SPORTS

Huskers focus on border foe and less on storylines

Unbeaten Iowa travels to Nebraska for Friday's game

Iowa Hawkeyes linebacker Josey Jewell (43) closes in on DUPLICATE Nebraska Cornhuskers quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr. (4) during the second half of a football game at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City on Friday, November 28, 2014. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette-KCRG TV9)
Iowa Hawkeyes linebacker Josey Jewell (43) closes in on DUPLICATE Nebraska Cornhuskers quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr. (4) during the second half of a football game at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City on Friday, November 28, 2014. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette-KCRG TV9)

IOWA CITY — The storylines are endless this week with No. 3 Iowa traveling to Nebraska in the teams’ regular-season finale.

The Big Ten West Division champion Hawkeyes (11-0, 7-0 Big Ten) are one game from clinching an unblemished regular season for the first time since 1922. The Cornhuskers (5-6, 3-4 Big Ten) are one win from bowl eligibility.

Nebraska rallied from a 17-point, third-quarter deficit to beat seven-win Iowa in overtime last year. Despite a 9-3 record, the victory failed to save Coach Bo Pelini’s job and led Athletics Director Shawn Eichorst to offer up, “in the final analysis, I had to evaluate where Iowa was.” Ouch.

The fact these teams were glued together on Black Friday when Nebraska joined the Big Ten adds to the profile and drama. Some Nebraska fans would relish knocking off top-10 teams Michigan State and Iowa at home in the same month, especially in a down season. But for Nebraska quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr., the greatest reason to get amped up for Friday’s game has nothing to do with history, bowl hopes or spoiling seasons.

“It’s Iowa. That’s all the motivation we need,” Armstrong said. “That’s all we can say. We’ve been having this little grudge match with Iowa for the past three or four years I’ve been here. It’s been tough games every year. We went in their hometown and upset them last year. Two years ago they did the same thing here, and we’re looking forward to it.”

Nebraska wide receiver Jordan Westerkamp was in sync with Armstrong’s comment.

“There’s some recent history with these two programs, ours and theirs,” Westerkamp said. “It’s a huge game for us. The state looks forward to it, all the players look forward to it. It’s kind of one of those games you kind of can’t wait to get to — you’re not looking over any opponents to get to it — but Iowa is always a tough, physical game and we always look forward to it.”

No team has dealt with more hard luck than the Huskers. Nebraska lost on a Hail Mary in the opener to BYU. A major comeback in the fourth quarter at Miami fell short in overtime. Illinois rallied from a 13-point, fourth-quarter deficit to upset Nebraska in the final seconds. Wisconsin missed a field goal with 1:26 left only to convert the winner with 4 ticks left to win 23-21. Northwestern rallied to win 30-28 at Memorial Stadium, and Purdue outscored the Cornhuskers 55-45 in West Lafayette.

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All were winnable games. But outside of the BYU result, magic didn’t make Nebraska a loser in all of them, either.

The Cornhuskers have allowed 1,158 passing yards in the fourth quarter, worst in the country by more than 100 yards. Overall, they rank 125th against the pass at 305.5 yards per game.

In their four regulation losses by a touchdown or less, the Cornhuskers were outscored 46-16 and opponents outgained them through the air 477-118 in the fourth quarter. While Iowa has given up five passes of 25-plus yards in the fourth quarter, Nebraska has given up 16.

Nebraska also is 95th nationally in penalties with 63.3 yards per game, a number that has come down during Big Ten play. In home games, Nebraska ranks 123rd with 79.3 yards per game. Perhaps worst of all, the Cornhuskers are 115th in turnover margin at minus-10.

“We are where we are right now,” Nebraska Coach Mike Riley said. “We can’t redeem those games or get them back in any way, so what we try to do as coaches is continue to grow and play our best game. What the players need to do is do that, too. I think we’ve done that the last couple weeks. We’ll need to do that with another jump to win this game. That is it. Yes, it will feel good. It will feel good to beat a good football team.”

NOTE: Nebraska running back Mikale Wilbon is out after knee surgery. Running back Terrell Newby should play after seeing sparse action the last two weeks. Wide receiver Brandon Reilly suffered a sprained ankle against Rutgers but will attempt to practice this week. Defensive tackle Kevin Williams should play.

l Comments: (319) 339-3169; scott.dochterman@thegazette.com

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