What is Dispatches from Blogfrica? Pretty simple: I ask questions of an blogger for an opposing team; he (or she) answers. A truly revolutionary idea, no? Today: Brian from Corn Nation, SB Nation's fine blog for all things Nebraska.
1) The build-up to this game -- from both sides -- assures me that this is not yet a rivalry. (I disagree, but my perspective may be biased.) So -- is this a rivalry yet and if not, what will it take to get there? Would Iowa celebrating a 12-0 season on the field at Memorial Stadium do the trick?
BRIAN: I don't think it's a rivalry only from the angle that it seemed the B1G wanted this to happen more than the fan bases wanted to. Wisconsin and Minnesota are as much of rivals as Iowa is (in my mind at least), but would it be different if they were on Black Friday? Or does the angle of this being the last regular season game make it so? It seemed Colorado was better for Nebraska when it wasn't on the day after Thanksgiving than when it became that way. I don't know about Iowa winning making it that way, nor would I think that it would be different if Nebraska wins. Salt in wound for the loser, for sure though.
2) Be honest: did Bo Pelini curse the program as he left the state? (And I mean a witchcraft/voodoo-style curse, not just a few four-letter words. It seem important to make this distinction where Pelini is concerned.)
BRIAN: Nah, I doubt it. There are still people that think Bo was fired for wins/losses, when in fact that was probably the lone reason he was kept along for so long. The showings of what he's like at Youngstown State (especially after the North Dakota State loss) showed you why Bo and Nebraska wasn't a match made anymore. Is he a good coach? For sure, but his temper and arrogance, for a lack of a better term, showed why he needed to go.
3) If it wasn't witchcraft, what's the explanation for Nebraska's uncanny ability this season to find gut-punch ways to lose at the end of games? Was this just the year from hell when it came to close games?
BRIAN: I think you can mostly say luck, but in that aspect I truly believe that you create your own luck. Nebraska has been putting themselves in positions to win or lose, and sometimes you don't win games. BYU just started the roller coaster, while against Miami, Illinois and Wisconsin, the Huskers had chances to put the game away and didn't for one reason or another. This team is better than a 5 win team, but in the end you're measured on wins/losses, and here we are. It's not whether that's fair, but rather how you close out games. Michigan State, while you can think the Reilly TD grab was a oversight, the end of the game where Connor Cook ended the game throwing the ball out of bounds, took this big monkey off the back of this team. It went from a "how will Nebraska lose this one" to "wow, we could win this type of game". That's a big thing when you've been on the wrong side of the winners column all season.
4) Nebraska's second in total offense in the Big Ten, second in yards per play, and fourth in scoring offense (although they're within a single point of being first in that category). What's been working so well for Nebraska on that side of the ball and what should Iowa fans be concerned about for Friday?
BRIAN: Nebraska has held firm to a play calling ratio that has them passing more than running a fair amount of time this season. Tommy Armstrong is the man who makes the offense work, whether people think he's good enough or not. His wideout play has gotten better though, as one could argue that along the depth chart, it's the best in the Conference (even without Demornay Pierson-El). Yes, you hear about Jordan Westerkamp, but people like Alonzo Moore, Stanley Morgan Jr and Brandon Reilly have stepped up and made a big difference.
Running-wise, it's been a interesting time as for the first time in about 6 or so years, Nebraska didn't have a true 1st string guy, even though Terrell Newby has stepped up in that aspect. You've had contributors such as Imani Cross, Andy Janovich and Devine Ozigbo step up in certain spots this year, and it's not been a bad thing to watch.
5) Nebraska's pass defense has been poor -- very, very poor. In fact, only Indiana's pass defense has been worse in the Big Ten this season. What's been the cause of Nebraska's porous secondary and how concerned are you about C.J. Beathard's ability to exploit those flaws on Friday?
BRIAN: It's probably too easy to point out that Nebraska is on their fourth different secondary coach in the last five or so years, however the more relevant thing to point out is that the Huskers are really in-between on talent levels. There are some useable guys that are really young, but they got the redshirt and, combining that with some talent that left the secondary, leaves you in a talent vacuum that leaves you wondering who can play what corner. Granted, the team ran Pelini's pattern matching system and was asked to go to a quarters-type of coverage, but at the same time, if you don't have playmakers then you really are limited in what you can do. That all being said, it's gotten better in the last couple of games. Nothing that would put someone on a watch list, but at the same time it's good to see everything getting better.
6) While pass defense has been an issue for Nebraska, the run defense has been pretty solid -- 4th in the Big Ten, giving up 109.8 ypg. But they've also only played one of the top five rushing offenses in the Big Ten (Northwestern) and they gave up 5.57 yards per carry in that game. Can Iowa have success on the ground against the Huskers?
BRIAN: In the game versus Northwestern, a quarterback that many didn't think would go running around did, and that did somewhat skewer the stats a little. You would be hard-pressed to find a better set of defensive tackles than Vincent Valentine and Maliek Collins, but the issue comes at defensive end on that aspect. When Randy Gregory left, there was hope guys like Freedom Akinmoladium and Jack Gangwish could step right in with Greg McMullen and not have a drop off, especially on run defense where Gregory wasn't very good. While they have been fair, it hasn't been sunshine all year. The BIGGEST jump, however, is in the linebacking crew. This crew has been hurt and Trent Bray has shown that he's worth the money in the future. This group isn't all the way there yet, that's for sure. However, guys like Josh Banderas and Michael Rose-Ivey don't have to do it by themselves anymore, as role guys like Marcus Newby and Dedrick Young have played well at times. A complete upgrade from hoping a superstar like LaVonte David could shadow others that were just there for the free food.
7) What's the perception of Mike Riley a year in? Does this seem like a fatally doomed union or have there been signs this year that Riley could succeed at Nebraska?
BRIAN: I think Mike and the fanbase have come to a middle of the road in that he's probably not going to win a national title in Lincoln, but a Big Ten title is definitely the target and the future will only get better. To be honest, he is a hire that still leaves some people itching their heads. Some folks want him to fail to simply say he's Bill Callahan 2.0, with the way he took the job and his offensive philosophies and such. He won't probably be in Lincoln a long time (at best, 6-7 years) but he's going to leave Nebraska better in a talent and coaching level than when he got here. The main thing I think Riley and his staff needs to get better at is realizing that Nebraska is not like what he left in Oregon State, and learning to coach a team and lead a program that isn't a perpetual underdog at all times.
8) OK, prediction time -- who ya got?
BRIAN: Well, interesting game here. A team that is surging and only with a couple steps to the CFP versus a team that has had a bad front half of the season, but has surged lately and is looking to get their signature win of the year. Plus, add the bye week versus the short week for Iowa in this aspect...
Call me the homer, but the Huskers prevail here by less than a score. Riley and staff realize that as Beathard goes, so goes the Hawkeyes offense in this one. Nebraska will put up points, it will be a loud atmosphere, and in the end the Huskers get to six wins and send the Hawkeyes to Indy with a loss. Nebraska 34, Iowa 30.
Thanks for being a good sport, Brian, but I still hope your team gets mollywhopped on Friday. You can check out the CN crew at Corn Nation. You can also follow Brian on Twitter at @BrianRTowle and CN on Twitter at @CornNation. The Iowa-Nebraska game is in Lincoln, NE on Friday, November 27, and is scheduled to start at approximately 2:30 pm CT, with TV coverage from ABC.