It’s almost the Black Friday game between Nebraska football and Iowa. Here are five things to watch.
We have reached Game 12 for Nebraska football and it’s the most important game yet. Win, and the Huskers are going bowling for the first time since 2016.
Lose and it’s going to be a long offseason for a program that has made some progress this season. A bowl would make that progress more measurable, although Nebraska football has won more games already than it did last season.
However, a loss would mean a four-game losing streak to close the season, which will be made even more difficult by the fact that the Huskers are 0-4 in games decided by seven points or less. Two of those losses featured blown double-digit leads.
So, Nebraska could really use a win against Iowa, and here are five things to watch.
A big game for Matt Rhule
Matt Rhule talked about how Nebraska football has made progress this season. He’s happy where the program is, he said, but not happy with the results.
Husker fans could share that sentiment. Rhule has added a physical element to this team, but there are still too many mistakes. Nebraska leads college football in turnovers. The Huskers also have too many penalties and have made too many special teams mistakes.
Obviously, Rhule has a couple of years before the hot seat talk starts — no matter what the most disgruntled Nebraska fan says — but a loss on Friday will lead to a long offseason and a ton of pressure to reach a bowl game in 2024.
It would be great to get those extra practices, and the positive momentum that can be used on the recruiting trail but more than anything, this program hasn’t had a successful season in a long time and it needs one.
Let’s hope Rhule proves to be different than Scott Frost or Mike Riley and wins this game.
Another shot for Chubba
Chubba Purdy was a bright spot for Nebraska football last Saturday against Wisconsin. The Huskers went too long without scores, but he avoided a turnover until the final desperation play.
If Nebraska can do that again Saturday, it’s going to have a great shot to win. Purdy might also put himself in a position to be the starter next season.
I’ve called for a transfer portal quarterback. Nebraska definitely needs one, at least for depth purposes, but if Purdy can win this game and maybe a bowl game, that might be enough to view him as the future starter.
Purdy was clocked at over 20 MPH on the touchdown run. He also threw a 56-yard touchdown pass. His ability to run and pass could be perfect for what the Huskers want to be under Rhule.
This will be a big test, but it would be a big positive for the entire program to have Purdy string together some solid performances down the stretch, including a bowl game.
Can Special teams carry their weight?
We have seen Nebraska lose to Iowa in a number of different ways. Nebraska will have to be solid in all three phases. Special teams haven’t carried their weight recently. There could have been a blocked kick last week, but it didn’t work out.
Tristan Alvano also missed a field goal before the half and a short punt was costly too. Iowa struggles to score points and is ranked 124th in scoring offense. Deacon Hill is completing 49 percent of his passes this season and the Huskers can’t afford to give away points in the kicking game.
Will the run game work?
One of the most important matchups on Friday is going to be the Nebraska running game against the Iowa defense. The Hawkeyes are ranked fourth in the Big Ten in rushing defense. They allow just 3.1 yards per attempt.
Nebraska football has the best ground game in the Big Ten. The Huskers averaged 4.6 yards per attempt and 186 yards per game. They need to at least hit triple digits on the ground on Friday or it’s going to put a lot of pressure on Chubba Purdy and a passing game that’s still a work in progress.
A weak Iowa pass rush
One thing that should help Nebraska is the fact that Iowa doesn’t have a great pass rush. The Hawkeyes have 20 sacks in 11 games which ranks 12th in the Big Ten. Of course, Nebraska ranks 12th in sacks allowed.
It will be interesting to see which team can cover up that weakness but I thought the offensive line protected well for the most part last week.
Playing at home, the protection shouldn’t be an issue. Purdy needs to hang in the pocket just a little more, but if the Iowa pass rush is neutralized, it should be easier for the offense to avoid turnovers.
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