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Two-Minute Drill: Key matchups that will decide Nebraska-Iowa

Two-Minute Drill: Key matchups that will decide Nebraska-Iowa

Adam is joined by a special guest to predict the Huskers season finale against Iowa.

Each week, the Two-Minute Drill provides an in-depth breakdown on all the key matchups that will decide a winner in the Husker game. Today we look at what Iowa brings to the showdown with Nebraska.

* * *


Since the Huskers ran over Northwestern for 427 yards, the output has steadily declined. The Huskers haven’t had more than 140 rushing yards in five straight losses. Even with Logan Smothers — perhaps the best pure runner at quarterback — taking the helm, NU is bound to struggle against the Hawkeyes’ terrific front seven, which has only allowed more than 100 yards three times in 2021. The Huskers’ top back, Rahmir Johnson, is questionable at best, and Iowa’s ability to control the line of scrimmage has slowed down some of the Big Ten’s best backs. Smothers may be Nebraska’s best rushing threat Friday, especially on option plays. Iowa hasn’t faced many of those this season, and it could be an interesting wrinkle. EDGE: IOWA


The Hawkeyes lead the nation with 21 interceptions, with three returned for touchdowns. Iowa has been more vulnerable than usual to allowing long pass plays — eight of 30 or more yards this season — but Smothers will be asked to dissect a well-schemed defense and make quick decisions. Dane Belton, Riley Moss and Matt Hankins are some of the Big Ten’s better ballhawks, and Iowa’s defensive line generates good pressure with four rushers, which allows Iowa to play a sturdy zone defense. Look for NU to give Smothers some early rhythm throws on screens and quick outs, with a caution toward taking too many chances. EDGE: IOWA 


Before anyone dismisses the Hawkeyes’ run game too quickly, remember Purdue — averaging 75.64 rush yards per game — controlled Nebraska with a smart, modest rush attack. Iowa will try to do the same thing with its well-worn zone scheme and running back Tyler Goodson, who has rushed 43 times for 227 yards and one touchdown in two games against the Huskers. Goodson is fond of the cutback, and NU inside linebackers Luke Reimer and Nick Henrich can at times overrun zone plays, leaving open backside holes. Nebraska’s front seven will be missing JoJo Domann for sure, and Damion Daniels may only get limited snaps. NU should hold up, but 150 yards on the ground would be a failure for Nebraska’s defense. EDGE: NEBRASKA


Iowa’s pass struggles inform Iowa’s run game issues. Defenses don’t think Hawkeye quarterbacks Spencer Petras or Alex Padilla — whoever plays Friday — can deliver passes to Iowa receivers, and thus pack the box to stop Goodson. Smothers has played sparingly for NU, but he may well be as good as Petras or Padilla, neither of whom appear to be the long-term answer. Iowa’s receivers — led by Keagan Johnson, Tyrone Tracy and tight end Sam LaPorta — stack up well against the rest of the Big Ten West, but the quarterbacks and their pass protection aren’t consistent. NU needs to pick off a couple passes, and can. EDGE: NEBRASKA


Iowa in a blowout here. The Hawkeyes have downed 32 punts inside the 20 — Nebraska has downed 12 — and have some of the nation’s best kickoff and punt return units. NU’s ineptness in pretty much every area is well-known, and it's likely Iowa scores on special teams Friday. The Huskers have made that many mistakes, and the Hawkeyes are that good. A blocked kick is still open on the bingo card. Maybe that happens. More likely: Charlie Jones returns a kick or a punt for a lot of yards. He has 869 of them this season. EDGE: IOWA


If Adrian Martinez — who had surgery on his shoulder Wednesday — was playing Friday, the motivation for him to deliver a big win would have been high. So too would the desire of players around him to do the same. But he’s not in the huddle, and even with senior day festivities, it’s possible NU gave its best shot at Wisconsin. The odds are long here for the Huskers, who until recently did not appreciate Iowa’s distaste for them. Iowa will still have a chance to win Big Ten West, and it has the formula to beat Nebraska. EDGE: IOWA


NU’s coverage units against Iowa

Nebraska must find a way to eliminate Iowa’s return game. Great kicks are the easiest way to solve it. Great coverage works too. But the Hawkeyes have a master’s degree in field position, and use special teams and an opportunistic defense to ace the exams. Iowa tends to beat NU on all the margins. EDGE: IOWA


Iowa has won six straight in the series in every which way imaginable. The last three have come down to a final drive, and this one may too. Is Smothers ready to deliver a last-minute win? Martinez couldn’t do it. It’s hard to see how Smothers will find a way to puncture one of the nation’s best defenses. Nebraska’s best chance at victory may be to stake an early lead somehow, and hold on. In the Scott Frost era, that hasn’t happened. Iowa gets up 10 on Black Friday. Nebraska ties it and takes it deep into the second half. But the Hawkeyes prevail for a seventh straight time. IOWA 17, NEBRASKA 13

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