Iowa, Nebraska set for epic Heroes Trophy showdown
Who: No. 5 Iowa vs. Nebraska
When: Friday, 3:30 p.m. ET
Where: Memorial Stadium, Nebraska
Spread: Iowa -2
Matchup to watch: Austin Blythe vs. Maliek Collins
You have to enjoy a matchup of future NFL players. In a game that figures to be decided in the trenches, these two are both worthy candidates of setting the tone. Blythe is a major reason why the Hawkeyes plug in running backs as well as anybody in the country. From the center position, there are few guys in America that can do all the things Blythe can do. He can lead the charge on a screen, he can clear space on a trap and he can make sure C.J. Beathard stays upright. Against Collins, those three things won’t be easy. The relentless Husker defensive tackle can plug the gaps like few can. He might not be Ndamukong Suh, but he’s certainly the closest thing Nebraska’s had since his days in Lincoln. Under the radar is the fact that Nebraska is actually 10th against the run, thanks in large part to the dominance of Collins. Blythe and the Hawkeye line has made it look easy against inferior units, but they’ll have their hands full with Collins.
Thing I’m excited to see: How Nebraska comes out
It’s weird to think that a five-win team can play in such a meaningful game, but it’s almost been a new season for the Huskers the last three weeks. Winning two in a row certainly changed the once dreary perception of Mike Riley’s first year in Lincoln. It helps when you knock off a national title contender under the lights. But this game is far greater for Nebraska than some bid to the Armed Forces Bowl. This is about a rivalry that finally has more than border-war bragging rights up for grabs. The chance for the Huskers to spoil Iowa’s undefeated season and potentially a spot in the College Football Playoff is all they’re focused on. Will this be a game in which we see the Michigan State version of Nebraska come out? That team flew to the football, got after it at the line of scrimmage and made clutch plays it hadn’t all season. Or will we see the team that came out overconfident in each of its last two games against Iowa (Nebraska needed a late rally to win last year)? Either way, Tommy Armstrong can’t come up too amped up and start overthrowing receivers. Desmond King and Jordan Lomax are too dangerous for him to get away with that.
Number to remember: 56
That’s Iowa’s third-down conversion percentage in the last three games. Just to give you a little perspective, Texas Tech owns the best third-down conversion percentage for the season at 53.5 percent. For as much as we want to try and find some hidden secret as to why Iowa is 11-0, that stat says a lot. There are two keys to third-down efficiency: Manageable distances and balance. Iowa has both. The Hawkeyes break off nearly five yards per carry. Even better, they throw for 210 yards per game and run for 208. I’ve referenced how valuable it is to have a quarterback like C.J. Beathard in third-down situations countless times. Teams have to respect his ability to move, but if defenses overcompensate like Purdue did in the fourth quarter, Beathard can find his pass-catching tight ends for six. Simply put, this offense is more difficult to contain than simply shutting down the run.
Prediction: Iowa 27, Nebraska 24
In a year of madness in the B1G, I’m going to predict another epic ending. I think both of these teams give us the back-and-forth battle we’re hoping for. It’d be awfully surprising to see either squad run away with anything. But it’s been nearly two months since we saw Marshall Koehn knock down a game-winner. I think the Hawkeye kicker drills one as time expires to send Iowa to 12-0 with all sorts of momentum heading into the B1G Championship.