That headline would have been impossible to imagine just a month ago. On October 22, Iowa sat at 3-4 after a 54-10 rout at the hands of Ohio State, and the Hawkeyes would have been simply happy to go to a bowl game. But now they’ve won four straight, and all they have to do is win one more game to repeat as Big Ten West champions.
That one game comes against Nebraska in Iowa City, and the Hawkeyes enter having won seven straight against the Cornhuskers. Those wins have not come easily, as Iowa’s average margin of victory in the past four meetings is just 4.8 points.
So, while Nebraska does an excellent job of pushing Iowa, the Huskers also do an excellent job of finding ways to lose each time against the Hawkeyes. Here’s what Iowa must do to pick up another win over its western rival.
— Hawkeye Football (@HawkeyeFootball) December 3, 2021
Get Off to a Fast Start
Iowa needs to make sure that Nebraska knows right away who the better team is. The Huskers have no hope at a bowl game, so they will play hard for as long as they have reason to play hard. The Huskers will fight hard on every play if they believe they can send their seniors out with a win. If they don’t have any chance to earn a win, the Huskers might slack off and allow this to become a rout.
The Hawkeyes need to put any thoughts of an upset out of the Huskers’ minds. The last thing that Iowa wants to have to do is have to come from behind, especially with how much the offense has struggled this season.
Iowa outscored Nebraska 19-0 in the fourth quarter last season, but this year’s team really isn’t built that way. These Hawkeyes are much better suited to play a game like last week’s matchup with Minnesota.
In that game, Iowa built a 10-0 lead and never had to play from behind against the Gophers. The Hawkeyes didn’t score again until the end of the game, but the defense did just enough to keep them from having to play from behind.
That kept Iowa’s whole playbook intact and allowed the Hawkeyes to focus on doing what they do best. An early lead would be big for Iowa’s chances of picking up its eighth win of the season.
𝘽𝙚 𝙀𝘼𝙍𝙇𝙔 𝙖𝙣𝙙 𝙗𝙚 𝙇𝙊𝙐𝘿 𝙤𝙣 𝙁𝙧𝙞𝙙𝙖𝙮.
— Hawkeye Football (@HawkeyeFootball) November 23, 2022
Establish the Run
Iowa’s running attack didn’t do much of anything against Minnesota, but the Golden Gophers feature an excellent run defense. The Hawkeyes barely topped two yards per carry against Minnesota, but Nebraska’s defense is much weaker against the run and should provide little resistance against Kaleb Johnson and Leshon Williams as long as one of them gets started early.
And that’s something that Iowa will have to do: commit to the ground game. The Hawkeyes haven’t always had a big commitment to the ground-based style of football that’s common in the Big Ten West, but it’s going to be mandatory in this game. The Huskers don’t stop the run well at all, and Wisconsin proved that if you have a good ground game, you can put up numbers against Nebraska.
Iowa doesn’t have that, but the Hawkeyes should still get the job done against a defense that historically hasn’t stopped them very well. Nebraska doesn’t want to get drawn into a smashmouth matchup, which hasn’t usually gone well for them. If Iowa wins the battle at the line, it should win this game comfortably.
— Hawkeye Football (@HawkeyeFootball) November 22, 2022
Make the Big Special Teams Play
Let’s be honest: if Iowa doesn’t block a punt at the start of the fourth quarter in Lincoln last year, it doesn’t win that game. Nebraska had the game in control until Iowa made a big play on special teams, and given that the Huskers are used to playing tight, low-scoring games, it might take another big play on special teams to make the difference here.
That’s exactly the kind of game that Iowa loves and Nebraska hates. The Hawkeyes usually beat the Huskers in large part because Iowa emphasizes special teams and Nebraska does not. In the past several years, Nebraska has failed to emphasize special teams as an important part of the game, which helps Iowa to make its move when the teams meet on the field.
Without really trying to do so, Iowa has written the blueprint for how to handle Nebraska. The things that the Hawkeyes already emphasized long before Nebraska joined the Big Ten are also the things that lead Iowa to victory against the Huskers.
Iowa has made its living on letting the other team hand them the game, and since Scott Frost was hired in Lincoln, the Huskers have only been too happy to do that.
— Hawkeye Football (@HawkeyeFootball) November 21, 2022
The result is that Iowa is well-equipped to handle the Huskers one more time and make an improbable trip to Indianapolis.
That game probably won’t go well for Iowa, as they’d face Ohio State or Michigan, both of whom rolled past them earlier this year.
Still, just making it to Indy would be a major success for the Hawkeyes, given where this year started.
— Hawkeye Football (@HawkeyeFootball) November 20, 2022