IOWA CITY — Black mass on Black Friday. Moving in unison on a cold November afternoon, Iowa’s offensive line bit into Nebraska’s defensive front seven, clamped hard, didn’t let go and pushed. They bulldozed. They moved 300-pound men and the needle on Nebraska’s football season from satisfying to bittersweet.
Iowa whipped Nebraska 40-10, rushing for 264 yards on plays as exotic as wheat bran, as plain as the prairie. The Hawkeyes ran right into the heart of the Huskers and busted right through the gusset.
After the game Nebraska defensive coordinator Mark Banker spoke to players and assistants about Iowa’s steady, physical style of play. He then told reporters what they discussed.
“We saw the team last year, we saw this same team on film this year, credit to them, that’s what they do,” Banker said. “We were just talking about that in the locker room.
“I bet their practices are like a bloodbath, because both sides of the ball kind of emulate that.”
A bloodbath. Well, Nebraska wasn’t quite subjected to that. But it did experience the constant, unpleasant imposition of Iowa’s will.
“They did what they set out to do: Just run the ball and execute their stuff,” defensive tackle Carlos Davis said.
Was Iowa more physical?
“I mean, seems like that, the way we played,” Davis said. “I’d say they out-physicaled us.”
No argument from coach Mike Riley.
“Iowa’s offensive line was coming off the ball and gaining control of us today,” he said.
NU lost control in a lot of ways Friday. The defense gave up three giant plays; more on those in a minute. The offense averaged 3.2 yards per play and had to throw 37 passes — in near-parka weather — to give itself a chance. The special teams gave up punt returns of 44 and 29 yards, ran into Iowa’s placekicker and had a punt go so far off target that it traveled roughly 15 rows into Kinnick Stadium.
“It was no better than a mixed bag today, for sure,” Riley said of special teams. “Matter of fact, it was less than that.”
The result left Riley “really, really disappointed” and disinterested in the kind of big picture questions reporters ask because they write something between now and a bowl game. Perhaps Riley will be more in the mood next week, but it was hard to blame him: Nebraska not only squandered any chance at the Big Ten West Division title, it invited a severe critique after a short week of practice.
“Were we prepared? I think we were prepared with assignments,” Riley said. “But that’s about all it looked like, maybe. That’s about it.”
After the teams traded four punts to start the game, Iowa (8-4, 6-3 Big Ten) beat the Huskers (9-3, 6-3) with big plays that are rare for the content-to-be-steady Hawkeyes — the kinds that make the opponent say oof. Oof for the impact they make, and the sheer amount of work one has to do to overcome them.
» Iowa running back Akrum Wadley hopped back into a cutback lane, made linebacker Josh Banderas lose his balance and found clear space to outrun safety Aaron Williams for a 75-yard touchdown. The rest of Nebraska’s defenders were either smothered by Iowa’s offensive line or not in position to make the play.
“The dudes were untouched about three or four times,” said safety and senior captain Nate Gerry. “We couldn’t stay in our gaps. A lot of those things don’t really deal with me. I’m not really up front, in the front seven. With my vision, when things happen like that, it feels like people get pushed out of their gaps or pushed by. They’re a good offensive line and a good scheme. Taking away our cutback players helps them, too.”
» On Iowa’s next offensive play — following a Nebraska punt — quarterback C.J. Beathard executed a perfect run fake, rose up and found wideout Riley McCarron zipping behind the Husker linebackers wide open. McCarron caught the pass in stride and outran safety Kieron Williams to the end zone for a 77-yard touchdown.
Banker said NU bit hard on the fake, and McCarron was open. After that?
“The safety that’s over the top at 12 yards didn’t react,” Banker said. “He was back inside. I don’t know what his original alignment was — inside leverage, outside leverage. But OK, complete the pass, let’s make the tackle.”
Banker said he was surprised McCarron outran everyone to the end zone. Banker may not have known McCarron was an Iowa high school sprint champion in the 100-meter dash.
» Two possessions later, Iowa running back LeShun Daniels followed his line — moving Nebraska’s defense like the point of a ship parts water — before popping through a hole and running 56 yards before Gerry tackled him. Iowa scored its third touchdown two plays later on a Daniels 4-yard run.
“We lost leverage on the football badly,” Riley said. “In other words, we overran it. At least two guys on the second long run ran past the ball, guy cuts back, nobody else there.”
» After Nebraska went three-and-out to start the second half — the Huskers had four such drives in the game — Iowa cornerback Desmond King returned a punt 44 yards, weaving through and dancing past defenders like a human Etch-A-Sketch. When refs tacked on a late hit penalty, Iowa had to go just 13 yards for a touchdown.
That’s four plays that the Huskers’ inch-along offense couldn’t answer.
Yet again, NU’s run game stalled — 31 carries and just 90 yards, in part because a hamstring-hobbled Tommy Armstrong wasn’t effective as a runner — and the pass game was inefficient. Armstrong completed just 13 of 35 passes for 125 yards, and didn’t hit a single deep pass. Armstrong kept throwing them, too, robust spirals that looked good until they landed beyond the hands of his intended receivers. At some point, offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf said, Nebraska had to throw them, because Iowa was covering underneath routes and basically daring NU to hit those passes. Armstrong couldn’t.
“We had to play some one-on-one shots that we had open,” Langsdorf said. “Brandon Reilly had three of them that he won on. We weren’t able to make plays. You’ve got to be able to hit some of those, just to loosen them up.”
But more than once, Armstrong chose to go deep than select a more open receiver closer to him; the most egregious oversight had tight end Cethan Carter — overthrown and overlooked for the balance of his career — looking to the night sky early in the fourth quarter.
Not that it mattered much by then. Nebraska trailed 33-10. In one of those statistical anomalies, the Huskers had more first downs (17) than Iowa (13). The Hawkeyes hit the big plays in the first half and started four drives in NU territory in the second. By game’s end, Armstrong was replaced by Ryker Fyfe but not for performance; Riley said Armstrong, who limped heavily after the game, was more ready than Fyfe, who broke a bone in his left hand last week.
Many of the 69,814 were piling into the Kinnick Stadium concourses before game’s end; only a few stuck around to watch Iowa players hold aloft The Heroes Trophy. Nebraska hasn’t beaten Iowa or Wisconsin in its last four tries.
But Nebraska wasn’t taken off guard Friday, Banker said. Nothing of the sort.
“Our guys knew what was up,” Banker said. “They knew what had to be done.”
The Huskers just got beat — again — by the Hawkeyes. In a bad way. By more big running plays. Just like last season.
“It was kind of like deja vu,” Banker said.
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|Yards per carry||5.6||2.9|
Nebraska is 29-17 all-time against Iowa.
|Fresno State||Sept. 3|
|Ohio State||Nov. 5|
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