Nebraska-Iowa Preview

The Associated Press

After another impressive effort last weekend, surging Nebraska finds itself on the verge of its first Big Ten championship game.

While the Cornhuskers still need to defeat Iowa, the struggling Hawkeyes could have a difficult time keeping up Friday.

The No. 17 Huskers try to lock up first place in the Legends Division as they close out their schedule against Iowa, which hopes to avoid losing six straight for the first time in 13 years.

Taylor Martinez threw for 308 yards and two touchdowns to become the school's all-time passing leader and Nebraska (9-2, 6-1) scored on four of its first six possessions Saturday, extending its winning streak to five with a 38-14 victory over Minnesota.

The Huskers, who came from behind in four of their first five conference victories, haven't won six in a row since opening 11-0 in 2001.

"We've been coming out slow the past four or five weeks and giving people heart attacks," said sophomore Kenny Bell, who had a career-high nine receptions for 136 yards and two scores. "It was big for us to get into our game faster to throw them off. We came out strong.

"We've got a big week ahead of us now, again, with going to Iowa City."

Nebraska is tied with No. 20 Michigan for the division lead but owns the tiebreaker after beating the Wolverines 23-9 on Oct. 27. Michigan plays at No. 4 Ohio State on Saturday.

"The challenge is going to be to come back in a short week and be ready to go on the road and put ourselves in position to finish off the second half of the year the way we want to," said coach Bo Pelini, whose team ranks second in the conference with 37.5 points per game.

"I think our players have a pretty good understanding of what we have at stake - it's not about Iowa, it's about us."

These teams will be meeting in the second annual Heroes Game, which began with Nebraska's move to the Big Ten. The Huskers won the inaugural one 20-7 in Lincoln - the schools' first matchup since 2000 - and have taken four straight from the Hawkeyes by an average of 28.0 points.

Nebraska would again appear to have a significant edge over the Hawkeyes, who have given up 482.6 yards per contest during their skid. Iowa hasn't dropped six in a row since closing the 1999 season with eight defeats.

"Obviously, it hasn't turned out as we wanted," senior quarterback James Vandenberg said. "We always talk about building something for the next game, for the future. We're building for next year now."

Iowa lost 42-17 at Michigan on Saturday. Vandenberg threw for 181 yards and two touchdowns but the Hawkeyes were outgained 513-309.

"Clearly not a lot of positives on our side of the ball," coach Kirk Ferentz said. "We will go back to work ... on a short week here and see what we can do about getting ready for the next game."

While Iowa figures to have its hands full with Martinez, slowing down Ameer Abdullah could also prove difficult. The sophomore carried only 18 times against the Golden Gophers but gained 79 yards - the first time in five games that he didn't surpass the 100-yard mark.

"Remember the old cartoon 'Mighty Mouse?' That's him," running backs coach Ron Brown said. "He's Mighty Mouse, man. He's a muscled up little guy who has a big, giant heart and runs like a bear. He's a versatile guy and he has great mental toughness."

Abdullah could be in for another big day against an Iowa defense that's allowed 208.2 rushing yards per game during its losing streak.

Though the Hawkeyes have lost their last four matchups with ranked opponents by an average of 17.8 points, Pelini isn't expecting anything to come easy Friday.

"We have a lot of respect for their program ... they're gonna play hard, there's a tremendous amount of pride and tradition in that program. It's their Senior Day, there's a lot of things that are going into it for them," he said.

"With all that being said, we have to be ready to play our best football."

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