By JAMES ALLAN
IOWA CITY, Iowa — The University of Iowa football team has won three straight Hy-Vee Heroes Games over Nebraska and on Friday, its seniors are looking for a clean sweep.
The Hawkeyes completed four-year trophy game sweeps of Iowa State and Minnesota earlier this season and a victory over the Huskers would be icing on the cake to conclude the regular season.
“That would be huge,” said senior defensive tackle Matt Nelson, one of 14 Hawkeye seniors who will be recognized during a Friday pregame ceremony. “Whenever you get a trophy home every year you’re playing, it’s huge. It’s something where you would have bragging rights for the rest of your life.”
The Cornhuskers are playing their best football as of late with head coach Scott Frost in his first year in Lincoln. After a 0-6 start, Nebraska has won four of its last five with victories over Minnesota (53-28), Bethune-Cookman (45-9), Illinois (45-35), and Michigan State (9-6). The lone defeat was a 36-31 loss at No. 8 Ohio State.
“They have dangerous players all over the place,” said Nelson. “It’s an explosive offense and we need to keep everybody contained.”
Nebraska’s offensive attack starts with freshman quarterback Adrian Martinez, who enters the Hy-Vee Heroes Game with 2,910 yards of total offense. He needs 90 yards to record the seventh 3,000 total offense season in Husker history.
“Nebraska threatens you a lot of ways, and it starts with the quarterback,” said Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz. “He’s not (Penn State’s Trace) McSorely, but there are some parallels. He’s a threatening guy running and throwing the football.
“They have designed runs, designed options, and he’ll pull it down and go. You have to respect that part of it, and he has done a good job throwing the football. He has good guys to throw to.”
Martinez is averaging 235.7 passing yards and 55.3 rushing yards for 291 yards per game to rank third in the Big Ten and 17th nationally. He is completing 64.1 percent of his passes (198-of-309) with 15 touchdowns and has 553 rushing yards with seven touchdowns.
The Huskers also boast a 1,000-yard rusher in Devine Ozigbo, who has amassed 1,032 yards, averaging 7.1 yards per attempt, and scoring 12 touchdowns. Receivers Stanley Morgan, Jr., (63 catches, 923 yards, 7 touchdowns) and JD Spielman (66-818-8) have combined for 129 catches for 1,741 yards and 15 touchdowns.
“They’ll take chances and push the envelope,” Ferentz said of Nebraska’s offense. “They’ll go for it on fourth down and they do a good job of keeping pressure on you in all areas.”
Senior safety Jake Gervase points to the Nov. 17 game at Illinois as a starting point for Iowa’s defense. The Illini were an offensive juggernaut the three weeks leading into the game before Iowa’s defense posted a shutout while limiting Illinois to 216 yards.
“Defensively, we have to play assignment football, just like last week,” said Gervase. “Everybody has to do their job and run to the football to eliminate those big, explosive plays.”
Senior Parker Hesse says it would be a tremendous accomplishment for the Hawkeyes to conclude the regular season with their fourth straight win over Nebraska because it would result in the team’s eighth win and give the Hawkeyes momentum.
“The focus is on finishing the season how we want to,” said Hesse, who make his 36th consecutive (and 46th overall) start for Senior Day. “Not everything has gone the way we planned, but we want to finish (the regular season) playing our best football in all three phases and give us something we can feel good about going into bowl prep.”
Friday’s game will begin at 11:05 a.m. (CT) and it will be televised on FOX with Brian Custer, Ben Leber, and Jen Hale on the call. Tickets remain via the Iowa Athletics Ticket Office at hawkeyesports.com/tickets.