The Huskers shot out to an 8-1 start before dropping their last two games. The Hawkeyes are looking for back-to-back wins for the first time since they defeated Purdue and Indiana to start the Big Ten season.
The contest is listed as a toss-up in Las Vegas and it could go either way with both teams defined by inconsistency this season. To get the inside scoop on Nebraska, we presented Big Red Report Publisher Josh Harvey with five questions on the Huskers:
1. Seemed like the Huskers are pretty banged up physically. What's the injury situation, as in who's hurt, who's out, who's playing at quite a bit less than 100 percent?
JOSH HARVEY: Where do I start? Receiver Kenny Bell is questionable with a head injury. The guy looked like he was knocked out last week against Minnesota after hitting his head on the turf. I would have a hard time imaging him playing. Starting center Mark Pelini was at Tuesday’s practice with a huge brace on his knee, driving a motorized cart. Head coach Bo Pelini is the only one that can comment on the severity of injuries (he didn’t speak Tuesday), but it looks like Pelini is a no-go. Defensive end Randy Gregory didn’t practice on Tuesday. I would imagine he plays though. Last but not least as far as guys who could be a big impact, senior running back Ameer Abdullah isn’t 100 percent, but he hasn’t been for weeks. He sprained his knee against Purdue and isn’t the same guy that earned him a Doak Walker finalist nod. He’s going to tough it out, but definitely isn’t as quick to the hole and doesn’t have the breakaway speed that he did early in the year.
2. Following up on the previous question, how do the injuries impact the Huskers and who needs to step up in the absence or questionable availability of some of the starters?
JH: Center Ryne Reeves, a former four-star product, will likely be thrown into the lineup. He’s gotten quite a few reps this season, so I don’t expect much of a drop-off. Some fans would argue he’s a better option to begin with. On the defensive line, Jack Gangwish will likely get extended reps with Gregory’s situation. He’s usually a guy that comes and flies around for a few plays only. He might need to pace himself. With it being cold and windy, I would also expect passing the football to come at a premium. Running back Ameer Abdullah won’t be able to do it all. The Huskers will need to get some type of contribution from Imani Cross and Terrell Newby.
3. Nebraska hasn't won eight games by accident and the three losses are to teams with a combined record of 17-4 in the conference. What was it doing well the first nine weeks that has failed it the last two?
JH: To be honest, I really don’t know what they were doing that well. Ameer Abdullah was running all over the place, but he wasn’t getting the best offensive line play in the world. Nebraska is very efficient when it comes to pass defense and there were a lot more spread teams on the schedule early in the year. The last two weeks, Wisconsin and Minnesota have wanted to pound the rock, something that the Huskers have struggled with. The combination of rushing defense woes and Abdullah’s injury has made it hard for Nebraska to win games lately.
4. What type of role, if any, does last year's Iowa win in Lincoln play in this Friday's game, meaning is their extra motivation for revenge, a sense that the Huskers take Iowa as a more legit rival?
JH: I think it would have played a bigger role if the Huskers were still competing for a Big Ten West title or if Pelini wasn’t on the “fan” hot seat (I say that because we don’t know what the AD is thinking). All the Iowa talk has basically been thrown out the window and the annual conversation regarding the status of the program in the last seven years is what’s getting the headlines. Iowa fans should know what I’m talking about.
5. Much like last year at this time, there seems to be some question concerning head coach Bo Polini and the future of he and the program. Please share your thoughts on where things stand in that regard and if it will affect this game one way or the other?
JH: I think it will definitely affect the game, similar to the way it did last year. It’s a distraction for players, whether they say it is or not – especially when they have been thrown questions about it for two weeks from the media. As far as his future, it’s too hard to read. Athletic director Shawn Eichorst talks less than Marshawn Lynch – so nobody really has a gauge of where he stands regarding Bo. Nebraska is about winning national titles and being relevant. Outsiders will look at nine wins a year and think hot seat talk is ludicrous. The problem is the program is in a rut and Pelini really hasn’t shown the ability to move in the right direction at this point.