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LINCOLN, NEB. — The Iowa Hawkeyes will be shopping in Lincoln on Black Friday, but not for a TV or smartwatch. They’ll be shopping for an elusive 10th regular-season victory.
Here’s what to watch for in Friday’s Heroes Game between Big Ten West and Interstate 80 rivals.
Iowa offense vs. Nebraska defense
All signs point toward Alex Padilla being the starter again at quarterback. His completion percentage (35.3 percent) was far from ideal against Illinois, but he had some difficult throws to make. Only one of his throws was behind or at the line of scrimmage.
Still, 35.3 percent won’t win Iowa many games.
Padilla will have a good chance to boost those numbers against a Nebraska defense that has allowed opposing quarterbacks to complete 65.8 percent of passes, though.
Iowa’s rushing attack, meanwhile, has shown more promise recently. Running back Tyler Goodson had his second 130-plus-yard game in the last three weeks in Iowa’s win over Illinois. His backup, Gavin Williams, has complemented Goodson’s skill-set well with his interior running.
The Huskers’ defense has shown promise at times in 2021, but injuries have depleted the unit. Safety Deontai Williams, the team’s leader in interceptions (four), has not played in more than a month, and his status for Friday is unclear.
Linebacker JoJo Domann, one of two Nebraska players to already earn and accept invites to the Senior Bowl, will not play.
Nebraska offense vs. Iowa defense
Nebraska’s offense faces a giant question mark without quarterback Adrian Martinez.
Martinez has been the lifeblood of Nebraska’s offense. When the Huskers succeed, it’s likely because of Martinez. When the offense is fluttering, it’s likely because of Martinez.
Logan Smothers, a redshirt freshman who has only thrown three passes in Big Ten play, is slated to start at quarterback.
That doesn’t leave much film for Iowa’s staff to study.
“I think they might have dug some up from junior high,” Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said jokingly. “Those guys are pretty creative back there.”
If now-retired Iowa assistant coach Reese Morgan was working on it, Ferentz said he’d “tell you what the (school) nurse said” about Smothers, too.
Ferentz’s humor aside, quarterback is not the only question mark on the Huskers’ offense.
Nebraska’s top running back Rahmir Johnson “most likely will not” play Friday, the Lincoln Journal Star reported.
That leaves a fair amount of mystery as the Hawkeyes prepare for the Huskers. Many of Nebraska’s assistant coaches have interim tags, too, after head coach Scott Frost fired several members of his staff earlier in the season.
Iowa’s secondary has been banged up, but Ferentz did not rule out a return of safety Jack Koerner and cornerback Terry Roberts. Cornerback Matt Hankins is out, though.
“We’re thin,” Ferentz said.
What’s at stake
Iowa’s postseason bowl options may depend on Friday’s result. The Hawkeyes have a chance of appearing in a New Year’s Six bowl if a handful of other games go Iowa’s way. But all the what-if scenarios start with an Iowa win over Nebraska.
Iowa’s Big Ten West title hopes also require a win in Lincoln (along with a Wisconsin loss to Minnesota). ESPN’s Football Power Index gives the Gophers a 37.9 percent chance of pulling off the upset.
Nebraska only has the trophy at stake. The Huskers are not bowl eligible, and Frost earned a contract extension earlier this year.
One can buy just about anything on Black Friday. Well, except an experienced quarterback.
Iowa 27, Nebraska 17.
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