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Iowa-Nebraska preview: The power of lucky No. 7

[ 0 ] November 28, 2013 |

LINCOLN, Neb. –  Any way you spin it, sevens keep showing up.

Iowa’s football team has won seven games heading into Friday’s 11 a.m. battle with Nebraska at Memorial Stadium. To reach eight for the first time since 2010, two things likely have to happen.

First, the Hawkeyes have to score more than seven points. Since the inception of the Heroes Game Trophy in 2011, Nebraska has defeated Iowa by scores of 20-7 and 13-7.

Secondly, it would help if Iowa can roll up at least 400 yards of total offense for the seventh time this season.

Add it all up, and Iowa could hit this trifecta: eight victories for the first time since 2010; a tie for second in the Big Ten’s Legends Division; and an improved bowl standing.

With Friday’s game against the Cornhuskers (8-3, 5-2) and the 11th bowl game of the Kirk Ferentz era left to go, the Iowa coach still dances around this question: Has the program turned the corner?

“We’ve been getting judged all along,” Ferentz said. “I’m sure we’ll continue to be judged. But it’s like I said in the spring or even in August. Let’s wait until the book’s finally written, then we can go back and look at it.”

Asked to circle the biggest area of improvement this season, Ferentz has continually pointed to the defensive line. The front four, anchored by tackles Louis Trinca-Pasat and Carl Davis, and senior linebackers James Morris, Anthony Hitchens and Christian Kirksey, have been stubborn and tenacious much of the season.

Iowa’s defense has allowed more than 400 yards just once in the last five games. The Hawkeyes yielded at least 400 yards in five straight games heading into last season’s game with Nebraska.

Iowa is 10th nationally in total defense, at 304.5 yards a game, and 20th in rushing defense, at 123.6. Just three players – Carlos Hyde and Braxton Miller of Ohio State and James White of Wisconsin – have rushed for at least 100 yards. Six players did it a season ago.

The Cornhuskers’ Ameer Abdullah, who has rushed for at least 100 yards in 10 of 11 games and is averaging a league-best 134.8 yards a game against Big Ten foes, will be a challenge.

Iowa’s offense, in a second season under coordinator Greg Davis, deserves some credit for this season’s return to respectability. After reaching 400 yards of total offense just twice last season, both against non-conference foes, Iowa has done it six times this season – three times against Big Ten teams.

“We’ve gone through a pretty significant change here over the last two years,” Ferentz said. “We’ve had six new coaches join the staff, so we’re kind of retooling here for the second shift if you will. It’s been a process. And I think the guys are certainly better versed in what we’re trying to do now.”

Scoring is up, from 19.3 points a game to 26.4. Total offense per game has jumped from 310.4 to 398.7. And touchdown passes have increased from seven to 16.

“Every single game, we’ve gotten better,” quarterback Jake Rudock said. “Just having a bunch of games helps to get that cohesiveness.”

Iowa’s offensive line, riddled with injuries last season, has made it through this season relatively healthy. Anchored by left tackle Brandon Scherff, Iowa has allowed 10 sacks, compared to 22 a year ago.

“There’s no question the development of the (offensive) line has helped a lot,” Ferentz said.

Ferentz said the receivers have also made progress, and depth at running back has helped. Rudock has been unfazed by mistakes and gotten better, too.

“A lot of positives, certainly more than year ago,” Ferentz said.

Nebraska’s defense hasn’t been the Blackshirts of old, but they’ve made life miserable for the Hawkeyes the last two seasons.

In 24 Iowa possessions over those two games, 13 of them lasted five plays or less with six three-and-outs. Iowa has averaged just 235 yards of total offense, rushed for an average of 98 yards and completed only 27 of 59 passes with three interceptions while converting on just seven of 27 third-down situations.

Iowa has also turned it over four times over the last two games with Nebraska. The Hawkeyes survived a four-turnover game in last week’s 24-21 victory against Michigan.

“If we turn it over four times (Friday),” Ferentz said, “nobody is going to be smiling coming out of the stadium.”

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Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football

About Rick Brown: Rick Brown covers men's basketball for The Des Moines Register and Hawk Central. He's married and the father of two. He also covers golf for the Register. View author profile.

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