Yeah, Nebraska is feeling a little extra something this week. It’s Iowa week, after all.
Asked if they needed any extra motivation playing the Hawkeyes, linebacker Mo Barry just shrugged.
“No, not at all,” he said. “No one should even say a word because a lot of the players starting right now played in that game, they know how demoralizing that was. As a defender, you never want any offense to pride themselves on running all over your defense.
“Iowa, that’s our rival. We don’t like them and to stop their run game, to beat them in their house, it means everything.”
A year ago, Iowa walked into Memorial Stadium and beat Nebraska down 56-14. The Huskers’ head coach was fired that next morning. The last time Nebraska went to Iowa City, the Hawkeyes won 40-10. Most in Nebraska’s senior class haven’t ever beaten Iowa. If they were on the team in 2014, they weren’t a part of the 37-34 win.
To say they want this one would be a waste of breath.
“Nothing needs to be said,” senior guard Tanner Farmer said.
Barry called last year a “nightmare.” Linebacker Luke Gifford said he won’t ever watch the tape. Nebraska was in that game at halftime before the wheels fell off. Even after the worst start in program history, Nebraska has a chance to finish with a better record this season than they had last season but they have to beat Iowa to do it.
It sets up pretty nicely.
“You don’t have to know a lot about football to see we’re playing a lot better in the second half than the first,” head coach Scott Frost said. “We gave ourselves chances to win games in the first half of the season, we just didn’t do little things right to make them happen. We’re starting to do some of those things right now and we’ve given ourselves chances to win a few of these and we’ve capitalized on them.
“We’re playing a really good team again Friday so hopefully we play well enough to give ourselves a chance. Then all those little things and the discipline and doing things the right way hopefully will get us over the top.”
Frost knows Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz and his staff well. When Frost was coaching defense at Northern Iowa, he said he was around Ferentz’s staff quite a bit. “He’s one of the good guys in this sport,” Frost said. Frost knows him well enough to poke fun at Ferentz’s age. (He joked Ferentz has to be pretty old to get to 150 wins, like he did last weekend.)
So, he’s got a ton of respect for the guys that will be on the other sideline. As much as the players and fans want to beat Iowa, Frost and his staff are trying to approach it like any other game. There’s no animosity.
“Rivalry games, I’ve said this a bunch, are for the fans more than the players. We have to prepare like we’re playing anybody else. I’ve got a lot of respect for their coaching staff and their program so there’s not any animosity or hatred between the coaches.
“I know the fans arguing don’t like each other but they run a good program, we’re trying to run one here and we’re going to prepare just like it’s any other game.”
His players have largely bought into the “faceless opponent” thing. It comes up quite often if you listen to the talk ahead of games. But Iowa week brings something more. For one, the game is a day earlier. Nebraska has a national stage on Black Friday to showcase itself.
Frost said he doesn’t like the shortened week from a coaching standpoint because it means more to do in less time, but “around here that’s a tradition and I think that’s probably more important than getting us another hour or two of sleep.”
The players say they’re still a little sore after the Michigan State game, and if this were in the middle of the season as opposed to the end, that might matter. But they’ve got one game left to play, they’ve got an entire offseason to recover. Fatigue won’t be an excuse this week, they say.
“It’s been a long stretch, but I think in this last week you can see the light at the end of the tunnel,” Frost said. “We’ve got to get a bunch done in a shorter amount of time this week, so we actually had a full practice like a Tuesday today, had the guys back in for a walk-through to try and introduce the game plan last night.
“Guys’ tanks are a little bit empty but we’ve got enough to get us through one more week.”
Credit to the strength staff for that. There haven’t been any soft tissue injuries this season, at least, nowhere near as many as Nebraska has had in the past. There have been injuries that Frost says are just part of the game and happen, but “kids are bigger and stronger and they’re able to be more physical and survive in Big Ten games,” as Frost put it.
That will play a difference Friday. Gifford didn’t play in last year’s game because of an injury. He was the Huskers’ best defender a season ago. This time around, every defensive starter from Game 1 will, barring something unforeseen this week, be available for Game 12.
The Hawkeyes will present a lot of the same things that Michigan State did, on both sides of the ball. Both run pro systems. Barry said the offensive prep from last week will help a ton this week. If it had been Illinois to Iowa, he said, it would have been different, but there’s a lot of carryover.
On defense, it’s more of the same. Big and physical up front and assignment sound. If it’s another grind-it-out battle, Frost likes where his team is at given what just happened.
“That was a big win for us in a lot of ways,” Frost said of the 9-6 win over the Spartans. “I think the biggest was to set the stage for the Blackshirts deciding that they can win games for us. If you had told me we were going to win a game ever here where we didn’t score an offensive touchdown, I’d have thought you were crazy.
“Our defense had to step up and games like that are going to help you build confidence.”
And there’s plenty of confidence heading into the season finale.
“For the most part it’s just another game,” Gifford said. “But I think with the way it’s gone in the last couple years, that definitely plays into it.”
Other News and Notes
>> Senior safety Antonio Reed was the latest Husker to earn a Blackshirt after his performance Saturday.
>> Frost said wideout JD Spielman remains day-to-day after missing Saturday’s game against Michigan State.
“We’re working as hard as we can on him, we feel good about it but we’ll have to see as the week goes on,” Frost said.
>> Ferentz is closing out his 20th season as Iowa’s head coach. Frost said that kind of stability is a big reason why Iowa continues to have such a stingy defense.
“Any time you’re in a system for as long as those two teams [Michigan State as well] have been doing what they’re doing, every kid in your program knows what they’re doing, every kid knows their responsibilities, every kid’s been in the same deal for their entire career, the same strength and conditioning, the same coaches,” Frost said.
“Those reps and that experience and that work adds up. Those coaches on both those teams do a great job and by the time they’re out there playing for them, they’re big strong guys that know what they’re doing.”
>> With defensive coordinator Erik Chinander coming from Iowa, Frost said this week for Chinander will be a little like the first week Frost was back at Nebraska. Not entirely though.
“Coach Chins and I have argued about Iowa and Nebraska for a long time,” Frost said. “Now he’s finally on the good side.”
>> Freshman quarterback Adrian Martinez said he’s working a lot of ball security right now. He fumbled twice Saturday against the Spartans, losing one. “One fumble is too many,” he said.
Martinez went just 16-for-37 for 145 yards through the air and ran for 18 yards. Still, Frost said his quarterback had one of his better days.
“When we watched the tape and talked to Mario [Verduzco] about it, believe it or not, he played one of his better games,” Frost said. “Just understanding in those situations that it isn’t going to be a track meet and a video game-type deal on a day like that. On a day like that you’ve just got to be patient, be smart with the football and wait on your opportunities to make a couple plays here and there. I thought for the most part he did a really good job with that. That’s all part of his learning process.
“The great part about him is he fixes [mistakes] the next week.”