Huskers host Hawkeyes hoping to avoid worst season since 1961
LINCOLN, Neb. — The predicament in which Nebraska coach Mike Riley finds himself started in earnest with last year’s game against Iowa.
The Cornhuskers went into Iowa City 9-2, ranked No. 17 and with an ailing quarterback. Tommy Armstrong Jr. was awful, so was the defense, and the Hawkeyes rolled to a 40-10 victory — the beginning of the nine-losses-in-13-game stretch Nebraska is mired in as the teams get set to play Friday at Memorial Stadium.
“We were all unhappy with how that game went,” Riley said. “That’s why it would be great for this team to be able to put everything aside and finish on a real good note in what will be a real tough game.”
Win or lose, all signs point toward this being Riley’s last game at Nebraska. He’s 19-18 in three seasons, and Nebraska (4-7, 3-5 Big Ten) would finish with its fewest wins since 1961 if it loses for a third straight time to the Hawks.
Iowa (6-5, 3-5) has scored more than 19 points in just two of their eight Big Ten games, and they generated a combined 324 yards in losses to Wisconsin and Purdue the last two weeks. Those games followed a 55-24 win over Ohio State, with the Hawkeyes piling up 487 yards.
“A challenge, I think, in football can be how do you handle some success?” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said “And not only some success, but that was over the top. I don’t think anybody in the country saw it coming. Sometimes those challenges are as tough as the other ones. That’s why it’s so hard to predict what’s going to happen during the course of the season.”
Things to know about the 48th meeting of the teams, and the seventh since the teams began playing for the Heroes Trophy:
The Hawkeyes will go to a bowl, with the Music City in Nashville and the Pinstripe in New York possibilities.
Even if it beats Iowa, Nebraska’s Academic Progress Rate score does not put it in position for a bowl bid if five-win teams are needed to fill the 78 slots.
REMEMBERING BOB ELLIOTT
Both teams will remember Bob Elliott, with members of his family on hand. He began his coaching career as a graduate assistant at Iowa in 1976 and returned to Iowa City as an assistant from 1987-98. Elliott was hired to coach the Nebraska safeties last February and died of cancer in July at age 64.
Stanley Morgan Jr., who has caught 54 passes for 912 yards, needs 88 to become the first Nebraska receiver with 1,000 in a season. He needs 31 yards to break 1972 Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Rodgers single-season record of 942.
WADLEY NEARING 1,000
Iowa’s Akrum Wadley needs 138 yards to reach 1,000 rushing yards. He would become the fourth Hawkeye, and first since Fred Russell in 2002-03, to have back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons. Wadley had 105 yards on 11 carries against the Huskers last season.
Seven of Nebraska’s 11 opponents have had a 100-yard rusher, and the Huskers are 110th nationally and 13th in the Big Ten against the run.
Two Iowa starters, tight end Noah Fant and defensive tackle Nathan Bazata, will be playing in their home state. Fant, a sophomore from Omaha, has 25 catches and eight touchdowns. He chose Iowa over Nebraska in a heated recruiting battle. Bazata, a senior from Howells who played eight-man football in high school, has started 35 of 47 career games and has 39 tackles and three sacks this season. Iowa was the only FBS school to offer him a scholarship; Nebraska invited him to walk on.
Redshirt freshman backup center John Raridon of West Des Moines is the only scholarship player Nebraska has signed out of Iowa since 2008. Senior receiver Gabe Rahn of Le Mars was a walk-on who was put on scholarship this year. Freshman Ben Lingenfelter of Cherokee is a walk-on defensive lineman.