Week 6 scouting report | Nebraska

The Hawkeyes are set up to run all over the Cornhusker defense.


Katina Zentz

Iowa wide receiver Nico Ragaini catches a pass during the football game against Nebraska at Memorial Stadium on Friday, November 29, 2019. The Hawkeyes defeated the Cornhuskers 27-24. (Katina Zentz/The Daily Iowan)

Robert Read, Pregame Editor

Members of the Nebraska defense don’t have much to be thankful for heading into Black Friday’s matchup against the run-heavy Hawkeyes at Kinnick Stadium. At least in terms of stopping Iowa’s ground game.

Through three games, Nebraska ranked 93rd nationally in rush defense. Then Illinois ran for 285 yards and four touchdowns in a victory in Lincoln to push Nebraska to 1-3. The Cornhuskers are allowing 223.3 yards per game on the ground, one of the worst marks in the FBS.

Now, Nebraska faces off against Iowa’s fierce rushing attack, which is, to put it gently, a mismatch.

Behind a veteran offensive line led by center Tyler Linderbaum and left tackle Alaric Jackson — both players who are vying for first-team All-Big Ten honors — Iowa is averaging 181.6 rushing yards per game this season.

Running back Tyler Goodson leads the team with 453 yards rushing (5.5 yards per carry), and his teammate in the backfield Mekhi Sargent is right behind him at 309 yards (6.4).  Both backs have scored six touchdowns through four games this season, and together they form one of the best duos in the Big Ten.

Iowa’s scored four rushing touchdowns in each of its last four games — all Hawkeye victories — to improve to 3-2 on the season. Whether it is running a stretch zone play and letting Goodson find a hole and make a quick cut in space, or utilizing receivers Ihimr Smith-Marsette or Tyrone Tracy on the edge — the Hawkeyes have made an emphasis on running the ball and doing it often.

Goodson lining up in the shotgun as a Wildcat quarterback has even entered the playbook this season. Goodson has kept the snap and ran through open holes in the line, or last week he handed it off to Sargent — also lined up in the backfield — for a positive gain.

Nebraska’s defensive front is outmatched by Iowa’s front five and dynamic running backs.

Offensively, it could also be a long day for the Cornhuskers.

Iowa’s defense ranks ninth nationally allowing only 16 points per game. On the season, the Hawkeyes have already forced 14 turnovers.

Nebraska quarterbacks Adrian Martinez and Luke McCaffrey have both played at times this season, and head coach Scott Frost wouldn’t confirm which player will start against Iowa. Between the two of them, Nebraska quarterbacks have thrown two touchdowns and thrown six interceptions this season.

The Cornhuskers rank 107th in the FBS in points per game (20.8) and are facing a Hawkeye defense that has found its stride.

Both McCaffrey and Martinez are capable runners, and mobile quarterbacks have been known to be trouble for Iowa defenses. But other than one early scoring drive, the Hawkeyes contained Penn State quarterbacks Will Levis and Sean Clifford on the ground last week.

Offensively and defensively, at least on paper, Iowa has a clear advantage against Nebraska. And on special teams… just ask Frost about Keith Duncan’s game-winning kick and Smith-Marsette’s kickoff return for a touchdown last season against Nebraska.

Iowa winning a sixth-straight matchup with Nebraska, securing the Heroes Trophy in the process, appears likely. But in a rivalry game being played in the 2020 football season, anything can happen.

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