Brown: Different brands of intense pressure for Iowa, Nebraska
LINCOLN, Neb. — Nebraska is playing for its bowl life Friday at Memorial Stadium.
But No. 3 Iowa has some motivation, too.
“They’re playing for a lot,” Iowa quarterback C.J. Beathard said. “At the same time, we’re playing for a lot, if not more, than they are.”
The Hawkeyes are playing for the school’s first undefeated regular season since 1922. Playing for a school-record 12th victory. Playing to keep alive the possibility of a berth in the College Football Playoff.
“We’ve got a whole heck of a lot on the line,” center Austin Blythe said. “At the same time, it starts with Nebraska. And we have to go through those guys.”
Nebraska is 5-6 overall and 3-4 in the Big Ten. Four of those losses were on their opponents’ final possession, evidence that this is not a team to take lightly.
Of all of Iowa’s strengths this season, taking no one lightly is at the top of the list. Coach Kirk Ferentz has preached a one-game-at-a-time mentality, and his team has bought in.
But one game at a time carries more weight Friday than it ever has for a team sitting at No. 4 in the CFP rankings. A victory over the Cornhuskers, and another one Dec. 5 in the Big Ten Championship game, and the Hawkeyes will likely be in football’s Final Four.
But it all comes down, like a house of cards, if Iowa doesn’t care of business against Nebraska.
“From this point on, every game is an elimination game for us,” Blythe said.
Beathard said it feels like the playoffs started weeks ago, when every game carried extra weight. Not just the playoffs, but securing a trip to Indianapolis. The Hawkeyes handled those challenges with a businesslike approach.
“Good teams do it,” Ferentz said.
Good teams don’t dwell on excuses, either, like short weeks against a team coming off a bye week.
“At the end of the day, it won't decide the game,” Ferentz said. “We both have had a bye week this year. We've both played 11 games, so I think we're on the same page. This is as healthy as we've been. We're not looking for excuses.”
It gets harder to breathe, the closer you get to the top of the mountain.
“The better things get, the more distractions there are out there for everybody to take them off course of what makes you successful,” Ferentz said. “I think that's really the challenge that we're trying to deal with right now.”
One more challenge to scale on the climb to regular-season perfection.
Hawkeye columnist Rick Brown is a 10-time Iowa Sportswriter of the Year. Follow him on Twitter: @ByRickBrown.