LINCOLN, Neb. – Think Nebraska is the only team with much to play for in today’s Heroes Game?
Iowa players rattle off a list of reasons why they are motivated for today’s 1:30 p.m. regular-season finale at Memorial Stadium.
For the Hawkeyes, there is a chance to head into a bowl game riding the momentum of a three-game win streak, an opportunity to finish with six Big Ten victories for the first time in three seasons and of course, the Heroes Trophy is on the line, hardware Iowa has held onto for the past four seasons.
But, the motivation for this group of Hawkeyes doesn’t stop there.
Ever since a two-point loss at Wisconsin halted Iowa’s ideas of playing in the Big Ten Championship Game, there have been other goals to chase.
At the heart of it all has been joining elite company in Hawkeye history.
Only eight teams among the first 130 Iowa football teams earned at least 10 victories in a season and since walking off of a rainy field at Camp Randall Stadium three weeks ago, there has been only one way to satisfy that objective.
“Win out, that’s the goal,’’ Iowa cornerback Michael Ojemudia said. “There’s only one way for us to get to 10 wins and that’s beat everybody on the rest of our schedule and win the bowl game.’’
So far, so good.
The Hawkeyes handed Minnesota its only loss of the season and grinded out a victory over Illinois since dropping the 24-22 decision to the Badgers.
Next up, Nebraska.
“We’ve done a good job of not getting ahead of ourselves and right now, the only thing that makes any difference at all is Nebraska,’’ Iowa quarterback Nate Stanley said.
“Since January, this team has been together and totally focused on being the best we can be each and every week. It’s about working hard all week and being ready to go when the game begins.’’
Stanley said the goal of working to become just the second Iowa team in the past decade to win 10 games has become something tangible for the Hawkeyes to work toward together.
“It’s one thing we can do as a team that would differentiate our team, the 2019 team, from other teams that we’ve been a part of,’’ Stanley said. “Ten wins, that’s a pretty special season.’’
Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz sees that big-picture goal as secondary to the primary goal of winning the week and finding a way to deal with Cornhuskers quarterback Adrian Martinez.
“That’s really what it gets down to, trying to get ready for this game, which means we need to utilize every minute,’’ Ferentz said. “Those kind of fantasy goals, think about those in your off time. We’ve got plenty of time to do that after this game, but it’s all a moot point if we don’t take are of what we do this week.’’
Martinez gave Iowa issues last season, rushing for 76 yards and challenging the Hawkeyes’ secondary with passes thrown on the run from the perimeter.
“When he gets out of the pocket and throws, he puts a lot of pressure on the cornerbacks in particular,’’ Ferentz said. “He’s an excellent athlete. We saw that firsthand a year ago.’’
Ferentz said the Hawkeyes have positioned themselves for the chance to keep some big-picture thoughts alive with the way they responded following the loss at Wisconsin.
He has seen a high-energy approach from his team in games and practice in the weeks since, something he said will need to carry over for the Hawkeyes today against a Nebraska team with no shortage of motivation.
Beyond the four-game losing streak to Iowa, including losses by 56-14 and 28-20 scores the last two times the teams have met in Lincoln, Nebraska becomes eligible for a bowl game if it can beat the Hawkeyes.
A 6-6 regular-season finish in coach Scott Frost’s second season isn’t what the Cornhuskers had in mind for 2019, but it still beats being left outside of the Big Ten’s collection of bowl teams for a third straight year.
“We know what is at stake,’’ Nebraska linebacker Collin Miller said. “… We haven’t won in a couple of years so we want to bring that back and show everyone that Nebraska is back here and Iowa and that we are here to stay.’’
Frost said he doesn’t want his team putting any additional emphasis on this game.
“Hopefully in a game like this, playing a really good team, last game of the year, you don’t need any more juice,’’ Frost said.
Bowl possibilities or not, Ferentz said he would expect the Cornhuskers to be on top of their game this week.
“We know what we’re walking into,’’ Ferentz said. “It won’t be easy at all.’’