November 25, 2011

Iowa keys to victory and HOL staff predictions

It's been over 10 years since Nebraska and Iowa have played each other in a football game. Today these two border schools will change that when they square off in the first annual Hero's rivalry game.

As things get closer to kickoff, here are the five keys to a Husker victory over the Hawkeyes.

NU enters today's match-up as a 9 point favorite over Iowa as Nebraska is trying to win nine or more games under Bo Pelini for the fourth year in a row.

What can Rex give you?

For Nebraska's offense to consistently move the football today a big part of it obviously starts with running back Rex Burkhead.

The junior from Plano was wearing a protective boot on his right foot early this week, but hasn't missed a day of practice.

The question is what kind of game will they be able to get out of Burkhead? Will it be a performance like the Michigan State or Penn State games, or the Northwestern and Michigan games where he clearly wasn't operating at 100 percent?

Keep Coker in check on early downs

Iowa is going to run the football early and often with running back Marcus Coker to try and dictate the tempo of this football game.

If Nebraska can limit Coker on early running downs, that will put the Hawkeyes in more predictable passing situations and that's when Pelini really strives as a defensive coordinator.

Double team McNutt

I expect to see Nebraska have a corner and a safety over the top on Iowa wide receiver Marvin McNutt at all times today.

McNutt is arguably the best wide receiver in the Big Ten and I expect Iowa to do whatever they can to try and get him the football.

I wouldn't be surprised if the Hawkeyes put McNutt in the slot in three and four wide receiver sets to get him matched up with NU's nickel and dime corners. Adjusting to this will be a big key for the Huskers.

Bring pressure at Vandenberg

In a lot of ways Iowa's offense really reminds me of Michigan State's, only they have a better offensive line and a much better running back in Coker.

With that said I think NU can bring pressure at Hawkeye quarterback James Vandenberg on passing downs like they did against Kirk Cousins in the Michigan State game.

However, if defensive end Eric Martin is not 100 percent, that may hurt NU's ability to bring pressure off the edge at Vandenberg.

Eliminate a flat start

In both the Northwestern and Michigan losses Nebraska got off to an extremely flat start. They can't afford to do that again today.

With an 11 a.m. kickoff a slow start could take the crowd out of the game and just crush the home field advantage like we saw in the Northwestern game.

If NU's defense can force some early three and outs and the offense can get a rhythm going, you have to like Nebraska's chances to win this football game.

Callahan's weekly predictions

My biggest concern for today is the health of Burkhead. If Burkhead can give Nebraska a solid 20 to 25 carries I think Nebraska will have their way. Regardless, this game is at home and Iowa is a good match-up for Nebraska. I'll take the Huskers to win straight up, but the Hawkeyes will cover the 9 points.

Nebraska 34 Iowa 27
Michigan 27 Ohio State 21
Wisconsin 27 Penn State 20

Season Record: 18-15 overall; 17-16 vs. points

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