Nebraska rallied from a 14-point halftime deficit to tie the game against Iowa, but as was the case a year ago, a last-second field goal ended the Huskers’ season with a loss. Here are position grades from today’s game:
It was another night to forget for sophomore quarterback Adrian Martinez. While a large number of swing passes and quick screens didn’t do him any favors, finishing a game with 50 passing yards is hardly a recipe for success. He was 10-18 in the air and didn’t look comfortable in the pocket as he routinely scrambled for short gains. Martinez carried the ball 21 times for 44 yards, taking two sacks which hurt his rushing total, and threw a costly interception to end the first half as well.
Meanwhile, sophomore Noah Vedral saw the field briefly in the first quarter, completing 1-3 passes for 11 yards. Freshman Luke McCaffrey threw just one pass on the day but was nearly Nebraska’s leading passer, as his 39-yard throw to junior wide receiver JD Spielman went for a touchdown. McCaffrey also had one snap on Nebraska’s final drive, a 4-yard rush as he looked to keep the game alive.
Running backs: A-
Freshman all-purpose back Wan’Dale Robinson returned to the field after missing two games and was clearly not at full health. He ran the ball three times for 14 yards before exiting due to a recurring hamstring injury.
In his absence, junior Dedrick Mills handled the bulk of the carries against a formidable Iowa rushing defense. Mills totaled 94 yards on 24 carries and was also the team’s leading receiver with four catches for 34 yards. Senior Wyatt Mazour handled backup duties and ran for 28 yards, including the game-tying 9-yard score in the third quarter. While Nebraska’s passing game never got going, the rushing attack was consistent throughout the game.
Wide receivers: C+
It was a subdued night for Nebraska’s wideouts, as only Spielman and sophomore Kade Warner caught passes. Along with his 39-yard touchdown catch, Spielman added two other grabs for negative yardage, finishing the game with 34 receiving yards. Meanwhile, Warner made a pair of key catches, a third-down grab in the first quarter and a fourth-down conversion in the third, for 31 yards.
Perhaps Nebraska’s wideouts could’ve done a better job at creating separation to make their quarterback’s life easier, but they did well when called upon.
Offensive line/tight end: D+
Going up against future NFL first-round pick A.J. Epenesa was never going to be an easy task for Nebraska’s offensive line, and Epenesa was a game-wrecker on Friday. He led the Hawkeyes with 14 total tackles and was in Nebraska’s backfield all game long. As a team, Iowa had nine tackles for a loss, with two coming on sacks from Epenesa.
The Husker offensive line experienced most of its success in run blocking, where 3 or 4-yard gains were typical, but its pass protection didn’t make Martinez comfortable in the pocket.
With senior wideout Kanawai Noa out due to injury, Nebraska ran most of its offense with two tight ends on the field. Sophomore Austin Allen failed to record a catch while junior Jack Stoll caught three short passes for one yard. His biggest contribution on the night came on an offsides penalty, when his theatrics secured a 5-yard penalty on Iowa.
Defensive line: C
Apart from a trio of long rushing plays, Nebraska’s defensive line played well to limit Iowa’s struggling rushing attack. However, considering the Hawkeyes entered the game with just one carry of 40 yards or more all season, allowing a pair of 40-yard-plus rushing touchdowns in the first quarter proved costly.
The first, a 45-yard reverse play, went for a touchdown after both the defensive line and linebackers failed to contain their side. Meanwhile, Iowa running back Tyler Goodson burst through the defensive line untouched on his 55-yard rushing score.
The Huskers didn’t generate much of a pass rush all game long, failing to record a single sack, but did make five tackles for a loss, including some key stops in the third quarter to get Nebraska back on track.
Nebraska’s linebackers were under siege for most as the night, but put together a solid performance as the most consistent defensive unit. Middle linebackers Mohamed Barry (six tackles), Collin Miller (five tackles) and Will Honas (four tackles) mopped up any rushing attacks which made it past the front three. At outside linebacker, senior Alex Davis and junior JoJo Domann were versatile in pass coverage, while sophomore Caleb Tannor made the costly error on Iowa’s reverse play which led to a touchdown. Tannor didn’t return to the game much after that, and did not record a tackle.
For 59-plus minutes, Nebraska’s secondary did anything and everything it could to stop Iowa quarterback Nate Stanley. Prior to the game’s final drive, he only had 55 yards as the Husker secondary provided tight coverage. Sophomore Cam Taylor-Britt was the unit’s big star, as he recovered a fumble and returned an interception for a touchdown, while junior Marquel Dismuke was to blame on Goodson’s rushing score when he whiffed on a tackle.
All the good that Taylor-Britt and the rest of the secondary provided for most of the game became moot after just two Iowa completions. Stanley completed a pair of 22-yard passes in the game’s final seconds to set up the game-winning field goal, as Nebraska’s secondary couldn’t stop the Hawkeyes when it mattered most.
Special teams: D+
After getting the nod at starter over sophomore Barret Pickering, sophomore Matt Waldoch finished his season with a perfect kicking record, converting all three of his extra points along with a 41-yard field goal in the first quarter.
Nebraska’s kickoff unit made a crucial error following Taylor-Britt’s pick-six, as dangerous return man Ihmir Smith-Marsette took a short kickoff 95 yards for a score to kill Nebraska’s momentum.
Senior punter Isaac Armstrong had a busy game, as he averaged 38.8 yards over his 10 punts, but he had a couple of short kicks, including a 28-yard punt which set Iowa up inside Nebraska territory in the fourth quarter.