Tory Taylor (9) and Ryan Gersonde (2) of the Iowa Hawkeyes carry the Heroes Trophy after beating Nebraska on Friday, November 26, 2021 at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln, Nebraska. (Savannah Blake/The Gazette)

Iowa has faced Big Ten teams with a mix of offensive styles.

Purdue wins when it throws the ball well. Ohio State is backing its Heisman quarterback candidate CJ Stroud. Illinois is turning to its running back Chase Brown, as is Minnesota with Mohamed Ibrahim.

Nebraska’s formula for success is not quite so clear.

The Huskers relied on pushing Anthony Grant back in their 38-17 win over North Dakota. Grant ran for 189 yards while averaging 8.2 yards per carry.

But in Nebraska’s 14-13 win over Rutgers, Grant averaged just 2.5 yards per carry, and quarterback Casey Thompson put in more heavy lifting with 232 passing yards.

Nebraska’s 35-21 win over Indiana was a mixture of the two. Grant averaged 4.3 yards per carry, and Thompson threw 270 yards for a more even win.

“I feel like they don’t really have an identity,” said Iowa linebacker Jack Campbell. “But I feel like they have, they’re playing hard, they’re doing things well.”

Here are three keys to Iowa preparing for Nebraska:

Is Iowa’s defense preventing big plays?

The Huskers have amassed 17 points in their last two games, and their lack of big offensive plays hasn’t helped matters.

Nebraska had no passing plays of more than 20 yards or rushing plays of more than 15 yards in their 15-14 loss to Wisconsin.

A week earlier, in their 34-3 loss to Michigan, the Huskers had only one 20-yard passing play and no 15-yard rushing plays.

Limiting big plays was a hallmark of Phil Parker’s defense. Another trademark, forcing sales, will be important again.

Iowa is 6-1 when it wins revenue margin and 1-3 when it ties or loses revenue margin. Minnesota probably would have won if it weren’t for Campbell’s forced fumbles and interceptions in last week’s fourth quarter.

Iowa’s offensive line vs. Nebraska’s edge rushers

Iowa’s offensive line has seen some ups and downs this season. Quarterback Spencer Petras picked up six sacks against Wisconsin, but he stayed a lot taller against Minnesota, picking up just one sack.

Nebraska’s edge rushers, while not quite on the caliber of Wisconsin’s Nick Herbig or Ohio’s Zach Harrison, have the potential to cause problems for the Hawkeyes’ fledgling offensive line.

Garrett Nelson is tied for sixth in the Big Ten with 5.5 sacks and 10th in the conference with nine tackles lost.

On the other hand, Caleb Tannor is one of the most experienced players on Nebraska defense. He will play as a husker in his 56th game, which will tie the program record.

Ochaun Mathis has only made one start in Nebraska, but the Transferportal addition has been a second-team All-Big 12 honoree for the past two seasons.

Can Iowa Avoid Third-and-Long Scenarios?

Iowa ranks 126th out of 131 FBS teams and 65th out of 65 Power Five teams on third offense, converting just 28.9 percent of the time.

Iowa’s lack of success on the third descent is partly a result of what it failed to do on the first and second descents. In the Hawkeyes’ 11 third downs against Minnesota, they averaged 7.5 yards from the target. Minnesota averaged 3.6 yards for his 16 third downs.

In games where Iowa average less than 7.0 yards to go for third downs, the Hawkeyes have outplayed their opponents 57-16. When Iowa has to average 7.0 yards or more, the Hawkeyes’ point advantage is only 135-133.

What’s at stake

The stakes are particularly high for the Hawkeyes in Friday’s Heroes Trophy game.

A win would give Iowa its second straight Big Ten West title and a trip to the conference championship game. Iowa would certainly be the underdog against Ohio State or Michigan, but the Hawkeyes would be one win away from the Rose Bowl.

A loss would put Iowa at 7-5 — their worst regular-season finish since 2017. It would also hurt Iowa’s postseason Bowl opportunities. Many bowl protrusions slotted Iowa into the Citrus Bowl or ReliaQuest (formerly Outback) Bowl.

A fifth regular-season loss could be the difference between another trip to Tampa and a trip to the Duke’s not-so-prestigious Mayo Bowl.

forecast

Iowa has the talent for a double-digit win, but Nebraska has played those games closer than expected in recent history.

Iowa 26, Nebraska 20

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