Huskers look to build on strong finish with first win over Hawkeyes in four years
Both the Nebraska Cornhuskers and Iowa Hawkeyes have a great deal to play for on Black Friday. This is essentially the former’s bowl game, and while the Heroes’ Trophy signifies the winner of the faux Iowa City Bowl, Scott Frost’s team has won four of its last five games and would prefer a dominating win above all. Iowa (7-4, 4-4 Big Ten) is already bowl eligible, but knocking off the Huskers for the fourth time in a row would be all too sweet in itself.
The series began in 1891, when Iowa claimed a 22-0 shutout of the Big Red in Lincoln. That success has continued as of late, with the Hawkeyes having won the past three games by a combined 80 points. Despite that, Nebraska does lead the series to the tune of 29-16-3.
It’s been a historic year for the Huskers (4-7, 3-5) in both positive and negative respects. However, with the momentum they have going, Frost has made no bones about the fact that he feels his team can play with just about any other team in the league. While Nebraska’s head man looks to better last year’s 4-8 effort, Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz has a chance to log his best record since 2015’s 12-2 result with nine wins should the Hawkeyes win this Friday along with their upcoming bowl game. Ferentz has accumulated a 150-101 record during his 20 years as Iowa’s head man, his lone FBS stop after a stint at Maine from 1990-92.
Does Nebraska have what it takes to break its losing streak and beat Iowa on the Hawkeyes' home turf? Let’s look at the tale of the tape.
Nebraska at Iowa
Kickoff: Friday, Nov. 23 at 12 p.m. ET
Spread: Iowa -7.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Nebraska’s running game vs. Iowa’s defense
Scott Frost said that the Huskers wouldn't face a better run defense than Michigan State's after the Big Red’s win over the Spartans, and he’s probably right. However, Iowa is no slouch. The only two teams that have had significant success against the Hawkeyes thus far are Wisconsin with Jonathan Taylor and Northwestern with a combination of Clayton Thorson and Isaiah Bowser. Both were hard-fought home losses, which bodes well if Adrian Martinez, Devine Ozigbo and Maurice Washington get into a groove.
Look for the Hawkeyes to study plenty of tape from last week’s game in Lincoln for ideas on how to slow down the Big Red’s ground game. Sensational sophomore A.J. Epenesa and junior Anthony Nelson won’t make things easy for Nebraska’s front five, as they’re extremely technically sound.
2. Iowa QB Nate Stanley and TE Noah Fant vs. Nebraska’s defensive back seven
Fant had been oddly used prior to last weekend’s 63-0 blowout of Illinois. He had all of one catch in Iowa’s loss to Northwestern, and his touchdown versus the Illini was his first in five games. While Nebraska’s linebackers played a great game against Michigan State, Stanley should be able to take advantage of the far more athletic Fant. That’s assuming he actually gets a chance to be utilized. If he’s not, someone really needs to check on Iowa offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz.
3. Nebraska QB Adrian Martinez and WRs vs. Iowa’s passing defense
Iowa has managed to lock down a number of passing attacks this year, but they’ve struggled on several occasions. Five teams were able to top 200 yards passing, with Purdue tallying 333 yards. That should be concerning to Iowa defensive coordinator Phil Parker as Nebraska’s corps — assuming JD Spielman returns to the lineup this week — is every bit as dangerous as what the Boilermakers bring to the table.
Considering Nebraska’s use of high-percentage throws and screens, it’ll be up to the Hawkeyes to clamp down on the Husker wideouts at the point of attack. With the forecast not calling for the 40-plus MPH gusts that hit Lincoln last Saturday, the deep ball will there for Martinez as well, but he must be aware of junior defensive back Amani Hooker’s whereabouts.
On paper, this looks like it could be every bit the slugfest that Michigan State-Nebraska was. However, with better weather, we’re likely to see a few more points. Iowa got some much-needed confidence with a boatracing of Illinois after three straight losses, while the Huskers are ready to take on the world.
Iowa’s offense is much better than Michigan State’s, as Nate Stanley is far more reliable than anyone at the quarterback position on the Spartans’ roster right now. Running backs Mekhi Sargent and Toren Young comprise a great one-two punch that should challenge the Nebraska defensive front in ways the Spartans only dreamed of.
This should be a good game and it's a great way to start out the college football slate on Black Friday. Both Scott Frost and Brian Ferentz are extremely good play-callers, but Nebraska's offense has seemed to have found its rhythm and possesses big-play ability from multiple positions. The Huskers also come into this one with more momentum, while the Hawkeyes have stumbled a bit down the stretch. This game could go either way, but siding with the team that has had more success over the past month seems the right call.
Prediction: Nebraska 33, Iowa 30
— Written by Brandon Cavanaugh, FWAA member and part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Be sure to follow him on Twitter (@eightlaces).