116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
On first look, it defies rhyme or reason.
Over eight Big Ten football games, Nebraska has outgained its opponents by 541 yards. Iowa has been outgained by 253 yards.
Their conference records: Iowa is 6-2, Nebraska 1-7.
Once you look at other statistics that matter as much or more as yardage, you see what’s going on here. The Hawkeyes break teams with difference-makers like turnovers, kick returns, and great punting and placekicking. The Huskers have been broken by them.
It starts — and might as well end — with turnover margin. Iowa has a +12 in Big Ten games, Nebraska a -4.
The Hawkeyes average 2.3 interceptions per league game, and have returned picks for 177 yards and three touchdowns against conference foes. Nebraska has 0.75 picks per league game, for a total of 34 return yards and no scores.
That’s far from the total picture of why one team is tied for first in the Big Ten West and the other is tied for last.
Iowa is 15-of-17 in Big Ten field goal attempts this season, and one of the misses was a 57-yard try Saturday against Illinois. Nebraska is 6-of-9. The Huskers have allowed over twice as much punt-return yardage as Iowa, though they have punted 12 fewer times.
In Big Ten play, the Hawkeyes average 8.3 yards per punt return, the Huskers 2.7. The Hawkeyes average 26.1 yards per kickoff return, the Huskers 15.8.
Nebraska gained 452 yards Saturday against the Badgers, who have the No. 2 defense in the nation. It outgained Wisconsin by 55 yards. Iowa was outgained by 57 Saturday against Illinois.
But the two winners were the champions of special teams and rushing. Wisconsin took the opening kickoff for a touchdown. It rushed for 260 yards against the Huskers. Iowa had a kickoff return for a touchdown in its 33-23 win over the Illini and out-rushed the guests, 172-64.
What’s confounding and amazing is this stat: Nebraska has outscored its league opponents, 218-211. And it’s 1-7.
The win was 56-7 over Northwestern. Six of the seven defeats were by one score, and the other was 26-17 against juggernaut Ohio State. Had the Buckeyes not kicked a field goal with 1:29 left, that also would have been a one-score game.
Throw in Nebraska’s 23-16 loss at Oklahoma, and it has seven one-score losses. That ties the FBS record for a season.
It’s incredible. The Huskers lost by 3 points to Michigan. They outplayed Michigan State in East Lansing, but lost by 3 in overtime. They fell by 7 at Wisconsin, having driven to the Badgers’ 11 in the final minute before losing the ball on downs.
Against the Big Ten’s best, Nebraska has been in the game time after time, without fail. And it never wins.
Then you’ve got Iowa, which has won its last three games despite being outgained in all, including by 123 yards against Minnesota.
It hasn’t defeated itself. It hasn’t surrendered the long kick return, has won the turnover battles and controlled field position. When it’s lost, against Purdue and Wisconsin, the opponent didn’t cough up the ball. Nebraska coughs up the ball.
So we approach Friday and the Hawkeyes-Huskers game. Don’t worry about that Nebraska sellout-streak silliness. If you want to go, you’ll have no trouble locating a ticket online or on the streets of Lincoln.
Can Iowa do enough of what it does one more time and bring a 10-2 mark home? Can Nebraska, which fired four offensive assistant coaches on Nov. 10, break on through to the other side one time instead of blundering its way out of victory yet again against a good Big Ten foe?
How can you think the Hawkeyes’ offensive shortcomings won’t catch up to them given how they’ve dined on danger the last three weeks?
How can you think the Huskers are capable of getting out of their own way when it matters most given their track record, and with the knowledge Iowa has beaten them in their last three meetings by — what else? — one score?
It’s an interesting matchup, if you like this sort of thing. If not, Ohio State plays Michigan first thing Saturday morning. They’re both good.
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