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Scouting Iowa: Breaking down the Hawkeyes

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Purdue Iowa Football

Iowa linebacker Jack Campbell (31) warms up before a game against Purdue on Oct. 16.

Parker Gabriel discusses the four most interesting Husker notes from Wednesday.

Location: Iowa City, Iowa.

Coach: Kirk Ferentz (23rd year at Iowa, 177-108; 26th year overall, 189-129).

Record: 9-2, 6-2 Big Ten.

Rankings: No. 17 AP, No. 16 CFP.

OFFENSIVE RATING: 2

Averages / national rank

Points

25.5 / 90

Total yards

293.2 / 124

Rushing yards

115.3 / 113

Passing yards

177.9 / 113

DEFENSIVE RATING: 9

Averages / national rank

Points

16.9 / 9

Total yards

314.6 / 12

Rushing yards

103.6 / 12

Passing yards

211.0 / 37

SPECIALISTS RATING: 9

Averages / national rank

Kickoff returns

26.07 / 15

Punt returns

8.29 / 65

Net punting

41.43 / 26

Why you may need Rolaids

1. Few are better when it comes to special teams than Iowa. The Hawkeyes will return punts. They'll return kicks. Punter Tory Taylor has made a habit of putting opponents in field position hell, to the point that he used NIL to begin selling "Punting is Winning" T-shirts, with the proceeds going to charity. Nebraska won't face a bigger disadvantage all season than its special teams against Iowa's.

2. The Hawkeyes are as tough on defense as ever, and it's been made more impressive by the Hawkeyes staying effective despite several injuries. Nebraska showed it could move the ball against an elite defense last week against Wisconsin, but that was with Adrian Martinez at the controls. With Logan Smothers getting his first start at quarterback, Iowa's defenders will be licking their chops.

3. Iowa wins close games. The Hawkeyes are 3-0 in one-score games this season, and have two more wins by 10 points. The Hawkeyes have beaten Nebraska by three, three and six points in the teams' last three meetings, and four of Iowa's six straight wins against NU have come by eight points for fewer. Nebraska … cannot match that stat. 

Why you might chill

1. Iowa plays so many close games, in large part, because its offense is unable to put opponents away. The Hawkeyes rely on their defense to turn opponents over, and on their special teams to make big plays, and more often than not, those two units have come through. But if NU is able to make Iowa's offense do the heavy lifting, it will have a shot.

2. The Hawkeyes have used two starting quarterbacks this season, with neither proving to be game-breakers. Alex Padilla, who will likely start Friday, is completing just 47% of his passes. Spencer Petras was at 58% before being benched, but had thrown six interceptions in nine games. Neither player is much of a threat to run, with both sitting in negative numbers when it comes to net rushing yards.

Nebraska football head coach Scott Frost speaks during a news conference on Wednesday.

3. Nebraska has one last shot, at home, to defeat a hated foe. The Huskers have been close each of the past three years, but this Iowa offense might be the least effective Scott Frost's team has faced. Emotions will be running extremely high for NU as it tries to send out its seniors on a high note. Can the Huskers turn that into a quick start and make Iowa play catch-up?

By the numbers

2: Three Iowa players have collected two interceptions in a game this season. Among them is Dane Belton, who is tied for the NCAA lead with five total picks.

8: Iowa has won eight straight Friday games, including against Maryland this season.

2017: Iowa hasn't had a 1,000-yard rusher since Akrum Wadley in 2017. Hawkeyes running back Tyler Goodson is 55 yards away from the milestone.

Press coverage

Chad Leistikow covers the Hawkeyes for The Des Moines Register and the Iowa City Press-Citizen.

What has allowed Iowa to find a little more success in the ground game the past few weeks?

Chad Leistikow: A few things have helped. Playing Northwestern was a good starting point to get off the mat after the ugly loss at Wisconsin. The two biggest reasons, though, are the improvement of Iowa's guard play and a little more reliance on jet-sweep action with freshman Arland Bruce IV. The preseason broken-foot injury to left guard Kyler Schott really slowed Iowa's progress with a young offensive line. Schott has finally looked and felt like himself these last few weeks, and Iowa is finding a lot of up-the-middle success in the run game with him, center Tyler Linderbaum and true freshman right guard Connor Colby. Iowa's tackle play is still shaky, but the jet-sweep stuff with Bruce (a talented true freshman who scored Iowa's only offensive touchdown vs. Illinois) has helped back off some run blitzes and loosened up the running game.

Has Linderbaum's excellence become taken for granted at all? The guy is just a monster every week.

CL: Not among Iowa fans. The Hawkeyes would probably be closer to 5-6 without Linderbaum, in all honesty. He's held the patchwork offensive line together, and the Iowa offense has (to its credit) been opportunistic to eke out a ton of close games. Linderbaum has actually gotten a ton of love nationally, too, which is impressive considering Iowa has the worst total-yardage offense in the Big Ten. Linderbaum is the best center of the Kirk Ferentz era, and it's going to be fun to see how high he goes in the 2022 NFL Draft (assuming he declares early).

What does Alex Padilla give Iowa at the quarterback position that Spencer Petras doesn't?

CL: Mobility. As mentioned, a cobbled-together and young offensive line allowed opposing defenses (like Wisconsin's) to just tee off on Petras in the pocket, because he couldn't hurt them with his legs. Padilla's ability to buy just a little extra time has forced teams to back off on the pass rush a bit, and he burned Minnesota a few times with some deep balls, too. Padilla has been pretty good on play-action, too, in his two-plus games as the No. 1 quarterback and has a strong connection with excellent true freshman receiver Keagan Johnson as they worked all offseason together with the No. 2 offense. I expect Padilla to start Friday, but Petras should be available in relief if needed.

How has Iowa's defense been able to keep chugging along despite injuries, especially in the secondary?

CL: Phil Parker. This year, he became the Hawkeyes' first $1 million assistant coach and he's been worth every penny. The defensive coordinator has done a great job of having his second-teamers as prepared as the starters, and that's amounted to 21 interceptions by 11 different Hawkeyes. Iowa's school record for picks in a season is 23, so that's something to watch Friday. Also, I should point out that Iowa's linebacker play has been tremendous. The trio of Jack Campbell, Seth Benson and Jestin Jacobs has stayed relatively healthy, and that's helped Iowa be salty enough against the run to force opponents to take chances against the Iowa secondary.

Probably an obvious question, but how important have Iowa's special teams been in getting the Hawkeyes to nine wins this year?

CL: Punter Tory Taylor was absolutely essential in wins against (then)-top-10 opponents Iowa State and Penn State. His ability to deaden punts inside the 5-yard line is awfully impressive, much like a PGA Tour veteran getting backspin on a 9-iron to the green. If Charlie Jones doesn't uncork a 100-yard kickoff return against Illinois last week, I don't know if Iowa finds the spark it needs to rally from a 10-0 deficit. And kicker Caleb Shudak (from Council Bluffs, Iowa) has been terrific, going 18-of-21 on field goals with two of the misses in 50-plus range that weren't his fault. Special teams always seems to be a major edge for Iowa against Nebraska, and it wouldn't surprise me if that's the tipping point again on Black Friday.

Contact the writer at cbasnett@journalstar.com or 402-473-7436. On Twitter @HuskerExtraCB.

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