Iowa RB Akrum Wadley says this Hawkeye team wants to be remembered as one that finished. Chad Leistikow/The Register
Is this the week for Akrum Wadley?
“I’m 100 and some change away,” the observant Iowa senior running back said.
Wadley indeed needs 138 rushing yards to reach 1,000 for the season. He hasn’t gotten to that single-game total in 11 tries this season, his high being 118 (twice). But if there’s any game he gets there — this would be the one.
The 6-5 Hawkeyes have an opportunity to break out their good offense, and they’ll need to, in Friday’s 3 p.m. game (Fox Sports 1) at 4-7 Nebraska. Iowa is a 3½-point favorite.
While the Cornhuskers can put up points, their 3-4 defense under new coordinator Bob Diaco has been bad, and that’s actually putting it nicely.
They've allowed 110 points and more than 1,100 yards in the past two weeks. Minnesota rushed for 409 yards two Saturdays ago against Nebraska. For the season, Nebraska is allowing 5.44 yards per carry. Among Power Five programs, only UCLA is worse.
To be fair, Iowa’s run game (at 3.53 yards per carry) has been stagnant, and that's also putting it nicely. Every decent team except Ohio State (and you know what happened there) has brought an attacking defense in an effort to stuff the Hawkeyes’ desire to gain yardage on the ground.
“Every time somebody (plays) Iowa …,” Wadley said, before stopping himself. “Nebraska might turn into the No. 1 rush defense when we play them. It’s all about taking care of us and just swinging, going out fighting.”
Iowa’s coach says that practices have been good leading up to Friday’s game at Nebraska. Chad Leistikow/The Register
Nebraska has allowed a touchdown run of 52 yards or more in four of its past six games. Wadley’s longest run this season is 35 yards. If Iowa's frustrated-but-capable offensive line can break him free, Wadley will become Iowa’s first player to rush for 1,000 yards in consecutive seasons since Fred Russell in 2002 and 2003.
And if that happens Friday, Iowa wins for the third straight time in Memorial Stadium and for the fourth time in five years vs. Nebraska.
“First of all, it’s their last game. We know we’re going to get their best shot,” offensive lineman James Daniels said. “They know that we like to run the ball. If they can stop our run, they know they have a chance to win the game.”
A lot of people are down on the Hawkeyes right now. Two straight listless performances have brought out fan apathy.
In those moments, Kirk Ferentz’s teams tend to surprise us.
Prediction: Iowa 35, Nebraska 27
After a 6-1 week against the spread, we're guaranteed a winning record for the season. Let's finish strong with the rest of this week's Big Ten games (all Saturday).
Ohio State (9-2, 7-1) at Michigan (8-3, 5-3)
Time, TV: 11 a.m., Fox
Vegas line: Ohio State by 12
Prediction: Since getting blown out by Iowa, Ohio State hasn’t been messing around. It outscored Michigan State and Illinois by a combined 73-3 in the first half of back-to-back routs. But now the Buckeyes head back on the road, against their biggest rival, knowing that no matter what happens they’re headed to the Big Ten title game against Wisconsin. Michigan, though, continues to have issues at quarterback with the status of Brandon Peters (concussion) uncertain. The Wolverines have an excellent defense and would love to snap a five-game losing streak in the best rivalry in college football. But it feels like two years ago, when the Buckeyes needed to make another statement – and did, rolling by 29 in Ann Arbor. Ohio State 35, Michigan 13
Indiana (5-6, 2-6) at Purdue (5-6, 3-5)
Time, TV: 11 a.m., ESPN2
Vegas line: Purdue by 2½
Prediction: One (and only one) of these teams with first-year coaches will be granted bowl eligibility Saturday. After seeing what Purdue did in Iowa City last weekend, it now returns home and would seem to be a solid favorite to get it done. But that small point spread is a little curious. Indiana has won the last four meetings in the battle for the Old Oaken Bucket. Vegas usually knows. Indiana 27, Purdue 17
Penn State (9-2, 6-2) at Maryland (4-7, 2-6)
Time, TV: 2:30 p.m., Big Ten Network
Vegas line: Penn State by 22
Prediction: At No. 10 in the College Football Playoff rankings, Penn State has some motivation. A win, and the Nittany Lions are almost assuredly into a New Year’s Six bowl game. After an injury-riddled year, how much fight do the Terrapins have left? Look for Maryland to try to get Big Ten receiving yards leader D.J. Moore (with 933) over 1,000, while Penn State’s Trace McSorley (3,386 total yards, 83 ahead of Ohio State’s J.T. Barrett) aims to make his case as the league’s first-team quarterback. Penn State 38, Maryland 14
Wisconsin (11-0, 8-0) at Minnesota (5-6, 2-6)
Time, TV: 2:30 p.m., ABC
Vegas line: Wisconsin by 17
Prediction: Minnesota rewarded coach P.J. Fleck with a one-year contract extension this week, a vote of confidence for the energetic first-year coach. The Gophers are facing an uphill battle Saturday, in a very similar situation as 5-6 Nebraska was against 11-0 Iowa in 2015 – a team trying to record a signature upset for a first-year coach. Don’t be surprised if the Gophers find success on the ground. The Badgers should win, but they’re due for a bit of a letdown. Wisconsin 28, Minnesota 20
Michigan State (8-3, 6-2) at Rutgers (4-7, 3-5)
Time, TV: 3 p.m., Fox
Vegas line: Michigan State by 13½
Prediction: The Spartans are about to exactly reverse last year’s 3-9 record. A stingy defense should be able to hold down a Rutgers offense that has scored zero touchdowns and two field goals the past two weeks in losses to Penn State and Indiana. The Scarlet Knights will be lucky to gain 150 yards. Michigan State 24, Rutgers 7
Northwestern (8-3, 6-2) at Illinois (2-9, 0-8)
Time, TV: 3 p.m., Fox Sports 1
Vegas line: Northwestern by 16½
Prediction: You have to give props to Pat Fitzgerald. The Wildcats were 2-3 at one point, including an inexplicable performance at Duke. But they’re going to finish on an impressive seven-game winning streak after putting Illinois out of its misery on Saturday. The Illini haven’t scored more than 14 points in four straight games. As long as Northwestern can get to 31 against the Big Ten’s No. 13-ranked defense, it covers. Northwestern 31, Illinois 10
Last week: 6-1 vs. spread (6-1 straight-up)
Season: 48-38-1 vs. spread (66-22 straight-up)
Hawkeyes columnist Chad Leistikow has covered sports for 23 years with The Des Moines Register, USA TODAY and Iowa City Press-Citizen. Follow @ChadLeistikow on Twitter.