The Iowa Hawkeyes are set to close out the regular season on Black Friday as they travel to Lincoln to take on the Nebraska Cornhuskers. Iowa is riding a three-game winning streak after taking down Illinois on senior day inside Kinnick Stadium. The Huskers are riding a five-game losing streak, but all but one of their losses this season have been by one score and the record does not seem representative of their on field performance this year.
To get a better idea of what Hawkeye fans should expect from this Husker team, we sat down with Andy Ketterson of SB Nation’s Nebraska site, Corn Nation. Here’s a look at our conversation.
BHGP: I was going to start out with some overarching question about the season to-date, but then we got news that Adrian Martinez will not be available for this week’s matchup and I can’t start anywhere but there. What does the loss of Martinez mean for this Nebraska team and what can you tell us about his presumed replacement, Logan Smothers?
CN: Normally, I would jack around till Wednesday or Thursday even getting the questions out let alone my answers, Instead, I’ve got to start processing all this same day Monday. It’s not as easy as it sounds.
Riley-weenies, casual fans and rage monsters blame Adrian for everything that is holding us back. You know, when they had to give up trolling message boards early in the season with unfounded rumors that Frost had drinking, gambling, cocaine, cheating on the old lady problems. Because every work-obsessed D1 head coach who has realized they have to loosen their grip a little has that kind of time on their hands :-)
QB-wise, I would rather have Smothers or Heinrich Haarberg under center before Luke McCaffrey any day of the week. Unless you think Rice’s 3rd string QB is our answer. In a nothing to lose situation, I don’t care if Adrian’s gonna play his available last year next year, I’m fired up for this game and want to see what these guys have.
From the spring game and limited appearances, here’s my best guesses. Smothers is from Alabama and incredibly quick, very tough but the arm is questionable. Haarberg is a physical freak from a smaller Nebraska town who goes 6’6”, but high jumped 6’7” ran a sub 11.0 100m in high school and definitely has the stronger arm. I think they both play and am excited to see what they can do in a no-lose situation.
BHGP: Beyond the impact at QB, Martinez was the Huskers’ leading rusher on the year. Iowa has struggled at times to defend the run. How do you expect Nebraska to attempt to run the ball against the Hawkeyes and will the read-option remain a critical part of that attack?
CN: Here’s the thing about Martinez being the leading rusher this year - he’s only been the leading rusher for the game in two games. Call it a combination of his injuries plus the run blocking and a few running backs stepping up, but we haven’t run him non-stop like years past.
With Smothers, I definitely expect a little more option with misdirection but will it be effective without the downfield threat this year’s receiver corps and Adrian provided? The flip side with Haarberg is he has the stronger, more accurate arm, but as athletic as he is, 6’6” 220 quickness won’t compare with Smothers.
BHGP: On the other side of the ball, despite all the Iowa fan jokes about black shirts, the Nebraska defense has looked much improved this year giving up just over 22 points per game. What has changed compare to last year’s group that gave up nearly 30 points per game and who are the key names to know for Hawkeye fans?
CN: Last year’s group was actually starting to get it done in clutch situations such as spending the entire 2nd half on the field against Penn St when it became apparent Luke Mac was done fooling anyone about 20 minutes into the game.
This year has felt like a culmination of what started last season especially when so many guys who could’ve left decided to hang around for that last year.
So as far as the names, I’ve been answering Jojo Domann all year but can’t do that anymore because 1) his rep as a 235-lb LB/S hybrid who blows up RB’s in the backfield while breaking up post routes on slot receivers isn’t a secret anymore and 2) he’s done for the year needing a hand surgery he put off because he wanted a shot at Ohio St.
So let’s take a deeper dive - look for Nash Hutmacher at NG - a freshman built like a grizzly forced into action due to Damion Daniels being dinged up who was very solid in the middle against the Badgers. And just for fun, Damian Jackson is a 29-year-old ex-Navy Seal LB who looks like a shaved grizzly and will probably be on the field a bit, also due to injuries. You might block him out of some plays but..if a scuffle starts? Well, use your best judgment :-).
BHGP: While the Huskers are 3-8 on the year, that record seems to undersell how good this team is with all but one (Ohio State) of those losses coming by just one possession. However, that seems to be a trend under Scott Frost with the Huskers now 5-19 in one score games under Frost. Is that just insanely bad luck or is there something opponents can look to exploit in close games against the Huskers?
CN: I’ll be very honest on this one. The thing to exploit with Nebraska is be conservative as hell, take no unnecessary chances and wait for the Huskers to make a nutcracking mistake. We literally started going nuts the one time Wiscy went for it on 4th down. We stuffed them. Understood they had Allen but knew it was a mistake to take that chance.
You give us a chance to make a big defensive play? Decent chance it happens. You hang back, just punt and kickoff and wait for a bad deep toss? We will give you 7-14 points. I literally don’t know if it’s a curse and I can’t blame Frost when they make weird mistakes you’d be irritated about in high school 8-man ball but it’s real.
BHGP: Alright, prediction time. This one opened at Nebraska -4 but has since flipped to Iowa -1 according to DraftKings Sportsbook following the Martinez news. How do you see this one playing out and what’s your final score prediction?
CN: The Martinez surgery pushing the line to -1 Iowa has made this soooo easy for me. We have crapped the bed as favorites and covered every spread as a dog against ranked teams. We have lost every conference game except Northwestern as a favorite.
There is only one way for us beat anyone in the B.1.G. as an underdog and the Martinez injury effect on the points is our gift. Go with me.
We’re a +1 dog. We gone cover. But the only way to cover at the very least is a tie that takes us to OT. A Hawkeye victory screws that cover. That’s why our W is guaranteed. Huskers 28 Hawks 27. (Unless a short FG is required for the win. Then I have to seriously rethink this shit.)
So there you have it, another close one in a series that has become all about late-game heroics. Here’s hoping Iowa has another win up their sleeves.