The Iowa Hawkeyes are one win away from a second straight trip to Indianapolis. They find themselves entering the final regular season game atop the Big Ten West and favored by double digits against the Nebraska Cornhuskers. But the Huskers are a rival and we’ve seen the Hawkeyes flip the script in all but one rivalry series this year, losing to Iowa State and Illinois while beating Wisconsin.
Nebraska enters the week riding a five game losing streak under interim head coach Mickey Joseph, who took over for the fired Scott Frost back in September. While things are trending in the wrong direction for Joseph, a statement win against the Hawkeyes could land him among the candidates for the full time position.
In the words of the wise and sage like Big Tom Callahan, you can get a good look at a t-bone by sticking your head up a bull’s rear end, but wouldn’t you rather take the butcher’s word for it?
So just like every other week (unless, of course, our cohorts at other SB Nation sites don’t get back to us..), we’re taking the butcher’s word for it and getting the inside details on Nebraska from our friends over at Corn Nation. We were joined this week by Andy Ketterson to talk about this weekend’s matchup.
Here’s a look at our conversation.
BHGP: Let’s start big picture. Scott Frost is now gone. The Huskers are 2-6 under interim head coach Mickey Joseph. How have things differed or remained constant under Joseph vs. Frost and what is the general feeling among Husker fans regarding this season and who should be the next coach in Lincoln?
CN: There’s a bit of a tale of two Frosts. He believed last year’s team was the one who would turn it around and he stayed engaged and fired up while they were piling up one-score losses going 3-9 against a tough schedule. Personally, I think it broke him a little, because when the opener against Northwestern turned against them, the body language was full-on Mike Riley - arms crossed, slumped shoulders, head drooped - and this was on display through all three games.
After the firing, rumors also abounded about him spending lots of time hanging with buddies, being late for practice, disorganized, etc. and I had no problem believing any of that.
With Mickey, the attitude was flipped 180 degrees, the ship was noticeably tightened up and ….the record remained the same. However, they at least got back to playing good teams close instead of losing to awful teams (Northwestern 1-10) and being blown out by average teams (Oklahoma 6-5). Yes, Mickey was the HC for that second one but he was still saddled with Defensive Coordinator Erik Chinander. Once he was replaced by Bill Busch, it was a completely different defense.
That being said, I’m pretty sure Mickey’s been eliminated from consideration. It’s completely unfair given the situation he was handed, but they still found themselves unable to win close games against good teams. As far as the next head coach, I truly believe everyone claiming to know anything about it through their “sources” is 100% full of shit. Or their sources are.
I’m sticking with Matt Rhule as my guess. The rumor mill is flying with someone who reported he turned Nebraska down (inside the tweet - “This is not yet confirmed.” You can’t make this up.), but on Good Morning NFL he was just going on about how badly he needed to be coaching again.
We’ll see. A talking duck named Franklin told me Trev confirmed to him Rhule was the man after he crapped on his porch mat.
BHGP: On the offensive side of the ball, the Huskers started off the year quite well averaging more than 31 points per game through the first five weeks. However, Nebraska is averaging fewer than ten points per game over the last four weeks. What’s changed offensively in that time and what should Iowa fans expect out of this Nebraska offense on Friday?
CN: Two things. The main thing that happened was Casey Thompson got hurt. Chubba Purdy got the nod for two and a half games and was quite simply a disaster, but OC Mark Whipple would only go to Logan Smothers sporadically as Chubba kept chucking one-hoppers. They managed 16 points total in that stretch.
The second thing is the offensive line is just not very good.
They could hide it against their first three opponents but have struggled to give Anthony Grant room to run or Casey time to throw against anyone but Purdue since then. A healthy Casey may be able to hook up with Trey Palmer a couple times for six, but that’s the high upside against Iowa’s D.
BHGP: On the other side of the ball, the Huskers rank 108th nationally in total defense and 91st in scoring defense. The biggest issue appears to be the rush defense, which is given up 195 yards per game on the ground. However, Nebraska held Braelon Allen under 100 yards rushing and kept Minnesota to just 125 total rushing yards while giving up just 20 and 15 points in those two matchups. What was different about those two games and how can the Hawkeyes look to learn from Minnesota and Wisconsin’s struggles to get things going on the ground?
As crazy as it sounds with those numbers, they’ve been sneaky good since Chinander was finally let go. They’ve given up an average of 25 ppg in Big 10 play after giving up 35 ppg in the first four games. (42 ppg if you toss out 1-AA North Dakota). When Chinander was fired, the Huskers were last nationally (131) or near last in virtually every defensive category.
And the excuse can successfully be made for them being tired in the last few close losses simply because the offense could not make a first down. Think I’m just making excuses for them?
First downs last four games - Illinois-9, Minnesota-13, Michigan-8, Wisconsin-12.
The defensive line is somewhat undersized but they are scrappy and while giving up yards to Chase Brown, Ibrahim, Corum and Allen, no one’s run wild on them. To give you an example, they gave up over 260 yards rushing to Michigan and no gains over 20. By comparison, Penn State gave up over 400 yards and multiple long runs. They’re not on Iowa or Michigan’s level but they will make teams earn it.
BHGP: The Huskers rank 110th nationally in turnover margin at -6 on the year. Nebraska has turned it over 18 times through 11 games. This has been a tight game the last several years with turnovers playing a key role. What’s been the issue for the Huskers with ball security this year and how have they been at turning opponents over?
The majority (13) have come through air. Three belong to Chubba (vs zero TD’s) who was only accurate when throwing into double and triple coverage. Casey has had a few misfires, but three of his picks hit his receivers in the hands and then were volleyball-set to the opposition with an accuracy which would make John Cook proud.
In the last seven games, the defense has really ramped up their aggressiveness, especially in pass coverage and it has paid off. Freshman Malcolm Hartzog was inserted as a starting CB after Busch took over and has 3 picks in seven games.
BHGP: Alright, prediction time. Our friends at DraftKings Sportsbook have Iowa favored by 10.5 points in this one with an over/under at 37.5 total points. The last four matchup have been decided by one score. How do you see this one playing out and what’s your prediction for a final score?
I would love for Mickey to have a nice going-away present (barring him being retained). I would really love spoiling a division title for the Hawks. I would love to cheer a victory over a winning team from Division 1 this year.
But reality is reality. Can we beat Iowa? If you check the scores, there’s maybe two games we had no chance to win. (cue 2021’s music) But “can” and “did” have seldom collided in the same sentence lately.
Iowa’s won 4 in a row when they had to while we’ve lost 5 in a row faced with the same challenge. That matters. Also, the average score of an Iowa game this season is 17-13 Hawkeyes while they’re getting outgained by 20 ypg and that’s some powerful-ass Big 10 right there.
So here’s the pick that’s been working. Nebraska grabs an early lead - possibly on the opening drive - then the offense checks out in the second half. A series of 3-and-outs tires the defense and a couple long drives leads to yet another Huskers cover and lose - Iowa 19 Nebraska 13.
And if that’s not representative of the era about to end, I don’t know what is. Happy Thanksgiving, ya filthy animals.
So there you have it, the Hawkeyes are your Big Ten West champions. Book the hotel in Indy now. Andy clearly knows his stuff and would never try to jinx us.
In all seriousness, thanks again to Andy Ketterson of Corn Nation for taking the time to give us an inside look at the Huskers. You can find Andy on Twitter @AndyKett20. Corn Nation is @CornNation.