Undefeated Iowa will take on the Nebraska Cornhuskers on Friday as the Hawkeyes attempt to cap off a perfect season.
LINCOLN, Neb. — Five key areas to watch in Friday's regular-season finale, as Iowa tries to beat 5-6 Nebraska to reach 12-0 on the year:
Playing with the lead
Iowa has not trailed in a game since the sixth week of the season.
“That is remarkable,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. “It doesn’t feel like that on the sideline, I can tell you that. We’re winning, and I’m just churning. You never feel comfortable.”
Illinois took a 7-6 lead with 6 minutes, 29 seconds remaining in the first quarter on Oct. 10, and held it until Jordan Canzeri’s 17-yard touchdown at the 7:50 mark of the second quarter. Iowa has not trailed for 337 minutes, 10 seconds.
For the season, the Hawkeyes have trailed a total of 55:15, and never by more than seven points.
Iowa has had a one-touchdown lead or less in the fourth quarter of six games this season, and won them all.
“We’ve done a pretty good job in the second half and closed games out pretty well,” Ferentz said.
Big Red challenge
Nebraska is fourth in the Big Ten, and 10th nationally, in rushing defense. The Cornhuskers allow just 109.8 yards a game.
Nebraska’s defensive front is anchored by tackles Maliek Collins (eight sacks, 22 tackles for a loss) and Vincent Valentine (seven sacks, 16 TFL) and end Greg McMullen (nine sacks, 19 TFL).
“They’re big, athletic guys, and they can move,” Iowa center Austin Blythe said. “They’re really good athletes, really good football players and they like to play. We’ll just have to get after them and play harder and longer than they do.”
Iowa is second in the Big Ten in rushing at 208.2 yards a game. The most yards Nebraska has allowed in a game this season is 183 by Purdue.
“They've got an NFL defensive line, period; and those two guys inside — if anybody has got a better combination, nationally — the first thing I think of is the LSU group that we played two years ago,” Ferentz said.
Iowa and Nebraska play for the Heroes Game Trophy on Friday. The Hawkeyes have already won four trophies to date — the Cy-Hawk (Iowa State), Heartland (Wisconsin), Floyd of Rosedale (Iowa) and the Big Ten West Division.
“This is a game between two hard teams and two physical defenses that are going for a trophy,” Iowa cornerback Desmond King said. “The trophy stands for just being toughest, most physical and smartest team on the field.”
Iowa defensive tackle Jaleel Johnson has been getting double-teamed as the season has gone on, and getting pressure on the quarterback hasn’t been effective in recent games.
“It’s frustrating, but you’ve got to keep working,” Johnson said. “You can’t take any plays off.”
Iowa’s defense has allowed more than 400 yards in each of the past three games and had just one sack in each of those games. The Hawkeye defense also will be challenged to contain Nebraska quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr., who is mobile and will challenge the edge.
“He can make plays with his arm and his feet,” Johnson said. “If we can keep him contained, it will be a good day for our defense.”
Armstrong has completed 54.7 percent of his pass attempts for 2,560 yards and 21 touchdowns. He’s also thrown 12 interceptions, as many as he had all last season. Armstrong is especially dangerous when scrambling.
“They are one of those teams that like to scramble out of the pocket and try to make a play downfield,” King said. “That’s where most of their big plays have come this year, on deep-ball threats, (Armstrong) not being contained and receivers being smart enough to get upfield and get open.”