By DARREN MILLER
IOWA CITY, Iowa — A short week of preparation is made more difficult for the University of Iowa football team by the strength of the opponent coming to Kinnick Stadium on Friday.
The Hawkeyes (7-4 overall, 5-3 Big Ten) host No. 15 Nebraska (9-2, 6-2) on Nov. 25 with a 2:30 p.m. (CT) kickoff. The contest comes six days after Iowa’s 28-0 victory at Illinois, the same day Nebraska defeated Maryland, 28-7, in Lincoln.
“We’ve got a short week and certainly a tough opponent to get ready for, so that’s what we’ve been doing since Sunday,” UI head coach Kirk Ferentz said Tuesday at his weekly news conference in the Stew and LeNore Hansen Football Performance Center.
Both teams are bowl-eligible and both are coming off two impressive wins after arguably their worst performances of the season in Week 9. It was Bleak Saturday on Nov. 5 for the Hawkeyes and Cornhuskers. Iowa lost at Penn State, 41-14, and Nebraska lost at Ohio State, 62-3. Since then, Iowa has defeated No. 2 Michigan and Illinois, while Nebraska has won back-to-back home games against Minnesota and Maryland.
The visiting team has come out on top of the last four Hy-Vee Heroes Trophy games, including a 28-20 victory by the Hawkeyes on Nov. 27, 2015, in Lincoln to cap a 12-0 regular season.
“At the end of the day it’s what happens at game time,” Ferentz said. “It doesn’t matter if you’ve been playing for the last 100 years or haven’t played. It’s about what happens at game time.”
Ferentz said senior tight end George Kittle and senior offensive lineman Ike Boettger practiced Tuesday, but the question of how effective they will be remains to be seen. Kittle and Boettger are two of 14 Hawkeye seniors who will be in Kinnick Stadium for a final game as a student-athlete. Ferentz calls the day powerful and bittersweet.
“It’s the last opportunity for 14 of our seniors to play in Kinnick Stadium, and that’s always a special thing,” Ferentz said. “Secondly, we’re playing an outstanding team that gives us an opportunity to hopefully improve our record, but it will be a big challenge.”
The Hawkeyes aren’t thinking much about a Nebraska depth chart that has uncertainty at quarterback. Seniors Tommy Armstrong, Jr. and Ryker Fyfe are listed 1-2 on the depth chart, although Armstrong did not play against Maryland. In his career, Armstrong has passed for 8,746 yards and 66 touchdowns and run for 1,806 yards and 23 touchdowns.
“You have to plan for both, but we would be fools if we didn’t assume (Armstrong is) going to be in there and playing full throttle,” Ferentz said. “That would be a bad surprise if we thought he wasn’t going to be and then showed up. The guy holds every record that’s meaningful at Nebraska. He’s had an unbelievable career and he’s a tremendous player. But if he’s not there, like they showed last week, they’re a really good football team, and they’ll find a way to balance that out.”
It will be an emotional pregame when the Hawkeyes recognize seniors that have already led the program to Outback, TaxSlayer, and Rose bowls. But when the Senior Day cheers and tears have subsided, Ferentz will offer a reminder:
“We still have a really big, important game to play.”