Cornhuskers look to become bowl eligible by ending four-game losing streak to archrival Hawkeyes
The Nebraska Cornhuskers and Iowa Hawkeyes meet in the typically heated Battle of I-680 to end the regular season. These two teams aren't as interested in the Heroes Trophy as they are inflicting punishment on and embarrassing the other.
Nebraska (5-6, 3-5 Big Ten) looks to not only become bowl eligible but stop the Hawkeyes' four-game winning streak in the series. Meanwhile, Iowa (8-3, 5-3) would love nothing more than to be the reason the Cornhuskers don't go bowling for a third-straight season.
This back-and-forth began in 1891 with the Hawkeyes picking up a 22-0 win. While Nebraska leads the series 29-17-3, the last time the Huskers bested Kirk Ferentz's crew in Lincoln was in 2011, a 20-7 victory.
Since then, Iowa has racked up wins in Memorial Stadium by an average score of 41-17. With the Hawkeyes ranked 19th in the AP poll, a win on Friday could be considered the biggest of Scott Frost's two-year tenure at his alma mater.
Iowa at Nebraska
Kickoff: Friday, Nov. 29 at 2:30 p.m. ET
TV: Big Ten Network
Spread: Iowa -5.5
When Iowa Has the Ball
Quarterback Nate Stanley has been fairly efficient as a passer, completing 60 percent of his attempts but he hasn't been as productive with his arm compared to last year. His touchdown-to-interception ratio has gone from 26:10 in 2018 to just 14:6 this season. Take last week's win over Illinois, Stanley threw for 308 yards but no touchdowns, his fourth such game this season.
The Hawkeye rushing attack also has been sporadic at times. Mekhi Sargent, Tyler Goodson, and Toren Young have combined for 1,370 rushing yards and eight touchdowns but the team has averaged just 2.6 yards per carry in its last seven games, all against Big Ten teams.
Fortunately for Iowa, they have been able to run the ball successfully in recent matchups with Nebraska. The Hawkeyes have averaged more than 280 yards on the ground in their last three games against the Huskers with 11 rushing touchdowns during that span as well.
When he does throw, Stanley will look for Ihmir Smith-Marsette, Tyrone Tracy Jr., Brandon Smith, and Nico Ragaini, who have combined for 149 catches, 2,003 yards and 13 of Stanley's 14 touchdown passes.
The Blackshirts may well be back at full strength this Friday as Frost mentioned a few who were violently ill, to put it mildly. Outside linebacker Garrett Nelson dressed but didn't play last week against Maryland. He'd be a major asset against the Iowa offense as he proved his mettle versus Wisconsin.
When Nebraska Has the Ball
Adrian Martinez racked up 288 yards of total offense in the dominating win over Maryland, continuing a rebound that couldn't have come at a better time.
Count running back Dedrick Mills as another Husker who was under the weather for last week's game. He still managed 65 yards and a touchdown on 12 carries. When it comes to who carries the football versus the Hawkeyes, Frost has a huge decision to make especially if Wan'Dale Robinson can't go again.
True freshman running back Rahmir Johnson has seen action in four games. If he plays against Iowa, he can't claim 2019 as a redshirt year and Frost wants to save it, if possible. However, the Huskers would be in a far better position to have more running threats than Martinez, Mills, Wyatt Mazour, and Luke McCaffrey. Desperate times call for desperate measures and may force Nebraska's hand when it comes to Johnson.
JD Spielman again showed why he's the top target on the Big Red with 104 receiving yards and two touchdowns against the Terrapins. One of the most prolific pass catchers in Nebraska history, Spielman figures to draw plenty of attention from Iowa's defense.
A pleasant surprise last week was the emergence of McCaffrey as a legitimate option in the passing game. Would you expect anything less from the son of NFL wide receiver Ed McCaffrey?
If the Huskers are going to have sustained success on offense against the Hawkeyes, the offensive line is going to have to play one of its best games of the season. Offensive line coach Greg Austin has no doubt spent a lot of time and preparation on blocking All-Big Ten defensive end A.J. Epenesa, who has seven sacks this season. He's bookended by fellow end Chauncey Golston while Cedrick Lattimore and Brady Reiff work to stuff the interior.
While Wisconsin may have more defensive playmakers than Iowa, this is a unit that has displayed more overall discipline. The Hawkeyes are the least penalized team in the Big Ten and fourth in FBS with a total of 46 for 349 yards through 11 games.
Nebraska's offense seems to have finally come alive and found sure footing. Iowa's, on the other hand, has shown itself to be just as dysfunctional as the Cornhuskers' from time to time.
This game yet again comes down to whether or not the Blackshirts can stop the Hawkeyes' rushing attack. If it's another 250-plus-yard day for Kirk Ferentz's crew, the Hawkeyes win 99 times out of 100.
Being able to score in the red zone is key for Nebraska yet again. They had 10 such chances versus the Terrapins and converted nine. The going gets slightly more difficult against Iowa, who ranks 31st in the nation at stuffing such efforts.
History dictates the Hawkeyes tally a fifth straight win against the Huskers, but we have some important variables to consider. Nebraska's fighting for a postseason bid and has the home crowd advantage. Unlike the 2017 edition of this game — a 56-14 laugher — these Huskers aren't ready to tap out just yet.
What is likely, however, is a standard Big Ten slugfest complete with brutal weather. If you have some spare tinfoil, keep in mind that the Big Ten does see increased revenue with more bowl representatives and the Hawkeyes have already qualified.
Conspiracy theories aside, former Husker club soccer player Matt Waldoch knocking home a late field goal to clinch a sixth win would be poetry for a team with a kicking depth chart held together by chewing gum.
Prediction: Nebraska 27, Iowa 24