If it's Black Friday, it must be time for Iowa to put their noisy neighbors from the other side of the Missouri River in their place. And for the sixth straight season, that's exactly what Iowa did, dropping Nebraska to 1-4 on the season in a 26-20 defeat. The win was Iowa's fourth in a row this season and improved their own record to 4-2 after starting out with a pair of losses.
Like so many games in this series of late, it was an uncomfortably close contest in the fourth quarter, determined by key plays in the kicking game and on defense. Iowa's offense did just enough to get the win, but no one on that side of the ball is likely to be looking back on this performance all too fondly. But a fourth straight win this season? A sixth straight win over Nebraska? We're not going to complain about that.
* Kicking is Winning
Iowa's kicking game was integral to the victory today, in ways both expected (field goals) and not (punt coverage). Field goal kickers have been heroes for Iowa in their last two wins over Nebraska, with Miguel Recinos drilling a game-winner over the Huskers two years ago and Keith Duncan doing the same last season. Duncan was a big part of Iowa's win here, too, recording 14 of Iowa's 26 points in the game, between four field goals and a pair of extra points. In fact, if you believe FOX, he was actually responsible for 20 of Iowa's 26 points in this game:
Duncan could have been the unquestioned hero of the game if he'd drilled his last field goal attempt, an admittedly-difficult 51-yard try, with just over two minutes to go in the game. Alas, the try fell inches short, loudly doinking off the crossbar. A make there would have extended Iowa's lead to nine points and sealed the victory; the miss gave Nebraska a shot at the victory. But Duncan still drilled four other field goals, including a 48-yarder, and was Iowa's most reliable source of points on a day when the offense looked stagnant in the red zone.
Tory Taylor's final numbers weren't exceptional -- two punts for 81 yards, a 40.5 per-punt average, but one of those kicks was downed at the Nebraska 2-yard line and the other resulted in a muff that Iowa's special teams Johnny-on-the-spot Terry Roberts recovered in the fourth quarter. That drive led to Duncan's fourth and final field goal, and while the six-point lead it gave Iowa wasn't decisive, it gave Iowa a bit more breathing room -- and curtailed Nebraska's momentum when they had just forced Iowa into a three-and-out and seemed poised to build on that. And shout-out to Terry Roberts: he has been absolutely electric as a gunner for Iowa on punt coverage the last two seasons. He's got great quickness as well as excellent situational awareness and a knack for making the right plays at big moments. Good Iowa teams always have good special teams and Roberts is a big reason why Iowa's special teams have been so strong this season.
* In Phil We Trust
Phil Parker's defense wasn't at its best all game against Nebraska -- the Huskers marched right through them on a pair of touchdown drives sandwiched around halftime -- but when the game was tight and big plays needed to be made, the defense stepped up and did the job, as it's done time and time again in Parker's tenure at Iowa. For the second week in a row, it was Iowa's defensive line coming through in a big way in the fourth quarter. After Nebraska went up 20-13 in the third quarter, these were the results of their remaining full possessions:
- 3 plays, 4 yards, PUNT
- 6 plays, 30 yards, PUNT
- 6 plays, 7 yards, PUNT
- 4 plays, 20 yards, FUMBLE
That is getting the damn job done. Nixon had a key shoe-string tackle on Adrian Martinez to prevent a potential big run and his pressure in the second half was crucial to Iowa's defense slowing down the Cornhusker offense. Nixon finished with 8 tackles (5 solo), 3 TFL, a sack, and plenty of pressure. His cohorts on the defensive line were disruptive as well. Chauncey Golston had four tackles (two solo), a sack, and a QB pressure -- and made the biggest defensive play of the game when he crushed Martinez to force a game-sealing fumble recovered by Zach VanValkenburg.
MAMA, JUST KILLED A MAN... pic.twitter.com/Ct8Wp4e20m— Go Iowa Awesome (@IowaAwesome) November 27, 2020
Props to Iowa's linebackers as well, who were often in the thick of things. Nick Niemann led Iowa with 12 tackles (5 solo) and seemed to be wherever the ball was on defense. Jack Campbell continued to flash his big-play potential with 8 tackles (6 solo) and two tackles for loss. His combination of size, quickness, and tackling ability is really exciting. Seth Benson added four tackles, including a sack, too. Three cheers for the Iowa defense for once again securing another Hawkeye victory.
* The Offense Rests
I don't want to belabor the struggles of Iowa's offense on Friday because we'll dig into that further in some other recaps of this game, but... it sucked. Nebraska entered this game allowing 4.7 yards per carry (12th in the Big Ten) and 223 yards per game (13th). Iowa had to scratch and claw for 137 sack-adjusted yards on the ground and 3.1 yards per carry. Tyler Goodson did crack 100 yards (111), but it took him 30 carries (3.7 ypc) to do so. Iowa had ran the ball extremely effectively in their last three games... but against one of the Big Ten's worst run defenses, they struggled to do anything outside of a few drives.
Credit to Nebraska for scheming well to stop Iowa and for having personnel up front to make things difficult (their enormous nose tackle really created problems for the middle of Iowa's line). But the Iowa staff deserves plenty of blame for a gameplan that was bizarre at best and nonsensical at worst. Iowa has shown great success this season at using misdirection and attacking the edge of the field with wide receivers like Ihmir Smith-Marsette, Tyrone Tracy, Jr., and Nico Ragaini. They've had considerable success running the ball out of the shotgun. And they've done well with a number of Wildcat looks with Tyler Goodson at quarterback. Against Nebraska Iowa left those pages of the playbook in the locker room. They instead ran a depressing amount of slow-developing or doomed-for-failure plays directly into the teeth of the Nebraska defense.
With a more successful passing game, perhaps Iowa's struggles in the run game would have been less bothersome, but... a more successful passing game is not what Iowa had today. The best thing we can say about Spencer Petras' performance is that he (mostly) avoided making crippling mistakes, with the notable exception of the ghastly interception he threw directly to a Nebraska cornerback in the first half. Petras finished 18/30 for 190 yards, a touchdown, and an interception, but those numbers could have been so much better if his accuracy and touch hadn't been so poor again today. He overthrew Ragaini for a touchdown in the first half and completely missed an embarrassingly wide open Smith-Marsette in the end zone in the second half. He also threw several balls at the feet of his receivers or behind them and continued to look very jittery in the pocket at all times. That he's struggling so much despite a collection of talented pass-catchers and a stout offensive line that manages to keep pressure away from him quite well does not inspire great confidence in him moving forward. We'll continue to hope things turn around, but many of these flaws have been present since Week One and haven't improved much (if at all),
Finally, a word on one of the stupidest post-game controversies in recent memory: #Clapgate, in which Nebraska whined about alleged improper clapping by members of the Iowa sideline, which supposedly contributed to the poor snapping woes the Cornhuskers experienced in the first half. Here's a summary of the complaint from professional Nebraska apologist (and occasional Nebraska beat writer for The Omaha World-Herald) Sam McKewon:
Frost said Iowa sideline was clapping in the first half to disrupt Cam Jurgens. Didn't happen in the second half. Jurgens was thus fine.— Sam McKewon (@swmckewonOWH) November 27, 2020
This is, to be clear, absolute nonsense of the highest order, from a coach who whines incessantly and is forever looking for someone else -- the officials, his own players, ne'er-do-wells and scoundrels on the opposing sideline -- to blame for his own shortcomings and inadequacies.
The disgust in Kirk Ferentz's response to #Clapgate is absolutely palpable:
Ferentzs full answers re: Clapgate. pic.twitter.com/Q5A8Ad4z7Z— Go Iowa Awesome (@IowaAwesome) November 27, 2020
And here's the video:
Here's Kirk Ferentz's full response to #ClapGate in his postgame presser which also involves 'Storytime with Kirk'— Mike OBrien (@mobrientv) November 27, 2020
What the hell are we talking about? Like its stupid, right?
Next thing you know, were going to be treating this like golf https://t.co/xKASADT5MQ pic.twitter.com/u73VYvEgLu
Fuck off, Scott Frost, you absolute clownfraud.
* Dance, Dance, Til We Can't No More
But let's end things on a happier note, because hey -- Iowa did win the fucking game and beat Nebraska for the sixth straight damn season in a row. How did Iowa players react to the victory? By dancing, of course:
You came here to shake hands but Tyrone Tracy came here to dance. pic.twitter.com/3aMgiMOAVX— Go Iowa Awesome (@IowaAwesome) November 27, 2020
Others got involved. pic.twitter.com/r54IcRnkfy— Go Iowa Awesome (@IowaAwesome) November 27, 2020
You love to see it.