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Matchup to Watch: Adrian Martinez vs. Iowa’s Run Defense

The Hawkeyes got turned around against Brandon Peters, can they turn it around for Nebraska’s mobile QB?

NCAA Football: Nebraska at Iowa Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

66 rushing yards. 98 passing yards on 11/16 passing. 14-3 scoring advantage.

Those were Adrian Martinez’s stats after the Iowa Hawkeyes decided to fake a field goal up 28-14 with 19 minutes and 9 seconds left in last year’s matchup against the Nebraska Cornhuskers.

As Kirk Ferentz said in his presser this week, “ Once he got going last year... We couldn’t stop him, we couldn’t slow him down, we couldn’t contain him.”

Since the projected weather may affect Nebraska’s passing offense, one would expect them to lean on their rushing offense especially with such a dynamic weapon in Martinez.

In the clip above, Anthony Nelson collapses Iowa’s edge significantly and Martinez takes advantage. Iowa’s linebackers do their best to recover, but can’t stop the 220-lb quarterback who runs through them with ease. The Cornhuskers finished this drive off with a touchdown.

Of course, the play works because of the threat Maurice Washington poses but he’s been suspended for the rest of the season. Dedrick Mills has performed well in his stead and has averaged 5.6 yards per carry, including a 188-yard performance against Wisconsin two weeks prior. He’s the ‘skers’ leading rusher. Martinez is second despite missing two games.

Generally, Iowa has done a decent job of limiting mobile quarterbacks this season. Just once - last week - has Iowa allowed more than 4 yards/carry from an opponent’s quarterback. Perhaps it was Brandon Peters’ lack of running ability displayed prior to last week (in games against not Rutgers or Akron, the most rushing yards he had was 17 before Iowa), but Iowa was caught out of position with regularity against the Illini QB.

To Iowa’s credit, they’ve kept opposing quarterbacks out of the end zone, but Peters’ display is certainly concerning as Iowa heads into one of the best running QBs in the conference in Martinez. If there’s a reason to feel comfortable in Iowa’s scheme going forward, it’s the edge integrity A.J. Epenesa plays with in the play below:

Though the pass was completed, it was called back due to an offensive penalty. AJE, doesn’t fall for the fake handoff, which forces Brandon Peters to remain in the backfield. He trusts the defense behind him when he making a move for the sack on the RPO, which forces the ball out.

These are the types of plays Iowa needs to force Martinez to make, especially considering the conditions. In the offense Nebraska wants to run, these passes are easy money. For reference, McKenzie Milton’s completion percentage was over 67% during Frost’s last season at UCF. Martinez’s completed under 60% of his passes, which is a distinct decrease from last year. Three of Nebraska’s losses have come in Martinez’s least productive passing outings against Ohio State, Purdue, and Wisconsin.

Iowa has shown an ability to contain rushing quarterbacks throughout this season but last week was a step back in that department. With the weather looking ugly for Friday, both teams will be looking to establish the run, which includes a heavy dose of Martinez for Nebraska. If Iowa is able to contain his runs and force him to make throws under pressure, the Hawkeyes can force Martinez to make passes against his better judgment. Even better? Iowa can get to him and add to Nebraska’s nation leading total of 26 fumbles.

For Iowa to finish Nebraska’s season, the defense will need to come to play once again. And if this Hawkeye team has shown anything this season, they’ll be ready on Friday.