Game replay: Iowa 31, Nebraska 28
IOWA CITY — Four keys from Nebraska’s 31-28 loss to Iowa on Saturday, including a peculiar play, a questionable call and more.
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Maurice Washington started the second half with an unforced error on special teams. He failed to catch Iowa’s kickoff at his own 7, and the second he did that, he could no longer declare a touchback. Nevertheless, Washington kneeled at the 7 as if he could. Nebraska started its drive there and, after a three-and-out, Iowa started its following drive at its own 42.
Each time Washington chose to return a kickoff instead of taking a touchback was questionable, but Iowa’s decision to attempt a fake field goal on fourth-and-2 had to have Hawkeye fans shaking their heads a little bit. Iowa had run the ball with ease down to the NU 3, and choosing to call a shovel pass from holder Colten Rastetter to tight end T.J. Hockenson seemed like a more complicated way of gaining two yards. Nebraska sniffed it out and stopped the play for a 1-yard gain. The Huskers’ fake punt — in which Luke Gifford took a direct snap and scampered for three yards — was more of a surprise and more understandable, given Nebraska trailed by 15.
The Huskers still have work to do when it comes to stopping power-running attacks in the Big Ten. Iowa’s zone stretch and basic isolation plays were a bear for Nebraska to stop, and even when NU’s linebackers seemed clued into Iowa’s playcall — as seen by some nice pre-snap adjustments — the Huskers still didn’t move the line of scrimmage backwards. Nebraska loses five key pieces of its front seven — Gifford, Dedrick Young, Mick Stoltenberg, Freedom Akinmoladun and Peyton Newell — and doesn’t have any surefire replacements, right at the moment, that immediately improve upon their performances. While Nebraska will grow into defensive coordinator Erik Chinander’s scheme during the next nine months, an offseason in the weight room — plus a few new faces emerging — is critical for the program’s progress. Iowa’s offensive line, and its tight ends Noah Fant and Hockenson, deserve credit for outmuscling Nebraska’s front seven and making life a little easier for backs Mekhi Sargent and Toren Young. On the majority of Sargent and Young’s 44 combined carries, they had two or three yards of runway before even reaching a Husker defender. That makes cutback lanes easier to navigate. It’s called “push” and Iowa has had push against Nebraska’s front for the last four games.
This Husker team doesn’t quit, and a 14-play, 98-yard touchdown drive — in which NU had to convert three fourth downs — underlines the grit and fight coach Scott Frost has instilled in this team. Also, kudos to the competitiveness of Adrian Martinez, who, like all freshmen, makes his share of “young” mistakes. Without him on Friday, though, how many points does Nebraska score? The Huskers are in good hands going ahead — at least on offense. The defense needs fixing.