Huskers, Hawkeyes clash in Black Friday battle

Iowa attempts to win four-straight games against Nebraska on Friday.


The Daily Iowan; Photos by Joseph Cress

Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz walks out of the tunnel before the Iowa/Nebraska football game in Memorial Stadium on Friday, Nov. 24, 2017. The Hawkeyes defeated the Cornhuskers, 56-14. (Joseph Cress/The Daily Iowan)

Adam Hensley, Pregame Editor

After Iowa’s 63-0 win over Illinois last week, ESPNs Kyle Bonagura and Mitch Sherman projected the Hawkeyes to play in the San Diego Credit Union Holiday Bowl on New Year’s Eve.

As of now, the Hawkeyes sit at 7-4 and have a legitimate shot at winning eight games in the regular season, but Nebraska has other plans.

The Huskers aim to play spoiler in the Hy-Vee Heroes Game on Nov. 23, though.

“I can’t wait to beat Iowa,” Nebraska senior guard Jalen Foster said. “I really can’t.”

One can certainly understand Foster’s goals, as during his previous three seasons as a Husker, he’s winless against the Hawkeyes.

Iowa’s won four out of the last five meetings between the teams, including the past three games.

In the last two contests, Iowa has outscored Nebraska, 96-24. Last season, the Hawkeyes left Lincoln with a 56-14 victory, but this time, it’s a new Husker quarterback at the helm.

Tanner Lee, who tossed 3 interceptions against the Hawkeyes in 2017, has graduated, and signal caller Adrien Martinez has done a solid job in his first season in a Husker uniform. The freshman quarterback has thrown for 2,357 yards this season, adding 15 touchdowns and 7 interceptions to his resume as well.

Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz highlighted the importance of keeping him contained during his weekly press conference on Tuesday, comparing the Nebraska quarterback to Penn State’s Trace McSorley.

“There are probably some parallels in there,” Ferentz said. “He’s really a very threatening guy, running the football, throwing the football. [Nebraska’s] got designed runs, designed options, those types of things, and then also, he’ll pull it down and go. You really have to respect that part of it, and he’s done a good job throwing it. He’s got good guys to throw it to.”

There’s a chance Martinez might be without receiver J.D. Spielman, his favorite target. Spielman, who’s caught a team-high 66 receptions for 818 yards and 8 touchdowns this season, is listed as questionable after missing Nebraska’s win over Michigan State last week.

“Fingers crossed,” Husker head coach Scott Frost said on Wednesday.

If Spielman can’t go, Martinez will still have one of the conference’s best receivers in Stanley Morgan Jr., who sits just 3 receptions behind Spielman. Morgan has a team-best 923 yards and 7 touchdowns this season.

Regardless, Nebraska’s offense isn’t what it was at the beginning of the season – it’s much better.

From Oct. 20-Nov. 10, Nebraska had a four-game stretch where it averaged 45.75 points per game, and during those four games, it went 3-1.

Now, the Huskers have won four out of their last five, and, unlike most of the Big Ten West, they’re trending up in November, despite being ineligible for a bowl game.

“They’ll take chances. They’ll push the envelope,” Ferentz said. “They’ll go for it on 4th down, those types of things, and they just do a really good job of keeping pressure on you in all areas.”

Key for a Nebraska win: Get the quick passing game going early.

Purdue showed just how an offense can expose Iowa’s defense, which, for the most part, has played lights out in 2018.

Martinez has 553 rushing yards and 7 touchdowns this season, so Iowa will have its hands full defending him to begin with, but for him to get into a rhythm, his best bet is to attack in the quick passing game.

Purdue head coach Jeff Brohm figured this out, and Boilermaker quarterback David Blough torched the Hawkeye defense, throwing for more than 300 yards and 4 touchdowns. Purdue put up 38 points, the most Iowa’s given up this season.

Key for an Iowa win: Involve both tight ends.

It’s simple: get the ball into the hands of your best offensive players.

Tight ends Noah Fant and T.J. Hockenson make up the country’s best tight-end duo, and together they can break down a defense with ease.

Last week in Iowa’s win over Illinois, Fant and Hockenson combined for 5 catches, 102 yards, and 3 touchdowns.

Given the fact that Nebraska’s defense allows an average of 31.3 points per game and gives up 245.5 yards through the air, Iowa might just have a field day in the Husker secondary, but that starts with spreading the ball out to both Fant and Hockenson.

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