In recent seasons, the Iowa-Nebraska rivalry has been filled with tightly-contested games and agonizing heartbreak for both sides and by all indications, that’s what fans should expect heading into this year’s matchup.
I have to admit, when it comes to Hawkeyes football, there’s not a whole lot that feels better than beating the Cornhuskers, on a Friday afternoon, at home, on Senior Day with a prime time television slot for the college football world to see. So, it’s time to take a look at what exactly this year’s Cornhuskers team is bringing to the table.
Offense Without an Identity
I’ll start off with by saying this: This isn’t the Cornhuskers offense fans have grown accustomed to.
Over the course of the past decade, the Huskers on offense have prided themselves in being able to run the ball efficiently and effectively with players such as Roy Helu Jr., Rex Burkhead and Ameer Abdullah leading the way. However, in the last two seasons, the Cornhuskers haven’t had that identity at running back with Terrell Newby receiving the bulk of the carries and the offense as a whole hasn’t had much of an identity either.
Per usual with this Cornhuskers offense, the read option is highly prevalent this season as Armstrong and Newby lead the rushing attack with a combined roughly 1,300 yards and 15 touchdowns. If Nebraska ends up moving the ball effectively on Friday, it’ll be because of the Newby-Armstrong run combination. However, as of late, that combination hasn’t been as dynamic or game-breaking as it was when the season first started out.
With that said, in regards to the passing game, remarkably, Armstrong has actually regressed as a passer compared to 2015.
The lack of an effective passing attack has ended up really affecting the Cornhuskers run game in a negative way this season and has suppressed the potential explosiveness and playmaking ability that receivers such as Jordan Westerkamp, Stanley Morgan Jr., Alonzo Moore, and De’Mornay Pierson-El possess.
A Deadly Safety Trio
When you examine the Cornhuskers defense as a whole, guys like Michael Rose-Ivey and Josh Banderas tend to stick out as good players. However, the real game-changing talent is centered more on the backend with senior safety Nate Gerry, junior safety Kieron Williams, and sophomore safety Aaron Williams (no relation to Kieron).
As a trio, the Cornhuskers coaching staff is more than willing to move each one of them around on defense, as they all possess skill sets that allow them to play up near the line of scrimmage or on the backend in a more “rangy” role.
Coming into the season, I feel as though most Big Ten fans were aware of just how good of a player Gerry was, especially coming on the heels of an impressive 2015 campaign. However, this season, Gerry isn’t alone when it comes to defending on the backend, as the emergence of both Kieron and Aaron Williams has gone on to pay some serious dividends for the Cornhuskers defense, as they currently sit at number eight nationally in regards to forcing interceptions.
The trio of Williams, Gerry, and Williams has been one of the bright spots of the Cornhuskers 2016 season and it’s a big reason as to why the team currently sits with a record 9-2.
Once again, it won’t be an easy afternoon for the Hawkeyes passing game, as they simply can’t seem to find any kind of spark and they’ll be going up against one the more dynamic, game-altering units in the Big Ten conference this Friday.
I decided to go ahead and leave you guys off with some excellent news that just recently came in late Wednesday, news that should really serve as a boost of confidence for the Hawkeyes’ chances on Friday.
In a press conference, Mike Riley announced that Tommy “Arm-punt” Armstrong will, in fact, be active and the starter for this week’s contest! This following Armstrong’s absence from last week’s matchup with Maryland.
Throughout Armstrong’s career as a Cornhusker, he’s been very prone to committing turnovers, especially against the Hawkeyes, as he’s thrown six interceptions in the last two meetings.
Last season, Armstrong’s four interceptions to zero touchdowns proved to be a difference maker, as the Cornhuskers fell to the Hawkeyes 28-20.
In this season’s matchup the Hawkeyes will need to force turnovers to help make up for what has been a somewhat inept offense for the better part of the season.
The Cornhuskers are likely to put points up on the board and it’s going to come down to the Hawkeye defense to force turnovers and give the offense short field to work with if they would like to hang around in this game.