Hawkeyes host Nebraska, with perceptions at stake
IOWA CITY, Ia. – A victory Friday will solidify our perception of the 2014 Iowa football team.
Knocking off rival Nebraska in an 11 a.m. showdown at Kinnick Stadium would give the Hawkeyes a solid season, despite failing to meet early expectations.
Lose, and the past three months will be an undeniable disappointment — regardless of what happens in any bowl game.
In other words, there's an unmistakable gap between 8-4 and 7-5.
"We want to go out with a win," senior safety John Lowdermilk said. "We want to beat Nebraska and we want to keep the (Heroes) Trophy.
"I think it's huge."
It's been difficult to figure out this group. Rout Indiana one week, get rolled by Maryland the next. Push around Northwestern, then get pummeled by Minnesota.
This should be a time when Iowa (7-4 overall, 4-3 Big Ten) is speculating about possible postseason destinations.
Instead, no one is sure which version of the Hawkeyes will show up from week to week.
"If you're 7-5, you're not going to a very good bowl game," running back Mark Weisman said. "If you're 8-4, you're going to a pretty good bowl game."
Some national pundits (such as ESPN's Mark Schlabach) have Iowa heading to the Holiday Bowl (Dec. 27 in San Diego, Calif.)
In order for such sunny projections to come true, the Hawkeyes need to defeat the Cornhuskers (8-3, 4-3) in a chilly home finale.
The forecast calls for temperatures in the 30s and wind gusts around 20 mph.
"Ending with a win is always big," Weisman said, "especially against a great team like Nebraska."
Weisman is being kind.
The Cornhuskers generally aspire to even loftier standards than Iowa, but consecutive losses to Wisconsin and Minnesota the past two weeks made their season a flop.
The primary subplot for Nebraska is whether Bo Pelini will remain as coach.
"I turn over every stone and I'm looking to try to get over the proverbial hump," Pelini told reporters. "I know this — and I think it's one of the great things about being here — people aren't going to be happy until you win them all.
"And you know what, neither am I."
Hawkeye coach Kirk Ferentz can probably relate.
Iowa was also viewed as a contender for the Big Ten's West Division title, and Ferentz was leery about attaching success to a specific victory total.
"We'll talk about all that stuff later on," he said. "Right now, 8‑4 would be great because that's the best we can do.
"That's our goal."
To accomplish this, the Hawkeyes will have to pick apart a Cornhuskers unit that is allowing just 193.2 yards per game and a completion percentage of 47.3 and ranks second in the Big Ten when it comes to pass defense efficiency.
Sophomore quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr. directs the offense, averaging 5.2 yards per rush and 15.1 per pass completion.
Armstrong is helping Nebraska convert 43 percent of its third-down chances, while opponents have been successful on just 28.3 percent of their opportunities.
"We're playing a talented football team," Ferentz said. "Very dynamic, very athletic, very skilled."