Right on the Fringe
A few weeks ago I remember watching Nebraska barely squeak by in a win over Indiana. They beat the Hoosiers by five and were ranked 10th in the country. I couldn't help but do a little more research. As I started looking at Nebraska's schedule I noticed that they hadn't really played anyone significant yet. This reminded me of Iowa last year a bit. Good, solid team, but hasn't really been tested by a good football team.
Then the next day I heard Colin Cowherd (you guys have probably heard of him) refer to Nebraska as this year's Fake I.D. of college football. Much like he did to Iowa last year. Well, a few weeks went by and Nebraska finally met their match in Wisconsin and Ohio State.
This is a good Nebraska team, but they are right on the fringe of being very good. Their QB, Tommy Armstrong had to leave the game after a scary injury against Ohio State, but even if he hadn't the Cornhuskers weren't winning that game. They went on to lose 62-3 in case you had forgotten. Last year, I thought Nebraska had a good team as well, but didn't get the bounces to go their way like they did this year.
This matchup Friday is between two fairly matched teams and that's when Armstrong is playing.
I alluded to it a bit in the first section, but Armstrong has been struggling with some health issues recently. I mentioned he left the game against Ohio State and thankfully was ok after what looked like a nasty blow to the head. He sat out last week on his senior day against Maryland due to a leg injury.
I haven't heard an official word on whether or not he'll be ready to play in the game this Friday against Iowa, but I am assuming Armstrong will be doing all he can to get back and healthy for that game against the Hawkeyes. If he's not able to, it'll be Ryker Fyfe who started last week and completed 23 of 37 passes for 220 yard and a TD that gets the start for the Huskers.
This team is better off with Armstrong under center and they're going to need to be at the top of their game against an Iowa team playing with a lot of confidence right now. Especially defensively.
Nebraska has the ability to play a lot like the Hawkeyes when it comes to their offense. They use a lot of Terrell Newby, who has rushed for 825 yards and seven touchdowns on the season, but it's really Armstrong that hurts other teams. He has rushed for 500 yards this season including eight touchdowns. He averages right around five yards per carry, so if he does go and is fully healthy, he's a candidate to hurt Iowa with his legs.
It's supposed to be a bit colder on Friday, so it may be tough for Armstrong to get that hamstring fully stretched out and loose. If I was a betting man, I'd say he doesn't run as much as he usually does and they go after Iowa with Newby and through the air.
Since Joining Big Ten
The Huskers and Hawkeyes have played each other fairly close. The teams matched up back in 2011 for the first time since the year 2000 when Nebraska thumped the Hawkeyes by 29 points. Nebraska won the first two match ups in 2011 and 2012 when they joined the Big Ten by a combined 13 points only to go on to lose two of the next three match ups including last years game in Lincoln.
You could make the argument that Iowa should probably be on a three game winning streak against the Huskers had they not blown a 10 point fourth quarter lead in Iowa City back in 2014.
If recent history is telling us anything, it's telling us Iowa and Nebraska will play each other fairly closely yet again this Friday in Iowa City with the Hawkeyes hoping for a better outcome than the last time this game was played inside Kinnick Stadium.
Some things that jumped out at me during my research on Nebraska were the fact that they do a good job of protecting their QB and their third down conversions. They are second in the Big Ten allowing just under one sack per game. You probably have to give a lot of credit to a mobile QB in Tommy Armstrong, but this offensive line has been good at protecting the man under center. Iowa averages around two sacks per game, which is right in the middle of the Big Ten. So they don't necessarily overwhelm offensive lines. If Nebraska continues to give their man time, they stand a better chance of winning on Friday.
The Cornhuskers are also very efficient in converting on third downs. They are second in the conference in terms of third down conversion percentage at 47%. The Hawkeyes rank inside the top five in terms of getting teams into fourth downs and have allowed teams to convert 11 of 34 third down attempts in the past two games.
Getting off the field has been an issue for the Hawkeyes this season and they've gotten better as the season has wore on. It'll be interesting to see if that trend continues. If it does, they set themselves up well to win another ball game.