Iowa makes play for Big Ten West title vs. Nebraska

Field Level Media

November 24, 2021 at 4:16 am.

Iowa is one of three teams still alive for the Big Ten Conference’s West Division title going into the final game of the regular season, and the Hawkeyes can do their part to stay in that race when they travel to Lincoln to face Nebraska on Friday.

The 16th-ranked Hawkeyes (9-2, 6-2 Big Ten) must win and hope No. 18 Wisconsin (8-3, 6-2) loses Saturday at Minnesota. Wisconsin holds the tiebreaker over Iowa after winning the head-to-head matchup 27-7 on Oct. 30.

Iowa has won three straight since then, beating Illinois 33-23 in its home finale on Nov. 20. The Hawkeyes only had 255 yards of offense, and for the season are last in the Big Ten in total offense at 293.2 yards per game.

“We find a way to win, that’s still what the game is about,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said.

Nebraska (3-8, 1-7) has the Big Ten’s second-best offense, gaining 457.5 yards per game, but that hasn’t translated into wins. The Cornhuskers have lost five in a row, and all eight of their losses have come by nine or fewer points.

The latest was a 35-28 loss at Wisconsin in which Nebraska quarterback Adrian Martinez became the school’s career total yardage leader. The fourth-year junior has gained 10,792 yards via the pass and the run, with 3,388 yards coming this season.

That may end up being the final game of Martinez’s Cornhuskers career, as coach Scott Frost said a shoulder injury suffered against Wisconsin will keep him out of the season finale.

“He’s such a tough kid. I didn’t expect him to play in the second half (against Wisconsin),” Frost said. “I feel terrible for him.”

In his place will be freshman Logan Smothers, who has appeared in five games this season and is 7 of 11 for 119 yards.

Iowa, which has won six straight against Nebraska, has also had a recent change at quarterback due to injury. Sophomore Alex Padilla started the past two games in place of Spencer Petras, who has dealt with a shoulder injury, and Padilla is listed first on the Hawkeyes’ latest depth chart.

“We’ve got two guys we feel we can win with,” Ferentz said.

Ferentz, the longest-tenured coach in FBS, is 7-5 against Nebraska but 7-3 since the Cornhuskers joined the Big Ten in 2011.

A loss for Nebraska would give it nine in a season for the first time since 1957. Frost is already the first Huskers coach to fail to reach a bowl game in four consecutive seasons since William Jennings didn’t make one during his five seasons from 1957-61, but Frost is already assured to be back in 2022 after agreeing to a restructured contract that lowers both his salary and his buyout.

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