Fans of both the Nebraska Cornhuskers and Iowa Hawkeyes will tell you the series isn’t a rivalry… but it absolutely is. Forget the corporate sponsorship and Heroes Trophy shoehorned into the experience, these two teams loathe each other. This game is circled on both teams’ calendars, and its extra chippy nature only underscores the grudges held.
This matchup has a long history dating back to 1891 when the two teams met in Omaha resulting in a 22-0 shutout in favor of the Hawkeyes.
Each school has claimed long winning streaks over the other and that hasn’t changed since Nebraska’s arrival in the Big Ten. While the Huskers have the edge overall (29-18-3), Iowa not only leads 6-3 since the two became division-mates but also has ripped off five straight victories.
Can they make it six? Let’s break it down.
Nebraska at No. 24 Iowa
Kickoff: Friday, Nov. 27 at 1 p.m. ET
Spread: Iowa -13.5
Live Stream: Watch here
When Nebraska Has the Ball
Scott Frost was adamant that Luke McCaffrey represents the future of the Huskers’ quarterback room during Monday’s press conference. Of course, he can’t afford to shatter the redshirt freshman’s confidence and talked up Adrian Martinez’s practice habits should a change need to be made. Expect to see both against the Hawkeyes since No. 7 still has plenty of kinks to work out.
Nebraska hasn’t been able to establish much in the way of a consistent ground attack thus far. Frost has cycled through nearly the entire depth chart, as Marvin Scott III, Wan’Dale Robinson, and Rahmir Johnson got carries against Illinois while Dedrick Mills wasn’t in uniform. The Huskers have been forced to rely on Robinson’s spectacular talent to do it all — something they wanted to avoid in the first place.
Robinson also leads the team in receiving yards (152), but the Huskers’ passing game has been stymied. Tight end Austin Allen has been a bright spot. That said, the struggle to find sustainable downfield success is real and prospects for improvement aren’t evident.
Depth issues are starting to crop up along the offensive line as players have been shuffled around following injuries. Overall, Nebraska continues to lack both rhythm and identity on offense.
Iowa, on the other hand, has been providing stout, hard-hitting defenses for a while now. The entire defensive front has proven productive. Highlighted by the likes of Chauncey Golston and Daviyon Nixon, they appear more than capable of stuffing the Big Red’s rushing attack and rattling whoever is behind center.
The linebacker corps is equally unforgiving with Nick Niemann, Barrington Wade, and impressive sophomore Jack Campbell among its ranks. Attacking the Hawkeyes through the air is no easier with Jack Koerner and Riley Moss on patrol.
When Iowa Has the Ball
Through four games, teams have been proven that they can find running lanes against the Blackshirts, they will be fruitful. Surrendering 223.3 yards per game, 115th nationally, Nebraska has the unenviable task of trying to slow down the punishing due of Tyler Goodson and Mekhi Sargent.
Quarterback Spencer Petras isn’t typically going to light the world on fire. But he won’t have to play at an all-conference level to lead the Hawkeyes to pay dirt frequently. Nebraska has struggled to defend tight ends all year and will be facing a team with one as its leading receiver in Sam LaPorta. Nico Ragaini, Tyrone Tracy Jr., Ihmir Smith-Marsette, and Brandon Smith all give Petras a cornucopia of options.
Getting into the offensive backfield will be a challenge against yet another bruising Iowa offensive line. To find any success, occupying Alaric Jackson at the left tackle spot is a must.
The Blackshirs’ front seven’s best hope against the Hawkeyes appears to be selling out in an attempt to stop a potent run game and force Petras to connect with his receivers. This is something he’s more than capable of doing, though. Cam Taylor-Britt, Dicaprio Bootle, and the rest of Travis Fisher’s defensive backs will be needed more than ever before if Nebraska is to win.
A learning curve was expected when McCaffrey earned the starting role over Martinez. Unfortunately, neither he nor Martinez can complete accurate long passes with regularity. Combine that with the fact Nebraska was facing one of the worst passing defenses in the league last week, and it spells trouble moving forward.
After dropping two close losses to start the season, Iowa is on a three-game tear easily handling Michigan State, Minnesota, and Penn State. Simply put, much like the other teams finding at least a semblance of success in the Big Ten, Iowa knows who they are while Nebraska is still scrambling to figure that out.
During their three recent victories, the Hawkeyes averaged almost 42 points per game. This will not be pretty. Ferentz will not take it easy on Frost, and Iowa will coast to a sixth straight win against the Huskers.