IOWA CITY, Iowa – Picking the worst loss of the 2014 Iowa football season isn’t easy. It depends on who you ask. There are several excellent choices.
The 51-14 mauling at Minnesota comes up as does the 45-28 thumping by Tennessee in the Taxslayer Bowl. Then, there were close home setbacks to Iowa State and Wisconsin.
For the players and coaches, however, they’re in agreement on the defeat that sticks with them the most. It’s the second-half collapse against Nebraska at Kinnick Stadium eventually won by the Huskers, 37-34, in overtime.
“I wouldn’t rule (the ’14 season) a total catastrophe. We won seven ballgames. But I’ll go back to that last game in Kinnick. It just didn’t feel good,” Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz said after Saturday’s 40-20 win against Purdue pushed his team to an improbable 11-0 this fall.
The fifth-ranked Hawkeyes (7-0 Big Ten) wrap up the regular season on Friday at Nebraska. It’s a chance for Iowa to right a wrong after blowing a 24-7 lead with 8:45 left in last year’s third quarter. It serves as a microcosm of the program’s ’14 issues.
“It bugs everybody because our whole thing last year was about not finishing and this year we’ve been able to turn it around,” Hawkeye Senior Safety Jordan Lomax said.
Iowa has yet to trail in the fourth quarter in ’15. Some motivation for hard work in the off-season sprung from the failure to end things well against Nebraska a year ago.
“That was a game that showed how last season rounded up in that we couldn’t finish,” Running Back Jordan Canzeri said.
The Huskers (5-6 overall, 3-4 Big Ten) need a win against Iowa to become bowl eligible. Failure to do so would mark just the third time they’d be home for the holidays since 1969.
“The (’14 loss to the Huskers) will be in the back of our minds but our motivation is that we know that they want to knock us off,” Canzeri said. “We know that when we go in there that they want to take what we’ve worked really hard for to stay undefeated. That’s going to be our motivation, to continue the success that we’ve had.”
Nebraska comes into Friday’s action having won two games in a row, including a 39-38 victory against Top 10 Michigan State. It’s also coming off a bye.
“We’re playing a team that’s been sitting back all week watching us. We’ve got some ground to make up,” Ferentz said on Saturday.
The teams common opponents this campaign have been the other Big Ten West Division teams. Nebraska lost at home to Wisconsin and Northwestern and on the road to Illinois and Purdue.
The Huskers average 33.5 points per game, good for fourth best in the conference. Iowa is second (34.2). But while the Hawkeyes rank fifth in scoring defense among league teams at 18.5 PPG, Nebraska comes in 10th (27.7).
The Huskers also have lacked discipline this season. They’ve had the second most penalties (80) called against them, 25 more than Iowa.
The Hawkeyes are tied with Michigan State for the conference lead with a plus-11 takeaway margin. Nebraska sits second to last at a minus-10.
On paper, the numbers favor Iowa. It’s hard to gauge intangibles such as it being a trophy game, the Hawkeyes playing with a scar from last year’s meeting, Nebraska having home field needing a win for the postseason and knowing it can ruin Iowa’s perfect season, and on and on. They can play a role in these rivalries.
“It annoys us greatly just understanding the opportunity we would have had had we won that game,” Hawkeye Linebacker Josey Jewell said of the ’14. “We just have to come into the game tough and we have to finish strong”
Time, TV, Announcers: 2:30 p.m. CT Friday on ABC/ESPN2 with Adam Amin, Kelly Stouffer and Olivia Harlan.
The Series: Nebraska leads 46-36-3 after winning, 37-34, in overtime last season in Iowa City.
Betting Line: Iowa opened 3-point favorite Sunday at the Wynn in Las Vegas. The number dropped to 2.5 on Monday.
-Nebraska is 7-3 Against the Spread in its last 10 games versus a team with a winning record.
-Iowa is 13-3 ATS in its last 16 road games.
Match-up to Watch: While Nebraska’s defense is performing well below its longtime high standard, it holds up well against the rush. The Huskers rank fourth in the Big Ten allowing just 109.8 yards per game on the ground, 2.3 more than the third-rated Hawkeyes.
The teams that have most tested the Hawkeyes have slowed down the running game. Pittsburgh (105), Wisconsin (144) and Minnesota (133) all were positioned to win in the fourth quarter.
Iowa is as healthy as its been all season at running back and on the offense line. If it establishes the run in Lincoln, it chances of winning increase significantly.
Conversely, if Nebraska can slow the rush and force the Hawkeyes to pass in what could be windy conditions, the odds of the upset go up. That’s despite the Huskers’ pass defense allowing 305.5 yards per game, the second worst in the conference. Iowa thrives on running the football and wearing down the opponent.
Take Note: Iowa has 4,601 total yards of offense. It breaks down to 2,291 yards rushing, and 2,310 yards passing.
Take Note, Take Two: Iowa has six touchdown drives over 90 yards and 18 touchdown drives over 75 yards. .
Non-Sports Related: Kool-Aid was invented by Edwin Perkins in 1927 in Hastings, Nebraska. He changed his soft drink syrup, Fruit Smack, into a powder to make it easier to ship.
Did You Know: Marlon Brando was born in Omaha.
Did You Also Know: Nebraska averages 39 tornadoes a year.
Nebraska wins if…it can stop Iowa’s running game.
Iowa wins if…it continues to run the ball effectively.
Overview: Nebraska has captured three of the four Heroes games since joining the Big Ten before the ’11 season. Their average margin of victory has been by about a touchdown. Iowa won, 38-17, two years ago in Lincoln.
Maybe the Hawkeyes put it all together and roll at Memorial Stadium again. It just as easily could be a nail-biter.
Iowa clearly has been the better team this season. The Huskers’ shortcomings have left them in desperation mode and that’s what’s scary for the Hawkeyes.
When you peel away the layers and get beyond this being a storied Nebraska program supported by a great home environment, you see the Hawkeyes are facing a mediocre squad. This isn’t your early to mid-‘90s Huskers. Far from it.
If Iowa plays well and takes care of the football, it should win. We have plenty of evidence that it will.
PREDICTION: Iowa 38, Nebraska 34.