It’ll be Senior Day in Iowa City tomorrow. There are 16 seniors on the roster: Quinton Alston, Damon Bullock, Carl Davis, Andrew Donnal, Tommy Gaul, Chad Gilson, Ray Hamilton, Mike Hardy, John Lowdermilk, Kevonte Martin-Manley, Damond Powell, Wil Rathjen, Brandon Scherff, Louis Trinca-Pasat, Mark Weisman, and Drew Zaun. Of that group, a pretty large chunk are going to play a critical role tomorrow and they all need to step up.
So this will be a short, straight forward, but senior-focused Four Factors.
The Last Chance to Establish a Run Game
I think with the seniors, you have to start with Brandon Scherff. The Scherff - Randy Gregory match up has been talked about since before the season even started. It’s one I think Scherff and the rest of the offensive line will win. The way Nebraska’s defense has been playing, Iowa should at least have an opportunity to have a repeat of its success from last year. With Jake Rudock, the Hawkeyes were able to get the vertical passing game going in the last third of the game and put up some points. The run game has a final shot to get going though and it is a senior-driven part of the game. Gaul has really shined after getting a shot at center. Hamilton is the best blocker of the tight ends. Weisman is Weisman and he has had a really outstanding career. It would be awesome to see him go out with a 100 yard, multiple TD effort.
Stop Nebraska’s One-Sided Offense
On the other side of the ball, it is also the tackles that require focus. Trinca-Pasat and Davis have been really good for Iowa this year. I think they’ve gone somewhat under appreciated because of the play of the linebackers behind them. But they have been a very disruptive pair in the middle of the line. With a very run-focused offense coming up from the Huskers, clogging up the middle is going to be an important part of slowing down Nebraska.
Avoid the Big Plays
It’s been a problem for Iowa since week 1 against UNI…the defense has been susceptible to giving up big plays, especially against good running backs. And even if Ameer Abdullah isn’t 100% healthy, he’s still dangerous. And even if Tommy Armstrong isn’t that good of a passer, he definitely's capable of chucking it deep a bunch of times and hitting a few long ones. He can also dance around in the pocket long enough to let guys break free. So the defense needs to force Nebraska to sustain long drives, which it hasn’t done recently. Most of their scores have come off of short fields and long plays. The seniors that need to step up here are Alston and Lowdermilk. If we have good Lowdermilk tomorrow, then I think the defense will be fine.
Get That Trophy
This bunch of seniors have gone through the most mediocre stretch of Iowa Football in the Kirk Ferentz era. 2011 - meh, 2012 - AHHHH, 2013 - meh, and now 2014 is looking to be pretty "meh" as well. Iowa hasn’t won a game over any notable opponent and has lost a couple of head scratchers. A win tomorrow doesn’t take this season from bad to good, but it’d be a good closing note. A win will help in bowl placement and momentum during bowl prep. It will also keep Iowa’s only rivalry trophy that it still has in-house right now. It also might put Bo Pelini out of a job (though we thought the same last year).
I think this comes down to the cliche of who wants it more…and that will be Iowa. Three weeks ago, Nebraska had just one loss, was highly ranked, and looked like the favorite to win the West. They were in exactly the position they expected and hoped to be in. Three games remaining against the teams as Nebraska they would expect to beat most years to win the division. And they got destroyed by Melvin Gordon and then methodically beat down by Minnesota, fumbling away their last second chance. In this position last year, Pelini went into desperation mode, called a terrible fake punt, and his team didn’t play very well. I think it’s more of the same this year and Iowa wins by a couple of scores.
Final Score: Iowa 34 - Nebraska 20