1. The Hawkeyes have won four straight and are hitting their stride at the right time. Iowa has won back-to-back rivalry games against Wisconsin and Minnesota. On top of adding another rivalry trophy to its collection, Iowa has a chance to win a second straight Big Ten West title — a wild thought considering Iowa sat at 3-4 a month ago. There’s no doubt Nebraska will see a motivated team Friday afternoon.
2. Iowa’s defense is one of the best in the Big Ten. The Hawkeyes rank second, third and fourth in the conference respectively in passing defense (164.4 yards), total defense (273.3 yards) and points allowed (13.5) per game. Iowa has held eight opponents to 10 or fewer points. Their defensive front has also given opponents havoc and three of the Big Ten’s sack leaders can be found in Phil Parker’s group — Joe Evans (6), Lukas Van Ness (6) and Deontae Craig (4.5). The Hawkeyes have 28 sacks and 13 interceptions as a team, both of which rank near the top of the conference.
3. It’s no secret the Huskers have struggled against Iowa. The Hawkeyes have won seven straight in the series. Nebraska has lost the last four games by a combined 19 points and costly, ill-timed mistakes have doomed the Huskers, most recently a blocked-punt touchdown. Nebraska’s last win over Iowa came in 2014 and the Huskers have only won twice at Kinnick Stadium as conference foes.
Why you might chill
1. Iowa’s offense has been one of the worst in college football. Although they’ve shown improvement over the last four games, the Hawkeyes still sit at the bottom of the Big Ten in rushing offense, passing offense and total offense per game. Senior quarterback Spencer Petras has struggled and the Hawkeyes haven’t been able to generate much of a consistent run game — something that has been one of their strengths in recent years. The Hawkeyes might also be without their top receiving threat Friday in tight end Sam LaPorta (injury).
2. Part of Iowa’s struggles start with the offensive line, which has allowed the second-most sacks (34) in the Big Ten. Iowa’s offensive line is young and although they’ve improved as the season’s gone along, there likely will be several chances for the Huskers to get to Petras on Friday.
3. It’s tough to have much optimism as the Huskers are coming off yet another heart-breaking one-score loss, 15-14 to Wisconsin. A game Nebraska led until the final minute. However, Nebraska has found itself in multiple one-score games against Iowa the last few years — losing on walk-off field goals in 2018 and 2019, along with one-score losses in 2020 and 2021. Avoidable mistakes have been a theme in all four losses. Perhaps this is the year that changes and the Huskers can carry the momentum of a win into the long off-season ahead.
By the numbers
253.7: Iowa enters Friday’s game averaging just 253.7 yards of offense per game — the fewest in the Big Ten. Iowa’s offense also ranks 130th out of 131 FBS teams and their 17.5 points per game rank 123rd in the country.
110: Jack Campbell’s 110 tackles are the most in the Big Ten and the sixth most in the FBS. The senior linebacker finished second in the Big Ten in 2021 with 143 tackles and entered this season on the Lott Trophy Watch List. He was even considered a First-Team All-American by some and is showing exactly why. Campbell forced a pivotal fumble and had an interception in Iowa’s win over Minnesota.
31.8: Iowa averages just four penalties per game, the second-fewest in the Big Ten, and 31.8 penalty yards per game, the fewest in the Big Ten. Kirk Ferentz-coached teams have traditionally been disciplined and they don’t make a ton of mistakes.
Steve Batterson covers Iowa for the Quad City Times.
What has been the biggest change over the last four games?
SB: The biggest difference is Iowa’s gotten healthier as the season has progressed. They started the year with only three scholarship receivers in uniform for the first couple games and their offensive line was so young. So when you put a young line with a shortened group of receivers, and a run game that lost their leading rusher from a year ago in Tyler Goodson, that’s a recipe for disaster on offense. And that’s pretty much what it was. But what we’ve seen lately is progress and more consistency. There’s a lot of guys with Big Ten experience, starting with Spencer Petras, and that’s the reason Iowa has stuck with him. He’s at least given them a chance to stay in games and their young guys have really shown progress over these last four weeks.
The 34 sacks against are the second-most in the Big Ten… How has Iowa’s offensive line played this season?
SB: Given the inexperience and the injuries that impacted things initially, I think it’s held up okay. They have a first-year center who was playing defensive line a year ago and they were banged up, so it was a little disjointed the first few weeks. But I think they’ve made progress. Spencer is getting more protection and isn’t having to run for his life, and that’s allowed him to find more receivers. And they’ve been able to get more going offensively. So all things considered, I’d say they’ve held up alright.
What will Nebraska be going up against with Iowa’s defense?
SB: They’re probably going to see a defense that’s a little irritated after Mo Ibrahim rushed for 263 yards on Saturday. Run defense has been one of their strengths this year and Minnesota kind of shredded that. But overall, it’s a defense that’s very veteran, very smart and they have a lot of guys that can make plays. Especially up front. They’re able to rotate eight or nine guys in their front four and keep fresh bodies on the field. They just find a way to end drives.
Jack Campbell was named the Big Ten’s Defensive Player of the Week… How important is Campbell to Iowa’s defense?
SB: He makes such an impact on the field but he’s also such a big character guy in the middle. Even Saturday at Minnesota, he was the guy on the sideline telling everybody to keep fighting when things weren’t going well on either side of the ball. He sets the tone and his leadership seems to rub off on guys around him.
Photos: Check out the sights from Wisconsin-Nebraska