What is Dispatches from Blogfrica? Pretty simple: I ask questions of a blogger for an opposing team; he (or she) answers. A truly revolutionary idea, no? Today: Salt Creek and Stadium from Corn Nation, the finest Nebraska blog around.
1) So, uh, who's left at quarterback for Nebraska? Are you guys going to be pulling Bubba Starling out of minor league baseball? Trying to wring some more eligibility out of Scott Frost? Give us the lowdown on the quarterback position for Nebraska on Friday.
SCaS: Following Saban's lead, we dug through the rule book and found an old rule that allows you to bring back players with expired eligibility as long as they aren't playing the position they played. Since most of our great players are getting on in years, we brought back Taylor Martinez as a safety, but he'll be taking some snaps at wildcat.
But in all seriousness, if we go based on who is "healthy" today, we'll be starting Zack Darlington, a former three star QB out of Florida. I say "healthy" as he was a promising recruit until his senior season where he was sidelined with two severe concussions early on. We honored his scholarship and he's been a consummate team player, and took over holding duties this year following the passing of Sam Foltz in August. He is also our emergency QB to save the redshirt of Patrick O'Brien, a touted four star QB out of southern California. We're not actually sure how much of the playbook he can run or what Iowa could expect to see. I think we've seen Darlington throw a pass or two in the spring game, but honestly, we have no idea.
Other than that, Riley expects both Armstrong and Fyfe to be able to go Friday, which basically means we'll be a major league baseball team and plug in QBs and see what happens. We may even start going through our young players and find out who played QB in high school and plug them in. Supposedly one of our freshman defensive backs played QB in HS. We have a pretty good history of playing a safety at QB!
(All of this means that y'all can't actually win, because if you do win, we'll just say we were on our third QB, and if we win, we'll laugh because you lost to our third string QB. Remember when you beat us and Ron Kellogg III was the QB. Like that, only worse.)
2) Last year, most of what could go wrong for Nebraska, did in fact go wrong, leading to a slew of close losses and a losing record. This season has turned things around on that front -- what's the overall sense of this season among Nebraska fans?
SCaS: One of our local media guys put it best when he pointed out that Nebraska had reached nine wins and no one was celebrating. The expectations at Nebraska are ridiculously high, which shouldn't be taken as a bad thing. I know it annoys the heck out of other teams' fans, but if you're a program with championship aspirations, well, you better have high standards. Short of Minnesota doing the unthinkable to the Badgers this weekend, Nebraska will miss out on winning the West again this season, which will cause grumbling, because Nebraska fans are fickle and ignore things like roster depth when analyzing a program.
The "Too Long Didn't Read" version: Nebraska fans are disappointed that we're not winning the conference, but they'll take this season after last year's debacle. They want Riley to run the ball more, and to run the RIGHT run play.
3) Iowa fans know about Tommy Armstrong (who may or may not play on Friday) and Jordan Westerkamp. What other offensive players should we be aware of ahead of Friday's showdown?
SCaS: Cethan Carter is a big man, and is essentially a sixth offensive lineman who can occasionally catch the ball when his QB finds him and he decides to catch the ball. He's critical in our run game this season, as evidence by the disappearance of said run game mid-season while he was dealing with a dislocated elbow.
Stanley Morgan catches pretty much everything thrown his way and is nasty at blocking.
Our senior RB Terrell Newby has finally started to come into his potential and true freshman Tre Bryant is starting to find his footing.
4) Nebraska ranks second in the Big Ten with 16 interceptions this year, which is a significant improvement on 2015, when they had just 10 picks all year. What's been the biggest change for Nebraska in that department this year?
SCaS: To be honest, it is mostly the players buying into Banker's system (he plays a defensive system not far removed from Michigan State's). Last year, between the youth at some positions and the transition from Pelini's "defensive" system, they just weren't on the same page. We also split our defensive backs coaching between Banker and Stewart, instead of leaving it all in Stewart's hands, which has clearly paid dividends. In my opinion, I think getting Banker down in the trenches with his coaching has allowed him to really understand what he has for a defensive roster, and improved his ability to get them in position.
5) Nebraska is good in most defensive categories this year, but they're not quite great in any one category (except, perhaps, interceptions). What areas have opponents had success exploiting against Nebraska? What areas have they struggled to find success?
SCaS: Pass rush. Nebraska essentially has zero pass rush from the defensive line, and that's what slows up the rest of the unit. Without that threat, it keeps Nebraska's defense from really getting chaotic and disruptive.
6) Special teams always seem to play a notable role in this game. How do you think the special teams battle shakes out this year?
SCaS: Oh god. Nebraska fans know exactly how much money our special teams coordinator makes for a reason: there have been a lot of questionable decisions/plays by this unit this year. Grant it, we had to replace a future all-American/NFL/All Big Ten punter with a true freshman who didn't expect to get the call for at least a year, but there is some question as to what exactly our punt return teams have been coached to do. Riley has repeatedly claimed that special teams is a group effort, but Nebraska fans aren't buying it and want to see Bruce Read fired out of a cannon tomorrow.
So, to answer your question, we honestly have no idea. You can probably expect Iowa to pick up some points off of special teams mishaps. But don't run a fake punt - Read apparently has nightmares about those and it is THE point of emphasis in our special teams formations, even if there is no threat of a fake.
Oh, and our field goal kicker went down with a concussion Saturday, so he may not be available Friday, meaning our kickoff specialist may be taking field goals as well.
7) Finally, how are Nebraska fans feeling about Mike Riley in Year Two?
SCaS: I mean, not really any different. Some Nebraska fans are still mad about 2015, because, again, BO PELINI COULD'VE WON NINE GAMES WITH THEM (I doubt this but we'll never know). They still think Riley and his staff are the second coming of Bill Callahan. Other Nebraska fans have bought into Riley, who has somehow weathered everything, particularly this season's struggles, to a 9-2 record going into the Iowa game, with a realistic shot at the best season Nebraska has seen in a long time. It should be noted that Bo Pelini actually got Nebraska to 10-2; his problem was that he went on to get murder-trucked by Wisconsin before BERT left for Arkansas and then his team embarrassed itself against Georgia. Gotta keep the four losses alive, y'all.
8) OK, prediction time -- who ya got?
SCaS: Between this being a rivalry game (screw anyone who thinks otherwise) and the weather, any talent disparities between the programs will be evened out, leaving the game to the tactical approaches of the two programs. Based on what I've seen out of Iowa this year, it's going to be up to Nebraska which way it goes. I really wish I could pick Nebraska here, but I have zero confidence in our special teams phase and I have almost zero sense about what our offense will get done against Iowa's stout defense. With such a close match-up, that could be a difference maker. I think Nebraska loses a heartbreaker, 17-14. That said, I'd like to put the caveat that if Nebraska breaks off 21-24 points, they'll go on to win the game. But since I have no idea who is playing QB this week, I'll stick with 17-14 Iowa.
Thanks for being a good sport, SCaS, but I still hope your team gets mollywhopped by Iowa on Friday. You can check out SCaS and the rest of the CN crew at Corn Nation. You can also follow SCaS on Twitter at @SaltCreekGBR and Corn Nation on Twitter at @CornNation. The Iowa-Nebraska game is in Iowa City, IA on Friday, November 25, and is scheduled to start at approximately 2:30 pm CT, with TV coverage from ABC.