I’ve seen how this story ends.
There was no way that Iowa senior kicker Keith Duncan would pass up on another opportunity to bury Nebraska. Not after his game-winning boot last year, in which he blew kisses to the Husker sidelines after drilling a 48-yarder to give Iowa a 27-24 victory.
Definitely not after his performance this afternoon, in which he continued fulfilling his role as the pseudo-villain in another competitive contest between Nebraska and Iowa. Duncan had hit four-of-four field goal attempts to give the Hawkeyes a 26-20 lead, and Iowa was looking to ice the game as it drove inside Nebraska territory late in the fourth quarter.
Nebraska’s defense had done something it rarely did in the second half: stop Hawkeye sophomore running back Tyler Goodson. This led to a 51-yard field goal attempt by Duncan with 2:07 remaining.
Duncan had the opportunity to cement his legacy in the rivalry and bury the Huskers for the second consecutive year. His attempt, which would’ve been a career-long had it gone in, slammed the crossbar and fell sadly into the endzone.
Unlike last year, junior quarterback Adrian Martinez had the chance to respond to an Iowa kick. As Duncan’s game-winning boot sailed through the night sky at Memorial Stadium in 2019, all Martinez could do is watch from the sidelines. Now, Duncan’s doink had given Martinez a shot at redemption, a chance to deliver a signature moment in his up-and-down Nebraska career.
Nebraska’s offensive line never gave him a shot.
Martinez moved the ball with ease down the field with the contest in the balance. He found junior tight end Austin Allen on first down from his own 32-yard line. Martinez then scrambled for six, picking up a first down.
On the ensuing play, he threw a low ball that sophomore wide receiver miraculously came up with, scooping the ball before it hit the ground to make a diving catch. The play gained 18 yards, and Nebraska found itself at Iowa’s 39-yard line with just over a minute remaining. Only then, disaster struck.
Iowa senior defensive lineman Chauncey Golston burned senior offensive lineman Matt Farniok and popped Martinez, forcing a fumble that Iowa recovered with 1:18 remaining. Nebraska was on the Hawkeyes’ 39 yard line, the final stain on an abysmal day for the Huskers’ offensive line.
First, it was the bad snaps. Sophomore center Cameron Jurgens was consistently unable to find the quarterback’s hands in the first half, whether it was Martinez or redshirt freshman Luke McCaffrey. Head coach Scott Frost blamed Iowa’s sideline postgame, saying that their clapping interfered with the Huskers’ snap cadences.
It’s a fair excuse, and who knows what the existence or extent of said clapping was, but it’s significantly less believable in the context of a second-quarter Jurgens snap that sailed miles over Martinez’s head, resulting in a loss of 19 yards. There are certain things that can be excused when an offensive line’s timing is off, but snaps like that are not one of them.
That snap pushed the Husker offense back from Iowa’s 26 to Iowa’s 45-yard line, and the drive was saved by a miraculous completion to junior tight end Austin Allen on a third-and-23. Martinez finished the drive with a quarterback sneak to tie the game at 13 just before halftime.
Then, it was the penalties. With Nebraska driving early in the fourth quarter and the Huskers trailing 23-20, Martinez led the Huskers to Iowa’s 47-yard line. On first-and-10, Martinez broke free and weaved past defenders all the way to the Hawkeyes’ 17-yard line, only for it to be undone by a holding penalty on redshirt freshman offensive lineman Bryce Benhart.
That killed the drive’s momentum, with the Huskers eventually punting it away.
Want some special teams errors, too? The Huskers provided plenty of big ones on Friday afternoon. Outside of senior kicker Connor Culp, who was 2-of-2 on field goals and extra points, Nebraska’s special teams were woeful.
Sophomore punter Will Przystup was inconsistent and the Husker punt and kickoff units allowed returns of over 20 yards. Worst of all, junior cornerback Cam Taylor-Britt muffed a punt after the Huskers forced a three-and-out with Iowa deep in its own territory in the fourth quarter.
Much like it had all day, Iowa took advantage of Nebraska’s errors. A Duncan field goal followed the costly muff, and Iowa took a 26-20 lead with 8:25 remaining in the fourth quarter.
Another offensive line penalty marred the Huskers’ ensuing drive, a false start penalty on redshirt freshman offensive lineman Ethan Piper with Nebraska facing a third-and-10. Nebraska had to punt, and the ensuing Hawkeye drive concluded with Duncan’s chance to seal the game.
Martinez’s fumble was the icing on the cake, marking another undisciplined performance in a season full of them. Iowa didn’t make as many mental errors, hence it won the game. It’s funny how those two things are positively correlated.
“The good teams in our league are buttoned up like that,” Frost said postgame.
Frost, understandably, was upset postgame. It has to get old harping on the same things in the locker room week after week: turnovers, penalties, unforced errors. He said that, while he doesn’t like to talk about the coaches here before him, the discipline in the program “wasn’t very good,” when he arrived in Lincoln, and that fixing that culture has been a three-year process.
A pandemic certainly undermines that process, but at a certain point there’s only so much a shortened offseason can excuse. It seems like this season’s losses have all followed the same script, with a different unit shouldering the blame each time.
One week it’s quarterback play, the next it’s the secondary, the one after that it’s Nebraska’s execution in the red zone — the list seems endless. All the while, the Huskers continue to be a punching bag for the rest of the Big Ten.
“I think they’re [more] worried about growing mustaches than playing football,” Duncan said postgame, referencing junior wide receiver Kade Warner’s midweek comments that some Husker players planned on sporting facial hair for Friday’s game.
Those are the kind of comments a team can make when they’ve won six consecutive games against their rival.