Iowa Football vs Nebraska Cornhuskers: Four Players to Watch
Four players to watch when the Iowa Hawkeyes play the Nebraska Cornhuskers
On Friday, Iowa football‘s seniors will play their final game at Kinnick Stadium. Iowa hosts the 16th ranked Nebraska Cornhuskers, as they go for their eighth win of the season and try to end the senior’s regular season careers with a win.
Even though Iowa will play in a bowl game, there will be a lot of emotion for the seniors. It’s a group that made the Rose Bowl, went 12-0 last season and compiled a 34-17 record over the past four season.
Both Nebraska and Iowa have been hit hard with injuries over the past couple of weeks. Iowa has not flinched, though, as they’ve won two straight. Nebraska has had a tougher time with a blowout loss to Ohio State and struggling somewhat over their past two games. Nonetheless, Nebraska is still 9-2 on the year and one of five ranked Big Ten teams.
For Iowa, reaching eight wins in the regular season is something that was a dream just a couple of weeks ago. Even with the lofty expectations set for this team this year, an eight win regular season would be nothing to be ashamed of.
That being said, here are four players to watch for when Iowa and Nebraska take the field this week.
WR, Jordan Westerkamp
2016 Stats: 34 Receptions, 476 Receiving Yards, 5 TDs
Jordan Westerkamp has missed a game, been held to one reception twice and his numbers have been hurt by injuries to Tommy Armstrong Jr. Nonetheless, Westerkamp is still one of the better receivers in the conference and easily Nebraska’s top target. He comfortably leads the team in all three major receiving categories this season.
Plus, last week, Westerkamp caught a season-high eight passes for 85 yards and a touchdown. It’s the second straight week he’s eclipsed five receptions after failing to reach that feat in his prior seven games. Not to mention his 85 receiving yards is his most since week two against Wyoming and he scored his first touchdown since week three against Oregon.
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Simply put, Westerkamp seems to be back on track after a rough couple of weeks. It’s even more surprising, but also telling of how good of a receiver he is, that Westerkamp put up good numbers in the past two weeks despite an injured Armstrong and backup quarterback Ryker Fyfe under center.
This week, though, Westerkamp will line up against Desmond King and a secondary that is playing very well. Iowa has only allowed a combined 240 passing yards in their past two games. Iowa has a chance to take Westerkamp out of the game, but it’s easier said than done.
If Iowa plays like last week, Westerkamp won’t have a chance downfield but might be able to turn into a possession wide receiver. As long as Iowa can stop the deep ball, and Westerkamp from breaking a long gain, they’ll be able to contain the pass game to a certain extent.
Jordan Westerkamp doesn’t have huge numbers, but look for Fyfe or Armstrong to target him a lot if the run game stalls.
RB, Terrell Newby
2016 Stats: 171 Carries, 825 Rushing Yards, 7 TDs
Jordan Westerkamp is a very good receiver, but Nebraska’s main goal on offense is to run the ball. With Devine Ozigbo likely out with an injury, Terrell Newby will get most to all the carries on offense. Although, despite leading the team in carries and yards, Newby ranks second behind Ozigbo in rushing touchdowns by one.
Newby makes up for it through the passing game, though. He has a reception in all but three games this year and is sixth on the team in receptions — one catch away from being tied for fourth.
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With Fyfe, or Nebraska’s third-string quarterback if Fyfe can’t suit up, possibly under center this week, Nebraska will look towards Newby as a check down target. It happened a little last week as he recorded two catches for 16 yards, which was his first multi-reception game in the past four weeks.
Newby will have to make an impact on the ground if the Cornhuskers want to beat Iowa, though. While Newby has played well this year, he runs into an Iowa defense that has effectively stopped the run two weeks in a row after being embarrassed by Penn State.
Jaleel Johnson is playing as well as any defensive lineman in the nation, and Josey Jewell continues to impress. In fact, Iowa has held their last two opponents to under 100 rushing yards, and three of their last five. Plus, Newby hasn’t eclipsed the century mark on the ground since week six against Indiana.
Nebraska will run less if Armstrong plays, but Newby will still receive 16-20 carries. If Fyfe plays, look for the Cornhuskers to try to establish a ground game and hand it off to him 22-27 times.
QB, C.J. Beathard
2016 Stats: 58.2 CP%, 1,730 Passing Yards, 14 TDs, 7 INTs
It’s C.J. Beathard‘s last home game as an Iowa Hawkeye. It hasn’t been the remarkable senior season that everyone hoped for from him, but Beathard still has a couple of games left to improve on his play from recent weeks.
This is a big test for Beathard after Nebraska got the best of him a year ago. The Cornhuskers forced Beathard into completing 9-of-16 passes for 97 yards and a touchdown. It was one of just two games last season where Beathard failed to reach 100 passing yards.
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This season, he is coming off back-to-back weeks of failing to reach 100 passing yards. In the past two weeks, Beathard is only completing 47.2 percent of his passes for 146 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. Part of it is Michigan has a very good defense, and Iowa reverted back to running the ball as of late, but he also did not look good against Illinois a week ago.
Granted he only had 17 pass attempts, two fewer than against Michigan, but Iowa had to run the ball due to poor throws, decisions and drops. Iowa has had problems with drops all season, but Beathard’s poor throws have just started to happen in recent weeks.
He has to fix that issue this week against a defense with 16 interceptions. Keyan Williams has five for Nebraska and Nathan Gerry has four. In fact, the Cornhuskers have four players with at least three interceptions. Beathard has thrown an interception in each of Iowa’s last three games, but he can’t turn it over against a team who thrives on forcing turnovers.
It’s Beathard’s last hurrah at Kinnick Stadium, where has gone 10-3 as a starter, but Iowa needs the senior quarterback to step up on senior day in order to win. The Hawkeyes can’t solely rely on their run game.
CB, Desmond King
2016 Stats: 52 Tackles, 2.5 Tackles for Loss, 2 INTs
Desmond King is the one player that everyone in Iowa City hopes has an amazing senior day. The best defensive back in Iowa football history. All eyes will be on Desmond King for one last time at Kinnick Stadium.
After intercepting his second pass of the season last week against Illinois, it seemed like an appetizer of what’s to come. Teams simply haven’t tested him as often as last year, but he is still in a three-way tie for the team lead in interceptions with two. Plus, he’s tied for fifth in total tackles and eighth in tackles for loss on Iowa this season.
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Although, the perfect way to cap off a historic career at Kinnick Stadium would be for King to intercept a pass or two and finally return a kick for a touchdown. Sure, he has a bowl game still, but there is something special about the last home game of a player’s career, which is why teams celebrate it.
There will be talk about King on Jordan Westerkamp, but it will mostly be about his amazing and jaw-dropping career as an Iowa Hawkeye. Iowa needs him to contain Westerkamp to give their offense a chance, and it only seems right that King will have one last great game at Kinnick Stadium.
Plus, King has an interception against Tommy Armstrong Jr in 2014. He’s faced Armstrong his whole career, therefore they know each other fairly well. Maybe Ryker Fyfe starts and gives King a new look. Either way, King won’t be afraid to jump routes to try to make one last big play for the home crowd.
60 more minutes of Desmond King at Kinnick Stadium. Enjoy it.