Four Factor Friday: Iowa vs Nebraska

By Eric Ponto on November 24, 2016 at 2:00 pm
Iowa will be going after Tommy Armstrong again on Friday

Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports

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The Michigan Game Plan

Iowa didn’t run out a drastically different offense against Michigan, but they mixed it up just enough to put together a couple of scoring drives against the nation’s best defense. It was something we hadn’t seen Iowa roll out against any of the better competition this year. For the most part the very small creative part of the playbook has been reserved for use against defenses that were already overwhelmed. And against the better teams, the play-calling got ultra-conservative.

But against Michigan the plan was to find different ways to get Wadley the ball and to give him a chance to turn small gains into medium gains. And while some of it was ineffective (like the too-obvious jet sweep), it worked well enough to win.

Michigan’s defense was good enough to shut down any sort of non-Wadley passing attack. Nebraska’s defense isn’t as good, but will still provide a challenge to throw against. They are 26th in pass efficiency defense and have 16 interceptions this year. While I’d love to see the vertical passing game at least tried again, I’d settle for the short passing game that was at least semi-effective earlier this year.

Defensively against Michigan, Iowa was very aggressive. The safeties were crashing the box, the line was shooting gaps (instead of playing 2-gap technique every down), the linebackers played very well, and Manny Rugamba held his own in coverage. It looks like a limited Tommy Armstrong will be Nebraska’s quarterback. If his hamstring prevents him from having much of a running threat, then that should give Iowa to opportunity to really attack him. An Armstrong that has to stay in the pocket and chuck the ball around is an Armstrong that gives Iowa a good chance to win.

Continue to stop the run

After getting absolutely embarrassed by Penn State, Iowa’s defense has really stepped up and played much better the past two weeks, especially against the run. While the weather isn’t going to be terrible, it is still November in Iowa. And with Armstrong likely limited and his back up, Ryker Fyfe, suffering from a a broken wrist, this game looks to be a classic KF run-first slugfest.

Armstrong is the Huskers second-leading rusher this year, and it’s likely he won’t be putting up his usual numbers. But they still have a good running back in Terrell Newby, who has 825 yards on the year. Nebraska will use a second running back abit and also hand the ball off to receivers on jet sweeps, end-arounds, and the like.

In the past four games, Nebraska has been averaging 142 yards on the ground. I think if Iowa can keep the Huskers offense in that range, then the Hawks should be in good shape to get a win on Friday. 

PointS off of turnovers

One of the biggest differences between 2014 and 2015 was a completely turnaround in points off of turnovers. I wrote about it quite a big last year. But in 2015 Iowa averaged a touchdown per game (really 6.6 points) off of turnovers. In 2014 they averaged less than a field goal. Those extra 4 points per game were a big difference between disappointment and 12-0.

2016 has been somewhere in the middle. Iowa has 62 points off of 16 turnovers through 11 games, so 5.6 points per game… just a point lower than last year. Those points have been a big help this year, though, as the offense has really struggled to generate scoring opportunities when they don’t get help from a good special teams or defensive play. Nebraska is nearly the same in this stat -- they've had 59 points off of 18 turnovers in 11 games, or 5.4 points per game. They just haven’t been quite as efficient in turning turnovers into points (3.3 points per turnover versus 3.9 points per turnover for Iowa). 

Maybe more interesting is points given up off of turnovers. Iowa has only given up 14 all year -- that is really impressive. The defense has really responded when the offense puts them in a tough place, though Iowa has only turned it over nine times. Nebraska’s defense hasn’t done quite as well, giving up 32 points on 13 turnovers.

I think this game will come down to a touchdown following a turnover. And I’m hopeful Tommy Armstrong will look like he did last year against Iowa, and this stat will tip in Iowa’s favor.

The Seniors

First off, here’s a list of the 14 seniors:

  • C.J. Beathard
  • Ron Coluzzi
  • Cole Croston
  • LeShun Daniels
  • Faith Ekakite
  • Steve Ferentz
  • Anthony Gair
  • Jaleel Johnson
  • Mitch Keppy
  • Desmond King
  • George Kittle
  • Greg Mabin
  • Riley McCarron
  • Ryan Ward

Most of them have been big contributors to the team this year. It’s unfortunate that Mabin is out for sure and will miss the game. Croston also likely won’t play and Kittle is still banged up, but will probably get in the game.

Beathard and McCarron have a chance here to right the passing game in their last game in Kinnick Stadium. It’ll be a challenge against Nebraska’s good pass defense, but if they can combine a few times to move the chains that could go a long way on Friday. It’d be nice to see Beathard out with a better performance than he has turned in the past two weeks…you know, maybe get 100 yards.

Daniels will likely have a big role again. While I think the distribution will be more like the Michigan game than the Illinois game, he’ll still get his fair share of carries. If he could break one for a long TD (and not have it called back), this would be a great time to do so.

Ron Coluzzi turned out to be a great offseason find. He’s had an excellent year punting and has been a major factor in the past two games. Field position is likely to play a big part in Friday’s game and it’d be great to have him pin the Huskers deep a few times.

On defense, Johnson has been playing great lately and Ekatite has also done well. Nebraska is likely going to try to run it a lot and the two of them will need to be run stoppers.

Gair may or may not start this week. I’m guessing he’ll play though, even if Taylor back. He played well as the “next man in” and it’s senior day. He’ll need to be good in run support and if Armstrong throws up one of his classic armpunts, then hopefully Gair can be in position to take advantage of it.

And finally Desmond King. Much like the rest of this year, I don’t imagine too many balls will be thrown his way. I’m sure he’ll be good in run support and make sound tackles when he has the chance. It’d be great to see him pick off Armstrong. Last year he was close a couple of times, but it was ultimately his teammates that got all the interceptions. It would also be great to see him finally return a kick or punt for a touchdown -- he’s been close so many times this year.

Prediction

My initial thought was that this game would be low scoring. But I think there will be enough big plays that push the score up a little bit…maybe a special teams score, a long touchdown run, etc… The teams will for the most part run the ball semi-effectively and trade punts. Each will put together a couple of good drives, then the game will come down to the Nebraska turnover that sets up Iowa for an extra touchdown.

Final Score: Iowa 24 - Nebraska 17

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