In eight games against Power Five opponents not named Rutgers this season, a couple of interesting facts about Iowa immediately pop up: first, nobody has scored more than 24 points on the Hawkeyes, and second, Iowa hasn’t scored more than 26 points in any of those games. The Hawkeyes rank 11th in the Big Ten in scoring offense, averaging just 19.4 points in conference games, but second in scoring defense, giving up just 12.5 points per game in conference games. Junior kicker Keith Duncan leads the nation with 27 field goals converted this season; the Hawkeyes have actually kicked more field goals than scored touchdowns (26) this season. In 37 trips into the red zone, Iowa has only scored 12 touchdowns (tied for sixth worst in the country; for comparison, Nebraska has scored 23 touchdowns on 50 possessions in the red zone.
Quarterback Nate Stanley has completed nearly 60% of his passes for 2,639 yards and 14 touchdowns with six interceptions. Stanley ranks ninth in the Big Ten in passing efficiency, but isn’t much of a threat to run, gaining two yards rushing this season after subtracting out sack yardage. In fact, unlike the days of the AIRBHG (Angry Iowa Running Back Hating God), Iowa hasn’t run the ball well as of late. Except, of course, against Nebraska. Last year, Mekhi Sargent and Toren Young combined to rush for 256 yards against the Huskers. This year, those two backs have each rushed for just 488 and 408 yards respectively through the first 11 games of 2019. True freshman Tyler Goodson has taken over the top spot on the depth chart, but he hasn’t exactly lit the world on fire either, rushing for 474 yards and averaging 4.6 yards per carry. Last week, Illinois held the trio to just 51 yards on 25 carries, with Goodson leading with 38 yards on 21 carries.
The Iowa receiving corps have been led this season by junior Ihmir Smith-Marsette, junior Brandon Smith and redshirt freshman Tyrone Tracy Jr. Smith-Marsette leads with 41 catches for 654 yards and four touchdows. Brandon Smith was leading with 33 catches for 407 yards and four touchdowns before suffering an ankle injury against Purdue; he dressed last week but didn’t play against Illinois. In his absence, Tracy has become an explosive weapon, catching 22 passes for 379 in the last five games including a 75 yard touchdown to give the Hawkeyes life late against Wisconsin. Until last week, none of Iowa’s tight ends had contributed much this season to fill the void left by the departures of T.J. Hockinson and Noah Fant. In the first ten games, Nate Wieting, Shaun Beyer and true freshman Sam LaPorta combined for just 224 yards receiving on 16 catches but last week, the three combined for 102 yards on five catches. LaPorta probably is the biggest threat to hurt a defense in the passing game.
Iowa’s defense is led by senior middle linebacker Kristian Welch, who leads the Hawkeyes with 70 tackles despite missing three games with a stinger injury. Defensive ends Chauncey Golston and A.J. Epenesa each have 8.5 tackles for loss; the duo have combined for 16 quarterback hurries this season. Cornerbacks Michael Ojemudia and Matt Hankins have combined for five interceptions and 12 pass breakups this season.
Iowa’s defense likely will be the second best that the Huskers will face this season. But in my mind, this game comes down to whether or not Nebraska’s Blackshirts can hold down Iowa’s running attack. From 2015 through 2019, Iowa has rushed for 999 yards on the Huskers. This year, Iowa’s ground game isn’t nearly that potent, so it will be important to ensure that the Hawkeyes don’t suddenly repeat their past successes running the ball.