We’ll use this space to briefly recap last week’s matchup to watch before heading to the this weeks.
Spencer Petras did what Spencer Petras was asked to do, which is to say he limited turnovers and hit enough of the passes Brian Ferentz teed up for him.
His 18/28 performance for 186 yards was his most accurate performance of 2020 and, while he still struggled with some throws, none of them ended up in the arms of a defender. He did have two fumbles, one of his own doing in the exchange with center Tyler Linderbaum, which allowed Penn State to linger.
Expecting a breakout game is silly at this point in the season given he and Brian have shown little capacity to thread the needle in a tight game. However, the last three have afforded Petras the opportunity to manage blowouts to their completion. I won’t complain if there’s a fourth tomorrow!
The Iowa Hawkeyes (3-2) enter tomorrow’s Black Friday showdown with the Nebraska Cornhuskers (1-3) riding a high. There is no other way to experience three straight 20+ point wins in these trying times than succumbing oneself to the sheer joy of the dominance.
Adding to the exuberance is the pain the neighbors to the west are experiencing with their 1-3 start which has seen them cycle quarterbacks and lose by 18 points to Illinois. To put it into perspective, Iowa lost to Illinois by that margin (31, to be exact) in 2000. Illinois was coached by Ron Turner and quarterbacked by Kurt Kittner. Almost literally two names I could not remember less.
Nebraska is saying all the right things about how they are gearing up for the Hawks with “black and blue” practices as if it is just a switch you can turn on. Iowa lives this, 24/7/365 as a tough, smart, physical team and will be ready for whatever Nebraska thinks their version of that is. It is very likely they’ll try replicate what Iowa will do on offense: run the ball.
The Cornhuskers are, to their credit, a run first team with 40 attempts to 30 passes per game. Their runs go for just shy of five yards a pop (4.9) but they are heavily reliant on quarterback runs. Luke McCaffrey, who has lined up as an RB, leads the team with 56 carries and 318 yards. Adrian Martinez is second in yardage (195) and third in carries (28) which averages out to 7 per.
This supercut gives you an idea of what NU’s quarterback will be asked to do:
Nebraska used delayed runs on 3rd and medium-to-long a number of times up the gut to some positive effect:
McCaffery also scrambled with some regularity after penetration up the middle:
Those these are just a couple examples, what it demonstrates is Nebraska’s ability to capitalize on opponents’ aggressiveness to open running lanes for their QB. To defend, it will require an ultimate “do your job” performance from Daviyon Nixon, Jack Heflin, and their backups.
Rob Donaldson put together a tremendous video on Nixon’s impact, which bears a re-upping in this space:
Though the whole video is worth watching (or rewatching), two plays stick out as it pertains to where Nebraska will look to use Iowa’s aggressiveness against itself. Nixon has shown a strong aptitude not to overcommit as a rusher, “do his job” in terms of holding contain, and still finish the play as the first to the ball.
With the down and distance being 2nd & 11, the Iowa defense is faced with a passing situation. Nixon certainly could beat his man off the ball but never overcommits, which 1) reduces the lane Peyton Ramsey can use in this situation but 2) offers Nixon the opportunity to finish the play because he was quick to recognize the play and meets the ballcarrier behind the line of scrimmage.
In this play, Nixon has almost the exact same assignment as he did with his “thick six.” In a way, this is even more impressive, as he first holds contain before covering the underneath route. As if that weren’t enough, once it’s clear Aiden O’Connor has nowhere to go, Nixon uses straight-line acceleration to get home to the quarterback.
Daviyon Nixon has been a force for Iowa’s defense and the #1 name on opponent scouting reports. Nebraska has used aggressiveness inside against their opponents. Yet Nixon has shown a savviness throughout the season in terms of balancing his contain assignment with a unique ability to get to the quarterback from the tackle position.
If the Cornhuskers have trouble with Nixon, they’ll have to find ways to counteract his ability. As he’s shown throughout much of this season, he may be another step ahead of the offense and provide another in a long list of highlights.