Associated Press Photo
IOWA CITY, Iowa (Sports Network) - The 17th-ranked Nebraska Cornhuskers and the Iowa Hawkeyes close out the 2012 regular seasons on Friday afternoon, as the two square off in a Big Ten Conference clash in Iowa City.
Nebraska has been one of the hottest teams in the nation since its Oct. 6 loss at Ohio State. The Cornhuskers have won five straight games to rise to No. 17 in the ranks, which includes an easy win at home over Minnesota last week, 38-14. They currently sit in a tie with Michigan atop the Big Ten Legends Division, but since they beat the Wolverines a few weeks back (23-9), they'll play in the Big Ten Championship game with a win or a Michigan loss.
The Hawkeyes have gone into a tailspin over the latter half of the season with losses in five straight games, all but negating their impressive 4-2 start. Iowa went on the road last week and was handed a 42-17 defeat by the Michigan Wolverines.
"Clearly not a lot of positives on our side of the ball," head coach Kirk Ferentz said following his team's latest loss. "Defensively we just did not have any answers for their attack and that became apparent pretty quickly. We will go back to work on a short week here and see what we can do about getting ready for the next game."
In 43 all-time meetings, Nebraska holds a 27-12-3 edge over Iowa, with wins in each of the past four matchups.
The Cornhuskers have been able to rise above in a conference typically known for its smash-mouth style of play to rank second in points scored (37.5) and first in yards gained (478.9) per game.
The play of Taylor Martinez under center is a huge reason why Nebraska has been playing so well of late. The signal-caller has thrown for 2,420 yards with 21 touchdowns to just eight picks, while rushing for another 792 yards and eight scores. Martinez shined yet again in last week's win over Minnesota by completing 21-of-28 passes for 308 yards, two TDs, and no INTs.
"I think he's played at a pretty high level all year," head coach Bo Pelini said of his quarterback. "When he's really comfortable with the game plan, (he) really has a good understanding of what we're trying to do."
Kenny Bell's modest 44 receptions are a team-high, but he's been explosive in the passing game with 789 yards and eight touchdowns. His 17.9 yards per catch is tops in the conference among players with at least 40 receptions.
Ameer Abdullah has also had a fantastic year at running back, and with 79 yards last week, he crossed over the century mark on the season (1,021). His eight scores ties him with Martinez for the team lead.
Even with the offense racking up high point totals, the defense has been rock- solid in allowing just 24.0 ppg on less than 330 ypg.
Will Compton has a team-best 93 tackles and he's recovered three fumbles. Daimion Stafford has also had a great season with 76 tackles, three interceptions, and two fumble recoveries, while Eric Martin is one of the best pass-rushers in the league (13 TFL, 7.5 sacks).
The Hawkeyes offense has been grounded for most of the year, putting up a meager 20.5 ppg on 320.5 ypg.
James Vanderberg has been the starter under center all year long but he hasn't done much to impress, completing less than 59 percent of his passes for 2,157 with just seven touchdowns to six interceptions. Even though Iowa was blown out last week, Vanderberg put together one of his best games of the season by completing 19-of-26 passes for 181 yards and two scores.
Sophomore Mark Weisman has been a pleasant surprise in the backfield, as he's racked up team-highs in yards (724) and touchdown (eight) despite missing two full games and parts of others due to injury.
Keenan Davis (46 receptions, 560 yards, TD) and Kevonte Martin-Manley (49 receptions, 552 yards, two TDs) have been a solid, albeit unspectacular, pair of receivers for Vanderberg to throw to.
Iowa was able to stay competitive early in the season thanks to a solid defense (23.8 ppg), but it is coming off a season-worst performance against Michigan, allowing 42 points and 513 yards.
Micah Hyde picked off a pass last week and also had a team-high eight tackles. Christian Kirksey, Greg Castillo and Tom Donatell all have three interceptions on the season.