When two rivals get together, you can throw out the records. At least that’s how the saying goes, but Nebraska’s newest rivalry game against Iowa is still struggling to take.
“It feels like another game,” senior Will Compton said. “They’ll be ready to play. It’s their senior day, the Heroes Game. We’ll have to keep that trophy here in Lincoln.”
And that was the extent of rivalry talk at Nebraska’s weekly press conference on Monday. The perceived gap between the two programs at the moment may have something to do with that. Nebraska (9-2, 6-1 Big Ten) can seal a trip to Indianapolis for the Big Ten championship game with a win on Friday.
Iowa (4-7, 2-5 Big Ten) is playing to end a five game losing streak. The Hawkeyes already know they won’t be going to a bowl game — the first time that’s happened in Iowa City since 2000 — so Friday’s game is it for their 2012 season.
Coach Bo Pelini didn’t seem concerned about that extra source of motivation for Iowa.
“It’s not about Iowa, it’s about us,” he said.
Nebraska opened as a two touchdown favorite in this game, and there’s a reason for that. The Huskers appear to be peaking at the right time.
With last weekend’s dominating defensive performance against Minnesota, Nebraska’s defense (19th nationally in total defense) now outranks its high-powered offense (20th nationally in total offense). Pelini wasn’t ready to read too much into the numbers.
“We’ve gotten better defensively, but I can’t say enough about what Coach (Tim) Beck and the offensive staff has done,” Pelini said. “He’s done a phenomenal job.”
The Huskers lead the Big Ten in rushing and total offense and rank second in scoring. Iowa ranks 12th, 11th, and 10th in those same categories.
The Hawkeyes have had some success throwing the ball, ranking seventh in the Big Ten, but they’ll have to do it against, statistically at least, the best pass defense so far of the Pelini era.
After forcing Minnesota into a 10-for-28 passing day on Saturday, the Huskers are now leading the country by allowing a 45.5-percent pass completion rate. The previous low for a season under Pelini was 47.8-percent in 2009. How low does Pelini want it?
“Zero,” he said. “I guess I’m joking to a certain extent but we want to challenge every route. We have pretty high expectations. We work pretty hard at how we play pass defense.”
A few other notes from Monday’s press conference:
–The difference for Nebraska this season has been avoiding the let down games that have plagued the Huskers in the past. Pelini mentioned how his NFL experience gave him a different perspective on that.
“I was hardened a little bit from my first nine years in coaching, when I was in the NFL. You learn a respect for the gamea nd you develop an understanding, especially in this day and age of college football, that you can get humbled in a heartbeat. Reality is, you can get beat almost every week especially when you play in a conference like this.”
–Senior running back Rex Burkhead is “50-50″ to play on Saturday according to Pelini
–When asked what he thought about the prospect of Maryland joining the Big Ten, sophomore running back Ameer Abdullah had the following response: “I don’t know anything about Maryland football. I can’t answer that question.”
Many Big Ten fans seem to be feeling the same.