It was a miraculous late-game performance from the Hawkeye defense and special teams units that erased a 15-point deficit to beat Nebraska 28-21. The Hawkeyes retain the Heroes Game Trophy. The offense was able to move the ball early in the game but were failing to execute inside the red zone. The largely unsuccessful first half prompted a switch at the quarterback position. Kirk Ferentz made the call at halftime to replace Alex Padilla with Spencer Petras in hopes to turn things around in the second half. The momentum didn’t swing until late, but the fourth quarter Hawks earn a ten-win season; Iowa’s second in three years.
Three Quarter Struggle
For the first time all season, the Iowa defense allowed three touchdown drives of more than 75 yards in a single game. On Nebraska’s first possession, freshman quarterback Logan Smothers led a 12-play, 75-yard touchdown drive. The Huskers converted on a fourth and short during the possession and capitalized with a Smothers touchdown rush. The score was the third game in a row in which Iowa’s defense allowed an opening possession touchdown.
The Hawkeyes answered with a 74-yard drive of their own, only to have a touchdown catch overturned. Sam LaPorta did not complete the process of the catch through the ground. Nebraska took over on downs inside their own one-yard line. The call was questionable, but Iowa’s offensive play calling was effective and they moved the ball well.
However, the Husker offense was not done. Smothers manufactured two more touchdown drives in the second and third quarters. One drive went for 75 yards, on which they converted another fourth down. The other was a nine-play, 94-yard drive that gave Nebraska a 21-6 lead. The Iowa defense didn’t seem to have any answers for the option offense, and it started to feel as though Nebraska would finally get a hard-fought win. The Hawkeyes responded with Caleb Shudak’s third field goal of the day to cut the lead to 21-9 entering the fourth quarter.
Through three quarters, the Iowa defense hadn’t forced an incomplete pass, did not force a turnover, and hadn’t recorded a tackle for loss. Smothers and the Husker offense were seemingly doing everything they wanted against Phil Parker’s defense. However, things would change almost immediately in the fourth quarter.
Fourth Quarter Heroics
Following Shudak’s field goal at the end of the third, Iowa forced a quick three-and-out. On the punt, the Hawkeyes went at after kick, and Henry Marchese got a hand on the ball, deflecting it right into the hands of Kyler Fisher. He caught it and took the ball into the end zone for six. The dramatic special teams play to cut the Huskers’ lead to five points and suddenly, the Hawkeyes had momentum.
On the ensuing drive Smothers connected with his receiver for a 28-yard gain to midfield. The pass gave the Huskers the breath of air their offense needed after a big momentum-shifting sequence. However, the Hawkeye defense capitalized on a Smothers mistake in the backfield a few plays later. The young quarterback fumbled the exchange on the read-option, and Logan Lee jumped on the loose ball. Iowa took possession near mid-field after halting the Nebraska attack. Though the Hawkeye offense failed to get anything going after the recovery, Tory Taylor pinned the Huskers deep on the punt. It was a punt that would set up Iowa for another big play.
With the ball at their own six-yard line, Smothers dropped back to pass and felt heavy pressure from the Hawkeyes. In an effort to evade the rush, he intentionally grounded the football from his own end zone, and Iowa recorded a safety. The defensive score cut the Nebraska lead to just three points. With 10 minutes remaining in the regular season, the Hawkeye special teams and defense had recorded all 18 of the team’s points.
Tyler Goodson Milestone
One of the keys for Iowa in this game was their ability to establish a successful ground game. Nebraska announced before the game that top defensive lineman Damion Daniels would not play. With his absence, the Husker run defense was depleted, and Iowa took advantage.
Tyler Goodson needed 55 rush yards against Nebraska to surpass the 1,000-yard mark on the season. He got to that number in the first half and proceeded to tally 156 yards on the ground for the game. Goodson averaged 6.8 yards per carry and broke a big play late in the game. Behind an immense push from the offensive line, Goodson exploded for a 55-yard run that set up the Hawkeyes inside the red zone. The long-run led to a Petras quarterback sneak touchdown late in the fourth quarter. The late-game score put the Hawkeyes up by seven points and completed the unbelievable fourth-quarter comeback.
After being questionably left off of the Lou Groza Award semi-finalist ballot, Shudak put on a clinic with his leg. The senior hit four field goals on the day, including a 51-yard kick to put the Hawkeyes’ first points on the board. Last week against Illinois, he accounted for 15 points. In his last regular-season game as a Hawkeye, he had a four-field goal, 14-point performance. Shudak accounted for half of the points scored in Lincoln and capped off a nearly perfect kicking season.
Fourth Quarter Hawks Earn Ten-Win Season
In the appropriate fashion, the fourth quarter Hawks earn a ten-win season. Ferentz now has seven such seasons in his 23-year tenure in Iowa City. This one took late-game heroics from the special teams and defense. A football game is a 60-minute production, and the team that makes adjustments and battles for the entirety of the day usually comes out on top. Against Nebraska, it was the final 15 minutes that propelled the Hawkeyes to their seventh-straight victory over the Cornhuskers. The victory makes the current four-year run the most successful of such since the Forest Evashevski era.