Well here it is. The final regular season game of the year and Nebraska has put itself in great position. If you would have told me prior to the season the Cornhuskers would be sitting 9-2 and in control of its B1G Championship destiny going against a 4-7 Iowa team, I would have taken it in a heartbeat. I had optimistically predicted a 10-2 season (but thought the losses would be Ohio St. and Michigan, not UCLA), so let's hope they obtain that record.
It was fun entertaining the Gopher fans last week. I lived in Minnesota for a few years, so I had a few buddies down. Really not much to say about the game except Nebraska looked sharp through three quarters. The Blackshirts (yes, I know it was against the putrid Minnesota offense) were dominant. Absent sure-fire first round NFL talent, these guys are playing like a team. It's been a joy to watch, especially after all the doom and gloom we felt after the Ohio State game.
One quick shout-out to John Gagliardi, who is retiring as St. John's (Minnesota) head coach with a career record of 489-138-11. I played my freshman year of college for him and the Johnnies in 1993, and it certainly was a unique experience. If you're not familiar with the story of college football's all-time winningest coach, here's a link to a short article.
What a great tribute to Tom Osborne last Saturday. Pardon the cliché, but they sure don't make them like him anymore.
Now onto Iowa City. Nebraska should win this game rather handedly, but of course THAT'S why they play the game. To be successful, they need to accomplish the following keys.
- Focus & Finish: Hopefully there will be one more B1G game for the Cornhuskers, but they have to finish the regular season in Iowa City first. If they come out sleepy on an early Friday the day after Thanksgiving, they could give the Hawkeyes some confidence and all hell could break loose. Nebraska has been exceptionally resilient and focused the past few weeks, and that needs to continue on Friday. The Nebraska offense, in particular, needs to be focused and do what they do: rack up yards and points and wear down the opposition. Finish the season and pack for Indianapolis.
- Victimize Vandenberg: Many preseason prognosticators labeled James Vandenberg as the best, most accomplished quarterback in the B1G. Uh, I wasn't buying it, and certainly eleven games into the year I don't think anyone is buying it. But he does have a ton of experience and is playing his last game in Kinnick Stadium on Senior Day against their border state (c'mon now, no way this is a rivalry, perhaps some day, but I think that day is many years away). The Blackshirts need to get after him and force him into some rushed throws and bad decisions. If the front four can apply the pressure, the secondary and linebackers should be able to take care of the rest.
- Marked Man: Mark Weisman has been a feel good story for the depleted Iowa backfield. The walk-on sophomore running back was emerging as a dependable, bruising back prior to sustaining an injury in midseason. He returned last week to post respectable numbers. Now he goes up against the surging Blackshirts. Nebraska can't let him run north-south. They need to gang tackle and stretch out his runs. I'm sure Iowa's game plan will include a lot of power football, so it will be a meat-grinder of a game for the Blackshirts' front seven. Get him before he gets going.
- Stay Healthy: Yeah, this might be a pompous, presumptuous "key", but if Nebraska has designs on hoisting a trophy, no, not the Hero's Trophy, the B1G Trophy, it can't afford to lose any major contributors. I'm sure Iowa will come to play, but based on this season's results, they shouldn't pose too much of a threat. They've been blasted by every good team they have faced (with the exception of Michigan State, but, you know, preseason darling Michigan State still needs a victory to go to a bowl), so let's hope that trend continues and Nebraska can rest some of their starters.
- Ball "Hawking": Hey, why not list this one last time in the regular season, and for good reason, too. Iowa is first in the conference in turnover margin while Nebraska is 11th. Nebraska clearly is the better team, but we all know the tune: turnovers are the great equalizer, and if Nebraska experiences fumble-itis in Iowa City, they could be sweating out the fourth quarter. But then again, the Cornhuskers have been there done that. Nebraska should win fairly easily if it keeps the turnover ratio even or on the plus side.