lee photo

Nebraska starting quarterback candidate Tanner Lee talks with offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf during a Cornhuskers practice.

Francis Gardler, LEE NEWS NETWORK

Four things the football teams from Iowa and Nebraska can do to put themselves in a position for success in Friday's 3 p.m. game at Memorial Stadium:

Nebraska (4-7, 3-5)

1. Move forward, step by step

The Cornhuskers had plenty of questions on the offensive line entering this season.

Twelve weeks in, Nebraska is still searching for answers that might produce a more productive rushing attack.

Injuries and inexperience have combined to lead to unproductive season on the ground for Nebraska, which ranks 13th in the Big Ten and 118th out of 130 Bowl Championship Subdivision teams in rushing the football.

The Cornhuskers average 3.5 yards per carry, matching the Hawkeyes' average per attempt on the ground, and have failed to reach 100 rushing yards in four of their last five games, topping out at 112 yards in an overtime loss to Northwestern.

Devine Ozigbo and Mikale Wilbon, both juniors, have lead Nebraska's rushing attack this season. Ozigbo, a 6-foot, 230-pounder, rushes for 53.3 yards per game and is the bulldozer of the pair. Wilbon averages 34 yards.

2. Ride the horse

Tanner Lee arrived at Nebraska from Tulane with plenty of fanfare and the 6-4, 220-pound junior quarterback has put up big numbers.

One them -- 13 interceptions -- is too big and is the highest number of picks thrown by a Big Ten quarterback this season.

He's also put the ball in the hands of a solid group of receivers a number of times.

Nebraska's passing offense is the third-most productive in the Big Ten, averaging 284.5 yards per game.

Lee has gotten there by throwing 387 passes, the second most of any QB in the conference, completing 224. His 2,938 passing yards are topped in the Big Ten only by Penn State's Trace McSorley and he does have 21 touchdown passes on the season.

JD Spielman, a redshirt freshman who has missed practice time this week with a shoulder injury, Stanley Morgan and De'Mornay Pierson-El have combined to catch 151 passes this season and have been on the receiving end 15 of Lee's touchdown passes.

3. Tackle somebody

Want to turn the face of a Nebraska fan as red as one of the school colors? Ask about the Cornhuskers' defense this season.

Nebraska shifted to a 3-4 defensive alignment this season and brought in former Hawkeye Bob Diaco to implement it.

To suggest it has been a smooth transition is to suggest that the Titanic bumped a small iceberg.

Diaco has publicly complained about the Cornhuskers' lack of technical tackling skills and as the 205.8 yards per game Nebraska opponents are rushing for might suggest, there is plenty of evidence to back up his claim.

Size isn't an issue up front, where the Cornhuskers average 297 pounds, but consistency in performance has been a struggle. Inside linebacker Chris Weber leads Nebraska with 88 tackles and eight tackles for a loss. Ben Stille, a redshirt freshman outside linebacker leads the team with 3.5 sacks.

4. Play for the moment

The chance to reclaim the Heartland Trophy and beat a rival is about the only thing left for Nebraska.

Iowa has claimed the last two games and three of the last four in the series, winning 38-17 in Lincoln in 2013, 28-20 in 2015 and 40-10 last season in Iowa City.

The Cornhuskers find themselves in need of a win on Friday to avoid the program's first season with fewer than five victories since 1961, something that has the seat of coach Mike Riley red hot.

As Riley has attempted to steer thoughts away from his job status, Cornhuskers players have spent this week talking about wanting to play for the team's 22 seniors and making the most of their final game at Memorial Stadium.

These situations have a tendency to create weird dynamics. Will the Huskers play for their coach, for themselves or simply be ready to call it a year? The first quarter may provide a few hints.

Iowa (6-5, 3-5)

1. Establish the run

Easier said than done throughout the 2017 season, Iowa really needs to get something going on the ground if for no other reason than to restore a bit of confidence in the rushing attack after a pair of struggle-filled performances.

The Hawkeyes have been held to fewer than 100 yards on the ground in each of their five losses this season. In Iowa's five wins, they have topped that mark.

Iowa sits one notch ahead of Nebraska on the Big Ten rushing charts, rating 12th in the conference at 126.9 yards per game. The Hawkeyes match Nebraska's per carry average of 3.5 yards, illustrative of Iowa's issues this season.

When the Hawkeyes have moved the ball on the ground, Akrum Wadley has been the game. The senior enters the Nebraska game needing 138 yards to become just the fourth Iowa player to rush for 1,000 in back-to-back seasons and the first to accomplish it since Fred Russell in 2002 and 2003.

2. Give Stanley a chance

If nothing else, Iowa's sophomore quarterback has been resilient.

Nate Stanley got back up after being sacked six times last week against Purdue and kept on slinging.

He'll need better pass protection than he received a week ago if Iowa hopes to avoid a repeat of last week's fate when Boilermaker defenders found an express lane open the Hawkeye quarterback.

Stanley is averaging 195.1 passing yards per game and has completed 175-of-316 passes for 2,146 yards. His 23 touchdown passes are four shy of a school single-season record and his six interceptions are the fewest among the top eight passers in the Big Ten.

But, he needs a chance to make that work and that involves more productive games from Iowa receivers, who have dealt with multiple drops the past two weeks.

Nebraska will likely follow the road map laid out by Wisconsin that Purdue caught on to last week as well. After watching tight ends Noah Fant and T.J. Hockenson combine for nine catches against Ohio State, Iowa's last two opponents have limited Fant and Hockenson to six catches totaling 56 yards.

3. Prepare for an air raid

Purdue found a hole in the Hawkeye defense and Nebraska has the receiver talent to continue to challenge it.

Iowa burnt through four players at right cornerback during the third quarter of last week's game with the Boilermakers and with Josh Jackson moving back to the left side, true freshman Matt Hankins is expected to make his first start on the right side against Nebraska.

The Hawkeyes' challenge in denying Tanner Lee a chance to get comfortable in the pocket is a collective one, beginning up front and extending to the secondary.

Lee has averaged 37.9 pass attempts per game, something that will keep defensive backs busy in the regular-season finale.

4. Right the ship

Several Iowa players said they felt there was a lack of energy in last week's effort against Purdue.

They said they could see it on tape, extending to the point of players from one segment of the team congratulating players on the other side of the ball after a good play.

To a degree, following high-octane energy efforts against Ohio State and Wisconsin that is understandable. There wasn't a lot of adrenaline left in the tank and it showed.

That falls on leadership within the game and the ability of those players to regenerate enthusiasm heading into Iowa's third trophy game in five weeks will be important, particularly against an opponent that has been struggling to the degree that Nebraska has struggled this season.

The Hawkeyes can only help themselves this week by showing up ready to compete.

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