Since 2012, Nebraska and Iowa have traded off defeating each other on the road. It’s made for interesting history between the two. After losing 28-20 to Iowa at home in 2015, the Huskers are hoping to keep the road win tradition alive and defeat the Hawkeyes in Iowa City on Friday. Will that happen?
Q: How can Nebraska defeat Iowa?
AJ: Nebraska can win this game on offense by converting third downs and sustaining drives. Iowa isn’t prone to big plays as a defensive unit, especially on the ground; the Huskers will succeed with the grinding, 10+-play drives into the end zone. On defense, Nebraska wins by forcing C.J. Beathard to move the ball against the Husker secondary. Iowa’s passing game is reeling after losing Matt VandeBerg to a season-ending foot injury as well as most of Beathard’s favorite targets from 2015. Their replacements are generally young and not explosive enough to overcome their inexperience. TE George Kittle will be back, and Iowa needs a big day from him.
Q: How can Iowa defeat Nebraska?
AJ: Iowa can win this game by executing a similar game plan to 2015. If the offensive line can spring its tailbacks for enough big runs, Beathard should at least be able to limit the catastrophes and the Hawkeyes can ride the resurgent defense to a victory after sixty minutes. The two teams look close enough in talent that the luckier team probably wins. If Armstrong wants to throw any more screen passes to Iowa’s defensive ends at the Husker goal line, for example, that would be a lucky development that would help the Hawkeyes prevail.
Q: Iowa held Michigan to only 98 rushing yards. What is it about the Hawkeyes’ defense that was able to accomplish that feat?
AJ: Michigan runs an unorthodox ground game, so many of us were surprised to see Iowa so well prepared for the Wolverine attack. Josey Jewell is among the Big Ten’s leading tacklers and he’s relentless at MLB. Also, DT Jaleel Johnson consistently beat his blocks and created havoc at the point of attack; Iowa will need that against Nebraska. Truly, though, Iowa’s increased discipline and confidence make the difference between a defender filling his assignment and the same guy getting there a step too late.
Q: The Hawkeyes’ run game is pretty impressive. Which running back(s) should Nebraska fans specifically keep an eye on?
AJ: Iowa has moved to a two-headed attack at running back, with LeShun Daniels and Akrum Wadley effectively splitting rushes and yardage down the middle. Daniels is big and happy to initiate contact, but he’s got the speed and shiftiness to turn a 10-yard run into a 40-yarder. Wadley, meanwhile, is a smaller, more electric runner who’s able to elude tacklers without dancing his way out of sure yardage. As a duo goes, it’s similar to Imani Cross and Ameer Abdullah, except if Cross were the older of the backs and the de facto starter.
Q: In your opinion, are Nebraska and Iowa rivals?
AJ: It depends on one’s definition of the word “rival.” By my definition, not yet. Certainly, this is how rivalries start and sustain themselves, but it’s like asking if a sapling is a tree. Technically, sure, but we know it’s not the same thing as those giant things that have dominated our landscape for decades. Still, the DNA’s the same and the environment’s right. Let’s just hope we’re around long enough to see what it turns into.
Erin is the Deputy Editor and Digital Marketing Strategist for Hail Varsity. She has covered Nebraska athletics since 2012, which has included stops at Bleacher Report, Cox Media Group’s Land of 10, and even Hail Varsity (previously from 2012-2017). She has also been featured on the Big Ten Network, NET’s Big Red Wrap-Up, and a varsity of radio shows nationwide. When not covering the Huskers, Erin is probably at Chipotle.