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Iowa Football: Behind Enemy Lines With the Nebraska Cornhuskers

It’s Black Friday and it’s game day in Lincoln. As you countdown to kickoff, get the inside scoop on Nebraska from a pair of Huskers.

NCAA Football: Nebraska at Iowa
We tackle the hard questions with a pair of Huskers.
Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

The Hawkeyes look to wrap up their regular season with a trip to Lincoln tomorrow. Iowa has won four straight against the Huskers, but Nebraska is fresh off a destruction of Maryland with their bowl game hopes depending on a win against the Hawkeyes.

To get a sense of what Iowa fans should expect from the Cornhuskers, we went behind enemy lines to get the inside scoop from Andy Ketterson, a staff writer, and Jill Heemstra, a site manager at Corn Nation.

BHGP: A season ago, the Cornhuskers came into Kinnick and came as close to beating Iowa as they have since 2014. What’s different about this year’s team to get them over the hump to take down Hawkeyes?

Jill: This Husker team is maybe a step behind the one that went to Iowa City last year. The biggest difference may be that this one is in Lincoln.

Andy: OK, in honor of Iowa week, let me have a seat on the old John P and fire up the old iPad as I release the foul remnants of last night’s distilled spirits and deep fried mistakes from hell.

A season which began with high hopes (probably undeserved), descended into wailings we would finish 4-8 again or worse, has actually started turning around the past few weeks. The key, of course - and boy, have I said this about 500 times in the past several weeks - will be NOT STEPPING ON OUR OWN JOHNSONS!!

If we execute, don’t take dumb penalties, make idiotic turnovers and boneheaded reads, we can be in this game. 5-6 could easily be 8-3 right now if we could get out of our own way. There’s hints this is starting to happen.

BHGP: Much was made about Adrian Martinez coming into the season with some expectations for perhaps a Heisman run at some point. What’s changed as the season has gone on?

Jill: that is a hard one to pinpoint. He seemed cautious to start the season. Whether he wasn’t 100% physically or if there was something mental that made him cautious, I really don’t know. He seems more decisive of late, which has been a welcome sight.

Andy: Um, they stopped talking and started playing the games?

That talk was fun, but most people didn’t take it that seriously. Personally, I thought he seemed off physically early on before actually being injured enough to have to sit out. He seems back to almost full speed and the decision-making has improved as well.

We’ll see.

BHGP: Outside of Martinez, who’s someone Iowa fans should know about on the Nebraska offense heading into Black Friday?

Jill: Wan’dale Robinson has been electric, but I’m not sure he will be ready to play on Friday. Of course, JD Spielman has been the go- to in the passing game. Look for the Huskers to try and get him involved early and often.

Andy: Wan’Dale if plays and JD Spielman have been the go to guys all year long. But more importantly, Dedrick Mills, the former Georgia Tech Freshman All-American, has finally become the back we were expecting at the beginning of the year.

He went for 188 against Wisconsin and carried 12 times for 65 against Maryland before that turned into a blowout. His emergence is what could make a game many of us wrote off weeks ago interesting.

BHGP: Moving to the defensive side of the ball, Nebraska has a storied history of being great on defense. That hasn’t held up in recent years. What should Hawkeye fans expect from the Black Shirts this year?

Jill: You can expect to find room for the Hawkeye offense to operate in the middle of the field - whether in the run game or short passing game. Most teams have found at least some yardage by exploiting our linebackers.

Andy: Our D-line has been a little beat up lately, so that’s not good against you guys. However, Lamar Jackson has been a bright spot at corner going from unrealized potential to potential early round draft pick this season. Jojo Doman is also fun to watch playing LB/Nickel sort of hybrid. He CLOSES on the ball.

As a unit, our blueprint has been to come out tough for 1-2 quarters, watch the opposition make their adjustments, then get rolled as we are completely unable to react to those adjustments. I’m just going to go curse in the yard for a few minutes.

BHGP: Iowa’s offense has struggled to turn long drives into touchdowns this season. That’s been in part due to difficulties running the ball. Is there a particular matchup you think the Nebraska defense can exploit to keep Iowa out of the endzone on Friday?

Jill: The Husker defense has been bad on third down and abysmal in the red zone. In other words, I’m not sure this is the defense that can keep even a relatively anemic Hawkeye offense in check.

Andy: Going off the Illinois game, this really does appear to be the resistable force vs. the movable object. Defensively, we hope to exploit the fact you don’t have Jonathon Taylor. Also, Nate Stanley does seem to have a harder time finding the end zone this season. Please don’t start on Friday.

BHGP: What about on offense? What’s the one matchup you think Scott Frost can go to in order to get points on the board?

Jill: With a well-balanced Hawkeye defense, I’m not sure there will be one matchup for Frost to exploit. I think the Huskers best chance is to try and mix things up and get defenders guessing at times. The Huskers have the ability to rip off big plays at any time and they will need them. Derrick Mills has hit his stride, so I hope he is healthy. The coaches also trotted out Like McCaffrey at wideout last week. I hope to see that again, especially if Wan’dale Robinson can’t play.

Andy: He usually does a pretty good job of not rolling a single go-to play at teams. Well, except those unblocked WR screens that have been going nowhere early. But one thing that seems to have been working the last couple of weeks is getting Mills off the tackles and wide with blockers. He came in with a bruiser reputation but he has been showing speed off the corners and ripping off some big plays.

BHGP: Speaking of Scott Frost, he recently received an extension through 2026. What has been the general response to that from Cornhusker fans and how would you evaluate his performance to-date in Lincoln?

Jill: The general response has been, oh, okay. There were some grumblings but this extension made it clear to the fans that this is a long game. His performance to date is obviously mixed. The wins haven’t been there and he has a penchant for saying things that make opponents mad at times. He seems to have learned on the latter. I tend to believe that he is willing to tear it all down to rebuild the program. He has the right mentors. He has a supportive administration and he has a long leash (see: aforementioned extension). I think he knows what it takes to build the foundation and culture, but he is learning on the job and this is a bigger rebuild than most expected.

Andy: There are some who are already giving up but PTSD in this state is what it is. I think most are of the mind that we’re in a minimum 4-year rebuild and have planted their feet to be in on this staff for the long haul.

BHGP: It’s been five years since Shawn Eichorst infamously said Bo Pelini was fired despite winning in Iowa City because he had to evaluate where Iowa was as a program. In the time since then, Nebraska hasn’t beaten Iowa while the Hawkeyes are one of only a handful of programs to win at least 8 games a year since then and have been to Indy and the Rose Bowl. How would you evaluate the two programs as they stand today?

Jill: Iowa is the definition of consistency and a program with a clear identity - excellent line play, control the ball, and screw up as little as possible. On the surface, Bo Pelini appeared to create a level of consistency for Nebraska, but anyone who watched closely could see the foundation was shaky. After the Mike Riley disaster, the Huskers are still searching for their identity and their “baseline”. Scott Frost, as he grows as a coach is really intriguing here (not just because he is a Nebraska guy) but because his roots are in the kind of football Nebraska will need to play to compete in this conference but he has also shown an ability to innovate and modernize. Nebraska has a ways to go before we know what their identity will eventually be.

Andy: That foot in his mouth horseshit is the kind of nonsense which made Shawn Eichorst the complete embodiment of an utter jackass who’d been kicked in the head one time too many by the other jackasses in the pen. The only time he seemed halfway intelligent was when he was hiding under his desk, saying nothing, earning his moniker from Miami, “The Invisible Man”.

Need more proof? Eichorst is the stable genius who didn’t think Iowa-Nebraska should be played on Black Friday anymore. He was also the Mensa candidate who with coaches from other Husker teams in attendance at a football practice, proclaimed Bob Diaco the best coach on the Lincoln campus in any sport.

One of the Husker coaches standing there was John Cook.

I’m sorry, I evaluated Shawn Eichorst. I’ll rate thusly:

  1. Iowa
  2. Nebraska

437. Shawn Eichorst

BHGP: OK, back to this year. Iowa opened as a 3-point favorite and has since grown to a 6-point favorite in Eastern Iowa sports books. Can the Huskers cover the spread? Can they win outright? What’s your prediction for this one.

Jill: That depends on which Husker team shows up. That sounds like a cop out, but I really have no idea. The Huskers need this game to go bowling and it’s in Lincoln. They are also banged up and coming off a blowout win that did nothing to prepare them for the Hawkeyes. I also don’t trust the Nebraska defense. I’m going to pick a Husker win by three but if you gave me truth serum, I would probably pick Iowa to cover.

Andy: I’m just going to pick this one from the heart. I’ve been banging away at life pretty good for a stretch and I’ve learned to trust the heart over my head which still screams PICK IOWA DUMBASS even though I feel the gap is closer than it was last year. Our biggest problem is we haven’t learned how to win and that means something.

Still, there’s the Coach Taylor of Friday Night Lights in me which hears him telling Smash Williams when asked why he was spending so much of his personal time trying to get him ready for a tryout with Texas A&M, answered “Because I need something good to happen.”

So do I. Huskers 33 Hawkeyes 30.

BHGP: Finally, it’s Thanksgiving. What’s one thing you’re thankful for this year?

Jill: There is much to be thankful for. Life is good. I have a wonderful family and get to live in a place that is amazingly peaceful with amazing sunsets and good friends and neighbors.

And beer. I’m very thankful for beer.

Andy: I’m thankful to be finding some peace and enjoyment and also to have the kind of life where I can belly up Friday, have a cold one in front of me, look up at the big screen and hurl terrible insults at the Hawkeyes as well as you, their horrid fans, in the name of the logo on our jackets beating the logo on yours.

There’s people in the world who have it much, much worse. :-)

So there you have it. We’re all decent people. Well, most of us. That and the Huskers among us are calling for a 3-point Nebraska win. Let’s hope they’re decent people who are bad at predicting football scores.

Thanks again to Andy, Jill and the folks at Corn Nation. You can follow Andy on the Twitters @AndyKett20, Jill @jill_heemstra and Corn Nation @CornNation. Be sure to get over there for even more Husker perspective. They’ve got some good stuff on Iowa this week, including an interesting take on the Iowa-Nebraska “rivalry.”

Go Hawks!