Disaster Strikes, Iowa Drops Opportunity

Iowa Drops Opportunity

With everything in front of them, needing only a win on Black Friday to claim the Big Ten West, disaster strikes in Iowa City. Critical injuries and turnovers put the Hawkeyes down early, and the deficit was too much to overcome. Defensive back  Cooper DeJean was injured on Nebraska’s first drive of the game and ruled out. The ensuing Iowa series saw quarterback Spencer Petras go down with an apparent shoulder injury. Nebraska’s three touchdowns came on passes to Iowa’s backup defenders. The Hawkeyes’ were presented with a comeback opportunity late in the fourth quarter, but it was not enough. Iowa drops their opportunity to clinch the west and loses to Nebraska for the first time since 2014.

Critical Injuries

Cooper DeJean

Nebraska dominated the first half of the game. They did it by targeting the depleted Iowa secondary resulting from DeJean’s injury. True freshman TJ Hall was placed into the defense on Iowa’s second defensive series in DeJean’s spot. Nebraska’s next drive was a one-play, 87-yard touchdown pass to Trey Palmer with Hall in coverage. The touchdown was Iowa’s longest play allowed from scrimmage this season. Two possessions later, Nebraska found Palmer again for a second touchdown with Hall in coverage. Nebraska had three explosive pass plays in the first half for 130 total yards. Iowa had allowed an FBS-best 18 passing plays of more than 20 yards this season. They gave up two in the first half against Nebraska, and four of more than 15 yards on the day.

Spencer Petras

Following Nebraska’s 87-yard score, Petras was sacked and fumbled the ball at the Iowa 31-yard line. On the fumble, Petras appeared to injure his shoulder and immediately headed to the injury tent. Nebraska converted their turnover into three points as Petras put on the red hat. It became Alex Padilla’s game with under four minutes remaining in the first quarter. Padilla fumbled the snap on his second play of the game and the Iowa offense recovered. Ten plays and 41 yards later, Padilla muffed the snap, scrambled, and was sacked for an 18-yard loss, resulting in another Iowa turnover. Nebraska took over inside the Iowa 40-yard line again. They capitalized with Palmer’s second receiving touchdown of the day.

The Hawkeyes entered the game without their best offensive player Sam LaPorta and a critical down fullback Monte Pottebuam. DeJean and Petras getting knocked out early in the first quarter proved critical in the outcome of the Heroes Game.

Costly Mistakes

Nebraska got the ball to begin the second half up by 17 points. The Hawkeye defense did their job and got off the field in just five plays. The punt team took the field, and the ensuing Iowa possession was crucial, needing to end with points. Iowa has come back from 17-plus points four times in program history. Their biggest comeback was 21 points and came against Pittsburgh in 2011. 

Arland Bruce IV muffed the punt and Nebraska took over. Casey Thompson and the Husker offense immediately scored a touchdown in just three plays. The pass went to Marcus Washington who was covered by sophomore Jameson Heinz, playing in place of Hall. The Huskers increased their lead to 24 points. That is a deficit that the Iowa football program has never overcome.

The Nebraska lead was cut back to 17 points after a Kaleb Johnson 44-yard touchdown rush. The offense found some rhythm on that drive, but mistakes needed to be mitigated going forward if Iowa wanted a chance. Early in the fourth quarter, Iowa forced a Nebraska punt after a six play drive. The Hawkeyes would have taken over with about 12:45 remaining in the game had the punt counted. Sebastian Castro was flagged on the play for jumping over the punt shield in an attempt to block the kick. The 15-yard penalty resulted in an automatic first down for Nebraska and kept their drive going. It eventually ended in a punt, but not until a crucial 3:15 had drained off the clock.

Momentum Swing

Following the punt, the Hawkeyes’ next possession was a nine-play, 90-yard drive resulting in a touchdown. Padilla was six of nine on the drive with four passes of 10-plus yards including a touchdown. It cut the deficit to 14 points with just under seven to play. 

Nebraska got the ball back on the kickoff and took to the ground to run the clock. Their first play from scrimmage was a rush up the middle that had Hawkeye defenders jumping up signaling they had recovered a fumble. However, after a short review, Iowa took over at the Nebraska 25-yard line with momentum. Three consecutive incomplete passes from Padilla resulted in a Drew Stevens field goal attempt. The kick sailed through the uprights making it a seven-point game just 68 seconds following their touchdown.

Iowa got two more opportunities with the ball down seven points, but both drives ended on fourth down. The momentum swing late in the game made for a more engaging ending than it had seemed early. A comeback victory would have been a miracle. Especially given the position Iowa was in early in this game.  Yet, Iowa still had a shot. Just as this season was all but written off one month ago, this game looked over heading into the fourth quarter. Through it all, Iowa had the ball twice with a chance to tie, a game away from the Big Ten title matchup. Ultimately, Iowa drops their opportunity at clinching on their own watch, ending their regular season with a loss.

Disaster Strikes, Iowa Drops Opportunity

Through everything this team had fought through early in the season, they were one win away from a repeat title in the Big Ten West. The first quarter of Friday’s game went about as wrong as the Hawkeyes could have hoped. They lost two of their most critical players in DeJean and Petras, and Nebraska took advantage of Iowa’s turnovers. The Hawkeyes’ four turnovers on the day directly led to 17 Nebraska points. Three of which were fumbles on their own side of the 50-yard line. Padilla’s interception on 4th and eight sealed the game in Iowa’s final possession. Iowa drops their opportunity at a repeat trip to Indianapolis.

However, a glimmer of hope still mathematically exists for the Hawkeyes should Illinois and Purdue both lose on Saturday. That situation would give Iowa the Big Ten West title via a tiebreak and not in the fashion they would have hoped. The Iowa Hawkeyes finish the regular season at 7-5. Unless there’s more drama in the Big Ten West this weekend, Iowa will be watching from home next weekend, awaiting a bowl destination. 

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