Storylines, Matchups to Watch (and a Prediction) for Huskers vs. Hawkeyes (copy)

LUKE MULLIN Lincoln Journal Star

Nebraska will look to spoil Iowa’s chances of winning the Big Ten West in its annual Black Friday game at Kinnick Stadium. Here’s a closer look at how the Huskers and Hawkeyes fit together.

How the Huskers light up the scoreboard

1. Efficient runs: The past few weeks have exposed some of Nebraska’s running game weaknesses, most notably a limited performance by Anthony Grant against Wisconsin. Nebraska won’t be able to hammer the rock against Iowa either, but stringing together some efficient running plays should be a focus.

2. Protect Thompson: No matter what, Nebraska can’t let Casey Thompson get hurt against Iowa. Not just for Nebraska’s chances of winning the GA, but for Nebraska’s chances of retaining their starting quarterback for the 2023 season.

3. Palmer in space: Opposing defenses have been cunning to limit Trey Palmer’s signature vertical paths. While struggling with Thompson on the touchline, Palmer found the end zone twice more last week. Getting him the ball into space would test the Iowa Defense’s ability to contain him and keep up with his electric speed.

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4. Field position game: Facing strong winds, Nebraska elected to play the field position game several times last week rather than attempt fourth place. Against a team like Iowa that makes few mistakes and forces the opponent to beat them, this could again prove to be a useful strategy. Giving the Hawkeyes a short field at all costs would be a mistake.

How the blackshirts shut them down

1. Let Petras throw: While he’s played well over the past few weeks, Iowa quarterback Spencer Petras’ season totals of five touchdowns and five interceptions don’t jump off the page. Iowa is certainly leaning on his rushing attack for the production, so the more Petras sees Nebraska the better.

2. No Depth Shots: While Petras has struggled to move the ball efficiently at all times, he has completed a pass for 30 yards or longer in six of Iowa’s 11 games. Since the Hawkeyes typically move the ball methodically around the field, these kinds of big plays are backbreakers.

3. Bend, don’t break: Given the limited scoring opportunities, keeping Iowa on field goals rather than touchdowns is a way for Nebraska to stay close. It doesn’t matter what the final mileage is as long as the Huskers can keep Iowa out of the end zone.

4. Fill in the blanks: Improving running defense has been a goal for Nebraska all season, even as it’s been tested against some of the nation’s best running backs. Iowa’s success on the ground depends more on his offensive line, so simply filling in the inside gaps and forcing Iowa to run outside of the hashmarks could pay off for the Huskers.

53: Receptions this season for Iowa tight end Sam LaPorta, who will not play Nebraska. Iowa’s next leading receiver, Nico Ragaini, has 25 catches.

5: Passing touchdowns for Iowa this season.

4: Defensive touchdowns for Iowa this season.

WR | No. 89 | Sr.: Martin replaced the injured Alante Brown in Nebraska’s wide receiver rotation, despite catching just one pass in a season-high 39 catches. Could Martin get out with a bang in his final game with the Nebraska program?

NKL | No. 33 | So.: With Nickel backback Isaac Gifford set to play safety for the third straight week, Wright will once again see the field at Nickel. Wright was barely seen for the first seven weeks of the season, but he has scored a total of six tackles in Nebraska’s last four games.

Nebraska Pass Game vs. Iowa Pass Defense

Much like last week, Nebraska can’t be competitive offensively without their passing game leading the way. The Iowa defense is strong in every facet of the game, and that includes a passing defense that ranks 6th nationally at 164.4 yards per game. Nebraska will need at least as much, if not more, to have a chance against the Hawkeyes.

Iowa is known for producing strong defensive lines, and this year’s group is no exception. Iowa ranks 17th nationally in run defense averaging 108.9 yards per game, but the more impressive stat is that the Hawkeyes have conceded just four rushing touchdowns. Nebraska, on the other hand, is giving up 195 yards per game and has given up 21 rushing touchdowns this season.

Scoring should be low in this game, as has been the case for most of Nebraska’s recent competitions. Nebraska will be eager to play the role of spoiler as Iowa battles for a Big Ten West Division title, but the Hawkeyes should still have more energy to complete a key goal of the season. With Nebraska battered in multiple spots, it’s hard to imagine the Huskers breaking a seven-game losing streak against their border rivals.

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