Four things the football teams from Nebraska and Iowa can do to position themselves for success in Friday's 12:30 p.m. game at Memorial Stadium:
Nebraska (3-8, 1-7)
1. Adjust quickly
The shoulder injury that will prevent Adrian Martinez from starting in the Heroes Game for a fourth straight year has forced the Cornhuskers to adjust this week. Redshirt freshman quarterback Logan Smothers has shown many of the same abilities that Martinez brings to the table, a strong, solid arm and quickness that led the Nebraska quarterback to also lead the team in rushing yardage. Smothers and true freshman Heinrich Haarberg are both getting first-team reps in practice this week and coach Scott Frost said it is possible that both will play against Iowa.
2. Set a defensive tone
Nebraska has shown defensive growth this season. The Cornhuskers held Ohio State to a season-low 26 points -- half of its current scoring average -- and have held four Big Ten opponents to 350 or fewer yards. Nebraska has allowed 143.4 rushing yards per game, a 26-yard improvement from 2020. A strong secondary led by Marquel Dismuke and Cam Taylor-Britt, players who combine for 60 career starts, and a 33-game starter in tackle Ben Stille lead a group which returned all 11 starters from a year ago. Linebackers Luke Reimer and Nick Henrich rank in the top six in the Big Ten in tackles.
3. Move the ball
Nebraska ranks 17th nationally in total offense, averaging 458.2 yards per game and balance has been big for the Cornhuskers, who average 272.6 yards through the air and 185.9 yards on the ground. The switch at quarterback will likely impact things for an offense that has 11 plays of 50 or more yards through 11 games. Samori Toure, a transfer from Montana State, leads Nebraska with 40 catches and 831 yards, and is complemented by the work of tight end Austin Allen, who has 36 receptions for 547 yards.
4. Find a way
The 2021 season has been a year filled with close calls for the Cornhuskers. For example, Nebraska was tied 28-28 at Wisconsin in the fourth quarter last weekend before falling 35-28. It marked this sixth loss the Cornhuskers have had this season in games decided by seven or fewer points in a season when Nebraska has struggled to find a way to win. That includes losing by seven to Oklahoma, three to Michigan State in overtime, three to Michigan, seven to Minnesota, five to Purdue and seven to Wisconsin.
Iowa (9-2, 6-2)
1. Establish the run
Iowa finally seems to be taking some steps forward on the ground, where more consistent line play has created holes for Tyler Goodson and Gavin Williams to work. Goodson enters Friday's game needing 55 yards to reach 1,000 for the season. The Hawkeyes' ability to keep the ball away from Nebraska, something Iowa did effectively with just over 34 minutes of possession time last week against Illinois, will be important.
2. Win the turnover battle
Takeaways and creating short fields for the offense to work on have been critical contributions made by the Hawkeye defense this season. Led by a Big Ten-best five interceptions from Dane Belton, Iowa continues to lead the nation with 21 picks this season. Including fumble recoveries, the Hawkeyes rank fourth nationally with 26 takeaways. With a quarterback making his starting debut, opportunities may exist for Iowa to add to those numbers this week. Nebraska enters the game ranked 96th nationally in turnover margin.
3. Continue to be special
Iowa has a statistical edge on special teams entering this game. It starts with the leg of Caleb Shudak, 18-of-21 in field goal tries this season while the two kickers the Cornhuskers have used have combined to hit 8-of-16 attempts. Charlie Jones could also be positioned for a big game. Nebraska ranks 116th in country in yards allowed on kick returns and 78th on punt return yards allowed. The Hawkeyes rank in the top 20 in both areas.
4. Be Heroes again
Iowa has kept Nebraska winless in its last six Black Friday match-ups with the Hawkeyes. Margins the last three years have been slim with an average four-point win by Iowa. The Hawkeyes have excelled in trophy games, both against the Cornhuskers and in general. Iowa is 7-3 against Nebraska since the Heroes Trophy was first presented and is 21-5 in its most recent rivalry trophy games against Iowa State, Minnesota, Nebraska and Wisconsin. The Hawkeyes have also strung together eight consecutive wins in games played on Friday.