Iowa Football

Iowa-Nebraska: Stakes are light for Black Friday, but program momentum does mean something

The Big Ten West was decided two weeks ago, so this is about basking in the border vitriol

Iowa Hawkeyes tight end T.J. Hockenson (38) celebrates his 11-yard touchdown reception with offensive lineman Keegan Render (69) during the second quarter of their college football game at Memorial Stadium in Champaign, Ill. on Saturday, Nov. 17, 2018. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
Iowa Hawkeyes tight end T.J. Hockenson (38) celebrates his 11-yard touchdown reception with offensive lineman Keegan Render (69) during the second quarter of their college football game at Memorial Stadium in Champaign, Ill. on Saturday, Nov. 17, 2018. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — The bats have been wrapped in barbed wire. The tire fires have been set. At least on social media, where the weapons really just amount to air.

The Nebraska-Iowa crap talk for the week started coming from the Huskers’ locker room straight out of their 9-6 defeat of Michigan State. You can’t really blame the Huskers. Beating Michigan State is akin to having a 15-pound cyst removed.

It’s a weight you’re relieved to have lifted and stacked.

These are college kids and super heroes and so on to Iowa City, where Iowa and Nebraska meet for the last Black Friday game at Kinnick Stadium until 2022 (11 a.m., Fox).

“We got rid of our problems throughout the year, and it showed,” Huskers O-lineman Jerald Foster said in Saturday’s postgame. “It’s showing. And I can’t wait to beat Iowa. I really can’t.”

Yes, the Huskers are 4-7 (3-5 Big Ten) and have yet to win a road game this season (in fairness, that’s been Michigan, Wisconsin, Northwestern and Ohio State, so yeah). When it’s cold and snowing, you crowd around the fire. If there’s a program that can appreciate a victory over Mark Dantonio’s Michigan State, it’s Iowa, which is 0-3 against MSU since 2012.

So, that’s where Nebraska is. After starting 0-6, the program has improved in year 1 under Scott Frost. They’re feeling “Beat Iowa” good.

And it’s possible the Huskers have circled Iowa as a rung on the ladder to climb in the Big Ten West. It’s possible and logical, with the Hawkeyes currently owning a three-game winning streak in the series and with victories in four of the last five. The score was 96-24 in the last two bloodbaths.

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If Nebraska is going to dig out, it’s going to have to throw some dirt on Iowa at some point. It’s up to the Hawkeyes to throw it back.

Iowa isn’t handing its 63-0 win at Illinois last week to its parents and asking them to hang it on the fridge.

It stopped a three-game losing streak. The Hawkeyes looked like the 6-1 team that rose to No. 18 in the coaches poll before agonizing defeats at Penn State, at Purdue and to Northwestern at Kinnick.

Now, do it two weeks in a row.

“That’s the final taste you’re going to have in your mouth for the regular season,” defensive end Parker Hesse said last Saturday night in a polo shirt outside the buses at Memorial Stadium, the Illinois Memorial Stadium, not Nebraska’s. “You’re going to have to go through all of bowl prep thinking about how you performed. We want to finish the deal the right way.”

That’s Iowa’s way of saying “Beat Nebraska.”

— There’s a trophy in this one.

Since the Hawkeyes dropped all four trophy games in 2014, they’ve reeled off a record of 12-3 against Nebraska, Minnesota, Iowa State and Wisconsin. Yes, all three losses in this have been to the Badgers and therein lies the regrets of 2018.

— Running back Mekhi Sargent gets more and more interesting every week.

The sophomore from Key West, Fla., via Iowa Western Community College in Council Bluffs who arrived in Iowa City in the middle of June became the first Iowa running back to eclipse the 100-yard mark in a game this season. He had 121 yards on 17 carries and a pair of TDs at Illinois.

Sophomore Toren Young had 14 carries for 67 yards and two TDs against the Illini. Sophomore Ivory Kelly-Martin didn’t play. He’s been hampered by injuries all season, first an ankle and then a concussion and now an ankle again.

“Sophomore” is the key word here. Sargent just got here and has steadily improved and put himself in position to take a serious run at becoming “feature back.” There likely will be sorting in the spring. The best thing all three can do is perform in the final two games. Make the strongest statement possible.

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Sargent isn’t big, but is more than 200 pounds and has started flashing more and more elusiveness. The case for 2019 has started to build.

— Bowls?

An 8-4 Iowa is probably headed to the Holiday Bowl (9 p.m. Iowa time on New Year’s Eve), but nothing is set in stone. The Redbox Bowl (Santa Clara, Calif., 5 p.m. Iowa time also on New Year’s Eve) also is in play.

A lot needs to shake out in the Big Ten to triangulate this with any sort of certainty. There’s always a chance the bowls start dropping before the Big Ten title game on Dec. 1, but that usually hasn’t happened.

A 7-5 Iowa? Probably the Redbox Bowl.

These aren’t the stakes that will put a charge into Black Friday.

This is the eighth meeting between Nebraska and Iowa since the Huskers joined the Big Ten. Two Black Friday games have factored in division championships (Huskers clinched the Legends Division at Kinnick in 2012; Iowa won the Big Ten West and completed a 12-0 season at Nebraska in 2015).

Obviously, Hawkeyes and Huskers can totally agree on the need for more of those.

l Comments: (319) 398-8256; marc.morehouse@thegazette.com

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