The end, it is near.
What is Dispatches from Blogfrica? Pretty simple: I ask questions of a blogger for an opposing team; he answers. A truly revolutionary idea, no? This week: Jesse Collins from Off-Tackle Empire.
1) Are you finding the parallels between your old home in the Big XII North and your current home in the Big Ten Legends division a little eerie? You've got an annoying border-state rival from Iowa, a team in purple that likes to give you a lot of grief, a team that's a perpetual doormat in football (and would probably prefer to be playing some other sport, like basketball or hockey), and... well, Michigan and Michigan State probably don't have a lot in common with Missouri and Colorado, actually. Anyway. Does the B1G remind you of the BXII? Are you feeling comfortable in your new digs?
Oh man, there are times it feels like the subplots of the B1G are a redux of the old Big XII, but then I watch a game and see defense and offensive holding penalties called on everyone but the team that is playing Penn State (allegedly), and I realize, "Oh yeah, this conference cares to stop an offense every once in a while." But seriously, I and most all fans are really loving the new digs. I think there are a few crazy fans out there who would kindly like you to get off their lawn and give them a yearly rivalry with Oklahoma and don't understand why Tom Osborne isn't still coaching, but those fans also don't have cable and wonder where Keith Jackson went, so there's that.
I will tell you this, because of the similarities, I am absolutely petrified for this Friday. While there is really no logical reason to think that the Hawkeyes can play with Nebraska past the first quarter on Friday, I have a feeling this will be all to reminiscent of our old games with Colorado after Thanksgiving. While Nebraska won more of those than they lost, Colorado made those way too close for comfort. I think your Black and Gold team pulls a little of that off this weekend.
2) Taylor Martinez hasn't totally shed his arm punt-heavy past (see: the Ohio State game), but he's made pretty remarkable strides as a passer (2400 yards, 64% completion, 21-8 TD-INT ratio). Is that just a function of maturation and experience? Better coaching? Or did he do something in the off-season to get better?
All of the above? See, Martinez will never be an extremely polished QB, but he showed us that he can read progressions this year and when he isn't running for his life at the snap, he can gun the ball into a receivers hands. Is it the QB Guru training he got in the summer? Is it Tim Beck as year two OC? Is it some sort of magic potion he drank in the offseason? Hard to say, but he is much more poised and even more importantly, he doesn't give up. Also, he is one tough SOB. The guy takes some brutal hits, gets up, does that annoying stare at the guy who cleaned his clock and goes about his business. He may not be perfect, but I love that he's on my team.
3) Any other offensive players that Iowa fans should be familiar with before we see them murderizing the hapless Iowa defense on Friday? Is Rex Burkhead going to be back?
If you haven't familiarized yourself with Kenny Bell, you probably should because he is gonna get the ball a lot on Friday. With 9 catches for 136 yards and two TDs against a pretty stout pass defense, Bell showed why he is in the running for B!G WR of the year. Of course, just listing Bell is an injustice to the wealth of talent on offense. It's actually pretty ridiculous. It's been a while since Nebraska was a killing machine on offense, and it's been really fun to watch. As for Burkhead, I was hearing that he was probably close to ready this past weekend, so I wouldn't be surprised to see a few snaps on Friday. Abdullah has over 1000 yards this season, though, so I doubt Burkhead gets too many snaps unless it feels necessary. I know he'll do everything he can to repeat his performance from last year, but I don't know if the coaches will let him.
4) This isn't a vintage Nebraska defense, by any stretch of the imagination, but it's seemed to play much better over the last month or so. Is that a function of playing worse offenses or has the defense really been making some strides forward?
Like most of these things are, it's probably a bit of everything. Nebraska's defenses generally get better as the year progresses because Bo has one of the most complex pass defense and D-line schemes out there. While it is annoying to hear a coach say it's all about execution, it really is all about execution. His approach is proven, and when players can play within that scheme, it's pretty damn hard to do much against it. As players get a deeper understanding of their assignments and get to play more reps against live offenses, the defense gets better. A lot of the fundamentals get cleaned up as well because you focus on the little things and let the scheme kind of just happen. Of course, playing some offenses less good than Ohio State and UCLA has helped immensely. Also Bellamy. That situation really helped pad the stats.
5) Is there one good reason to think that Iowa might have a shot in this game, or should I focus on my Black Friday shopping? A new HDTV will make it even easier for me to see the blown coverages in Iowa's secondary, after all.
Like I said before, there really is no reason on paper Iowa comes close to the upset on Friday. I don't know what the line is yet, but it probably isn't close. Still, Nebraska has proven they suck on the road with the blowout against OSU and some near losses at a less-than-intimidating Ryan Field and a slightly louder Spartan Stadium. If the good Nebraska shows up, they are going to murder your defense. This offense when it doesn't screw itself over is pretty unstoppable with multiple weapons at almost every skill position. Then there is the bad Nebraska who turns the ball over and has a million penalties. Iowa is good at taking away the ball and Nebraska is extremely good at giving the ball away which is a recipe for disaster. Nebraska's defense seems to falter in those situations as well, so it's definitely something to keep an eye on. If Iowa can stay within themselves and play disciplined ball, they can make a game of it. Just like the Colorado games of past, I see this going into the fourth quarter with full-on meltdowns across Nebraska.
6) OK, prediction time -- who ya got?
I'll still stick with the Huskers. Nebraska has enough going for it that I think they win this game with an insurance TD in the fourth quarter and some clutch play by Martinez. Iowa keeps it close until then with a defensive TD and two more from whichever Iowa RB is healthiest. Final score 35-24 Nebraska.
Thanks for being a good sport, Jesse. Please be gentle. You can check out Jesse at Off-Tackle Empire. You can also follow him on Twitter at @jcollinsatcssus. The Iowa-Nebraska game is in Iowa City, IA on Friday, November 23 at 11am CT, with television coverage from ABC. It is the last time we will have to watch Iowa play football until 2013.