Nebraska hosts Iowa on Black Friday to cap off the regular season and hopes to gain bowl eligibility by ending a four-game losing streak to the Hawkeyes. Let's take a closer look at how the Huskers and Hawkeyes compare.
How the Huskers light up the scoreboard
1. Runnin' on empty. Nebraska’s rushing game has been good the past two weeks, even with a lack of depth behind junior Dedrick Mills. He and sophomore quarterback Adrian Martinez have both been excellent. Now, can they keep it up against a stingy Iowa run defense?
2. TDs, please. Nebraska is scoring touchdowns on just 52% of its red zone possessions (12th in the Big Ten). Iowa is allowing touchdowns on just 39% of its opponents' red zone trips (second in the Big Ten). The Huskers can’t afford to lose that battle.
3. Spring Spielman. Here’s an interesting fact: Iowa’s defended JD Spielman exactly zero snaps in his career. Spielman’s been hurt down the stretch of his first two collegiate seasons, but he should be primed to play Friday. He’s been on a heater, too, with 395 receiving yards over his past four games.
4. Rain, rain go away. It’s Nebraska and Iowa, so nobody would expect beautiful weather. And it’s not coming on Friday. Nebraska did a nice job of protecting the ball in poor weather against Maryland and last year against Michigan State. It will need to do the same this time around.
How the Blackshirts shut 'em down
1. Stop the run. Iowa’s not a particularly good rushing team, but the Hawkeyes have made a living running the ball against the Huskers the past four years. Can NU take the progress it's made the past two weeks and slow down a stable that includes Mekhi Sargent, Tyler Goodson and Toren Young?
2. Stanley senior. Nate Stanley’s never lost to Nebraska and the senior quarterback has typically played well in this game. This hasn’t been the big year some hoped for — he’s completing 59.8% of his passes and has a respectable 14-6 TD-INT ratio — but he’s a steady veteran. Can the Huskers rattle him?
3. Fumble luck. Nebraska went its first six Big Ten games without a fumble recovery but got a favorable bounce on a fumble by Wisconsin back Jonathan Taylor on Nov. 16, then recovered four in as many chances against Maryland. One more week of good juju on that front would do NU wonders.
4. Senior sendoff. The Huskers have six prominent seniors on defense in linemen Khalil and Carlos Davis and Darrion Daniels, inside linebacker Mohamed Barry, cornerback Lamar Jackson and outside linebacker Alex Davis. Odds say the Huskers need at least a couple of them to make game-changing plays. Who’s it going to be?
Three numbers to know
4: Rushing touchdowns allowed by Iowa in 11 games so far this season, easily the best mark in the Big Ten.
205: Rushing yards per game for Nebraska, the third-best mark in the Big Ten behind Ohio State and Wisconsin.
436: Rushing yards for Mills and Martinez the past two weeks at a clip of 7.9 per carry.
Under the radar
C | No. 51| Rfr.: Jurgens isn’t under the radar in the sense that he’s often talked about as a cornerstone of NU in the future. But his development from shaky to not only serviceable, but pretty darn stout in the middle of the Husker offensive line, has not garnered the sort of attention that his early season snapping issues did. A big test for him and the Husker front on Friday, but Jurgens has been passing tests recently.
ILB | No. 3 | Jr.: The junior has come on recently and is now second on the team in tackles with 69. Honas saw his first year with NU cut short by a knee injury, but he’s gained some steam as 2019 has gone on. He and Collin Miller (62 tackles) are set up to be the anchors of Barrett Ruud’s group next year. But for now, Honas will try to close strong as part of the Huskers’ three-man rotation inside.
Nebraska’s rushing offense against Iowa’s rushing defense
The Nebraska rushing attack has 578 yards and six touchdowns the past two weeks and has climbed all the way to No. 3 in the Big Ten. Martinez is running with confidence, Mills continues to grow more comfortable in NU’s zone-based scheme and the Husker offensive line has made steady progress. Now, can Nebraska move the ball against a team that’s allowed just four rushing scores all season and is yielding just 114.3 yards per game on the ground? This month, Wisconsin’s rushed for 300 and Illinois for 192.
The Iowa red zone defense against Nebraska’s red zone offense
The Huskers scored five red zone touchdowns against Maryland and, amazingly, that meant only converting on half their chances. Any time you’re in the red zone 10 times, you won’t complain, but NU did settle for four field goals and threw an interception on the goal line. That can’t happen against Iowa, which is awfully stingy down low. The Hawkeyes have allowed just nine red zone touchdowns in 23 chances.
Iowa 23, Nebraska 20
Iowa wants this one and Nebraska needs it. A win would mean so much to the Huskers, from snapping a four-game losing streak to the Hawkeyes, to giving the senior class another Memorial Stadium memory to extending the season by a month or more via bowl qualification. The question is if Nebraska has the horses to get over the hump and earn a win against a really tough outfit. It’s going to have to be ugly if the Huskers are going to get it done. Iowa hasn’t scored more than 26 in its past seven Big Ten games, but it's also held 15 straight opponents to less than 30 points. The worry here is that NU put itself too far behind the 8-ball bowlwise earlier this season. Pick your game between Colorado, Indiana and Purdue. Three early leads, three games there for taking control and three losses for the Huskers. It would be a shame to miss a third straight bowl, but particularly so because the offense seems to be on the up and up and the group overall is playing with confidence. Another month would be big. The guess here is that the elements and the style of game combined with the fact that Iowa is really good make the mountain just a little too steep for Nebraska.