Iowa and Nebraska meet on Black Friday in Lincoln with vastly different goals. Iowa needs to defeat Nebraska to stay in position for a shot at the B1G West title if Minnesota can upset Wisconsin Saturday. And Nebraska is looking for one signature victory in one of their strangest and most competitive seasons ever, a goal which might have them playing just as hard.
To give us Iowa’s thoughts on this border tussle, Jonah Parker from SBNation’s Iowa website, Black Heart Gold Pants, was kind enough to answer some of our questions about Iowa’s season and the upcoming game. Thanks very much to Jonah for his time and let’s get right to it:
So does the fact that Alex Padilla can at least not throw it to the other team constantly mean Kirk Ferentz is going to ride or die with him or is it officially QB Hunger Games in Iowa City right now and whoever’s under center is one brutal mistake away from being replaced?
By his very nature, Kirk Ferentz is highly averse to quarterback controversy or changes of any kind so it’s pretty safe to say at this point that Alex Padilla is the starter for the Hawkeyes for any remaining games this season. That said, I do expect there to be some semblance of a competition this offseason assuming both Spencer Petras and Padilla stick around.
Padilla gives Iowa more opportunities given the current makeup of the team, but that’s not to say he’s necessarily the better quarterback. Petras has a much stronger arm with a better ability to connect on passes downfield. His downfall this season was not at all about his arm or turnovers (for perspective, Petras has thrown one more interception through the last two season than Adrian Martinez threw this year alone) but the fact that he’s a literal statue standing behind an offensive line that started a freshman at left tackle and a walk on sophomore at right tackle. He was seeing ghosts when he wasn’t being sacked and all of that led to a number of throws into the dirt or the stands.
I suspect we enter fall camp next year not knowing who is the starter for 2022 and I’m not sure who truly wins that battle given Petras won the last time around. I will say, if it’s not Padilla there will be a lot of noise from the fanbase.
Without doing too deep a stat dive, I noticed Iowa is at about a 57/43 run/pass mix on the season when they feel like a team which normally belongs at 60/40 or even 65/35. Have they arced more toward firing on the ground after going with Padilla or have they just not had confidence in someone to take a lighter split of the carries with Goodson?
In a perfect world, Brian Ferentz would like to have a 50/50 run/pass split in snaps that aren’t impacted by game flow. If you take a look back at games this season, you get pretty close to that depending on your game flow definitions.
Having said that, the running game has really struggled at times because of the noted issues on the offensive line. That’s led to a bit more throwing than perhaps the staff would have liked in some of those earlier blowouts. Tyler Goodson has been solid this year, but has yet to really break anything huge and far too often he’s been forced to dance in the backfield to avoid contact 4-5 yards deep.
Ivory Kelly-Martin was an OK answer to that issue as more of a straight ahead runner who could turn that backfield contact into a 1 yard gain, but his struggles with fumbles collided with an injury to likely keep him off the field for the remainder of the year. Gavin Williams has been solid of late and will get the most work behind Goodson.
After starting 6-0 and rising to #2 after the Penn State victory, Iowa is 3-2 over the last 5 games after bad losses to Purdue and Wisconsin followed by 3 wins which felt like they would be easier earlier in the season. Did something change after the Penn State game or was there a weakness or two all along suddenly exploited?
I think a couple things have really changed since that Penn State game. The biggest thing has been injuries to a couple of key positions. Riley Moss was leading the country in interceptions when he exited the win over Penn State and proceeded to miss the next three games, including the two losses.
Along with Moss, his primary backup, Terry Roberts, has been out since the Purdue loss. That has led to a third stringer in the lineup for most of the last four weeks as just when Riley Moss came back, the Hawkeyes have now lost their other starting corner Matt Hankins. Iowa also played last week without starting safety Jack Koerner.
The Hawkeyes still lead the nation in interceptions, but the injury bug has led to many more miscommunications and missed assignments in the back end than we saw through the first half of the year.
On the other side of the ball, we also saw starting left tackle Mason Richman exit the Northwestern game and he has yet to return to the lineup.
All that to say, not much has really changed on the offensive side despite the latest injury at OT, but the defense has had more issues than in the first half. They’re still an excellent unit, but there are fewer short fields or defensive scores than we saw during the beginning of the year as we’re now talking about multiple backups playing for a team build on 2- and 3-star developmental talent.
Reading some of the analytics ahead of our game before this past weekend, I actually told people it looked like we would be favored against you guys Friday. Looks like after an initial Nebraska -3.5/4 line, Iowa has jumped back to being a slight -1.5 favorite with the news of Martinez’ surgery but - and I swear to Frazier & Crouch I’m not trolling - what were Hawkeye fan/gamblers’ response to bookies who failed to consider a long Hawkeye winning streak along with our uncanny ability to shit the bed with frightening regularity? (Sorry, I’m long-winded. Ask anyone.)
No criticisms on the long-windedness - see everything I’ve said to this point lol.
The line was interesting for Hawkeye fans because we watched Vegas come out and favor Iowa by double digits each of the last two weeks and every Iowa fan in the world was ready to jump on the Gophers and Illini. And many did and they made money.
To then see things flip and Vegas to favor a 3-8 team over a team ranked in the top-20 nationally, to say nothing of the current streak, was certainly surprising and many a Hawkeye fan did the unthinkable and put their money on Iowa. I’ll save my thoughts on that strategy for prediction time below.
By the way - as much as I love to hate you guys as our border-war B1G rival, is it wrong of me to tell you how happy I am to have Iowa-Nebraska as a Black Friday thing again? Screw former NU AD Shawn Eichorst with Andre the Giant’s dic- (Editor - Andy, stop it.) I guess there’s no question here. Your thoughts?
As an eastern Iowan, I am genuinely torn on this. The Nebraska Black Friday game does indeed feel like tradition (although I’m still not sold on the trophy or naming of the Heroes Game, despite what I think is a really good idea for its basis) and I’d like it to continue. But I also like the idea of ending the year against Wisconsin.
More than one fanbase has had bad karma after looking for future success a bit too much, but one of the biggest criticisms Iowa fans have of this coaching staff is that far too often they are out of the Big Ten race before November. The biggest reason for that has been losing to Wisconsin in October. It would be sort of nice to still have that hope going into the final weekend. Though it would also be all the more crushing to having it fall through our fingertips the final week like a Big Ten championship just out of reach on a goal line stand.
Prediction time - one thing we here in Nebraska can say about the Frost Era is at least the Hawks aren’t rolling us by 34 anymore. Two teams are going after very different things this Friday. Who takes this sumbitch (SEC talk ;-) ) and what is the score?
This matchup has indeed been far too close for Iowa fans’ comfort the last several years and I suspect this will be another season where we see a battle coming down to the final possession. Kirk Ferentz lives for such close games, regardless of level of competition, and I expect him to again employ a gameplan whereby Iowa runs into a brick wall for four quarters hoping for something different and waits defensively for a Nebraska mistake.
On the other side, Scott Frost has gotten this group of Huskers looking better than any I can remember and yet his 5-19 record in one-score games leads me to believe he can find a way to lose this one at home.
Iowa 20, Nebraska 17