Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Iowa at Nebraska in Heroes Game III in Lincoln: Is this a Rivalry Game yet?

Birth place of my grandfather was
Grand Island, Nebraska.

Heroes Game III - Do we have a beginning of a rivalry, after all?
- originally posted on on the Rivals Network

My Dad was 16 the last time Iowa beat Nebraska in Lincoln.  It was 70 years ago, back in November of 1943. The Hawkeyes won 33-13 in Memorial Stadium.

He was a son of a Grand Island, Nebraska native. But, the one-time Iowa season ticket holder only witnessed one Iowa win in the modern era.  It was back in 1981, when I was a 17 year old senior in high school. Iowa won 10-7, after losses in 1979 and 1980. Current Iowa football coach Kirk Ferentz was in his first year at Iowa, under J. Hayden Fry. when the Hawkeyes beat the #7 Hawkeyes.

For Iowa, who had 19 straight losing seasons, the 10-7 win was very unique for a generation. I had witnessed Iowa defeat of 
#12 UCLA in my first experience at Kinnick Stadium, back in 1974. Iowa beat UCLA at Kinnick in 1981, as well, in Week 3.

My first game as a freshman at Creighton University, was the season opening 42-7 win by Nebraska over Iowa, back in my days living in the state. My selection of Creighton was influenced by my family roots in the Cornhusker State.

As a youngster, I was brought up on Iowa Football in the Big Ten and Nebraska Football in the Big 12. 

Nebraska was outstanding back in 1970, when I began watching College Football. Very few games were shown on TV, so in the early days... late November was annual rivalries Michigan-Ohio State, Nebraska-Oklahoma, USC-UCLA. As I got older, more games, more rivalries.

Thanksgiving with Nebraska on Black Friday has been a part of my family experience over the Holidays for years...

  • It started with Oklahoma in 1990 (it actually seems earlier than that)
  • Then, it became Thanksgiving with Nebraska-Colorado in Omaha
  • We are not going to be in Omaha this Thanksgiving, due to other family commitments 
Nebraska owns a 28-12-3 all-time lead in the series between the two schools. Iowa was one of Nebraska's most frequent non-conference opponents before the Huskers joined the Big Ten in 2011. Nebraska and Iowa met six times between 1979 and 2000 in non-league play, with Nebraska winning five of those six games. The Huskers are 14-2-1 against Iowa in Lincoln, and have won the past five games at Memorial Stadium. 

I always looked forward to a possible bowl match up, before the Nebraska shift to the Big 12. It never occurred of course.

Creighton-Iowa has been pretty infrequent too in basketball. But, let's talk Iowa @ Nebraska.


QB - Sophomore Jake Rudock vs. Ron Kellogg III (Omaha Westside is my sister in-law's husband old alma mater) - It should be an interesting game of who game manages the best at QB. Iowa is 3-1 on the road, scored 23 or more in all four games, which is higher than Iowa's Big Ten scoring average of 21.3. Rudock lead the OT TD drive over Northwestern, while Kellogg executed the Hail Mary to defeat Northwestern. Rudock is #6 in the Big Ten in passing offense, but Kellogg #6 to Rudock #10 in passing efficiency.

RB - Nebraska junior Ameer Abdullah has been impressive all season. We were surprised by what appeared to be a tentative block in the red zone last week, when OC Tim Beck called the QB draw with Kellogg.  Iowa goes with 3-4 RBs, though true frosh Leshun Daniels hasn't played lately. Iowa is healthy with Mark Weisman, Damon Bullock and Jordan Canzeri all sharing the RB targets now. Does sophomore Imani Crossplay a significant role on Blackshirt Friday?  Or, does Abdullah go 100% on Friday?

Nebraska junior RB Ameer Abdullah
on a punt return in the 2011
game in Lincon vs. Iowa.
Iowa senior LS Casey Kreiter
is making the tackle on the play.

WR - In 2011, Iowa's top WR Marvin McNutt was completely shutdown, as Nebraska won 20-7. Iowa's new go-to WR is becoming sophomore Tevaun Smith, who had a big 55 yard TD reception in the 3rd quarter of Iowa's 24-21 win over Michigan. Junior Kevonte Martin-Manley is Iowa's top receiver in receptions. Iowa OC Greg Davis loves to rotate players in. Iowa has a grey-shirt turned true freshman WR Matt VandeBerg, who was targeted on multiple occasions last week. Iowa and Nebraska fans share concerns each for the offensive coordinators game-planning. Adding to the test for Iowa are two Nebraska receivers (Quincy Emunwa and Kenny Bell) with 44 catches apiece, Iowa has given up some big plays in the secondary this season. 

Iowa will likely learn of its bowl destination on Sunday, Dec. 8.
Iowa senior TE C.J.
Fiedorowicz leads a
deep TE corp for the
Hawkeyes in 2013.
TE - Iowa can go five-deep at TE. OC Greg Davis loves to use TEs, but he hasn't been consistent at times in using them. The three-TE attack at Ohio State helped spark a halftime lead by Iowa. Sophomore Jake Duzey had a 85 yard TD in the third quarter to give Iowa a 24-24 tie heading into the fourth quarter. Senior C.J. Fiedorowicz will be heading to the Senior Bowl. He clearly leads the unit.

OL - Iowa's offensive line is #8 in run production in the Big Ten. The O-Line is #1 in pass protection ahead of the Top 3 in the Big Ten. As we all know, the coaching staff at Nebraska has done an outstanding job, as the O-Line has resembled a M*A*S*H unit for most of the season. The only team similar, has been Northwestern. Nebraska's O-Line ranks #5 in pass protection and with Kellogg under center ... it will be interesting to see how that all plays out?  Nebraska is the #3 rushing offense in the Big Ten. Iowa has played both #1 and #2, Ohio State and Wisconsin. Michigan State hurt Iowa mostly in the passing game.

What will OC Tim Beck do vs. Iowa's solid Front 7?

Talk of using screens vs. Iowa is something that could be effective?  Iowa is not traditionally a blitz happy team, but second-year DC Phil Parker, who has been with Kirk Ferentz, as defensive back coach for 15 years, is open to the blitz more than Iowa's former DC.

What will Iowa's OC Greg Davis do to keep Iowa ahead of the chains?

- Most improved unit this season for Iowa. Kirk Ferentz is 0-4 vs. Nebraska (1999, 2000, 2011 and 2012). Those are three of the four poorest seasons under Ferentz. Nebraska only returned 4 starters on defense heading into 2012. As I have said before, I saw 2013 as a rebuilding year or transitional year for Bo Pelini and his Cornhuskers. Nebraska has the #2 pass rush in the Big Ten. Only Ohio State is better (Iowa didn't give up a sack vs. OSU). While Iowa had problems with Ohio State's Braxton Miller, the Hawkeyes did sack him on multiple occasions.  Iowa is using a Raider attack on obvious passing downs, which is one DT, a substitute DE and two reserve LBs along with Iowa's base 4-3 linebackers. The Hawkeyes pass rush is #6, tied with Michigan State. Nebraska JUCO transfer DE Randy Gregory is the best pass rusher in the Big Ten. Iowa sophomore DE Drew Ott, a Nebraska native, leads the Iowa defensive linemen in B1G play in sacks and tackles for loss.

While we know many Cornhusker fans are getting impatient with 9-10 win seasons, without a conference title in six years (actually it is 14 years, since 1999 team). We think it will be interesting to see what Pelini can do in Year 7, with his next team, after watching this team not give up, despite the M*A*S*H unit that has arrived this season in Lincoln.

Iowa Senior LBs James Morris
and Christian Kirksey in action
during Iowa's 20-7 loss in 2011.
LBs - Iowa starts three senior linebackers, with two ranking #4 and #8 in the Big Ten in tackles. Iowa has a solid linebacker corp in 2013. Senior James Morris is healthy this year, leads Iowa in sacks (#9 in B1G, #12 in TFL). Senior Anthony Hitchens leads Iowa in tackles for loss (#7 in B1G).  Of course, Gregory is #2 in tackles for loss in B1G play. The new linebacker unit for Nebraska appears to be coming along, but they appear a year away from the Blackshirt tradition?  Sophomore David Santos is #13 in B1G, while leading Nebraska in tackles this season.

Iowa senior CB B.J. Lowery
making a tackle in the 2011
game in Lincoln.
CBs - Nebraska senior Ciante Evans is #4 in tackles for loss in the B1G, and #13 in sacks. His running mate, senior Stanley Jean-Baptiste is #9 in the B1G in pass break ups. On the flip side, Iowa's senior CB B.J. Lowery is tied for the lead in pass break ups and #3 in fumble recoveries in the B1G, Iowa's other CB is true freshman Desmond King, who has really shown he belongs in the Big Ten, as a first year starter.

  • Both Iowa and Nebraska have only 4 interceptions in Big Ten play
  • Iowa ranks 10th and Nebraska ranks last in turnover margin ( more fumbles by Nebraska) in B1G
  • Nebraska ranks #3 in B1G in pass efficiency defense, while Iowa is #7
  • Iowa has given up 12 TD passes in B1G play via pass compared to Nebraska's 6

S - Iowa's safeties have been up and down much of the season. The Iowa starters are a junior and senior, better in run support than pass defense. Iowa's pass defense TDs have sometimes been due to play action, with safeties ending up out of position or late in coverage. Nebraska junior SS Corey Cooper is #2 on the team in Big Ten play in tackles.
It will be interesting to see which offenses can tabulate explosive plays?

Iowa's OC Greg Davis, the Texas OC in the 2009 Big 12 title game, and OC, when Texas beat Nebraska in 2010 in Lincoln, in the follow up of that controversial game, considers the following as explosive plays on offense:

  • A running play of 12 or more yards
  • A passing play of 16 or more yards
  • Frankly, in the four games under Kirk Ferentz vs. Nebraska, Iowa hasn't done much of anything.
  • Iowa has been held to no more than 14 points in Nebraska game the past seven games (1980 - 2012)
PK - Iowa senior PK Mike Meyer is a four year starter. Nebraska senior Pat Smith is playing well, as a walk-on first year player, after transferring from Western Illinois.

PT - Iowa sophomore Connor Kornbrath is 7th (40.4) in the B1G and is really coming on in the second half of the season. Nebraska freshman Sam Foltz is #5 (42.4) in the B1G. Nebraska is #4 in B1G in net punting (38.0), while Iowa is #8 (37.1).

KR - Nebraska's junior Kenny Bell leads the B1G in KR with 28.6, including one touchdown.of 99 yards. Iowa's senior Jordan Cotton lead the conference in KRs last year, but with new special teams coach Chris White (former Minnesota-NFL), the production has dropped. Cotton is #7 in B1G play as a KR with 22.1. His long of 60 yards was last week and he appears to be picking up steam lately. Iowa is 11th in KR coverage, just behind Penn State. Nebraska is #3.

How large of a factor will field position play in the Heroes Game?

PR - Iowa junior Kevonte Martin-Manley is #3 in B1G play with a 6.7 average. He did fumble a punt in the loss vs. Wisconsin. He did return two back to back for TDs in the 59-3 win over Western Michigan. He hasn't been nearly as explosive in B1G play. Nebraska redshirt freshman Jordan Westercamp is #5 in the B1G with a 2.3 average.

If Iowa is going to make this series competitive, conventional wisdom would suggest this may be the year?

Iowa has scored 23 or more points on the road all season.  How strong of a game will sophomore Jake Rudock have in Memorial Stadium?  The weather should be a favorable?

We have learned that on any given day in College Football... upsets do happen. Is this a rivalry or not?

Happy Thanksgiving to you all.  peace

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