Leistikow's Week 13 Big Ten picks: It's all about the defense for Hawkeyes on Black Friday

Chad Leistikow
Hawk Central

Iowa’s defense won’t ever face Trace McSorley again. Good thing, because the outgoing Penn State quarterback went 3-0 against the Hawkeyes.

But Iowa players and even head coach Kirk Ferentz feel like they’re going to see another version of McSorley in Friday’s 11 a.m., Fox-televised Black Friday showdown with Nebraska at Kinnick Stadium.

Cornhuskers freshman Adrian Martinez is a do-it-all quarterback who — when humming — can light up opposing defenses.

Nebraska quarterback Adrian Martinez has gotten better as the season has progressed and needs 90 yards of total offense against Iowa to reach 3,000 for his freshman season.

“They’re almost the same quarterback in their style,” Iowa linebacker Djimon Colbert said. “He can run, and he’s a pretty good thrower, too. We know he’s young. But he is making big plays for them.”

Only five FBS quarterbacks since 1990 have averaged more than 200 passing yards and 50 rushing yards as true freshmen, and Martinez (with averages of 235.7 and 55.3) is on pace to be the sixth. The previous three to do it? Marcus Mariota (2012), Johnny Manziel (2012) and J.T. Barrett (2014).

That’s elite collegiate company, and a reflection of how Nebraska’s high-powered offense under Scott Frost runs through its 18-year-old quarterback — who is flanked by a 1,000-yard running back (Devine Ozigbo) and two of the best receivers (Stanley Morgan Jr. and J.D. Spielman, who is questionable to play) Iowa has faced all year.

"They've got designed runs, designed options, those types of things, and then also he'll pull it down and go,” Ferentz said. “You really have to respect that part of it, and he's done a good job throwing it. He's got good guys to throw it to."

Until facing (and beating) Michigan State in windy, snowy conditions last weekend, Nebraska had piled up at least 450 yards in five consecutive games.

Is Phil Parker’s Iowa defense up to the challenge?

It’ll all come down to containing big plays — making Martinez inch his way down the field. When Iowa played high-powered rushing teams Maryland and Illinois, it didn’t allow a single play longer than 19 yards — and recorded shutouts against both.

Both programs are placing a lot of importance on this game.

Nebraska (4-7, 3-5 Big Ten Conference) wants to confirm its presence as a 2019 West Division contender with a 5-1 finish after its 0-6 start.

Iowa (7-4, 4-4), a 10-point favorite, wants to continue its recent stranglehold on the Heroes Trophy. Its only loss against Nebraska since that ugly 4-8 season in 2012 was here in 2014 when it squandered a 17-point second-half lead.

I expect both teams to fight to the finish; these aren't Mike Riley's Cornhuskers on Thanksgiving fumes. 

I’m sticking with the same score I predicted in August: That Iowa pulls one out on a late touchdown pass to Mackey Award finalist T.J. Hockenson to finish 8-4.

Prediction: Iowa 29, Nebraska 28

Now, onto the slate of Saturday Big Ten games, starting with the game of the year (all times CT):

No. 4 Michigan (10-1, 8-0) at No. 10 Ohio State (10-1, 7-1)

Time, TV: 11 a.m., Fox

Vegas line: Michigan by 4½

Prediction: The Wolverines are favored to collect their first win in Columbus since 2000. Understandable, because Ohio State just hasn’t looked that great in what’s been a tumultuous year with the Urban Meyer suspension, Nick Bosa leaving midseason to focus on the NFL and that embarrassing loss at Purdue. Yet here the Buckeyes are, one home win away from a Big Ten East championship. If anything can get Ohio State to play up to its talent level, it’s a rivalry game — especially when opposing running back Karan Higdon guarantees a Michigan victory. The Wolverines finally have a stud quarterback in Shea Patterson that they’ve lacked in "The Game" under Jim Harbaugh. And they’ve certainly got the better and more physical defense — Michigan’s 3.97 yards per play allowed ranks second in the country; Ohio State’s 5.97 ranks 92nd. Michigan is on its way to Indianapolis and the College Football Playoff. Michigan 31, Ohio State 24

Purdue (5-6, 4-4) at Indiana (5-6, 2-6)

Time, TV: 11 a.m., ESPN2

Vegas line: Purdue by 4

Prediction: The battle for the Old Oaken Bucket will grant bowl eligibility to one team, finish the season for the other. Both programs suffered tough losses a week ago — Purdue in triple overtime against Wisconsin, Indiana in a valiant road effort at Michigan. Who’s got more left in the tank? The Boilermakers have the far better coach in Jeff Brohm, even if he might have one foot out the door for the Louisville job. Purdue 35, Indiana 24

Maryland (5-6, 3-5) at No. 14 Penn State (8-3, 5-3)

Time, TV: 2:30 p.m., ABC

Vegas line: Penn State by 13½

Prediction: Add Maryland to the list of teams that spent a slew of emotions last week. It’s been a roller-coaster year for the Terrapins, who nearly pulled the stunner against Ohio State before falling, 52-51, in overtime. Penn State’s front seven should be able to hold up against Maryland’s feast-or-famine running game. Trace McSorley will enjoy a winning send-off in his final game at Beaver Stadium. Penn State 31, Maryland 14

Illinois (4-7, 2-6) at No. 21 Northwestern (7-4, 7-1)

Time, TV: 2:30 p.m., Big Ten Network

Vegas line: Northwestern by 17

Prediction: The Fighting Illini are coming off their worst loss in school history, a 63-0 home pasting against Iowa. Pat Fitzgerald’s Wildcats keep plugging along. Illinois’ best weapon is its running game, and Northwestern’s best players are at linebacker with Paddy Fisher and Blake Gallagher. The question is whether the Wildcats, who typically play tight game (even against Rutgers), can cover the big number; their largest victory margin of the season is 14 points. Northwestern 28, Illinois 14

Minnesota (5-6, 2-6) at Wisconsin (7-4, 5-3)

Time, TV: 2:30 p.m., ESPN2

Vegas line: Wisconsin by 10½

Prediction: Wisconsin fell far short of expectations this season, but a triple-overtime win at Purdue without quarterback Alex Hornibrook (concussion) provided a boost. The Badgers can accomplish two more things Saturday: Win Paul Bunyan’s Axe for the 15th consecutive year and get running back Jonathan Taylor to the 2,000-yard mark (he needs 131 to get there). Wisconsin 31, Minnesota 24

Rutgers (1-10, 0-8) at Michigan State (6-5, 4-4)

Time, TV: 3 p.m., Fox

Vegas line: Michigan State by 27

Prediction: Chris Ash, 7-27 as Rutgers’ coach, got a vote of confidence from his administration this week and looks to be returning for a fourth season. The Scarlet Knights are riding an 11-game conference losing streak. Michigan State is just trying to get to the finish line in what’s been an injury-filled season. Michigan State 27, Rutgers 10

Leistikow's ledger

Last week: 4-3 against the spread (6-1 straight up)

Season: 42-46 ATS (60-30 SU)

Career: 95-87-1 ATS (132-51 SU)

Hawkeyes columnist Chad Leistikow has covered sports for 24 years with The Des Moines Register, USA TODAY and Iowa City Press-Citizen. Follow @ChadLeistikow on Twitter.