Preview, Prediction: Hawkeyes, Huskers Playing for Perception

November 21, 2018

Written by Rob Howe

IOWA CITY, Iowa – Iowa and Nebraska meet Friday on national TV. It’s probably not going to keep many people outside of those two fan bases from their holiday shopping.

Despite being one of only two games being contested at 11 a.m. central time, the game is nationally irrelevant. Both teams are eliminated from Big Ten title contention. The Huskers can’t even reach a bowl game with a win.

It’s not what the conference had in mind when it made this its marquee Black Friday game. Mostly these teams have watched Wisconsin win the West Division. This year, Northwestern claimed it.

Maybe things will change in this rivalry moving forward. Nebraska is rebuilding under first-year coach Scott Frost. The Hawkeyes are trying to figure out how to win close games after losing three one-score contests this fall.

The dynamic of this matchup adds intrigue to Friday’s meeting if only for those folks in the region. It could tell us the direction of each program.

“We know that this is the last ride for us with this team,” Nebraska senior defensive tackle Mick Stoltenberg said. “This momentum we’ve had, we can kind of continue that upward and climb. This would be a great win to cap off the year and send these guys into the offseason with some momentum.”

Frost said at Big Ten media days in August that the Huskers were gunning for Iowa. Iowa offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz has taken shots at Nebraska.

“Seven and five looks a lot worse than 8-4,” Iowa defensive end Anthony Nelson said. “We’re just going to do whatever we can to win on Friday and just try to get No. 8. That’s enough motivation for us.”

The fans from these schools mix it up on social media and message boards on a regular basis. For a game that doesn’t mean much in the big picture, bragging rights are especially important this season.

The Hawkeye faithful is restless with its team’s inability to win the division the last three years and losing some embarrassing games. It’s worried about the emergence of Nebraska under Frost, a home-grown hero with a lot of bravado.

The Huskers are trying to beat Iowa for the first time since ’14 and have lost four of five to their neighbor to the east. A win on Friday would validate progress made this season and they would end their campaign with five wins in their last six games.

“We’ve got a lot of momentum going right now and it would be great to cap the thing off with another good game,” Frost said.

You can make a strong case that this game is more important for the Hawkeyes in terms of public perception from their fan base. Those followers will not deal well with a loss to a Nebraska team in rebuild mode. Winning Friday and then in a bowl game may be the only way to salvage a disappointing season in some of their eyes.

“It’s important for is to continue momentum into the bowl season. It’s always tough when you have to go a month on a loss. It’s huge for momentum purposes and also huge for these seniors,” Hawkeye quarterback Nate Stanley said.

If the Huskers hang with Iowa, their fans will see progress from their lopsided losses in the series the last two years. A moral victory is available to them this time while it’s not for the Hawkeyes.

Nebraska is improving. And it features one of the most dynamic players in the conference in true freshman quarterback Adrian Martinez. He’s a dangerous dual-threat throwing to two of the Big Ten’s best receivers, J.D. Spielman and Stanley Morgan. They also feature a 1,000-yard rusher in Devine Ozigbo.

The Huskers’ defense has struggled much of the season. It played much better last week in a 9-6 upset win against Michigan State, even though the Spartans’ offense has been struggling.

TV ANNOUNCERS: Brian Custer, Ben Leber and Jim, Hale on FOX.

SERIES: Nebraska holds a 29-16-3 advantage in the series that began with a 22-0 Iowa victory in 1891. Iowa has won three straight and four of the last five meetings. The Hawkeyes have outscored the Huskers 96-24 in the last two meetings.

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BETTING LINES: Iowa opened as a 7-point favorite on Sunday. It was bet up to 9.5 by Tuesday at the Wynn Casino in Las Vegas. The total was set at 53.0.

TRENDS

-Nebraska is 5-0-1 Against The Spread in its last 6 conference games.

-Cornhuskers are 2-10-2 ATS in their last 14 games following a ATS win.

-Hawkeyes are 9-1 ATS in their last 10 games as a favorite.

-Iowa is 2-5 ATS in its last 7 home games vs. a team with a losing road record.

NEBRASKA PLAYERS TO WATCH

Adrian Martinez, QB – The freshman has thrown for 2,357 yards and 15 touchdowns. He’s rushed for 553 yards and seven scores. He’s the type of quarterback that used to give Iowa fits, but it’s become faster on defense. Martinez will test the Hawkeyes to see how far they’ve come in stopping dual-threats.

J.D. Spielman, WR – The sophomore missed last week’s game against Michigan State with an injury and is questionable for Friday. He’s a handful when he’s on the field, burning teams on short routes or with the ability to go deep. He has caught 66 passes for 818 yards and eight touchdowns.

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Devine Ozigbo, RB – During Iowa’s three-game winning streak in this series, the Huskers have struggled to run the ball. They can break that trend with Ozigbo. With Martinez helping by drawing attention from him, he’s rushed for 1032 yards and 12 scores.

KEYS TO VICTORY

NEBRASKA: The Husker defense has to build off of what it did last week against Michigan State and at least slow down Iowa.

Iowa: The Hawkeyes need to neutralize Martinez. He’s a handful.

GAME NOTES

-Nebraska senior receiver Stanley Morgan Jr. needs 24 receiving yards on Friday to set the Husker career receiving yardage record. He has 2,666 career yards, trailing only Kenny Bell’s 2,689 career yards. Morgan Jr. set the career receptions record last week with 182 career catches.

-Nebraska gained at least 450 yards in seven straight games, before being slowed by Michigan State in wintry conditions. The seven-game streak of 450-yard outputs set a school record for the longest 450-yard streak in NU history. NU had previously topped 450 yards in six straight games in 1972, 1982, 1994 and 1995.

-Nebraska is one of only seven Power Five Conference schools averaging 200 rushing yards and 240 passing yards per game. The other teams in that group include Alabama, Clemson, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Syracuse and Texas A&M.

-Nebraska ranks 28th nationally in rushing, averaging 215.3 yards per game, an increase of 107.8 yards from the 2017 season.

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-Nebraska true freshman quarterback Adrian Martinez is averaging 235.7 passing yards and 55.3 rushing yards. His 291.0 yards of total offense ranks third in the Big Ten and 17th nationally. He is first nationally among freshman quarterbacks in total offense.

-The Hawkeyes rank second in the Big Ten in scoring defense (16.5), rushing defense (99.5), passing defense (180.1), and total defense (279.5). Iowa’s total defense ranks sixth. Its rushing defense ranks eighth in the country. Iowa is ninth in the country in scoring defense.

-Iowa QB Nate Stanley has 21 touchdown passes, third most in the Big Ten. The 21 touchdown passes are the eighth highest single-season total in school history. In 2017, Stanley threw 26 touchdown passes, one shy of tying Chuck Long (1985) for most in a single season in school history. Stanley’s 47 touchdown passes over the last two seasons are the second most ever in school history over a two-year span. Long tossed 49 touchdown passes from 1984 (22) to 1985 (27).

-The Hawkeyes have 17 interceptions in 2018, most in the Big Ten and tied for second in the country. Iowa had two interceptions in the first four games of the season, but has 15 thefts since SS Geno Stone entered the starting lineup and Amani Hooker moved from safety to outside linebacker. Iowa led the nation in interceptions (21) in 2017.

-The Hawkeyes are tied for second in the Big Ten with 31 sacks. DE A.J. Epensesa leads the team and ties for second in the Big Ten with 8.5 sacks. DE Anthony Nelson is tied for sixth in the Big Ten with 7.5 sacks. The 16 combined sacks are the most of any pair of teammates in the Big Ten.

-Iowa TE T.J. Hockenson has a team-high 663 receiving yards on a team-high 41 receptions, both career highs. Hockenson also has a career-high six receiving touchdowns, tied for ninth in the Big Ten. Hockenson’s 663 receiving yards are the fourth-highest single-season total in school history by a tight end, and the most by a Hawkeye tight end in a single season since Dallas Clark caught 43 passes for 742 yards in 2002 (Clark won the John Mackey Award in 2002).

NOTABLE ALUMNI

Nebraska – Aaron Douglas

Iowa –  Julie Kedzie

HOWE I SEE IT: Iowa probably wishes this game was played in September instead of on Black Friday. There’s not doubt the Huskers are much improved since the beginning of the season.

With that said, Nebraska still is a program rebuilding and playing on the road. It’s 0-4 away from Memorial Stadium.

The Hawkeyes should be confident after pummeling Illinois, 63-0, on Saturday. They’re also riding a three-game winning streak in this series.

Unlike Michigan State, the Huskers’ last opponent, Iowa has an offense capable of putting up points in bunches. It should be able to run the ball, which will set up play action.

The Hawkeye offense will have to help its defense in this one. Nebraska will score.

PREDICTION: IOWA 31, Nebraska 24

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