1. A Blackshirt feast?
Coaches often dismiss stats. Sometimes there’s good reason. Numbers can be manipulated to make many different points. Unless, of course, all the numbers are bad. That's the case with Iowa’s offense. The Hawkeyes are 110th in total offense, 105th in scoring offense, 100th in rushing offense and 97th in passing offense. Talk about bleak. The Husker defense, meanwhile, has made quite the rally, moving up to 19th nationally in total defense. Still, they play these games for a reason. And expect Iowa to test the Huskers' run defense — much improved, but still 77th nationally thanks to those abysmal early season showings. The Hawkeyes don’t have a dynamic running back, but Mark Weisman is a grinder who has had a few days in the sun this season. Stop Iowa’s run game and the Husker defense could have some fun mixing its blitz packages against James Vandenberg — the kind of drop-back quarterback Nebraska seems to relish facing. Can the Iowa offense find the answers that have eluded it all season, or is this a feast for the Blackshirts? Four or five sacks are better than leftover turkey as far as they're concerned.
2. Yeah, this old topic again
This dead horse wishes we’d leave it alone. But, hey, if you’re looking for ways Nebraska could run into trouble in Iowa City, you should start and end with turnovers. It’s the conversation that has lingered all year around here, even though Nebraska has been even or won the turnover battle the past two weeks. We bring it up this week because Iowa is actually quite good when it comes to turnover margin. The Hawkeyes are 13th nationally, currently the best in the Big Ten, by going plus-12 in turnovers. That they’ve managed to lose seven games despite those numbers speaks of their ineptness in many other areas. But the Hawks’ ability to force turnovers is something Nebraska (103rd in turnover margin) needs to be mindful of Friday. We’ve seen the Huskers come close to beating themselves against less-talented teams this year because of turnovers. It hasn’t caught up with them, but walk that ledge too many times and eventually you fall off.
3. Martinez’s mission
Whether it’s barreling over a defensive back for a first down (Penn State) or completing 21 of 29 passes (Minnesota), Taylor Martinez has seemed on a mission in recent weeks. “The catalyst for our football team,” according to offensive coordinator Tim Beck. Martinez has learned through his experiences when to go for a big play and when to live for another down. “You can’t go for the home-run shot every time,” the junior quarterback said. That should be music to Husker fans’ ears. When Martinez plays with that mind-set, he more often than not hits the right notes. On paper, Nebraska has a significant advantage at the quarterback position. Quite simply, if Martinez plays like he has the past couple weeks, Nebraska isn’t going home without a win.
4. Now approaching the bar
Go back to that night at Columbus, Ohio, after the Huskers had given up 63 points and fallen to 4-2. Then Bo Pelini came out for his postgame news conference. He began talking before a question was asked. “We need to win out.” He repeated it. The bar was set. Some people smirked. Five games later, here we are. And there’s the bar. It’s just waiting to be jumped over. Sounds easy, right? After all, Iowa is 4-7, a mess on offense and lost at home to Central Michigan. Yes, yes, but Nebraska can expect Iowa’s best punch. Whether that punch is enough to even leave a bruise, well, we’ll see. But nothing is to be taken for granted by Nebraska at this point: Not a win vs. Iowa, nor a Michigan loss to Ohio State on Saturday. Iowa will relish its opportunity to play spoiler. The Huskers need to relish their opportunity to step on a team’s throat, and play as if there is no Buckeye backup plan. If you want to win a championship, better to bust down the door yourself.