It’s hard to believe that Iowa is playing Nebraska with a perfect regular season on the line. At this point the only thing that matters is to just win. Just win and it is a perfect 12-0. Just win and the next week in Indianapolis more than the B1G title will be on the line.
Iowa’s defense has taken its share of blows the past couple of weeks. It hasn’t looked as stout as it did early in the year when it held the Badgers to just 6 points. Minnesota and Purdue, and even Indiana to a certain degree, did have good offensive game plans and they really figured out how to attack the weaknesses in the Hawkeye defense.
One big caveat, though: Iowa defense bent a lot in those games, but it didn’t always break. Against Indiana, each team had 5 scoring drives… but Iowa managed to hold the Hoosiers to field goals twice. Against Purdue, going into the wind Iowa struggled to get much going offensively and gave up three straight scores, but two of those were field goals keeping the lead 20-13 instead of going down 20-21.
With Nebraska on Friday, it’s likely they’ll be able to move the ball. They are second in total offense in the B1G and are averaging 33.5 points per game. They have a decent rushing attack and can probably attack Iowa similarly to Minnesota and Purdue with motion that freezes the linebackers, then running read options with Tommy Armstrong and Terrell Newby (assuming he’s fully ready to go after a bye after being limited the past couple of weeks) or Imani Cross. But they’ve done more damage through the air.
Armstrong is inconsistent and not terribly accurate. He is completing less than 55% of his throws and has thrown 12 interceptions this year. But he's also thrown 2560 yards (on 185 completions, which is almost 14 yards per catch) and 21 touchdowns.
So their offensive has the potential to be explosive. Iowa will need to keep everything in front of them. And while it might be frustrating to watch the corners give huge freaking cushions like they did against Purdue, I don’t know if Nebraska has it in them to put together enough touchdown drives without relying on the big play.
It’s CJ Time
The weather might not cooperate and end up windy and cold like last Saturday…but if it is okay, C.J. Beathard will have an opportunity to put up big numbers. Nebraska’s pass defense is not very good. They are giving up over 300 yards per game through the air (a number Beathard hasn’t reached this year) and have given up 21 passing TDs. Part of that is that the Husker rush defense is pretty good, so teams have had to rely on the passing game to move the ball.
Beathard has proven very capable of putting the game on his shoulders. In the fourth quarter of the Indiana game, he decided to take over and put the game away. With Nebaska’s explosive offense, this game could turn into a shootout. If it turns into a duel between Armstrong and Beathard, I think Beathard record as a starter speaks for itself. He will be challenged, but will come out on top.
Capitalize on Mistakes
Nebraska will make mistakes. It is what they do. Desmond King will likely have a chance at breaking the interception record. The Huskers are 100th in the country in penalties per game. They also give up a lot of big plays.
Last year, Iowa failed miserably to take advantage of Nebraska’s bad start. The offense sputtered in the red zone and missed on several potential big plays, missing wide open receivers. They also got overly conservative with a small lead and watched it all fall apart. And Kirk Ferentz knows they missed their opportunity and even though he said in his Monday presser that he isn’t the type to circle games, I think his actions have spoken louder here. The Nebraska game last year ate at him, and he made changes to the program. You can bet he has a little extra motivation to win on Friday.
So look for Iowa to keep their foot on the pedal on offense. Against Purdue we saw a little more creativity with the re-emergence of the jet sweep and effectively used an end around to Matt VandeBerg. Greg Davis had a bunch of different plays last year using the jet sweep motion that he pulled out against Nebraska. Maybe we’ll see that again.
Fourth Quarter Magic
Iowa hasn’t trailed in the fourth quarter all year long. That is pretty remarkable. Iowa has had a little bit of fourth quarter magic (that Marshall Koehn field goal comes to mind), but mostly it has been just pulling away from teams after grinding them down all game long.
Nebraska has had some wild fourth quarters. They lost to BYU on a last second Hail Mary. They had a crazy comeback against Miami in the fourth quarter only to blow it in OT. They let Illinois score twice in the final 5 minutes of the game to lose by 1 when the Illini had been held scoreless in the first 55 minutes. Against Wisconsin, they went back and forth but ultimately gave up a late field goal to lose. They failed to convert a 2-point conversion on their last possession and lost by 2 to Northwestern. And there was that Michigan State game where they were able to score twice in the final two minutes and win on a controversial no-call. So it has been crazy for them.
Will Beathard need to lead Iowa on a last minute drive? Will Koehn have another chance at a game winner? I’m confident that either guy would get the job done if needed.
I’ve been nervous about every game since the bye week. There is so much pressure every week as Iowa has been in playoff mode since the initial rankings came out…just keep winning. But I don’t think I’m any more nervous about this game than I was against Indiana. The teams are similar. They have a pretty good offense, aren’t as good on defense, have kind of lucked out in a couple of wins, but have more often found creative ways to lose.
I think this game follows the same script as the past two weeks. Nebraska will chip away at Iowa’s defense and make us all uncomfortable, but Iowa will be able to turn it on offensively when needed and Beathard will make plays and extend drives to keep Iowa in control. Ultimately in the fourth quarter, Iowa will be able to churn out some long clock-killing drives and come out on top.
Final Score: Iowa 34 - Nebraska 27
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