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Two-Minute Drill: Key matchups that will decide Nebraska-Iowa

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Each week, the Two-Minute Drill provides an in-depth breakdown on all the key matchups that will decide a winner in the Huskers' game. Here's what Iowa and Nebraska bring to the showdown.

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WHEN NEBRASKA RUNS THE BALL

Husker quarterbacks have led the team in rushing the last two weeks — mostly on scrambles — which tells the story of where Nebraska's ground game is right now.

Rusher Anthony Grant has seen limited and mostly uncreative touches.

Meanwhile, Iowa is still allowing just 3.01 yards per carry (fifth nationally) even after Minnesota gashed it for 312 yards at 6.24 a pop last weekend.

NU has nowhere close to the offensive identity, elite running back or frontline blockers the Gophers do. And even if it did, Iowa’s ability to earn takeaways and prevent points is uncanny.

EDGE: IOWA 

WHEN NEBRASKA PASSES THE BALL

The return of still banged-up quarterback Casey Thompson after a two-and-a-half game absence breathed some life into an adrift aerial attack but constant pressure and frigid weather conditions reminded that NU’s margin for error — even with playmaker Trey Palmer — is thinner than watered-down gravy.

Meanwhile, no FBS team has allowed fewer pass plays of 20-plus yards than Iowa (18), which owns 15 interceptions and features likely first-team All-America linebacker Jack Campbell at the heart of everything it does.

The deep ball is simultaneously Nebraska’s best hope for points and Iowa’s strength at preventing.

EDGE: IOWA

WHEN IOWA RUNS THE BALL

Freshman Kaleb Johnson won’t be confused for an elite Big Ten rusher just yet leading an Iowa ground attack among the most benign at the FBS level (2.85 per carry, 128th).

The Hawkeyes simply haven’t had the horses up front and should be without injured star tight end Sam LaPorta to boot.

Fresh off a four-week tour of 1,000-yard Big Ten backs, the Huskers have all but eliminated the gap miscommunications and missed tackles that plagued them in the past and found a new playmaker in frosh linebacker Ernest Hausmann.

After a few games of opponents overpowering NU for regular runs of 5-7 yards, Iowa’s range should be closer to 2-4 on Saturday.

EDGE: NEBRASKA 

WHEN IOWA PASSES THE BALL

Once-beleaguered QB Spencer Petras has found his groove during a four-game win streak in which he’s completed 63% of his passes for 727 yards, three touchdowns and — most important — no interceptions.

Iowa has relied heavily through the air on the 6-foot-4 LaPorta, whose 53 catches and 601 yards are essentially twice the production of its next closest receiver.

His absence would aid an NU defense that, out of injury necessity, is set to move nickel Isaac Gifford to safety this week and deploy the lengthy Javin Wright more as the rover.

NU has been sound at the back end of late and the Hawks are devoid of burners.

EDGE: NEBRASKA 

SPECIAL TEAMS

Nebraska has closed the gap here this season thanks to reliable specialists and an avoidance of the catastrophic mistakes of years past.

Iowa is again following a similar formula with punter Tory Taylor and kicker Drew Stevens among the nation’s best.

The Hawkeyes own the track record, though — especially in this series that has seen them return a kickoff for a touchdown in 2019 and block a punt for a score last season.

The black and gold seemingly haven’t missed an important kick against the Huskers since the Obama administration while NU is still earning its way into the circle of trust.

EDGE: IOWA 

INTANGIBLES

History, momentum and motivation are all squarely with the Hawkeyes. Their seven straight wins in the series have included inexplicable comebacks of late, including from down 21-6 late in the third quarter a season ago. They don’t lose in November (winners of 13 straight) while NU doesn’t win then (losers of eight in a row). If beating a border rival isn’t enough thrill for Iowa, repeating as West Division champions surely will be. The banged-up Huskers limp to the finish line auditioning for the role of spoiler knowing an inevitable tidal wave of change is coming in the days and weeks ahead.

EDGE: IOWA 

KEY MATCHUP

The Iowa offensive line vs. Nebraska’s defensive front seven

There are many knowns in this game — how the Husker offense wilts against top-15 defenses, for example — but this is a chance for Nebraska to prove all those weeks against brutish front lines have steeled it for success in a more even contest.

Iowa wants to keep things simple and conservative with its zone-read plays and doesn’t have the talent to produce many chunk gains if NU stays sound.

Limited personnel at receiver means the ground will be the Hawkeyes’ preferred route too.

EDGE: NEBRASKA 

OUR TAKE

Facilities advantages and superior recruiting-class rankings haven’t been nearly enough for the Huskers during the seven-year skid to their Missouri River companion.

Continuity, identity and development have again been powerful Hawkeye tiebreakers this year even amid their own offensive offense and major changes around the sport.

Iowa always finds a way defensively and always, always finds a way against Nebraska.

The streak has to end eventually, but this in-flux version of NU is ill-equipped to do it. Breaking that black-and-gold psychological hold might be the biggest obstacle for Nebraska, which must make stomach space for one more gut punch.

This one just figures to be lower-scoring.

IOWA 20, NEBRASKA 10​

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Evan Bland covers Nebraska football, baseball and other sports for The World-Herald. Follow him on Twitter @EvanBlandOWH.

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