Two Saturdays ago, we were glancing ahead to the Iowa game as something believably winnable. A week later, Iowa is a team who has rolled to three straight victories including the trucking of a Penn St team who dominated us in yardage while we backed into our only win of 2020. Nebraska in response suffered might what have been their most embarrassing defeat of the post-Osborne era which is saying something.
As always, we reach out to get our opponents’ though on the upcoming tilt. Jonah Parker of Black Heart Gold Pants was gracious enough to answer some of our questions about today’s battle. (I did the same over at their place. CLICK HERE if you want to experience my depression on another website.) Many thanks to Jonah for his time & thoughts.
Let’s get to it:
1) Let’s get some ugly out of the way early - with Goodsen and Sargent combining for 762 yards in 5 games, watching Illinois’ running game carve up the Blackshirts had to have y’all looking at the TV like a 420 lb. Uncle Cletus staring down that Thanksgiving bird while sister Jocelyn carved up those slices waaaay too slow. What do you expect from Iowa’s ground game Friday?
Iowa fans are hoping to see offensive coordinator commit to the ground game in this one as that has been by far the most effective approach this season. The offensive line has seen some shakeups with injuries and illnesses, but seems to really be hitting their stride right now to the point where starters coming back from missing time and finding themselves buried on the depth chart.
While Iowa has always been a run-first team committed to the zone running scheme, they’ve found success this year by mixing in a lot more window dressing. Against Minnesota and Michigan State, we saw a lot of motion to create hesitation on the edges. Against Penn State, we saw less motion but more use of reverse pivots and misdirection on the first step out of the backfield. The result has been the most effective running game we’ve seen in Iowa City in some time.
I would expect to see the Ferentzi to employ a little of both of those approaches on Friday as they try to pound Mekhi Sargent up the middle and Tyler Goodson all over the place.
2) What’s gone right the last 3 games as opposed to the first two in the 0-2 start to the season?
There have really been three different stories to this season so far for Iowa. In week one, the Hawkeyes leaned on the ground game and absolutely dominated Purdue. But mental mistakes cost them as Iowa committed the third most penalties in Ferentz’s 22 seasons while also fumbling the ball away on the Purdue 10 on two separate occasions.
In week two, it’s like Brian Ferentz forgot what had worked the week before. Instead, Iowa tried to throw on 53 of 76 offensive plays with a sophomore making just his second career start. The results, offensively, were predictably bad, despite Northwestern gifting Iowa an early lead.
The last three games have really looked like week one without the myriad of mental mistakes and costly turnovers.
3) Right now, Spencer Petras is throwing the ball over 30 times/game but seems pretty unproductive to put it mildly. However, he has been under that number in all three wins leading one to think the coaches are seeing him as a ball dispenser who’s only going to pass as often as is necessary to keep defenses honest. Is this true or is there some arm talent there that just requires some patience while he develops it as he is only a sophomore in his first starts?
I’m in a growing minority here, but I think there’s some real talent there that just needs to settle in. You don’t demolish Jared Goff’s passing records without some ability to play the position. We’ve seen glimpses of it this season, but Petras has really struggled throwing the ball beyond 5 yards. We’ve seen him overthrow even Iowa’s fastest receivers on deep throws and rocket intermediate passes through the hands of receivers and defenders alike. But we’ve also seen him make NFL throws on timing routes that are there in rhythm and on his first read.
Look for Ferentz to try to continue capturing those quick timing throws to keep defenses honest while leaning on what has been a very effective running game more than he would probably like. If the Hawkeyes get behind the chains or into a situation where they need to throw frequently, you won’t find many Hawkeye fans confident Petras is ready to succeed.
4) Is it time to “lose” that Heroes Trophy and come with one not sponsored by grocery stores and the military or whatever the hell that’s about? You’re in charge of creative development for the new trophy - what’s it gonna be? (Only requirements are FUN and UNIQUE. There is no ban on adding your own tastes such as INAPPROPRIATE, LEWD or ALCOHOL-FUELED.)
I love what they’ve tried to do with the Heroes Game and recognizing everyday heroes, but let’s be honest, the best trophy games are organic and they involve stupid, random things. Hawkeye fans are certainly partial to the pig, but we’ve got wooden jugs, an axe, and everything in between. I think this rivalry needs a real, live wager to get things rolling and a trophy revamp.
Might I suggest a giant ear of corn, for obvious reasons, with the loser of each year’s game claiming possession of Council Bluffs for the next calendar year?
5) We’re not going to get any Covid-type cancellation news in the next 48 hours, are we? (We sorta got in trouble with Daddy last time) Has that been come close to being an issue yet this season for the Hawkeyes?
Thus far, we’ve been fortunate enough to not have any concerns on the COVID front. There were rumors of a few cases here and there that were later reported as mono. We’ve yet to actually hear of confirmed cases specific to football, just the university reported cases across the entire athletic department. That has typically been around around 0.5% positivity so at this point it would be a surprise to Hawkeye fans if we saw an issue this week.
6) Time for your pick. With last week still fresh in their minds, many Husker fans might help boost the -13.5 Iowa line as well as in-state hard liquor sales if more of the same ensues. What’s your pick?
Look, I’m starting to buy in to this Iowa team a little bit. Is there something still to be desired from Spencer Petras? Absolutely. Could we have some better playcalling from time to time? You bet. But I’m in on this running game and this defense. The Hawkeyes have been pounding the ball on the ground and Nebraska has shown little ability to stop that to-date. On the flip side, Iowa’s defense has been creating turnovers and proven stingy in the RedZone. That sounds like a recipe for success.
Which is why I’m on Nebraska. I’ve been an Iowa fan long enough to know that just when you start expecting success the rug is about to be pulled out from under you. The last two games in this series have come down to field goals and I think this one does too. It feels like a game where Petras has a bad interception, we have another fumble inside the 10 and the defense gives up one big play to Wan’Dale Robinson (because they only allow the other team’s best weapon to do anything, apparently) and next thing you know it’s trouble.
Nebraska 27, Iowa 24