It isn't for all the marbles yet but it's getting close to that point for the Iowa Hawkeyes. Their last regular season game of the year is in Lincoln on Friday against Nebraska. A lot is at stake; an undefeated regular season and keeping hopes alive for a college football playoff berth. For the Huskers, they can play spoiler to Iowa's postseason aspirations and capture a bid to a bowl game with a victory.
Iowa had never even been 10-0 before this season so a lot has already been accomplished. They're hoping to achieve even more.
Nebraska brings in the top rated passing offense in the Big Ten. Iowa will carry the league's second best rushing attack with them to the capital city of Nebraska. So we should see a lot of points, right? Not so fast. The Huskers have one of the most talented defensive fronts in all of the country, perhaps the most potent the Hawkeyes' offensive line has faced all year. Iowa's defense is built on a 'bend but don't break' mentality but it's helped hold opponents to under 20 points a game.
Many will suggest that one of the keys for Iowa will be containing and keying on the prolific Nebraska passing game. I would disagree with that notion. The Huskers only scored 13 at Illinois because they were not able to control the line of scrimmage and establish a running game in Champaign. Being one dimensional in that game hurt their chances because of the weather conditions in Champaign. There were 30 miles per hour winds. Friday could present similar conditions as it is expected to be cold with winds up to 20 miles per hour.
The Huskers have passed the ball and been efficient when they can run the ball. That becomes even more important when the conditions will be less than optimal to possess any kind of successful attack through the air. If Iowa can stop the run, I like their chances.
I think the Hawkeyes and Huskers both stuff the run enough to make Friday's contest a low-scoring affair. It comes down to the intangibles, fundamentals, and basics. One team has been much better in those areas this season and that is Iowa. They have the best turnover margin in the Big Ten and have committed the fewest penalties. Nebraska has the worst turnover margin and has committed 82 penalties already on the year.
I believe that will be the difference. Iowa makes a play late or the Huskers suffer a crucial mistake.
HAWKS TO ROCK
Offensively, there won't be much success to speak of in my estimation. It comes down to who makes the big play at the end and I expect that to be C.J. Beathard as he usually does. He won't put up any eye-popping numbers but makes the critical play at the end to win.
Defensively, stopping the run will be key and I think the Hawkeyes do it. Their most valuable players in stopping the run this year have been inside linebacker Josey Jewell and defensive tackle Jaleel Johnson. Johnson has been quiet of late but this could be the game he bounces back and leaves a huge imprint.