Iowa top tight end Sam LaPorta will miss the game against Nebraska

Seven points, six, three and three. That’s how close the last four football games between Iowa and Nebraska have been. The Hawkeyes won them all, but coach Kirk Ferentz knows every one of them went to the end.

“Nothing usually comes easy for us,” Ferentz said Tuesday at his weekly press conference previewing the Black Friday game against the Huskers. “It’s a way of life. So it’s all about finding a way to win in the end. We expect this to be a really tough game.”

Iowa is without two of its best offensive players.

Tight end Sam LaPorta — who has 53 catches for 601 yards in 2022 — and blocking fullback Monte Pottebaum will be unavailable to play against the Huskers. Iowa’s offense, averaging just 17.5 points and 254 yards per game, struggled enough with both available. Both were injured in Iowa’s 13-10 win over Minnesota.

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“You just never know what to think when you come off the field that night,” Ferentz said. “But they’ve both been tested (Monday) and things are looking as good as they can. So let’s just take it one day at a time. The door is open, but not this week.”

Iowa’s offense is subject to change due to her absence, Ferentz said. The Hawkeyes often use “21” staff – that is, two backs and one tight end – or two backs and two tight ends, known as “22” staff. Without LaPorta and Pottebaum, Iowa may play more three-receiver sets.

“Sam is Sam – arguably our best player on offense – and Monte can do so many things,” Ferentz said. “He can play in different positions and help us. It just limits what we can do, we have to be smart about it.”

Nebraska knows all about tight end and running back injuries. NU lost several tight ends in 2022 – including Thomas Fidone. Running back Ajay Allen suffered from a torn cruciate ligament and Gabe Ervin missed most of the season with a turf toe.

Ferentz said 3-8 Nebraska was “impressive” considering the school fired Scott Frost in September and has continued to run since then. The Huskers “improved their roster” in the offseason with “a lot of transfer types, a lot of dangerous, productive players.”

“They’re playing well, they’re fighting hard and we’re expecting a tough ball game here on Friday,” said Ferentz.

Iowa has bounced back from a 3-4 start and won four straight games against Northwestern, Purdue, Wisconsin and Minnesota. If the Hawkeyes beat Nebraska, they will play for the Big Ten title against the winner of Saturday’s Ohio State-Michigan game.

“The worst thing we can do is think outside the box,” Ferentz said.