Iowa Football Preview, Prediction: Hawkeyes Could End Nebraska Season
IOWA CITY, Iowa – Well, despite being eliminated from the Big Ten West Division race, it turns out Iowa and Nebraska have plenty for which to play when they meet in Lincoln on Black Friday.
The Hawkeyes are trying to reach 10 wins, which they can achieve with a win at Memorial Stadium (1:30 p.m. CT, BTN) and then in a bowl. They also can improve their postseason resume and retain the Heroes Trophy for a fifth year in a row.
The Huskers need a victory to reach a bowl for the first time since 2016. And Iowa would like nothing more than to end their campaign.
“Those guys don’t really like us. You don’t like anybody that’s in the Big Ten. Years and years, we haven’t liked them. They haven’t liked us too much. We haven’t won in a couple of years. We just want to bring that back and show everybody Nebraska’s back here against Iowa and that we’re here to stay,” Nebraska linebacker Collin Miller said on Monday.
The Huskers are well aware that they’ve not knocked off their rivals to the east since ’14.
“It’s definitely on our minds. It sucks. Those guys not respecting us. The come into Lincoln and think that they can win this with ease and that this isn’t even a rivalry. It hurts, but we just use that as momentum. The guys are really focused in, dialed in. This is a big week. We really want to show everybody that we’re here,” Miller said.
Nebraska could benefit in its rebuild from extra practices provided by being in a bowl.
“It’s obvious what’s at stake for us, but the guys are focused,” quarterback Adrian Martinez said Monday. “This team is focused on the day-to-day process. That’s what it’s going to take to get it done.”
The Huskers have come up short of preseason predictions. The Sporting News pegged them to be second in the West Division behind Wisconsin. Athlon’s chose them as the winner as did the writers covering the conference.
Coach Scott Frost’s rebuild is taking longer than folks figured. At 3-5 in the Big Ten, they sit fifth in the Division heading into the final week.
As Frost pointed out this week, the Hawkeyes aren’t the only opponents experiencing success against Nebraska.
“Iowa is no different. There are a few teams that have been getting the better of Nebraska lately, and that’s what we’re here to fix,” he said.
Frost and his players said the right things this week. They’re treating it like any other game. They told us that rivalries are for the fans.
Pull my other leg and it plays jingle bells.
It’s an enormous game for the Huskers. Like it or not, Iowa is a rival. The difference between making a bowl and not is cavernous. And to accomplish it, playing clean football is a must.
Iowa has committed the fewest penalties in the Big Ten this season. Its 10 turnovers are the fewest in the league.
“Any time you play a team as fundamentally sound as that, you have to prepare up to that standard,” Nebraska defensive back Dicaprio Bootle said.
The Hawkeyes won the turnover battle, 1-0, last season in capturing a 31-28 victory. They also out-rushed Nebraska, 266-140.
During Iowa’s four-game run in the series, it’s out-gained the Huskers 966 to 434 on the ground and commited one turnover to the Huskers’ eight.
“Our guys are stronger and more physical, particularly on the D-line, than we were a year ago,” Frost said. “That being said they ran it on us a bunch last year. They basically just wide zone a lot and got a bunch a movement and then we had trouble getting off the field. I am sure they are going to do the same thing and we need to try and do a better job this year.”
Nebraska ranks 10th among Big Ten teams in rushing defense (184.7 YPG, 4.6 YPC). The Hawkeyes sit at 10th in rushing offense (131.7, 3.7). Conversely, the Huskers are third in rushing offense (205.0, 4.6), while Iowa comes in 6th in rushing defense (114.0, 3.7).
After being hobbled by injury earlier this season, Martinez appears to be rounding into the form that saw him put up 260 yards and two scores through the air, and 76 yards and a touchdown on the ground against Iowa last season. He’s coming off a game in which he totaled 288 yards and found the end zone three times in a 54-7 win at Maryland last week.
“The added dimension, this guy is the second leading rusher on their football team, so that’s a big part of what they do and what he does. Once he got going last year, I mean – they ran it a lot of times, what happened? We couldn’t stop him, we couldn’t slow him down, we couldn’t contain him,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said.
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“So that’s a real concern for us right now. How are we going to try to keep him, limit him to what he does or what he can do because we had a real problem last year.”
The Huskers threw a wrinkle into their offense in College Park. True freshman quarterback Luke McCaffery, the brother of NFL star Christian McCaffery, lined up in the backfield with Martinez. He completed 3 of 5 passes for 32 yards, rushed 10 times for 83 yards and touchdown, and caught one pass for 12 yards.
Nebraska also boasts playmakers at running back (Dedrick Mills) and receiver (JD Spielman). It could get back from injury dynamic true freshman running back/receiver Wan’Dale Robinson. Receiver Kanawai Noa is ruled out after having knee surgery.
The Huskers have experienced turbulence at place kicker. Six different players at the position have scored points this season. They seem to have settled on soccer player Matt Waldoch, who kicked three 29-yard field goals and made all four of his extra-point attempts at Maryland.
“He got an opportunity and he made the most of it. He was lights out in every opportunity that he got and just that confidence that he shows gives me a lot of confidence in him,” Frost said.
TV ANNOUNCERS: Kevin Kugler, Matt Millen, and Lisa Byington on BTN.
SERIES: Nebraska holds a 29-17-3 advantage in the series that began with a 22-0 Iowa victory in 1891. Iowa has won four straight and five of the last six meetings. The Hawkeyes have outscored the Huskers 127-52 in the last three meetings. The 56 points scored by the Hawkeyes in 2017 were the most in the series’ 48-game history.
The Hawkeyes have won the last three meetings in Lincoln. Iowa’s 38-17 win in 2013 was its first win at Nebraska since 1943. Nebraska holds a 15-6-1 advantage in games played in Lincoln.
BETTING LINES: Iowa opened as a 3-point favorite at VegasInsiders.com. It bumped up to 6.0 as of Wednesday morning at the Elite Sportsbook in Riverside. The total was at 43.5.
-The Hawkeyes are 4-1 Against The Spread in their last 5 road games vs. a team with a losing home record.
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-Over is 4-0 in Iowa’s last 4 Friday games.
-Cornhuskers are 1-5-1 ATS in their last 7 home games vs. a team with a winning road record.
-Over is 4-1 in Nebraska’s last 5 Friday games.
NEBRASKA PLAYERS TO WATCH
–Adrian Martinez, QB – Martinez averages 335.6 yards of total offense in 10 career games against Big Ten West teams. He is completing 65.2 percent of his passes (219-of-336) with 17 touchdowns against seven interceptions, while averaging 272.4 passing yards per game. Martinez has rushed for 632 yards and six touchdowns against the Big Ten West, averaging 63.2 rushing yards per game.
–JD Spielman, WR – Spielman enters the regular-season finale with 167 career catches for 2,512 yards, ranking third at Nebraska in both receptions and receiving yardage. Spielman needs 23 catches and 233 yards to become NU’s all-time leader in both categories. In his 32-game career, Spielman averages 5.2 receptions and 78.5 receiving yards per game.
–Khalil Davis, DT – Davis has started every game but one this season, missing the Northwestern game due to a Big Ten suspension. Davis has totaled 41 tackles – the most among NU’s defensive linemen – and he leads Nebraska and ranks fourth in the Big Ten with 8.0 sacks. He’s tied for the team lead with 11 tackles for loss.
KEYS TO VICTORY
Nebraska: The Huskers have been gashed by Iowa’s running game the last four seasons, particularly the last two. They must hold up better against the rush to win it.
Iowa: Nebraska’s offense is explosive, and Iowa has been inconsistent on that side of the ball. If the Hawkeyes continue settling for field goals, they might be ripe for an upset.
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-Nebraska will hold its Senior Day festivities before Friday’s game, honoring 22 players who will appear in Memorial Stadium for the final time against Iowa.
-Nebraska has played on the Friday after Thanksgiving for 30 consecutive seasons. In each of the past nine years the matchup has been against Iowa. NU played Oklahoma on Black Friday from 1990 to 1995, and Colorado from 1996 to 2010.
-Nebraska has had five games this season when it has totaled 200 yards both rushing and passing, including three of the past four games.
-Nebraska has 71 scrimmage plays of 20-plus yards to rank second in the Big Ten and 11th nationally. The Huskers lead the Big Ten and rank 10th nationally in plays of 40+ yards (19).
-Among the 152 players on the Husker roster, 104 are underclassmen, with 76 freshmen and 28 sophomores. Overall, 69 percent of Nebraska’s roster is comprised of underclassmen. Additionally, 102 of the 152 players on the roster have been added in Scott Frost’s two seasons.
-The Hawkeyes are 2-1 in three trophy games this season. The Hawkeyes are 15-4 in their last 19 rivalry trophy games (Iowa State, Minnesota, Nebraska, Wisconsin), with all four losses coming to Wisconsin. Iowa has won four straight against Nebraska.
-Iowa junior kicker Keith Duncan leads the country with 27 field goals made. The 27 made field goals are a school and Big Ten Conference single-season record. His 83.3 field goal percentage is the best ever among Iowa kickers with at least 30 field goal attempts (35-42).
– Iowa’s scoring defense (12.2 PPG) is the lowest total of the Ferentz era (next best is 13.0 in 2008), and the lowest by any Hawkeye team since 1959 (11.1). Iowa has held eight-of-11 opponents to their season-low point total.
-Iowa junior defensive end A.J. Epenesa leads a defense that ranks in the top 20 in scoring, passing, and total defense. Iowa is fifth in the country in scoring defense (12.2 ppg), 13th in total defense (306.1 ypg), and 20th in passing defense (191.8 ypg). Epenesa has 7.0 sacks, 9 quarterback hurries, and 3 forced fumbles.
-Iowa’s three losses are to #10 Michigan (9-2), #12 Penn State (9-2), and #13 Wisconsin (9-2), who have a combined record of 27-6. All three losses were one possession games.
Nebraska – George Beadle
Iowa – Otto Kraushaar
HOWE I SEE IT: I admit I was rooting for a Nebraska win at Maryland last week in hopes of setting up this scenario. The rivalry needed it.
The Huskers can add a really important victory to their rebuilding project. Iowa can end their season. Without there being a championship on the line, that will have to do.
Frost makes this matchup more interesting with a potent offense that might force the Hawkeyes into uncomfortable risk when they have the ball. At least that’s what the home team hopes.
It’s clear Iowa has performed better than the Huskers this season. It’s hard to see where they’ve improved much from last year. However, they gave the Hawkeyes all they wanted on Black Friday in Kinnick Stadium.
I think the Hawkeyes pull this one out, but I’m not overly confident about it.
PREDICTION: IOWA 27, Nebraska 21
HawkeyeNation.com’s Rob Howe has covered Iowa Hawkeye sports for 23 years and began working at HawkeyeNation.com in 2003. Please follow @RobHoweHN and @HawkeyeNationHQ on Twitter.