Photo by Pat Radigan
Morgan 14-yard rec
DRIVE: 3 plays | 15 yards | 0:43
Wadley 20-yard run
DRIVE: 15 plays | 99 yards | 7:18
Morgan 28-yard rec
DRIVE: 8 plays | 75 yards | 3:04
Fant 4-yard rec
DRIVE: 11 plays | 75 yards | 5:53
Wadley 1-yard run
DRIVE: 5 plays | 22 yards | 2:21
Butler 12-yard run
DRIVE: 2 plays | 56 yards | 0:34
Wadley 29-yard run
DRIVE: 2 plays | 40 yards | 0:36
Fant 68-yard rec
DRIVE: 2 plays | 68 yards | 0:19
Young 3-yard run
DRIVE: 7 plays | 39 yards | 4:33
Kelly 5-yard run
DRIVE: 3 plays | 65 yards | 1:27
Story by Becca Mann
Iowa ruins Senior Day by blanking Nebraska after halftime
There are a lot of ways to describe Nebraska’s 56-14 loss on Friday to Big Ten rival, Iowa. If you looked at Twitter, you’d find variations of sad, frustrating, embarrassing and at times, Husker fans found it hard to watch.
Mike Riley agreed and didn’t try to sugar coat the performance in his post-game interview.
“Obviously really, really disappointing,” Riley said. “We had a chance for a pretty decent start in this football game, a couple of special teams plays I think were big, big factors in flipping that thing. It didn’t have to flip like it did, but it did.”
To add even more salt to the wounds of a loss on Senior Day, Friday afternoon’s failed performance capped out a 4-8 season for Nebraska (3-6 Big Ten), the first time since 1961 the team failed to notch at least five wins in a season.
The first of Nebraska’s special team blunders happened with less than five minutes to play in the first half and switched the momentum for good.
On a 42-yard punt, redshirt freshman Tony Butler picked up a foul for running into the kicker, rewarding five yards and a first down to the Hawkeyes, then trailing 14-7. The extra time and space allowed Iowa to turn what should have been a punt on 4th-and-4 into an 11-play, 75-yard touchdown drive to tie the score at 14 after two quarters of play.
The momentum from the final score of the first half was enough to propel the Hawkeyes through the second as they tallied seven unanswered scores during the remainder of the game.
Nebraska’s second special teams blunder came off a punt Nebraska made off a 4-and-1 position that when looking back, Riley said he wished he would have gone for.
“Should, coulda, woulda,” Riley said. “I just, at that point, didn’t want to fail.”
Nebraska’s issues on special teams didn’t stop there. Drew Brown was able to pin Iowa on its own 1-yard line with a kickoff in the first half, but the start of the second half was much different. Brown lofted his kick toward the same sideline with hopes of shutting down Iowa’s return attempt. The plan backfired when the Iowa return man broke contain and evaded Brown’s last-ditch attempt at a tackle.
A penalty on the return negated the touchdown. It didn’t stop the Hawkeyes, though, as Iowa scored on a 22-yard drive that lasted just two minutes and 21 seconds. From there, Nebraska’s showing continued in a downward spiral.
In the first 6:28 of the third quarter, Iowa put 21 more points on the board and cut NU’s hopes of a Senior-Day victory out of the picture. Three of the Hawkeye scoring efforts lasted less than a minute each.
A 56-yard drive early in the second half took just 34 seconds and notched a 21-14 lead for Iowa. Less than a minute after Nebraska started its second attempt of the half, a pass by Tanner Lee was intercepted, and 40 yards of rushing offense later, Iowa converted it into a 28-14 lead.
With 1:39 left in the third quarter, Iowa’s Nate Stanley completed a 68-yard pass to Omaha native Noah Fant to shut off the light on Nebraska. It was Fant’s second touchdown of the night after catching a 4-yard touchdown on 3rd-and-goal to even the score at the half.
Lee went 22-of-41 passing on the night, and threw for 205 yards, two touchdowns and three interceptions. That combined with yet another disappointing red zone performance for the Huskers. Nebraska scored one of its two trips, while the Hawkeyes scored six of the seven times they found their way into the red zone.
For the third-straight game, and for the fourth time this season, the Husker defense has given up at least 50 points. On Friday afternoon, the defensive front also surrendered 313 rushing yards to give up more than 500 total yards on the day.
If it wasn’t clear before, Nebraska’s tendency to lose control, and a commitment to the running game, showed up again on Friday.
The home fans were still into the game in the first half, and Riley said Nebraska was still right in it. Even though the rushing attack didn’t account for as much yardage as it could have, they allowed his team to keep up. In the second half, that quickly changed.
“As the score got bigger, you get a little bit more antsy to try to get back and score so the running game doesn’t become part of that balance that you need,” he said. “When we lost that balance they tee’d off on the pass rush and made some plays. It got harder.”
Nebraska threw for 200 yards and rushed for just 67 yards.
Senior linebacker Chris Weber said there wasn’t anything special about Iowa’s effort in the second half, which made it even more difficult to justify Nebraska’s lack luster performance.
“I wish I could put my finger on it,” Weber said. “That’s the frustrating part. We were locked in and had a good first half other than those two drives. They didn’t do much. We just didn’t make plays.”
Riley will finish his third year at Nebraska with a 19-19 record and 15-18 in Big Ten conference play. While most Nebraskans and Iowans see the Black Friday game as a rivalry, the Huskers are 0-3 against the Hawkeyes under Mike Riley.
The last time NU secured a victory against Iowa was a 37-34 overtime victory at Kinnick Stadium, the final game for former head coach Bo Pelini who was fired the following day.
Riley said during post game he expects that he will be Nebraska’s head coach until athletic director Bill Moos tells him he’s not, even though he has accounted for two of the program’s four losing seasons since 1962.
“When I go to bed tonight I’ll be hoping for that (leading the program another year),” he said. “I love to do this, I truly believe I’m exactly the right person to do this.”
Riley said he’s been around long enough to know what to fix in the area of play and said the staff is doing a good job of recruiting for future classes.
“Those two things are going to be the key to Nebraska getting back to where everybody wants it to go,” he said.
Talk is widespread about what it will take to transform a program that seems to have been headed downhill since the second game of the season. For the first time since 2007 the Huskers won’t be extending play for a bowl game, and won’t finish anywhere near .500.
“I’m not sure what next is,” said Lee. “I’m sure we’ll have a team meeting here pretty soon and we’ll be told from there.”