The Good: The Whole Darn Running Game
Iowa’s offensive line was opening up holes so big on Saturday that Mark Weisman could’ve run through them without seeing contact until five yards down the field. On the day the Hawkeyes rushed for 266 yards on 45 attempts, a 5.9-yard average, and accounted for 14 of Iowa’s 31 points. True, Nebraska’s rush defense is porous, but the Iowa offensive line was simply overpowering the Cornhuskers, something Scott Frost & Co. hadn’t seen since they lined up against Wisconsin in the first week of October.
Mekhi Sargent was Iowa’s offensive player of the game, rushing 26 times for 173 yards, a 6.7-yard average, and a touchdown. He also caught three passes for four yards and a touchdown. Sargent wasn’t just his elusive self; he was running like a man who was pissed off that he dominated at Iowa Western CC and no one gave him the time of day (except Iowa), including Nebraska. See here:
— FOX College Football (@CFBONFOX) November 23, 2018
Of note: He wasn’t actually tackled on that play.
Toren Young had a solid day as well, carrying 18 times for 83 yards, a 4.6-yard average, and scored a touchdown. Again, Nebraska’s run defense is bad (90th in the nation), but Iowa has been able to effectively run the ball for two consecutive weeks. Their success should be attributed in part to the weakness of their opponents as well as their decision to platoon, instead of going with a three-headed monster. Against Illinois, only Sargent and Young had more than five carries. Against Nebraska, the same. Allowing two guys to get steady carries and develop some sort of momentum makes running the ball so much easier.
I’ve been a Toren Young stan all year as he’s been Iowa’s most consistent running back. But over the past two weeks, Sargent has shown that he has the toughness to be a Power 5 running back and has a little more spirit when coming out of the backfield. Plus, he can catch the ball in space, something Iowa doesn’t expect Young to do that often. I’m not sure who will be the #1 back in 2019, but either option appears to be a solid one moving forward.
Honorary Mention: A.J. Epenesa, Anthony Nelson, Michael Ojemudia.
The Bad: Nate Stanley’s Deep Ball Accuracy
We’re now two full seasons into the Nate Stanley era and one thing is painfully evident: he will never be able to consistently throw a deep ball. Sure, there are bright spots (typically to Brandon Smith) but for every excellent deep pass, there are 3-4 inexplicable ones that he didn't hit (typically to Noah Fant). This was the worst one against Nebraska:
Noah Fant TE#87 Iowa Hawkeyes. Para m el mejor TE si se presenta al prximo draft. Observad la aceleracin. Telita con el pase de Stanley BTW pic.twitter.com/0tYZzX7XIo
— Los Cachorros NCAAF (@CachorrosNCAAF) November 23, 2018
Why is that Tweet in Spanish? I don’t know. Maybe even the Hispanic fans that were watching the game couldn’t believe that he missed Fant for what could’ve been a touchdown. Stanley misses Fant on deep balls like Nate Kaeding misses game-winning kicks in the playoffs. It’s inexplicable, but it happens.
And look, you can believe that something we haven’t seen any evidence of changing will somehow change in year three. If you’re that optimistic, bully to you. But all of the evidence points to Nate Stanley being a good, not great, Iowa quarterback that will limit mistakes and rarely wow you. If a quarterback cannot consistently make his deep throws he will not change the dynamic of a game. Stanley is an 8-4 quarterback and I guess that’s what Ferentz wants.
The Ugly: The Entire Team’s Performance After the Fake FG
Iowa scored 21 points in the first half and quite honestly, it felt like they should have scored more. In the second half, they scored 10, and the final three came on a game-winning field goal as time expired.
Flashback to Northwestern, a game they led heading into the 4th quarter, if only by the slimmest of margins by a score of 10-7. Following Iowa’s go-ahead touchdown they put together two consecutive three and outs and fumbled the ball away twice. They lost 14-10. Against Purdue, they took a 36-35 lead with just over 10 minutes left in the game. When Iowa got the ball back with 7:53 in the fourth, they turtled on offense and punted it away, allowing Purdue to drive down the field and kick the game-winning field goal.
Against Nebraska, Iowa put together two solid drives out of the gate and was in a position to score to take a three score lead at Nebraska’s 3 yard line. Instead of taking the points, Ferentz opted for a fake field goal to T.J. Hockenson that came up just short, resulting in a turnover on downs.
I don’t hate the fake FG call. Nebraska had gone three and out their two previous drives and looked lost on offense. Iowa, on the other hand, was hitting on all cylinders and essentially had a chance to put the nail in the coffin in the third quarter. Regardless of whether or not it was the right call, it didn’t work and the Cornhuskers got the ball back.
From there, everything changed. Iowa’s defense, once ferocious, was tentative and playing on its heels, giving up a 98-yard touchdown drive. Iowa then went three and out, punted, and needed a Michael Ojemudia interception to halt another Cornhusker offensive march. Once the Hawkeyes got the ball back, Sargent quickly moved them to Nebraska's 20 and then this happened:
- On 2nd on 9, Nate Stanley threw a ball 3-4 yards out of bounds in Brandon Smith’s general direction.
- On 3rd and 9, Nate Stanley threw a ball 3-4 yards over Noah Fant’s head into the end-zone that if thrown correctly, could’ve been a touchdown.
- On 4th and 9, Miguel Recinos missed a 37-yard field goal.
This allowed Nebraska to once again charge down the field and not only score a touchdown, but also a two-point conversion which, y’know, wtf?
On the ensuing possession Iowa did what they’d been doing all game: run the dang football. Sargent took the team from Iowa’s 36 to Nebraska’s 39. When stuffed on 1st down, Iowa went to the air and Stanley threw a ball 100 mph fastball high and outside to Brandon Smith. Smith should’ve caught it but we won’t assign blame. Even worse than that throw, was the ensuing call to run…on 3rd and 11.
After the game, Ferentz said that Stanley had the option to punt the ball or throw it if he liked the matchup on 4th down. He saw Hockenson one on one and he decided to throw it for a crucial conversion. It was the right call because T.J. Hockenson is a matchup nightmare on every play and Stanley made a clutch throw.
Now, should Iowa have even been in that position in the first place? Nah. We saw Iowa lose multiple games this season because their offense turtled and their defense couldn’t hold when it mattered. It seemed like during those losses, the Hawkeyes choked in every crucial moment when they needed to be clutch. Iowa is just lucky that this time, this one time, they had a senior on their team that didn't choke:
Don't doubt the senior kicker on Senior Day.
— Big Ten Network (@BigTenNetwork) November 23, 2018