The final game week of the 2017 season has arrived for the Huskers as Nebraska got after it on the Hawks Center the practice field Monday night in preparation for a Black Friday meeting with Iowa.
Whether or not Nebraska-Iowa is a rivalry is a common discussion every time this week rolls around, and offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf was asked his thoughts about the game.
“I wouldn’t say it’s any more important than any other ones against a conference opponent,” Langsdorf said. “I think with the vicinity of where they are, I think it’s natural. They’ve been a tough, physical team against us. So I think it’s kind of natural with how close they are that you get up for that game but at the same time it shouldn’t be any different than any other game, especially a conference opponent. They’re all tough opponents and good teams. Our preparation will be the same. It’s kind of a special day being one of the only games on and right after Thanksgiving, I think it’s a good tradition that is starting to build with them for sure.”
Offensive line coach Mike Cavanaugh anticipates a stiff test from the Iowa front seven led by linebacker Josey Jewell.
“They’re very disciplined and they all do their jobs, so we’ve got to do our jobs and we’ve got to play with leverage and we’ve got to finish blocks,” Cavanaugh said. “They’re very good at their scheme and the linebackers are outstanding fitting the run, so we’ve got to do a great job, obviously, up front.”
Jewell leads the Big Ten with 117 tackles despite playing just 10 games, including 12.5 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks.
“When you watch that guy, he’s very instinctive, he knows what’s going on, he makes adjustments, he kind of figures it out during the course of the game and I’m sure he prepares hard because the kid’s been a great player for a long time,” Cavanaugh said.
One of the players tasked with slowing down the Hawkeyes front seven and opening some holes for the running backs will be senior David Knevel, who started at right guard last week against Penn State after sliding in from tackle.
“First time out, I thought it was a C+, probably … He’s played obviously at tackle,” Cavanaugh said about Knevel’s performance. “It wasn’t a huge, huge adjustment. A couple things we’ll get corrected obviously, but overall I thought he jumped in there and did all right.”
After accumulating just 87 yards of offense and 10 points in the first half last week against Penn State, the Huskers racked up nearly 400 yards and scored 34 points after halftime.
“I was proud of how hard they fought and they came back and they never quit,” Cavanaugh said. “That was huge. They’ve played that way the whole season; they have not stopped working hard and giving it their all.”
After struggling to get anything going on the ground in recent weeks, junior Mikale Wilbon ripped off a 24 yard run and finished with 53 yards rushing and two touchdowns plus 18 yards receiving.
“It was great to see the whole offense be able to pick it up and be able to start to move the ball and get some consistency going in the second half,” running backs coach Reggie Davis said. “I was extremely happy for Mikale; that was great to see him be able to do that.”
Despite not finding much room to run, Davis said the backs have continued to put in the work week in and week out.
“I’ve got a great room,” Davis said. “Those guys do a great job. They’re not always happy because things haven’t been going the way that we want them to, but despite that they’ve been working hard. I don’t know that I can remember one time I’ve had to get on them that they need to practice harder.”
Elsewhere on offense, senior tight end Tyler Hoppes caught six passes for 43 yards on Saturday, pulling him within two catches of Mike McNeill’s school single-season record for catches by a tight end. As a sophomore, McNeill snagged 32 balls for 442 yards and six touchdowns. Through 11 games this year, Hoppes has 30 catches for 340 yards and three scores.
“We’ve targeted him more and I think he’s responded; he’s made some nice plays,” Langsdorf said. “I thought he had a really good game against Purdue, I thought he played well last week. I think the production is better and better from that tight end spot. You see Jack Stoll making some plays. So I think those have all been positives and the fact that he’s closing in on a record’s kind of neat for him. It just shows the improvement he’s made throughout his career.”
On the other side of the ball, freshman fullback Ben Miles is playing an important role this week despite redshirting this season. Miles is part of the scout team, and his skill set will be a valuable asset as the Huskers prepare for the Hawkeyes.
“They say [Miles] is working hard down there and he’s doing a good job for them,” Davis said. “Obviously the games when we’re playing a team that uses more of a fullback, he gets to be in that fullback role more so he gets a lot more action in weeks like this. When we broke it down he was sweating a little bit more than he usually is. Ben’s been working hard and he’s going to be an asset to us in the future at that fullback position because it’s a critical position for us.”
Jacob is in his third year with Hail Varsity covering Husker athletics. He has also written extensively for SB Nation’s Bright Side of the Sun and The Creightonian. His love of basketball can best be described as an obsession and if you need to find him, he’s probably in a gym somewhere watching, coaching or playing hoops.