WHO: Nebraska Cornhuskers (5-6, 3-5 Big Ten)
WHEN: Friday, November 29, 2019
WHERE: Memorial Stadium (Lincoln, NE)
KICKOFF: 1:30 PM Central
RADIO: Hawkeye Sports Network (check local listings); TuneIn
ANNOUNCERS: Kevin Kugler, Matt Millen, Lisa Byington
ODDS: Iowa -5.5
WEATHER: temps around 40, 65% chance of rain
Nebraska leads the all-time series with Iowa 29-17-3, though 35 of those games were played before 1950. They've played 14 times since 1979, and Nebraska holds an 8-6 edge in those games. Since Nebraska joined the Big Ten in 2011, Iowa has won five of eight conference meetings. Nebraska won the first two B1G games between the two programs, before Iowa broke through in 2013. After Iowa choked away a victory in 2014, they rebounded with a win in 2015 (capping off a 12-0 regular season) and they've won all three games since then as well. Iowa's also won the last three games with Nebraska in Lincoln; you have to go back to 2011, the first Iowa-Nebraska game in the Big Ten, to find a home game that Nebraska won against Iowa.
NEBRASKA SEASON RECAP
Nebraska began the year with a win over South Alabama, then snatched defeat from the jaws of victory in a game against Colorado in Boulder. They won back to back games over teams from the land of Lincoln -- Northern Illinois and Illinois -- to move their record to 3-1. Then they got poleaxed by Ohio State in Lincoln before rebounding with a narrow, ugly win over Northwestern. Then the bottom fell out on their season: the Huskers got manhandled by Minnesota, tripped up by Indiana and Purdue in consecutive weeks, and drubbed by Wisconsin. Maryland provided a much-needed pick-me-up for Nebraska last week and dutifully got blasted off the field by the Huskers. Nebraska enters the Iowa game at 5-6 and needing one more win to secure bowl eligibility. Failure to win will lock up their third straight season with a losing record; the last time that happened was 1959-1961.
Offense has been the stronger side of the ball for Nebraska, but it's yet to really take off under Scott Frost. The Huskers are averaging 28.4 ppg, 8th best in the league (they're averaging 25.3 ppg in B1G-only games, also 8th best). They rank 5th in the league in total offense (427.8 ypg) and 6th in the league in yards per play (5.97 ypp). Even during their 4-game losing streak, they were often able to move the ball; they racked up 514 yards against Indiana and 493 on Wisconsin, as well as 375 on Purdue. Nebraska is 9th in the league in passing yards per game (222.8), 6th in completion percentage (60.7%), and 7th in QB rating (136.07), though they're just 12th in passing touchdowns (11) and 6th in most interceptions thrown (8). Their rushing offense has been better; they rank 3rd in the Big Ten with 205.4 ypg and 4th in ypc with a 4.62 average. Their 26 rushing touchdowns are also tied for 3rd most in the conference.
The Huskers have struggled in pass protection -- they've allowed 26 sacks, 4th most in the league. They've also had a lot of trouble scoring in the red zone. They've scored on just 74% of their trips inside opponents' 20 yard lines, 2nd worst in the Big Ten. They've also been bad about turning those red zone trips into touchdowns -- just 52% of their appearances inside an opponent's 20 yard line have resulted in a touchdown. And they've turned the ball over 19 times, 5th most in the Big Ten, although that's been offset a bit by the fact that they've also recovered 19 turnovers, so their turnover margin is 0.
Adrian Martinez remains Nebraska's most dangerous offensive player, and while he hasn't entirely had a sophomore slump, he also hasn't had the breakout second season that many were expecting before the season began. Martinez has thrown for 1906 yards (211.8 ypg), while completing 59.7% of his passes, and posting a 135.66 QB rating while throwing 10 touchdowns and 8 interceptions. As a freshman, Martinez completed 64.6% of his passes and threw for 17 touchdowns against 8 interceptions. Martinez is also a threat to run the ball, though; he has the second-most yards (582) and touchdowns (7) on the team. Brandon Peters was able to do damage against Iowa's defense with his legs and Martinez is a much more dangerous rushing threat than Peters, so Iowa's defense will need to be very locked in for this encounter.
Junior RB Dedrick Mills (5'11", 220) is leading the team in rushing with 651 yards and 10 touchdowns on a 5.47 ypc average. Freshman Wan'Dale Robinson (5'10", 190) provided a spark to the ground game earlier in the season, but he's missed the last two games with injury. Robinson's absence has also been felt in the passing game, where he was 2nd on the team in receptions (40), receiving yards (453), and touchdowns (2). Tiny JD Spielman (5'9", 180) has packed a lot of production into a small frame; he leads the team in receptions (46), receiving yards (864), and touchdowns (4). Kanawai Noa (17-245-2) and tight end Jack Stoll (22-233-1) have been Nebraska's other main targets in the passing game.
The other side of the ball remains an acute problem for Nebraska. They're 11th in the league in scoring defense (27.8 ppg) and that number drops to 12th in league-only games (30.4 ppg). And even those numbers are goosed a bit by holding Maryland to 7 points and Northwestern to 10 points; they've allowed 30+ in seven games this season (including all four games in their recent losing streak). Nebraska is 10th in the league in total defense, allowing 394.7 ypg and 5.60 ypp (11th in the Big Ten).
Nebraska has been a bit better through the air than on the ground. They're allowing 210 ypg through the air, 7th worst in the Big Ten. They're allowing opposing QBs to post a QB rating of 125.15 (7th in the league) and their 14 passing touchdowns allowed also rankes 7th in the league. The Huskers rank 10th in the league in rushing defense, allowing 184.7 yards per game, though their 4.65 ypc average is 3rd worst in the league. They've also allowed 23 touchdowns on the ground, second-most in the Big Ten.
The Huskers have been slightly above-average at getting after the passer; their 27 sacks ranks 6th in the Big Ten (though they've had just 17 of those in league play). They haven't done a good job of stopping opponents on third down; teams are converting 40.9% of their third down tries on Nebraska, the fourth-worst rate in the league. They're also dismal at stopping teams in the red zone; opponents have scored on 39 of 43 red zone trips (90.7%), which is the worst red zone defense rate in the Big Ten. They've also struggled to stop teams from scoring touchdowns; 30 of those 39 scoring trips went for six and overall they allowed opponents to score touchdowns inside the red zone on 69.8% of their trips, worst in the Big Ten.
Turnovers have been one of the only slight good notes for Nebraska's defense. They've forced 19 giveaways, tied for 4th most in the league. (As noted previously, though, that success is offset by the fact that they've also coughed the ball up 19 times.)
LB Mohamed Barry leads the team with 83 tackles; Will Honas is second on the team with 68 stops. DL Khalil Davis leads the team in TFL (10) and sacks (8). Lamar Jackson has been their top ball-hawk, with 3 interceptions on the year; he's also been credited with a team-high 12 passes defended, as well two forced fumbles and a QB hurry. On a defense with playmakers few and far between, Jackson has been one of the most impactful by far.
MATCH-UP TO WATCH
If the weather forecast holds true, a cold, wet, sloppy game could be in the offing, which might make it difficult to throw the ball. In that case, the team that can run the ball better should have the advantage. Nebraska has the better run offense in this game (by far), while Iowa has the better run defense (also by far). That said, Iowa's run defense has sprung some leaks in recent weeks -- both Wisconsin and Illinois had a great deal of success against Iowa on the ground. And we know Iowa's dismal run offense has struggled to run the ball on, well, pretty much everyone, including other bad run defenses (like Illinois last week). That's a foreboding sign. Iowa is going to need to get something going on the ground in this game to have a shot at winning it.
WHAT WE WANT TO SEE
Win. Make it 5 in a row over Nebraska. Don't care how.
Iowa has the better team and the better defense, but the conditions could make a mess of things. Nebraska also has more to play for -- bowl eligibility, revenge on Iowa beating them four years in a row -- than Iowa likely does. In most years we'd feel alright about a game that was going to come down to defense and running the ball, but the struggles of this year's running game give us some real cause for concern in what could be an ugly slog. I think Iowa's going to need to force some turnovers or get some big plays on defense and special teams to make up for the expected struggles of Iowa's offense. I'm going to trust the better team to find a way to make plays and prevail... but I think it's going to be a close, ugly game.
IOWA 20, NEBRASKA 16