Iowa looks for another upset at home
By LUKE MEREDITH
AP Sports Writer
IOWA CITY — With a win and some help from Minnesota, 17th-ranked Nebraska will play for a Big Ten title next week.
But the Cornhuskers (9-2, 6-2 Big Ten, No. 16 CFP) will have to find a way to beat Iowa on the road Friday without knowing what they have at quarterback.
Starter Tommy Armstrong Jr. missed last week’s game with a hamstring injury. Backup Ryker Fyfe broke his non-throwing wrist after helping Nebraska beat Maryland 28-7 in Armstrong’s absence. The Huskers third-stringer is Zack Darlington, a wide receiver forced to take practice snaps as a signal-caller so the program can preserve Patrick O’Brien’s redshirt.
The hope for Nebraska is that Armstrong will be healthy enough by Friday to give it a go. But hamstrings can be tricky, and facing one of the Big Ten’s best defenses with a banged up second-stringer wouldn’t be easy, either.
“We’ll need our best defense for sure. It’s going to be physical,” Nebraska coach Mike Riley said on Monday. “I also think we have to rally offensively and have a nice plan. We’ll have all the other parts ready to go.”
Iowa (7-4, 5-3) is set at quarterback with senior C.J. Beathard. But the Hawkeyes had to overcome major issues in the passing game in recent wins over Michigan and Illinois, throwing for just 146 yards in the last two weeks.
Iowa survived thanks largely to a revived defense led by star cornerback Desmond King and Josey Jewell, arguably the best linebacker in the Big Ten.
For once, weather shouldn’t be an issue for this annual late November matchup. But, as usual, defense will likely decide a series in which 28 points or less has been enough to win in four of the last five meetings.
Here are some of the keys to follow as the Huskers look to stay alive in the Big Ten West title chase.
Even with a win, Nebraska will need Minnesota to beat No. 5 Wisconsin to move onto the championship game next week in Indianapolis. The Badgers will be at home on Saturday, and they’re 15-point favorites.
Iowa running backs Akrum Wadley and LeShun Daniels Jr. have 861 and 855 yards, respectively, and are in a healthy competition to see which one of them can get to 1,000 first. “That’d be pretty cool if both of us get it. I think one of us probably gets it,” Daniels said. “I think it’s doable.” But Nebraska’s rush defense is stingy, allowing just 130 yards a game.
At 9-2, Nebraska already has made a four-win improvement in its regular-season record from last season. With a win over Iowa, the Huskers would join the 1899 and 1961 teams as the only ones to make a five-win improvement from one season to the next.
The Hawkeyes haven’t allowed a point in their last 70 minutes of playing time and are allowing just 18.6 per game, which is fourth-best in the Big Ten. Iowa has had to lean on its defense because its offense is 121st nationally with just 326.5 yards per game. “The objective is having at least one more point than your opponent. We’ve been able to do that two weeks in a row, so that’s been a real team effort,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said.
PINK IS FINE FOR BIG RED
Nebraska had no plans to redecorate Kinnick Stadium’s visiting locker room to cover its notorious pink walls. Michigan’s equipment staff did a makeover before the Wolverines’ Nov. 12 visit, putting up maize and blue pictures, flags and phrases. Iowa won 14-13.
“I don’t think that that worked out so well for Michigan,” Riley said.