Rivalry or not, Husker players intent on stopping Hawkeyes’ three-year run of success
Luke Gifford hasn’t watched the tape and he has no plans to.
Mohamed Barry called it a nightmare.
Mick Stoltenberg played only the first quarter before a high ankle sprain knocked him out of the game. Shortly thereafter, an Iowa avalanche sent Nebraska into the offseason in an epic tailspin and brought the Mike Riley era here to a close.
So no, one year later, this group of Huskers has not forgotten that 56-14 shellacking at Memorial Stadium last November. Nor has it forgotten 40-10 the year before that or 28-20 in 2015.
But the past five weeks also leave Nebraska feeling like it’s better equipped to put an end to a three-year skid against its rival or easterly neighbor or division foe or whatever your preferred reference to the Hawkeyes is.
“Nothing needs to be said,” senior center Tanner Farmer asserted Monday. “We’re all ready to go.”
Nebraska enters this year’s Black Friday showdown with the same record it entered last fall’s, but the situations couldn’t appear much more different.
In 2017, the Huskers had lost three in a row — and given up 50-plus points each of the previous two weeks — and five of six.
This year, of course, NU’s won four of its past five after an 0-6 start and earned an emotional, 9-6 Senior Day win against Michigan State that showed the Huskers have the ability to win in bad conditions without much in the way of its typical offensive prowess.
“Everybody kind of knows what’s at stake here and we’re excited; it’ll be a good challenge,” Gifford said. “There’s a lot of similarities between what they do and Michigan State’s done and the way they play. That’s been a blessing, being able to game plan for that stuff, especially on a short week. It’s definitely important to us, for sure.”
Regardless of who showed up on the schedule this week, the Huskers maintain there’s plenty to play for. A 5-1 finish, a high note to send the seniors out, maybe even the faintest (and it’s very faint) hope that the cards might fall in such a way that NU picks up a bowl invite. There’s no need for additional motivation. It is also clear, though, that the manner in which this series has gone the past several years — the Hawkeyes have not only won three straight but four of five since 2012 — doesn’t sit well with Nebraska players.
After Saturday’s win, captain and left guard Jerald Foster said, “I can’t wait to beat Iowa. I really can’t.”
“This game’s important, all the games are important,” Nebraska coach Scott Frost said Monday. “Rivalry games, I’ve said this a bunch, are kind of for the fans more than the players. We have to prepare like we’re playing anybody else. I have a lot of respect for their coaching staff and their program, so there’s not any animosity or hate between the coaches. I know the fans probably argue and don’t like each other, but they run a good program, we’re trying to run one here. We’re going to prepare just like it’s any other game.”
NU’s first-year coaching staff is indeed long on connections to the Hawkeyes. Defensive coordinator Erik Chinander is an Iowa native and played in Iowa City under Kirk Ferentz. Frost and quarterbacks coach Mario Verduzco coached at Northern Iowa and spent considerable time around the UI staff.
“He’s one of the good guys in the sport,” Frost said of Ferentz.
That won’t keep Frost from ribbing the 20-year veteran, who won his 150th game at Iowa in a 63-0 rout of Illinois last weekend.
“The sustained success is impressive, but you still don’t get to 150 unless you’re a little bit old, so I’ll makes sure to remind him of that when I see him,” Frost said.
Those connections don’t dim the intensity between the fan bases and don’t dim the extent to which NU wants to finish its season with a win, of course.
“For the most part it’s just another game, but I think with the way it’s gone the past couple of years, that definitely plays into it,” Gifford said.