Iowa 31, Nebraska 28: The Last Kicking Hero

By RossWB on November 23, 2018 at 3:13 pm
go miggy go




Okay... there may have been a few doubts. Iowa beat Nebraska -- for the fourth straight year -- 31-28 courtesy a Miguel Recinos field goal as time expired to secure an 8-4 finish. Did you see that? You should probably watch it again. 

Of course Recinos made the game-winning kick: it was Señor Day after all. 

Recinos' game-winning kick served as instant redemption for the 37-yard field attempt that he had pushed wide right on Iowa's previous possession. That miss was part of a stretch when Iowa frittered away a 15-point lead and found themselves tied 28-28 with only a few minutes remaining. Iowa led 28-13 and had the ball on the Nebraska 2-yard line and the game seemed to be well in hand. They threw incomplete on third down and then attempted a fake field goal that came up a half-yard short on fourth down in lieu of kicking a chip shot field goal to give themselves an 18-point lead. That call led to a lot of second-guessing at the time and would have been a talking point hot enough to melt solid steel for the entire month of December if not for Recinos' redemptive kick.

After Iowa's failed fake field goal, Nebraska went on a tear. They scored a touchdown on a 98-yard drive thanks to a fake punt of their own, then followed that up with another touchdown (and successful two-point conversion) a few minutes later. All of a sudden a game Iowa seemed to have well in hand late in the third quarter was tied. Visions of the 2014 Nebraska game (coincidentally, also the last game Iowa lost to Nebraska) were dancing through my head. But Iowa banished those memories with a clutch drive. 

Mekhi Sargent ran for 25 yards on three straight runs to get the ball to the Nebraska 39-yard line. From there Iowa had a -1 yard run by Sargent, an incomplete pass and -- inexplicably -- a three-yard Sargent run on 3rd and 11. That set up 4th and 11 from the Nebraska 37, aka no man's land. A 54-yard field goal attempt seemed dicey at best, but 4th and 8 is hardly a likely conversion, either. A punt wouldn't have been exciting, but would have likely resulted in overtime (though that was not guaranteed, given how well Nebraska's offense was moving the ball in the fourth quarter). After timeouts by both Iowa and Nebraska, Iowa opted to... go for it?!  And Nate Stanley found his most reliable target, T.J. Hockenson, for one of the biggest catches of the season, a 10-yard gain to the Nebraska 27-yard line. That was one of the ballsiest calls of the season and a beautifully-executed play. A 4-yard Sargent run set the stage for Miguel Recinos' game-winner. 

Sargent was the story of the game for Iowa's offense, going for 173 yards (breaking his one week-old career record) and a touchdown on 26 carries. He also had a touchdown reception.

Sargent was decisive, hit holes well, read blocks smartly, and showed impressive power in dragging Nebraska defenders forward.

This was one of the best performances by an Iowa running back in a long damn time. Nor was Sargent the only running back who played well -- Toren Young had 83 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries as well. As a team, Iowa ran for 266 yards and two touchdowns on 45 carries, a 5.9 ypc average. After mostly struggling to run the ball all season, Iowa found a recipe that worked against Illinois and Nebraska (though it also helped that they played two lousy run defenses). 

Iowa's defense had an up and down day, but they came through with some big plays at times. Michael Ojemudia had two pass break-ups and an interception (that should have led to Iowa points but... alas) and Iowa's defensive line was also able to get some big plays at times; Anthony Nelson had two sacks and A.J. Epenesa had a sack, as well. Epy also had a few other big hits on Adrian Martinez and was a whisper away from a few other tackles. Still, Nebraska was able to move the ball effectively on Iowa with a steady stream of swing passes and short passes that took advantage of Iowa's coverage schemes. Luckily, it wasn't quite enough to secure the upset today. 

This win wasn't pretty -- hell, that ending was so rough even Kirk Ferentz was bleeding by the end of the game: 

But a little blood never hurt anything. And even if they made it harder than they needed to be, Iowa got the job done today. 

Eight wins for the season. Four straight against Nebraska. That'll do for now. 

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