COLLEGE PARK, Md. — Mohamed Barry’s Nebraska career has not gone exactly as he would have dreamed it up when he first arrived on campus as a freshman inside linebacker from Georgia.
Neither has his senior season followed the script he wanted or expected as a defensive captain. Barry has never been shy to talk about expectations — he sometimes draws criticism for it, but make no mistake, it’s refreshing when players are willing to say exactly what they’re thinking — and stated, boldly, after NU lost to Colorado back in September, “Nobody’s going to care about Colorado when we’re in the Big Ten Championship.”
That didn’t pan out for the Huskers, but Barry and his teammates got on the plane back to Lincoln on Saturday night from Maryland having earned the one thing they had left to go and take in a season that has featured more struggle than sizzle for Nebraska: A chance to extend their season on Friday against Iowa.
Steven M. Sipple and Parker Gabriel recap the Huskers’ 54-7 win over Maryland and take questions
“I would be lying to you if I told you I was not thinking about this game setting up the grand stage, the grand finale of our season,” Barry told a couple of reporters under a tent, shielded from a steady rain at Maryland Stadium, after NU finished off a 54-7 demolition of the Terrapins to move to 5-6 and within one game of postseason eligibility. “Everything is going to be set up next week. Everything is on the line in Memorial Stadium. It’s a rivalry game, it’s my last game at Memorial Stadium, it’s the seniors’ last game. This game means everything.
“We wanted to set that up. We wanted to get a solid win versus Maryland and that’s what we achieved.”
Are those words about a grand stage lofty for a team that needs a win to get back to .500 for the season? Sure, but put yourself in Barry’s shoes. For him and his fellow seniors, in particular, it does mean everything because this is what they have left. And it’s not a small opportunity, neither. A win means another month of college football. A loss means it’s all over.
“It means a lot,” senior defensive lineman Khalil Davis said. “It’s going to show how we prepare for this week and how we do this week in practice will show what happens in the game. We’ve just got to prepare. I know it’s my last home game, but we’ve just got to worry about going out and preparing and getting the job done.”
It means a lot, too, because Iowa has dominated this series. The Huskers wiped a two-score deficit off the board in the second half last year in Iowa City, Iowa, only to lose on a last-second field goal after the Hawkeyes converted a key fourth-down throw to star tight end T.J. Hockenson. This Iowa team is maybe even better defensively, though they haven’t put a ton of points on the board, scoring 26 or fewer in seven straight Big Ten games since opening with a 30-0 shutout against Rutgers. But make no mistake, head coach Kirk Ferentz’s 20th Hawkeye group is a strong one.
“We’re playing a really good team on Friday,” NU head coach Scott Frost said. “I’ve had a chance to watch Iowa and they’re one of the best teams in the league. We’re going to do everything we can to try to get ready for a really good team. A win today gives us a chance.”
NU got back to Lincoln about 11 p.m. Saturday and by Sunday evening will be through initial team meetings and a walk-through to kick-start the short week.
Friday will feature Senior Day festivities on top of a critical game, but Barry, not surprisingly, said he’s given it no thought.
“That’s something you someday look back on and say, ‘Dang, that was a great moment in my life.’ But you’ve got to prepare like every other week but just a different type of intensity,” he said. “That’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to prepare, focus on the process, remember the process, and I’m just going to live in the moment and give it all I got when I play that game.”
So, yeah, it’s not the Rose Bowl. It’s not a Big Ten Championship game. But Mohamed Barry isn’t worried about that now.
“This game means everything. It means everything, and I can’t express how important this will be to me, my teammates, these seniors,” Barry said. “The greatest thing is we have a chance. We have an opportunity to make things right. We have an opportunity to go to our first bowl game since I don’t know when, and that’s a grand opportunity.
“That’s all I ask God for is that opportunity, and we have it this coming Friday.”
* Nebraska’s 9-of-10 performance in the red zone jumps off the stat sheet and no coach will ever complain about being in scoring position 10 times, but there’s still plenty of room for improvement for the Huskers on that front.
Sophomore walk-on kicker Matt Waldoch did a good job of making three field goals from 29 yards, but Nebraska only scored touchdowns on 50% of its chances on the night. For reference, that would rank 13th in the Big Ten — ahead of only Rutgers — on the season and is actually worse than NU’s 52% clip for the season, which checks in at 12th in the league.
Iowa’s defense is second in the Big Ten in touchdown percentage allowed in the red zone at 39.1%
* The Huskers have rushed for 578 yards (6.1 per carry) and six touchdowns the past two weeks, led by junior running back Dedrick Mills and sophomore quarterback Adrian Martinez, who have combined for 436 yards and four touchdowns. Mills is averaging 8.7 yards per carry the past two games, while Martinez is averaging 7.
Iowa’s defense checks in No. 6 in the conference at 3.65 yards per carry allowed, but has also yielded a Big Ten-low four rushing touchdowns on the ground. No other team has allowed fewer than seven (Ohio State, Wisconsin).
*Nebraska allowed 206 total yards against Maryland, easily its best number of the season. And the domination was even more thorough than that in all practical terms. Before the Terps’ offense took the field against NU’s full reserve defense with 5 minutes, 10 seconds, remaining and trailing 54-0, Maryland had just 135 yards on 46 snaps (2.93 per play).
Before Javon Leake ripped off a 58-yard touchdown run, UM had 30 carries for 91 yards and UM finished with just 57 passing yards (2.7 per attempt).
The offense rolled up points, but the Blackshirts set the tone and carried the day.
* UM listed the official attendance at 34,082. That’s the smallest crowd Nebraska’s played in front of this season, but East Coast Husker fans made up a good percentage of that number. It was hard to discern who was who, given the similar school colors and the rain jackets galore, but by the end, the chants of “Go Big Red,” and “Luuuuuuke,” each time freshman quarterback Luke McCaffrey made a play, were easily the loudest cheers in the stadium.