For the first time in what seemed like forever, Iowa senior kicker Keith Duncan missed a field goal against Nebraska. Duncan’s 51-yard attempt with 2:02 left to go in regulation hit the crossbar and Nebraska got the ball back trailing 26-20.
Unlike the last two years, the Huskers could deliver the final blow in an Iowa-Nebraska game. Nebraska needed a touchdown and junior quarterback Adrian Martinez was the man for it.
After gaining 29 yards on three plays, Nebraska was down to Iowa’s 39-yard line with over a minute. The Huskers’ next play will be the one most people remember from Friday afternoon’s game.
Iowa senior defensive lineman Chauncey Golston beat Nebraska senior guard Matt Farniok in less than a second before hitting Martinez while he was throwing. Martinez fumbled, and Iowa senior defensive linemen Zach VanValkenburg grabbed the ball out of midair to seal a Hawkeye victory.
“I went up to Adrian after the game and told him I loved him,” sophomore wide receiver Wan’Dale Robinson said postgame. “He did all he could. He fought his ass off.”
Despite the loss, Martinez had his best game as a passer this season, completing 18-of-20 passes for 174 yards. Robinson totaled 117 scrimmage yards on 15 touches. That was with Nebraska using both Martinez and redshirt freshman quarterback Luke McCaffrey splitting drives with one another.
In the first half, McCaffrey and Martinez switched after every two drives with Martinez having the first drives. By the second half, Martinez had led a Nebraska touchdown and given the keys to the offense on the first three drives of the second half.
On the second to last Nebraska drive, redshirt freshman quarterback Luke McCaffrey came out to start the drive for the first time since 9:42 left in the second quarter. McCaffrey took the drive’s first three snaps, all runs, before Martinez came in for the rest of the drive. Martinez started with a second-and-10 at his own 33 before an incompletion and a rush for no gain ended the drive.
Nebraska punted back to Iowa with 5:37 left to go.
The quarterbacks also split time earlier in the game, with Martinez starting and playing for the first two drives. He faced struggles that McCaffrey didn’t, in particular, a poor performance from sophomore center Cam Jurgens. Jurgens had multiple poor snaps, which Frost said were a result of Iowa’s bench clapping throughout the first half.
Those problems started almost immediately for Nebraska. After Iowa scored a field goal on its opening drive, the Huskers’ first drive was derailed by a bad snap from Jurgens that resulted in a 10-yard sack. Nebraska’s second drive also stalled.
Meanwhile, Iowa sophomore quarterback Spencer Petras built a 10-0 lead for his team. In the first quarter, he went 8-for-11 for 95 yards and a touchdown in three drives.
On the third Husker drive, McCaffrey came in and began a comeback. A 13-yard pass and 21-yard run from the quarterback pushed Nebraska across midfield, and the drive ended with a field goal.
Then, Petras began to struggle. On third-and-11, he threw an errant pass directly to senior cornerback Dicaprio Bootle for the first pick of Bootle's career. Nebraska then hit another field goal, which Iowa responded to with three points of its own.
In Nebraska’s final first half drive, Jurgens was benched after a botched snap on a first-and-10 at Iowa’s 26-yard line. The errant snap lost 19 yards, leading to a third-and-23 a play later. The Huskers needed a spark to continue their drive.
A Martinez heave to senior tight end Austin Allen provided just that, gaining exactly 23 yards and setting Nebraska up deep in Iowa territory. With 29 seconds left in the first half, Martinez punched in a quarterback sneak, tying the game at 13.
The Huskers rode on their offensive momentum into the second half, getting the ball first and scoring another touchdown from redshirt freshman running back Rahmir Johnson.
The touchdown was Nebraska’s last score and Iowa scored 13 unanswered points to finish off the game. On Iowa’s offensive end, Petras’ hot start was cooled off and the game leaned on Iowa’s ground attack in the second half.
Iowa had 17 carries for 35 yards in the first half while the second half saw the Hawkeyes earn 94 yards on 18 carries.
“We knew what kind of game we were getting into with Iowa,” sophomore linebacker Luke Reimer said. “We did an okay job at it but clearly not enough to improve.”
Iowa ran eight times for 40 yards on its opening second half drive, while Petras converted a third and fourth down that helped tie the game up at 20. The fourth quarter was the same story for Iowa, as the Hawkeyes sustained two clock-killing drives after taking a 23-20 lead at the start of the fourth quarter.
The first drive was aided by junior cornerback Cam Taylor-Britt’s muffed punt at Nebraska’s 34-yard line, where he stood in the sun and mistimed the catch. The Husker defense held on and forced another Iowa field goal to make the game 26-20 with over nine minutes to go.
Iowa’s next three-minute drive ended in a missed field goal but the script seemed to be pre-written.
“Really good teams that have been doing this for a long time know what they’re doing,” Frost said. “They have detail and discipline in their program because they’ve been building it for a long time. We’re still trying to get there.”
The strip sack was with Farniok overpowered at the line of scrimmage and Gholston did nothing fancy to beat him. Instead of hearing opposing fans roar, silence echoed for another Nebraska loss.
Nebraska is now 1-4 and could finish last in the Big Ten West, something that hasn't happened once in the Huskers' time in the conference.
“I’ve been doubted in this state before and I’m sure there’s some out there right now,” Frost said. “I know what happened last time and it’s going to happen again.”