Iowa vs. Nebraska: 5 Things Fans Need to See from the Blackshirts
Nebraska fans getting ready to watch the annual Heroes Game against Iowa on Friday will know to expect a defensive struggle. In the two previous conference meetings, both games have been defensive slugfests (which is perhaps a polite way to say the games were “borderline-unwatchably brutal”) that will be decided in the trenches.
After a horrific start to the season, Nebraska’s defense has picked up steam and looked stout over the last month. So if Nebraska is to retain the newly minted Heroes Game trophy and stay in line for a New Year’s Day bowl, here are five things NU fans will need to see from the Blackshirts.
*All stats courtesy cfbstats.com.
Stand Up to the Juggernaut
Penn State’s Zach Zwinak gained 149 yards on 35 (!) carries against Nebraska on Saturday. He was a real handful for NU’s defensive front.
Iowa’s Mark Weisman is a similar kind of bruiser, and the Hawkeyes will likely lean on Weisman to attack Nebraska. To be successful, the Blackshirts will need to be disciplined enough to stay in their lanes and stout enough to stand up to a hard-hitting Weisman.
Contain the Quarterback
Jake Rudock, Iowa’s starting quarterback, is a sophomore who didn’t get a sniff of playing time behind James Vandenberg last season. He has been impressive in his debut season, completing 60.2 percent of his passes and throwing 16 touchdowns to 12 interceptions.
Rudock also has enough mobility to extend plays and keep drives alive. For Nebraska to be successful, the Blackshirts will need to keep Rudock contained and not allow him to escape the pressure that will likely be coming his way.
At this point, it is simply not reasonable to expect Nebraska’s offense to cut down on turnovers.
Nebraska is No. 113 nationally in turnover margin, averaging minus-0.82 turnovers per game compared to its opponent, and No. 105 nationally in total turnovers with 25.
Iowa isn’t all that great in terms of protecting the football either, sitting at No. 74 nationally with a minus-0.18 turnover margin and No. 66 nationally with 19 total turnovers.
So if we accept that Nebraska is going to give Iowa some turnovers on offense, it will be incumbent on the Blackshirts to force some turnovers of their own to keep things balanced.
Win on Third Down
Overall, Nebraska is No. 5 nationally in opponents' third-down conversion percentage, allowing a first down to an opponent only 29.41 percent of the time. So in general, Nebraska has been very good in getting opponents off the field.
But take a look at how Nebraska has fared on opponents' third-down percentage in its three losses:
Third Downs Converted
To put those numbers into perspective, Nebraska’s 45.8 percent opponents' third-down conversion in its three losses would put NU at No. 106 nationally.
So if Nebraska wants to keep the Heroes Game trophy in Lincoln and keep the Nebraska-Iowa game from becoming a real rivalry, getting the Hawkeye offense off the field on third down will be critical.
At the end of the game against both Michigan State and Penn State, Nebraska’s defense was visibly tiring.
The fatigue was understandable against the Spartans, given Michigan State’s incredible disparity in time of possession (38:37 for Sparty, 21:23 for Herbie) leaving the Blackshirts on the field way too long. That fatigue, added to the end of a long season, a trip to State College, Pennsylvania, and facing a bruising ground attack from Penn State helps to explain an empty tank for the Blackshirts.
But Iowa is just as physical and bruising as Penn State, and Nebraska will have a short week of preparation.
If the game is close in the fourth quarter—and history suggests the Heroes Game will be close at the end—the Blackshirts will need to find the reserves necessary to pull through and finish the regular season strong.
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