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Nebraska-Iowa: Tracking the Husker offense, defense

November 25, 2018

Tracking the offense

The game plan

Nebraska held the ball for 9:11 in the first half but scored on three of four possessions. The Huskers mixed it up, with Adrian Martinez, Stanley Morgan and multiple backs. They found the most success on the edges — primarily with swing passes — though the absence of receiver JD Spielman (injury) hurt the overall effectiveness of the play for a second straight week.

The adjustments

The Huskers lived on the edge, going 4 for 4 on fourth down and adding a 2-point try after halftime. They doubled their running attempts from the first half (11 to 22) while continuing to run a steady diet of sideline passes. Morgan became the first Nebraska player to crack 1,000 receiving yards in a season.

Nebraska star

Maurice Washington’s second half was a glimpse of what’s to come, with the true freshman getting more involved in the running and passing game. He became the first NU running back since Marlon Lucky in 2007 to go for 100-plus receiving yards in a game, finishing with seven catches for 102 yards with a touchdown to go with five carries for 9 more yards.

Stat of the game

Six: Quarterbacks since 1990 who have averaged more than 200 passing yards and 50 rushing yards as true freshmen after Adrian Martinez went for 260 and 76 Friday to finish with marks of 237.9 and 57.2 per game. The most recent were Marcus Mariota (2012), Johnny Manziel (2012) and J.T. Barrett (2014).

Final word

Playing in better conditions than last week’s mini-blizzard, NU put up 28 points and 400 yards on a top-25 unit by sticking to what it does best, and showing that Scott Frost’s attack can succeed in the Big Ten in November. The late interception into coverage helped seal the Huskers’ fate, but NU again moved the ball well enough to win. How it replaces Morgan next year remains the big question in a future with sky-high potential.

Tracking the defense

The game plan

Iowa stretch-played the Huskers to death in the first half, part of the reason it averaged 5.7 yards per rush to that point. Nebraska had no answer for the Hawkeye line and was vulnerable against cutback runs — Iowa scored twice on those. The anticipated mismatch against Iowa tight ends also played out early, with only a few overthrows by quarterback Nate Stanley preventing more damage.

The adjustments

The Hawkeyes ran with even better efficiency in the second half (6.2 yards), but the Huskers said they forced more stops because of their ability to get off blocks better and stay in their gaps. Iowa’s final four drives resulted in a turnover on downs, a punt and missed field goal before the winning kick.

Nebraska star

How about Tyrin Ferguson? The 6-foot-2, 230-pound linebacker (pictured) registered nine tackles and often had the unenviable task of sticking with 6-5 tight ends Noah Fant or T.J. Hockenson. Neither found the end zone or were major factors after intermission against the junior, who dealt with injuries for much of the season.

Stat of the game

143: First-half rushing yards by Iowa, its most since 187 against Nebraska in 2016. Iowa ran for 266 overall at 5.9 per carry.

Final word

Four long Iowa touchdown drives on its first five possessions set an ominous tone for the Blackshirts, who couldn’t stop Iowa’s stretch power-running game with any consistency. Perhaps more frustrating was zero takeaways after earning at least one in seven straight games. Still, the unit got three key second-half stops and gave NU a chance to win. The Huskers need pass rushers — they had no sacks for the first time all fall — but this group clearly improved in the second half of the season.

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