W 14-7 at Minnesota). Iowa lost the Heartland Trophy at home to Wisconsin (17-9).
-Iowa’s Akrum Wadley (861) and LeShun Daniels, Jr. (855) are the third set of running backs in program history to have 800-plus rushing yards in the same season, joining Owen Gill (920) and Ronnie Harmon (907) in 1984, and Nick Bell (1,009) and Tony Stewart (844) in 1990.
Nebraska – Marjie Lundstrom
Iowa – Evan Lindquist
HOWE I SEE IT: It’s tough to get a good handle on this game due to the unsettled quarterback situation for the Huskers. Chances are Mike Riley will keep us guessing up until game time to gain any possible competitive advantage he can.
Iowa performed well against a healthy Tommy Armstrong last year and the defense has raised its level of play significantly the last two weeks. Even if the Husker senior plays, he likely won’t be at full strength and, therefore, less dangerous as a runner, which has caused the Hawkeyes problems this year.
Nebraska has benefited from a balanced offense this year and its features one of the best group of receivers Iowa will face. The Huskers are capable of big plays down the field but Iowa has been good at limiting those of late.
I really see this being a defensive battle with turnovers and special teams’ play significantly factoring into the outcome. I’d be surprised if the game was decided before the fourth quarter.
I think it’s a coin-flip and will lean towards the home team on senior day in that instance.
PREDICTION: IOWA 20, Nebraska 16.