Nebraska and Iowa will play on Black Friday for the 11th straight year this week.
HuskerOnline caught up with Hawkeye Report’s Tom Kakert to get his take and prediction on Friday’s Iowa vs. Nebraska game in Lincoln.
After two disappointing losses to Purdue and Wisconsin, where is this Iowa team at heading into Black Friday?
“They have righted the ship after those back-to-back losses with three straight wins over Northwestern, Minnesota, and Illinois. While none of them have been pretty, Iowa hasn’t had a year where there was a clean victory. It’s been a lot of winning ugly based on playing great defense, creating turnovers, being strong on special teams, and doing just enough on offense.
“I think the interesting thing for Iowa is they are managing a late-season quarterback quandary. Spencer Petras started the season as the quarterback and he has been up and down. He hurt his shoulder late in the loss to Wisconsin and lasted all of three series against Northwestern before being replaced by Alex Padilla, who has started the last two games. Petras is healthy now, but it looks like Iowa will ride the hot hand of Padilla. Still, it’s intriguing to see what happens this Friday in Lincoln at the quarterback position because we really haven’t had many controversies at this position, especially this late in the season.”
What has really worked for Iowa on offense this season, and what hasn’t?
“It’s been a really uneven year for the Iowa offense because frankly, nothing has worked with any level of consistency. That is especially true of the run game, where they are averaging just 115 yards per game and only 3.1 yards per carry. This is the lowest average rushing yards per game since 2009.
“Part of the issue has been the constant changing along the offensive line. For most of the season, they were rotating in different guards and at one of the tackle positions and it was hard to build continuity. In the last two games, they have stuck with the same five and last week they had one of their best games of the season.
“Overall the passing game has also been inconsistent, but that is usually the case with Iowa. What has worked for the Hawkeyes this year are their freshman wide receivers, who have been as good as advertised. Nebraska native Keagan Johnson and Arland Bruce have been terrific, especially in the second half of the year and are now essentially starting for Iowa as true freshmen. Bruce has 18 receptions for 169 yards and a touchdown and Johnson, who has led the team in targets the last three weeks, has 16 receptions for 328 yards and a pair of scores.”
Iowa has had a lot of good defenses in recent years, what jumps out about this unit?
“The big thing with the Iowa defense is they all follow their assignments and execute the game plan. The other thing is the Hawkeye players put a lot of time into film study, so they are always well prepared for every opponent. Those two things combine to help them have a very good defense year in and year out.
“What jumped out is the defense has consistently been able to create turnovers. Since 2017 they have picked off over 85 passes, which is the most in the NCAA. This season they have intercepted 21 passes and that has played a huge role in their success. However, Iowa will be without one of their top cornerbacks this week with Matt Hankins sidelined due to a leg injury. They expect to have free safety Jack Koerner back this weekend, which would help the back end of the defense. Also, Iowa has really strong linebackers this season, led by Jack Campbell, who has 108 tackles and Seth Benson, who has 79 stops.
“This isn’t Iowa’s strongest defensive lines when compared to recent years. They are up to 22 sacks, but there’s no superstar in the group and the rush has been inconsistent and tends to be lacking early in the game.”
Where do you see Iowa having the biggest edge in this match-up?
“I’d probably have to say that Iowa could create turnovers, particularly via interceptions. Nebraska has 10 interceptions this year and now an inexperienced quarterback is going to be out there against an Iowa secondary that has picked off 21 passes this year? That’s playing right into Iowa defensive coordinator Phil Parker’s hands.
“Also on the offensive side, Iowa could have a chance to make some big plays in the passing game down the field. My sense is that much like they did with Noah Fant, Iowa is going to have something dialed up to take a shot play or two with Nebraska native Keagan Johnson.”
What is your biggest concern for the Hawkeyes in this match-up?
“Well, initially it was going to be facing Adrian Martinez because Iowa struggles at times against mobile quarterbacks, but now that he’s out perhaps it’s the unknown that will present itself in his replacements Logan Smothers and/or Heinrich Haarberg. Both are young and can move. Iowa won’t have much, if any film on either of them and that could be a problem”.
Finally, what is your score prediction and breakdown for Friday’s game in Lincoln?
“The Iowa/Nebraska series in recent years is sort of a microcosm of the Scott Frost era at Nebraska, especially the last three years, which were decided by less than a touchdown. I suspect that this will be another game decided in the fourth quarter in a one-score game.
“I think Iowa has figured some things out in the run game in the last two weeks and that will serve them well on Friday afternoon. The Hawkeyes will make just enough plays on defense and hold on for what I think will be a bit more of a high-scoring game, 30-27 Iowa victory with another late game field goal deciding it.”