Iowa Hawkeyes vs. Nebraska Cornhuskers: Complete Game Preview
Nebraska's annual day-after Thanksgiving game has finally almost arrived. In fact, this is the 24th year of the Black Friday game for the Huskers.
With it, Senior Day is also here. Where has the regular season gone?
Set for a 12 p.m. ET kickoff, Nebraska and Iowa face off in the Hy-Vee Heroes Game. It's also supposed to be a rivalry.
However, the word "rivalry" doesn't seem to quite fit.
"There’s a trophy, so I guess it’s a rivalry. I didn’t know it was. I’ll just assume it’s a rivalry for your columns you have to write, so yeah, it’s a rivalry," quarterback Ron Kellogg III said in the Huskers' Monday press conference.
Regardless, there is a trophy. Nebraska has won it in both matchups since its creation in 2011.
Iowa enters the contest with a 7-4 record, while the Huskers are 8-3.
If the Hawkeyes win, it could make the rivalry a bigger deal.
Will Iowa be able to defeat at Nebraska in Memorial Stadium?
Where: Memorial Stadium, Lincoln, Neb.
When: Friday, Nov. 29, at 12 p.m. ET
Listen: Husker Sports Network, Sirius Channel 191, XM 91
Betting Line: Nebraska (-3), per Bovada
Nebraska's Keys to Victory
1. Start Ron Kellogg III
It has to be said. Ron Kellogg III should be Nebraska's starting quarterback against Iowa.
Against Penn State, starting quarterback Tommy Armstrong further injured a sore ankle.
During Monday's press conference, head coach Bo Pelini said Armstrong is questionable against Iowa.
With that said, Kellogg should get the start.
Not only is it Senior Day, but Kellogg has also been showing the most poise on the field. Against Penn State, the senior helped lead the Huskers to an overtime win.
Nebraska may be favored to beat Iowa, but anything can happen. Kellogg is the best fit to lead this team to a win once again.
2. Protect the Ball
This will be on every "keys to win" list for Nebraska until the offense figures it out.
At the beginning of the season, it appeared the Huskers had figured out the issues. By Purdue, the turnovers slowly started to become an issue again.
It wasn't until Nebraska gave up five turnovers to Michigan State that it became an apparent problem.
If the Huskers want to be competitive and win, turnovers must be fixed. No team is going to win championships with five-plus turnovers in a game.
For Nebraska, it's only going to hold the team back.
3. Give the Ball to Ameer Abdullah
There are a lot of reasons to give the ball to I-back Ameer Abdullah. One of those reasons is getting the junior over the 100-yard mark in the Iowa matchup.
However, there are other reasons, and it's the numbers that speak volumes.
Iowa is ranked 11th nationally in total defense. The Hawkeyes' pass defense ranks 10th and the rush defense ranks 20th.
The key statistic is Iowa's scoring defense. The group is currently only allowing 18.9 points per game. That puts the Hawkeyes at 13th in the nation.
With that said, running the ball against Iowa would be a lot smarter than passing it. Plus, Abdullah proved he can run against even teams he wasn't supposed to be able to, like Michigan State.
Give Abdullah the ball, and he'll find a way.
Iowa's defense will put up a fight, but Abdullah would likely win time and time again.
Iowa's Keys to Victory
1. Keep Jake Rudock Upright Against Nebraska Pass Rush
Nebraska is going to do its best to put pressure on Iowa quarterback Jake Rudock.
The key for the Hawkeyes will be to keep him upright.
Allowing Nebraska's defense to get to Rudock will make Iowa's chances of winning drop significantly.
However, Rudock does a good job of creating time in the pocket. He's also good at quickly evaluating his options and changing his plan if he doesn't like what he sees.
Nebraska will focus on getting to Rudock, though. Eliminating his time to pass and make quick decisions will be what the Blackshirts are after.
Keep the Huskers away, and Rudock could make life challenging for the Nebraska secondary.
2. Make Nebraska 1-Dimensional
This all depends on who starts at quarterback for Nebraska, but Iowa needs to make the Huskers one-dimensional.
If Tommy Armstrong gets the start, the Hawkeye defense should put pressure on him. Forcing Armstrong to throw the ball could potentially force turnovers for Nebraska.
If Ron Kellogg III starts, force him to run. Kellogg is much more effective at passing than he is at running and scrambling. Putting him in those uncomfortable positions could also force turnovers or three-and-outs.
Nebraska will try to change things up as much as possible. If Iowa can eliminate that option, the group may fall apart.
3. Control Tempo and Keep Defense Rested
Iowa wants to control the tempo of this game.
By doing so, it will help keep the Hawkeye defense well-rested.
A lot of this will rest on Rudock's shoulders. How he handles the offense will make a big difference.
If Nebraska is able to force a lot of three-and-outs, the Iowa defense will see the field more than needed. It will also wear the group out faster.
Controlling the tempo of the game will play in Iowa's favor. Nebraska will do its best to rush Iowa and force mistakes. That could create quick turnarounds for the defense.
However, Iowa needs its defense to stay rested throughout. It will definitely be a team effort.
Players to Watch for Nebraska
1. Ameer Abdullah (Jr., I-Back)
Could Friday's game against Iowa be the last one for Ameer Abdullah at home?
"No, I really haven’t given it much thought. To me, that’s a really big jump. I haven’t really given it much thought," Abdullah said in Monday's press conference, via Huskers.com.
Regardless, fans will be watching just in case.
Abdullah will be looking to have another 100-yard game or better. If he accomplishes that, it will be his 11th game this season rushing for 100 yards or more. He was only two yards short against UCLA.
Needless to say, Abdullah is an exciting player. Fans are hoping he returns for his senior year.
There are no guarantees yet if he will, so plenty of eyes will be fixated on the junior.
2. Ron Kellogg III (Sr., QB)
Ron Kellogg III earns his name on this list without even knowing if he'll start. There is still a chance redshirt freshman Tommy Armstrong will get the honor.
However, the Iowa matchup is Senior Day for the Huskers.
Also, Kellogg has been playing exceptionally well for Nebraska this season. Why not let the senior go out as the starter?
Plus, Kellogg has a lot of confidence and senior leadership that will help Nebraska defeat Iowa.
Armstrong may be the guy of the future, but Kellogg should be the guy now.
If anything, he should get the start on Friday.
Beyond anything else, that's what fans will be watching for. Expect a loud roar from Memorial Stadium if his face appears on scoreboard as the starter.
For a full depth chart, click here.
Players to Watch for Iowa
1. James Morris (Sr., LB)
Linebacker James Morris is as smart off the field as he is on it.
The senior carries a 3.84 grade point average, in fact. He is also set to receive an $18,000 postgraduate scholarship from the National Football Foundation, as reported by WCFCourier.com. He is one of 16 to receive the National Scholar-Athlete Award.
On the field, Morris is just as impressive. He currently ranks as one of Iowa's career tackle leaders. To date, Morris has 374 tackles in his career. That puts him seventh on Iowa's career charts.
Morris was a key factor in shutting both Michigan and Minnesota down. He'll be looking to do the same thing to Nebraska.
Both on and off the field, Morris is a player worth watching.
2. Brandon Scherff (Jr., OT)
When NFL.com is talking about a player, there is no reason not to put him on a watch list.
For offensive tackle Brandon Scherff, it's imperative the Huskers pay attention.
Based on how he is playing now, it's hard to believe Scherff was not a preseason All-Big Ten player. It doesn't matter, though.
Scherff has made a statement since.
It's expected for Scherff to leave Iowa at the end of this year and declare for the NFL draft. That makes Friday's matchup even more interesting.
He will also likely be put in charge of handling Nebraska's Randy Gregory. It won't be easy for Scherff.
However, if anyone can take the challenge, it's Scherff.
For a full depth chart, click here.
What Are They Saying?
On the senior class:
They’ve meant a lot to me. It’s a good group. Guys have done a lot. Won a lot of football games. I think 16 of them are fifth-year seniors. Obviously when you spend a lot of time with guys you appreciate them and it’s a good group.
On Taylor Martinez's career:
I think he’s had a helluva career. He’s broken a lot of records. He’s done some great things. He has nothing to hang his head about. You can’t say enough about him and what he’s done. He’s been through a lot. I don’t think he was appreciated as much as he probably should’ve been while he’s been here. I think that’s to be said. I think it’s unfortunate the way this year has played out for him and I feel for him.
On if Ron Kellogg III will start against Iowa:
We’ll see how the week plays out.
They’re a physical football team. They are well coached and in all areas of the game. They are sound in what they do. It’s nothing fancy. They execute. They are very fundamentally sound. It exudes the fact that they are a well-coached football team. They are very sound in what they do. I have a lot of respect for them. (Coach Kirk Ferentz) is obviously a guy that’s been known for his offensive coaching. (Defensive coordinator) Phil Parker, I have as much respect for him as I do for any coach out there. These guys do a good job and their players play the right way. It’s a tough group. It’s a physical group. And they are very well coached.
On telling him at the beginning of the season that he might start against Iowa:
I would have told you you were a liar. I probably wouldn’t have believed you because Taylor (Martinez) was almost invincible. I would have just assumed that he would start the entire season.
On his emotions on Senior Day:
I’m going to try to be as composed as possible. I’m not saying I won’t have any emotions. I’ve seen some of the toughest people, like Alfonzo Dennard and Lavonte David say that weren’t going to cry and then come back into the locker room crying. I’m going to try to be composed and set all of the emotions aside because we still have a game we have to play. We want to get our ninth win, so I’ll try my best to compose myself.
On the rivalry with Iowa:
There’s a trophy, so I guess it’s a rivalry. I didn’t know it was. I’ll just assume it’s a rivalry for your columns you have to write, so yeah, it’s a rivalry.
On the senior class:
It’s a great group of guys. The integrity of these men that have been playing here for four, five years at Nebraska. They really set the tone for us underclassmen. I know it wouldn’t make them any happier or make me any happier to send them off with a win in their final home game.
On if Iowa could be his last game at Memorial Stadium:
No, I really haven’t given it much thought. To me, that’s a really big jump. I haven’t really given it much thought.
On playing the day after Thanksgiving:
It’s all football here. Thanksgiving we are going to be in the hotel studying game film, studying plays, studying the playbook. It’s not really about the holiday at the time. It’s about studying game film and we understand that.
Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained courtesy of Huskers.com.
The Big Ten may wish Nebraska and Iowa were rivals, but the two definitely are not yet. Regardless, the Huskers and Hawkeyes face off for the Heroes Game trophy on Black Friday.
Nebraska is currently favored to defeat Iowa, but by only 2.5 points, according to Vegas Insider.
However, it is Senior Day for the Huskers. It is likely this group will play with a lot of heart for those getting ready to graduate.
The Huskers will have to be prepared for Iowa's defense though. The Hawkeye defense won't make it an easy day for Nebraska, especially since they are currently only allowing 18.9 points per game.
Regardless, Nebraska will come out victorious.
It will require a good game plan though, so hopefully offensive coordinator Tim Beck is on point.
At the end of the day, it might not be the biggest rivalry around. However, it should be a pretty fairly fought game.
Iowa will make it interesting.
However, Nebraska will still take home the Heroes Game trophy once again.
Prediction: Nebraska 20, Iowa 13
For complete team coverage and everything Huskers, you can follow Erin on Twitter @erinsorensen.