Nebraska's running back situation looks like it will be thin again as the Huskers prepare for another stout rush defense in Iowa.
NU coach Scott Frost said Monday that starter Rahmir Johnson is questionable at best as he continues to work back from an injury.
"We'll see. It's kind of been day-to-day with him," Frost said. "I would say most likely not, but he's fighting to get back. Same with quite a few other guys."
In Johnson's place, Markese Stepp, Brody Belt, and Marvin Scott handled the running back duties against Wisconsin, essentially splitting carries while rushing 25 times for 78 yards against the nation's top run defense. Belt led the way with 32 yards on seven carries while Stepp and Scott each got nine touches.
Jaquez Yant traveled to Wisconsin but didn't play.
"That was a coach's decision to go with the other guys," Frost said. "So he'll be available and ready to play this week."
Ready for the rivalry: Senior day is important, sure, but the fact that it's against Iowa was always going to add a little spice for the Nebraska players set for their final game in the scarlet and cream.
"Beating Iowa in anything is a great feeling for Nebraska fans," tight end Austin Allen said. "We need to get that one done for the fans, this university, this program, and it would set it on a good step for what this program is going to become."
That doesn't mean the Huskers will prepare any differently than they have for any other opponent, but it's fair to say there's not much that needs to be done to get NU's roster fired up.
"Obviously there is a little more that goes into the game," defensive end Ben Stille said. "The preparation is similar as far as you prepare like any opponent but then obviously on game day there is a little extra juice that goes into it; for sure you can just feel it. You are lying if you don't feel it."
Attacking the run: Nebraska's struggles in containing Wisconsin running back Braelon Allen were in part because of the 17-year-old's prodigious talent, and partly because of the way the Blackshirts fit the Badgers' run game.
"I thought we attacked some run fits a little too fast, and that's on me," NU defensive coordinator Erik Chinander said. "I had those guys wired up to really go hit those run fits and make that thing real small.
"Some of those runs got bounced around a little bit in the backfield and popped loose on us, which is very unfortunate, but I think some of that is definitely on me and not on the kids."
Iowa will present a similar look on Friday, though without the firepower of Wisconsin's backfield.
"When we're playing a game like this we obviously, the guys up front have to do a good job. They have to take this game over for us," Chinander said. "I think as a group we really have to tackle the ball carrier better. We have to leverage the ball better and we have to do a better job at getting the guy on the ground."
'Popcorn' football: Asked Monday about playing two physical teams in a row, NU defensive backs coach Travis Fisher said these aren't the only games in which the Huskers are playing a tough opponent.
"We play so many tough teams, and every team we’ve played has been physical," Fisher said. "We haven’t played a team yet that just walked out and said hey, we’re going to let you guys take advantage of us."
With Nebraska's offensive plan in flux after the news of Adrian Martinez's injury, the Blackshirts will have to rise up once again.
"Every team we've played this year has been tough. Every team we've played this year has been physical. We don't play popcorn football here. We play the top of the top," Fisher said. "We love it, we embrace it, and for the most part this season I can live with the way we've played on defense — how that defense has rose up to a higher level against great opponents."
Filling the gaps: Nebraska's defense will be limited once again, with five regulars either out entirely or questionable for Iowa.
"I think it impacts you. Those are really good football players, and guys that have been leaders on the team," Chinander said of Damion Daniels, Deontai Williams, JoJo Domann, Caleb Tannor and Pheldarius Payne.
Daniels and Tannor both played limited snaps against Wisconsin while Domann, Williams and Payne were not in uniform against the Badgers.
"That's football. The next guy has to play — the guys that are going to play next year," Chinander said. "It's not like we had to call a timeout with those guys because we don't know what to do. Those guys were ready to play. They just have to keep getting better and better."
Mirror, mirror: When the Husker defense faces Iowa on Friday, it will see one of the best centers in the country in Hawkeye junior Tyler Linderbaum.
Widely regarded as a first-round NFL Draft pick next spring, Linderbaum is a terrific athlete at 6-foot-3 and 285 pounds.
As a matter of fact, NU defensive coordinator Erik Chinander said Monday that Linderbaum reminds him of someone.
“He’s an exceptional football player. He’s very athletic, is kind of the first thing you notice about him. To be honest with you, the look we get from Cam Jurgens is very, very accurate because I find both those guys to be similar in size and also, they’re both very, very athletic centers. So, I think that look that Cam gives us all year when we do good-on-good periods is going to carry over really well for playing Iowa.
“But I think that kid, he’s very smart. He makes all the calls. He makes all of the checks. Very athletic. Finishes plays.”
— Chris Basnett and Parker Gabriel