Important matchups that will decide Nebraska-Iowa

Each week’s Two Minute Drill provides a detailed breakdown of every key encounter that will decide a winner in the Huskers’ game. Here’s what Iowa and Nebraska bring to the showdown.

WHEN NEBRASKA RUNS THE BALL

Husker quarterbacks have led the team in rushes — mostly in scrambles — for the past two weeks, which tells the story of where Nebraska’s ground game is right now.

Rusher Anthony Grant has seen limited and mostly uncreative touches.

Meanwhile, Iowa still only allows 3.01 yards per carry (fifth nationally) even after Minnesota slashed him at 6.24 per pop for 312 yards last weekend.

NU doesn’t have nearly the offensive identity, elite running back, or frontline blockers that the Gophers have. And even if it were, Iowa’s ability to earn takeaways and prevent points is uncanny.

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WHEN NEBRASKA PASSES THE BALL

The return of still-struggling quarterback Casey Thompson after two-and-a-half game breaks breathed some life into an aimless airstrike, but the constant pressure and cold weather conditions were a reminder that NU’s margin for error — even with playmaker Trey Palmer — is thinner than diluted sauce.

Meanwhile, no FBS team has conceded fewer passes for 20+ yards than Iowa (18), which owns 15 interceptions and has likely first-team All-America linebacker Jack Campbell at the center of everything it does .

The deep ball is both Nebraska’s best hope for points and Iowa’s forte in preventing.

WHEN IOWA RUNS THE BALL

Freshman Kaleb Johnson won’t be confused with an elite Big Ten rusher currently leading an Iowa ground attack that’s among the most benign at the FBS level (2.85 per carry, 128th).

The Hawkeyes just didn’t have the horses up front and were set to do without injured star tight end Sam LaPorta.

Fresh from a four-week tour of 1,000-yard Big Ten backs, the Huskers have all but eliminated the gap miscommunication and missed tackles that have plagued them in the past and found a new playmaker in fresh linebacker Ernest Hausmann.

After a few games in which opponents overwhelmed NU for regular 5-7 yard runs, Iowa’s reach should be closer to 2-4 on Saturday.

WHEN IOWA PASSES THE BALL

Once-beleaguered QB Spencer Petras found his groove during a four-game winning streak in which he completed 63% of his passes for 727 yards, three touchdowns and, most importantly, no interceptions.

Iowa has relied heavily on the 6-foot-4 LaPorta in the air, whose 53 catches and 601 yards are essentially double the performance of the closest receiver.

His absence would help a NU defense who will keep Nickel Isaac Gifford safe this week through injury and use the long Javin Wright more as a rover.

NU has been healthy at the back end lately and the Hawks are free of Burners.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Nebraska have opened up here this season thanks to reliable specialists and an avoidance of the catastrophic mistakes of years past.

Iowa is again following a similar formula with punter Tory Taylor and kicker Drew Stevens among the best in the nation.

However, the Hawkeyes own the track record — particularly in this series, where they returned a kickoff for a touchdown in 2019 and blocked a punt for a score last season.

The black-and-golds have seemingly not missed a major kick against the Huskers since the Obama administration, while NU is still earning its way into the circle of trust.

INTANGIBLE ASSETS

The Hawkeyes share history, dynamics and motivation. Their seven straight wins on the streak have included inexplicable comebacks of late, including a 21-6 deficit late in the third quarter a season ago. They don’t lose in November (13 straight winners), while NU doesn’t win then (8 straight losers). If beating a border rival isn’t enough thrill for Iowa, it certainly will be a repeat as West Division champion. The ailing Huskers hobble to the finish line to audition for the role of Spoiler, knowing that an inevitable tidal wave of change lies ahead in the days and weeks ahead.

KEY COMPARISON

The Iowa Offensive Line vs. Nebraska’s Defensive Front Seven

There are plenty of familiar faces in this game — like the Husker offense wilting against top-15 defenses — but this is a chance for Nebraska to prove that all those weeks against brutal frontlines have steeled it for success in a more even contest to have.

Iowa likes to keep things simple and conservative with its zone-read games and doesn’t have the talent to produce many chunk wins if NU stays healthy.

Limited personnel at the receiver means ground will also be the Hawkeyes’ preferred route.

OUR OPINION

Equipment advantages and superior recruit-class finishes weren’t nearly enough for the Huskers during the seven-year run to their Missouri River companion.

Continuity, identity and development were strong tiebreakers for Hawkeye again this year, even amid their own offensive offense and major shifts around the sport.

Iowa always finds a way defensively and always finds a way against Nebraska.

The streak has to end eventually, but this in-flux version of NU is ill-equipped to do so. Breaking that black-and-gold psychological hold could be the biggest obstacle for Nebraska, who must create stomach space for another gut punch.

This one just has a lower score.

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