What is Dispatches from Blogfrica? Pretty simple: I ask questions of an blogger for an opposing team; he (or she) answers. A truly revolutionary idea, no? Today: Jesse from Off-Tackle Empire, SB Nation's fine blog for all things Big Ten football.
1) How do you think Nebraska will respond on Friday? The Huskers went from division front-runners to division also-rans in just two weeks. Is this team going to be angry and fired up to play and salvage at least some pride, or is it more likely to throw in the towel on the regular season?
This is an excellent question, and honestly, it's hard for me to say at this point. I was at the stadium on Saturday and was hoping for a glimmer of hope, but mistakes - see: turnovers - doomed the Huskers time and time again. I understand that this team had a lot of things going against them before the season started, but seeing them reach their potential at times made me think that perhaps they had turned the corner. Wisconsin and Minnesota seemed to break all of that momentum up, spit it out, and then stomp on it. It was super fun. Wait, what was the question? Oh, angry or fired up. Well, here's my two cents. Bo Pelini has never lost three games in a row. That may seem like faint praise at this moment, but it might point to something deeper about the, "Us vs. Them" vibe we often get from his teams. Nebraska is capable of beating Iowa in that I think they have as much if not more talent. I am thinking this team digs in this week, but on a short week, we'll see. I will say, I don't think we'll see quite the implosion we saw in Lincoln last year. Bo seems much more zen... Take that for what it's worth.
2) What's the injury report look like for Nebraska? Abdullah didn't really look 100% against Wisconsin, although he looked a bit better against Minnesota last week -- is he back to full speed? What about Kenny Bell and Mark Pelini? They both left last Saturday's loss to Minnesota and didn't return (to the best of my knowledge).
It's sort of hard to say at this point, which is troublesome because of the aforementioned short turnaround. Ameer said yesterday that he's, "good enough," which isn't exactly the most encouraging thing to hear. He's going to go out and gut every yard he can, but the reality is that he's probably closer to 70-80% than he is to 100%. If this was a full week, I'd feel better. As for Bell? From what I've read, they're sort of in a wait and see mode. It's a head injury, so these things are definitely tricky. He made that amazing catch and run early against Minnesota, but on the tackle he got all sorts of disoriented. I couldn't see him from where I was in the stadium, but he definitely fell to the ground after walking a bit, so it didn't look great. You hope it was minor, but again, you just never know. I've not heard much on Mark Pelini, except he had a high ankle sprain. Nebraska got beat up pretty good early on Saturday - some in just freakish injuries - so we'll see what the depth chart looks like of Friday.
3) How important do you think Tommy Armstrong will be to the outcome on Friday? Is this going to be a game where Nebraska rides Abdullah, come hell or high water, or is Armstrong going to be relied upon to carry more of the offensive load? And if that's the case, is he up to the task?
Tommy has to be a part of the solution. As a fan, I'm all like, "DAMMIT BECK (our OC) WHY THE F*** WON'T YOU HAND OFF THE BALL TO ABDULLAH EVERY PLAY! (Insert more expletives for impact)" But the rational side of me understands that you can stack the box and make Nebraska try to beat you over the top. I'm not sure Armstrong is the long term answer at QB. We have some other guys who have potential behind him, but I think Bo - not unlike Kirk - likes to stick with his guy. Anyhow, I think that the gameplan will have to be zone-read, PA, and QB Draw. For some reason our speed option is abysmal this year, so I'm all in favor of scratching that, but you'll see it. If Nebraska is going to win on Friday, he needs to be able to make good reads, probably run for about 60 yards, and soften the defense for Abdullah. Is he up to the task? I think you could make a legit argument he was Nebraska's best offensive player against Minnesota, which says something. I'm just hoping he can run on Iowa and then hit the deep open pass.
4) Before the season, the match-up of Brandon Scherff versus Randy Gregory was billed as a potential showdown of top-five NFL draft picks. I'm not sure either player has had a season that's lived up to that hype (though injuries have slowed both men at times), but how do you see that match-up going on Friday?
I think Randy Gregory - and Scherff for that matter - gets a lot of hell for not putting up insane statistics. The reason Gregory is still getting so much praise from scouts is that he forces offenses to account for him, which generally can open up opportunities for big plays across the rest of the DL. He demands double teams, and when you don't, he can get pretty close to the QB. He's fast, he has an enormous wingspan (watch that blocked kick again), and he has the ability to put an effect on the play even without a statline.
All that said, both these guys know the NFL is right around the corner and I have zero doubt that good against good is going to get them excited. I like Gregory to get a few licks on Rudock because he will be all over the field, but I wouldn't be surprised to see Scherff hold him off in the long run.
5) The Nebraska defense didn't get savaged as badly by the Minnesota running game as it did the Wisconsin running game, but 281 yards and 4 TD on 53 attempts (5.3 ypa) isn't exactly a great day at the office, either. Prior to those two games, though, the Nebraska run defense had been pretty solid, barring a few leaks against McNeese State and Michigan State. What's gone so wrong for the Nebraska run defense over the last few weeks?
Melvin Gordon embarrassed Nebraska and that's about that. In both games, you can see the DL more or less doing their job and holding the line, but this back seven has no ability to tackle in space. In the Minnesota game, things looked okay until they didn't. Leidner and the Minnesota RBs seemed to break through the line at will, and the Huskers inability to stop the zone-read was troublesome. A lot of us fans said it at the beginning of the year, but this LB crew has very little idea how to diagnose plays. If you can run the edge, you'll get four-five yards a pop and will eventually break one (Minnesota's fourth down TD is a great example of that). But you're right, Nebraska has actually done well against some decent run games up to this point, so this meltdown is disconcerting.
6) How hot has Bo Pelini's seat gotten after the last two weeks? Can he survive this late-season swoon and failure to contend for a Big Ten title? Please say "yes." I'm not ready to live in a world without @FauxPelini.
Oh man... A world without @FauxPelini is a sad world. I think Bo - and Nebraska - are ultimately in no mans land. On one hand, Bo has a decent enough record, has generally beaten the teams he is supposed to beat, won a few of the tossups, and gotten Nebraska back to way more respectability than Billy C did. On the other hand, he's basically a just above average coach who has built in institutional advantages that most coaches could make hay on. Seriously, this isn't a, "Nebraska is awesome because history" comment so much as it's a, "Nebraska offers money, facilities, fans, and did I mention money?" comment. You get 8 home games a year, five of which most likely are cupcakes - sorry Illinois - and you praise the guy for getting nine wins? It's context. So uh, yeah... I think Bo probably stays, but most likely so he gets a chance to fire all of his coordinators, get the same result, and then we poach another CSU coach! (Ed. Note: That did work out pretty well in hoopyball...)
7) OK, prediction time -- who ya got?
I go back and forth on this. I think Nebraska would have beat Iowa four weeks ago, but that's because Ameer wasn't half speed. With the game on the road, this being a short week after a game in which almost every Nebraska receiver got hurt, and with the uncertainty around Bo, I think this game goes Iowa's way. Nebraska will go up early and then blow it in the second half because that's what this is all about. Oh, and at some point, twitter will erupt with both fanbases talking about how awful this game is. FRIDAY GAMES ARE AWESOME! Iowa 20 - 17 Nebraska.
Thanks for being a good sport, Jesse, although I still hope your team
doesn't beat us loses by 50 on Friday. You can check out the OTE crew at Off-Tackle Empire. You can also follow Jesse on Twitter at @jesseinomaha and Off-Tackle Empire at @offtackleempire. The Iowa-Nebraska game is in Iowa City, IA on Friday, November 28, and is scheduled to start at 11:00 am CT, with television coverage from ABC.