World-Herald staff writer Sam McKewon breaks down the Nebraska-Iowa game, matchup by matchup.
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Nebraska is allowing opposing QBs to complete just 45.5 percent of their passes — just 37 percent in the second half. Iowa's James Vandenberg has had a rough year in a new offense. But for Iowa to have any chance, Vandenberg has to have one of the best games of his career. He has the arm to pull it off but may not have receivers who can consistently get open.
NU rush offense vs. Iowa rush defense
Nebraska has run the ball well on some of the nation's stingiest run defenses. Iowa's unit isn't great, and the Hawkeyes' defensive line doesn't measure up to Penn State's or Michigan State's. Quarterback Taylor Martinez's ability to burn defenses on the zone read makes it hard to key on Ameer Abdullah on toss plays. Watch for Rex Burkhead to also get a few carries so he can shake off rust. Edge: Nebraska
NU pass offense vs. Iowa pass defense
Led by Micah Hyde, Iowa's secondary is probably the best thing about the squad. Hawkeye DBs have picked off 10 passes this year, but NU's passing game has been effective against any style of secondary. The Huskers have that combination of speed at tight end and at wide receiver that makes them hard to handle, and Martinez has been making quick audibles and good decisions recently. Edge: Nebraska
Iowa run offense vs. NU run defense
Iowa running back Mark Weisman, a fifth-stringer last spring, is a load to bring down, but he injures easily and has a lot of runs that go for zero or short yardage. Nebraska has had a lot of practice (though not a lot of success) tackling big backs in the last month, and even if Weisman busts a few, it's been hard for any offense to slice through the Huskers since the Ohio State game. Edge: Even
Iowa pass offense vs. NU pass defense
Vandenberg is caught between a spread and pro-style offense, and the result is a lot of 3-yard throws to receivers who are immediately tackled. If Vandenberg were mobile, he might give the Huskers trouble, but he's not, so Iowa has to find a way to dent NU's pass defense. Offensive coordinator Greg Davis wasn't very good at doing that in 2009 or 2010 when he worked at Texas. Edge: Nebraska
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The Huskers' return game has fallen off the map, as returners have had problems with rugby punts. Brett Maher has been hot and cold as a punter, but he's steadied himself as a field goal kicker. Iowa kicker Mike Meyer has hit 17 of 20 field goals this year, and punter Connor Kornbrath averages 34.44 net yards per kick. Iowa's kick return unit ranks 42nd in the country. Edge: Even
Iowa creates a lot of turnovers and doesn't have many of its own. Nebraska fumbles the ball like it's been slathered in butter. But the Huskers have found ways to win five games in a row, while the Hawkeyes have discovered new, frustrating ways to lose. When there's been a fourth-quarter play to be made, Nebraska's made it. Iowa has not. The Hawkeyes do have home-field advantage. Edge: Even
Nebraska will win if ...
It builds off the momentum created the last five weeks and takes care of the ball.
Iowa will win if ...
The Hawkeyes play their best game of the year. Nothing less will do.
Even in a short week, Iowa will pour a lot into trying to spoil the Huskers' run to the Legends Division title. The Hawkeyes will have passion and energy to burn, but Nebraska won't overlook them and enjoys having the kind of playmakers that Iowa needs to make this game a real rivalry going forward. The Hawkeyes hang tough for a half before the Huskers make hay.
Nebraska 30, Iowa 13 (Click here to cast a vote for your game prediction)