Iowa Football

No. 17 Iowa at Nebraska: The Big Analysis

If Iowa is at 5.0 yards per carry, double the bet

Nebraska hosts No. 17 Iowa on Friday at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln, Neb. (Original photo: Associated Press)
Nebraska hosts No. 17 Iowa on Friday at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln, Neb. (Original photo: Associated Press)

Keep this in the back of your minds, but remember to do the wave to “Black Friday” football when the Hawkeyes and Huskers do the thing Friday in Lincoln.

For the Hawkeyes, Black Friday is taking a two-year hiatus. In 2020 and 2021, Iowa will finish the season with Wisconsin. No, it’s not going to be on Friday. No. 17 Iowa (8-3, 5-3 Big Ten) was good with that idea, but Wisconsin ... they drink brandy Old Fashioneds up there. It takes a Friday to get through one of those.

Wisconsin said no and so it’s goodbye to Black Friday for the Hawkeyes. For a couple of years. Nebraska realized it made a mistake to drop out of Black Friday and will again hook up with Iowa in 2022.

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It does sound like Nebraska and Minnesota will do Black Friday.

This is a good tradition. It gives these programs a national spotlight on a day when you’re either shopping or watching football and finding ways out of shopping.

Like it or not, it’s a platform both programs kind of need. The Huskers (5-6, 3-5) aren’t playing for division titles enough, and neither are the Hawkeyes.

So far, since the Huskers joined the Big Ten in 2011, the Iowa-Nebraska game has had one with division title implications and that was right off the bat in 2012, when the Huskers clinched with a victory at Kinnick. Yes, Iowa completed 12-0 at Memorial Stadium, but it clinched the Big Ten West the week before against Purdue.

Let’s pick it up, Heroes Game. Someone beat Wisconsin for goodness sake.

Husker Heroes

1. Total offense — The number that stands out with Nebraska quarterback Adrian Martinez is total offense. Yes, the Huskers are 5-6 and fighting for a bowl game and Martinez has had hiccups during his sophomore season. He also missed two games with an injury.


But he still leads the Big Ten in total offense, averaging 276.4 yards per game (1,906 passing yards and 582 rushing yards).

In their last four games, the Huskers have averaged 478.3 yards per game. That’s great except that the Huskers are 1-3 in those four games.


In his second season, Nebraska head coach Scott Frost has installed an offense that gets yards. Since he was hired, Nebraska has 11 games of rushing and throwing for 200-plus yards. The next best in the Big Ten West is Wisconsin with four (Iowa has three). Of course, there’s more that needs to come with offense.

2. Can the Huskers run the ball? — Yeah, they can. Heck yeah, even. Nebraska has averaged 217.5 rushing yards in Big Ten play, third behind Wisconsin and Ohio State.

The Huskers have playmakers beyond Martinez. Running back Dedrick Mills is a load and has 651 rushing yards. He’s the leader. Martinez is No. 2 and then freshman Wan’Dale Robinson has 326. Robinson has missed the last two games with an injury.

The Huskers’ O-line is young. Center Cameron Jurgens is one of those “future hope” types, starting 11 games and becoming the first Nebraska freshman to start at center since the NCAA restored freshman eligibility in 1972.

3. Continuity probably wouldn’t hurt — Nebraska has had five defensive coordinators since joining the league in 2011. Iowa has had four in 41 years.


Yes, Nebraska will say it’s shooting higher than Iowa and wants the big natty title. And continuity isn’t everything in college football, even though Iowa kind of banks on that in a big, big way. Five defensive coordinators in eight seasons is a lot, but so is three head coaches in the same span.

Bottom line, Nebraska ranks 10th in the Big Ten in total defense, 10th in rushing and pass defense and 11th in scoring and third-down defense.

Frost and defensive coordinator Erik Chinander, a former Hawkeye walk-on O-linemen, have been together since their days as assistants at Northern Iowa about a decade ago. Frost gave the defense a vote of confidence a month ago. He probably meant it.

4. Kicker! — There’s a bit of a contrast here. Iowa kicker Keith Duncan is a finalist for the Lou Groza Award, which goes to the nation’s top kicker.

Nebraska’s Matt Waldoch had his college debut last week and it was pretty good, hitting a trio of 29-yard field goals and six PATs in the Huskers’ crushing of Maryland. The Huskers put out a call for kickers last August. Waldoch, who was working to organize the school’s club soccer team, got a spot. Barret Pickering suffered a concussion and didn’t make the Maryland trip and Waldoch finally got the call.

Unconventional and born of circumstance, but it’s still a good story.

5. Relevant numbers — How potent is the Huskers’ offense? This is what’s going to make you watch. Nebraska is No. 2 in the Big Ten with 71 20-yard plays (Ohio State has 75). ... The field goal thing probably shows up for Nebraska in red zone output, which, at 74 percent, is 13th in the Big Ten. ... Oddly, the Huskers have 26 red zone TDs to Iowa’s 20.

Hawkeye Heroes

1. Iowa is a passing offense — Embrace it. If nothing else, it’s way more fun to watch Tyrone Tracy catch a 3-yard out than it is for this offense to rack up another 1-yard inside zone with three unblocked defenders streaming through the line of scrimmage.

And you know what? It’s probably not a blip for the rushing offense. Well, it hasn’t been a blip. This is year three of Iowa being held to less than 4.0 yards per carry. Maybe guards Justin Britt and Cody Ince step up and deliver with center Tyler Linderbaum in 2020. That’s a redshirt freshman, sophomore and sophomore running the inside of Iowa’s O-line. The race is on.



For here, for now, this is a passing offense.

Enjoy Ihmir Smith-Marsette’s 15.9 yards per catch, Tracy’s 233 yards after the catch and enjoy Nico Ragaini’s four or so catches a game in heavy traffic for first downs.

2. Run defense has slowed down — Of course, a huge part of this is having faced Wisconsin and Jonathan Taylor. The Badgers put up 300 rushing yards with Taylor going for 250 (more than any running back against the Hawkeyes since at least 2000) against Iowa on Nov. 9.

Iowa boxed up the Gophers (63 yards), but there was Illinois with 192 (yes, the QB scrambles put a dent in an otherwise solid performance).

Parse it however you want, in November, the Hawkeyes have been 10th in the league allowing 185 yards a game. There, now the defense has something to motivate it.

3. Why no special teams craziness? — If someone would’ve predicted junior Keith Duncan would go from two years on the bench to booting a Big Ten record 27 field goals this season, the answer probably would’ve been “Where did he do this?” Two years is a long time.

But this isn’t to celebrate Duncan’s record. In the Illinois postgame, Duncan was asked why no special teams trick plays this season? Since LeVar Woods took over going into 2017, Iowa’s special teams were aggressive with the fakes, scoring on a sideways snap at Minnesota last year and, of course, the “Polecat” center snap and then catch in 2017.

Duncan’s answer makes total sense.

“You’re going to get me in trouble, I can’t tell you guys this,” Duncan said.

OK, wrong quote (just thought you’d get a laugh).


“We were successful in a lot of fakes last year. We’ve had some fakes up this year,” Duncan said. “But there have been a lot of teams in their same formation, so we can’t get the right look in games.”

Hey, if it’s not there, don’t court disaster.

4. Hybrid edge rush guy — When defensive line coach Kelvin Bell introduced the idea of converted linebackers seeing time as defensive ends in pass-rush situations, he kind of junked the term “defensive end” and went with “edge defender.”

So, Joe Evans has been pretty good at this edge defender thing. The spot was always ticketed for “pass rush specialist” and Evans has certainly found a use here, racking up 4.0 sacks in the last five games. From seeing the field once in the first six games to coming up with a sack to help finish off No. 8 Minnesota, it’s been a ride for Evans, a 6-2, 240-pound walk-on from Ames.

Evans has made this a thing. Why not keep this around in 2020, especially if Evans is still on point?

5. Relevant numbers — Speaking of sacks, in Iowa’s first seven games it had just 11 sacks. In the last four games, the Hawkeyes have put up 16 and now have 27 this season. ... Smith-Marsette lapped the Big Ten in kick returns last season, with 29.5 yards per return and had 707 yards in 13 games. This year, Smith-Marsette is down to 21.8 and 262 yards. ... Freshman running back Tyler Goodson trails junior Mekhi Sargent for the team lead in rushing by 14 yards (488-474). Yes, this all counts for the same team, but can anyone remember the last time Iowa had a true freshman lead it in rushing?


Iowa 23, Nebraska 13

If Iowa’s running at 5.0 a carry, double it.

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