Nebraska Preview: Cornhuskers at Iowa
When Scott Frost was hired to become the head football coach at Nebraska a little more than a year ago, expectations among some in the Husker fanbase were sky high.
Back then, those rabid Big Red backers would have been quite disappointed at the prospect of Nebraska only going 5-7 with their former National Championship quarterback now running the show.
But considering the 2018 season began with six straight losses, if the Cornhuskers (4-7/ 3-5 Big Ten) finish with five wins it will be cause for celebration in Lincoln.
A border battle with Iowa, Friday (November 23), stands in the way of that 5-1 finish to the regular season.
The Hawkeyes (7-4/4-4) have experienced a similar season to Nebraska, only in reverse.
Iowa began 6-1 but then dropped three in a row before a 63-0 win at Illinois last weekend (November 17). Those defeats to Penn State, Purdue, and Northwestern came by an average of four points.
The Hawkeyes offense is led by quarterback Nate Stanley, who has thrown 47 touchdown passes in the last two seasons. He's been sacked the fewest times in the Big Ten this season (13).
He has two very talented tight ends as his favorite targets. Junior Noah Fant, an Omaha native, is an NFL prospect with 19 career touchdown catches, including two against Nebraska last year.
Sophomore T.J. Hockenson leads the Hawkeyes with 41 catches for 633 yards and six scores. He's one of three finalists for the John Mackey Award, which is given annually to college football's top tight end at the end of the season.
The Hawkeyes rotate through a trio of sophomore running backs - Ivory Kelly-Martin, Mekhi Sargent, and Toren Young - who have combined for more than 1,300 yards this season. Kelly-Martin ran for 90 yards against the Husker defense last season.
Defensively, Iowa is sixth in the nation allowing 280 yards per game, eighth in FBS against the run (100 yards per game), and ninth in fewest points allowed (17 per game).
The Hawkeyes get great pressure up front with Anthony Nelson and A.J. Epenesa, who have combined for 16 sacks in 2018. The defense as a whole has racked up 31 sacks, which is second best in the Big Ten.
That pressure benefits the Iowa secondary, which is second in the nation with 17 interceptions after leading all of FBS last year with 21. Amani Hooker and Genmo Stone each have four picks this season.
On special teams, the Hawkeyes are third in the country averaging nearly 30 yards on kickoff returns.
Kickoff in Iowa City is 11:00 AM, Saturday. You can listen to the game live on ESPN 99.1.
Iowa has won the last two against Nebraska by a combined score of 96-24 and has won three straight against Nebraska. That matches the Hawkeyes longest streak in the series, which began in 1891. The Huskers longest winning streak against Iowa is eight in a row from 1931 to 1941.
Last Saturday (November 17), the Huskers won for the fourth time in five games with a 9-6 victory at home over Michigan State. It marked the first time since 1937 that Nebraska won a football game without scoring a touchdown.
The Cornhuskers overcame a pair of turnovers and struggles on third down (4-of-14) to beat the Spartans on a bitterly cold day in Lincoln.
The Nebraska defense kept the Michigan State passing attack in check allowing quarterback Rocky Lombardi to complete just 15 of his 41 pass attempts.
The Huskers also benefitted from a Spartan unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, which pushed what would have been a 26-yard field second-quarter goal attempt back to 41-yards. The kick hit the upright and proved to be the difference in the final score.
Nebraska placekicker Barret Pickering had his best day in a Husker uniform. The freshman, who started the season just four-of-eight, was 3-for-3 against Michigan State makes from 36 yards, 20 yards, and the eventual game-winner, a career-long 47-yarder with 5:13 left in the fourth quarter.
I talked with the 'Voice of the Huskers' Greg Sharpe about Michigan State win and the match-up with Iowa: