Like Bill Murray’s weatherman character in the 1993 movie “Groundhog Day”, Husker fans have woken up to the realization that, once again, Iowa fans are chirping “Got you, babe” at us. Again.
For the sixth time in a row.
And frankly, I’m sensing a feeling of fatalism on the entire situation. Granted, while Iowa’s winning streak is now at six games, the last three games have only been decided by 12 points. Certainly I felt it after the game. We’re not in the business of moral victories; close, but no cigar, isn’t good enough.
But when it comes to the report card, we have to acknowledge that unlike the 2016 and 2017 games, not everything was awful. It’s not claiming a moral victory to point out that not everything is a flaming dumpster fire. Nebraska has made progress over the last three seasons, but it’s clearly nowhere near enough. Not only that, but the rest of the Big Ten west has gotten better. Purdue is better, Minnesota is better, Northwestern is better...heck, even Illinois is better. And unfortunately, Nebraska hasn’t improved nearly enough.
If you want something to feel better about, it’s how the Blackshirts slowed down Iowa’s rushing attack, holding Iowa’s backs to 3.7 yards per carry. Last season, Tyler Goodson averaged 8.9 yard per carry; in 2018, Mekhi Sargent averaged 6.7. Yes, Goodson did rush for 111 yards, but it took a career-high 30 carries to get there.
Contrast that to Nebraska’s I-backs, who only carried the ball 12 times in the game. I get that Dedrick Mills is still out, but Mills is also a senior. The young backs need more carries before deciding they can’t cut it. For what it’s worth, Marvin Scott had a better yards per carry average (2.5) than the Iowa backs (1.3) in the first quarter.
So it’s onto the report card. And as always, your feedback is welcome in the comments.
Quarterback: As many thought, Adrian Martinez reclaimed his starting role, though Luke McCaffery did play three series. In the absence of Mills, McCaffery continues to be Nebraska’s most productive rusher...but the Jammal Lord offense is not a winning offensive scheme. That’s not to say that Adrian Martinez is significantly more effective throwing the ball downfield, but you have to respect that he did it as a freshman. A 90% completion percentage would be far more impressive if more of than two of those passes were thrown downfield more than ten yards. That is the enigma of the Nebraska offense right now, because I believe that once that part of the offense gets unlocked, this offense could explode. Grade: B-
Wan’Dale: I think six carries and nine pass receptions is probably a good target for how to use Nebraska’s most versatile player. That being said, I’d like to see Robinson targeted downfield more (and definitely not only in the closing minutes of the game). And I’m not sure the point of having him run a crossing route two yards downfield on third and five. If/when Mills returns, I’d line him up a little more in the slot and a little less at running back. Grade: B+
I-Back: I don’t know if Marvin Scott got injured or the coaches got fed up with him, as Scott never touched the ball past the first drive of the second quarter. His numbers weren’t great, but as I mentioned, it was still better than what Iowa’s backs were gaining on the ground. They didn’t give up on the ground game. Rahmir Johnson’s touchdown run at the start of the third quarter was good, but he only touched the ball one more time the rest of the game. (Oh, and for what it’s worth, Nebraska didn’t score again the rest of the game either.) For the second week in a row, grade: Incomplete.
Wide Reciever: I really liked that Alante Brown reverse, with all of the “whoopsie” misdirection that I’m sure helped distract the Hawkeyes. I just wish we could find ways to throw downfield to these young receivers. I can’t believe it’s the offensive design or quarterback holding the receivers back; Stanley Morgan had a 1,004 yard receiving season in 2018. But other than a couple of exceptions, Nebraska never threw more than 10 yards downfield. One of those was an incredible catch by Austin Allen, who’s becoming a very reliable target. (But if you are overthrowing the 6’8” Allen, the quarterback is REALLY overthrowing him.) Grade: C+
Offensive Line: Nebraska’s youngsters up front had an awful game. Iowa’s Daviyon Nixon ate the right side of the line all afternoon, while multiple penalties on the line sabotaged drives.
Then there’s SnapGate. Two points:
- Cam Jurgens should be focusing on his quarterback’s call and recognizing where the snap signal is coming from.
- Kirk Ferentz didn’t deny it when asked after the game. Instead, he laughed about it...and for good reason. You’ve seen the video evidence of it, and more importantly, Iowa’s defense has already been penalized for “disconcerting signals” twice this season.
So yeah, they did it. On purpose. Still, I have to grade for the mistake, because it’s ultimately Nebraska’s responsibility to play through Iowa’s shenanigans. Grade: D-
Defensive Line: The young Nebraska defensive linemen gave Iowa’s vaunted offensive line a battle that they haven’t faced in this series since two coaching changes. Casey Rogers was huge in this game with Nebraska’s first sack of an Iowa quarterback in years. This was an impressive bounceback performance. Grade: A
Linebackers: Luke Reimer started his game with a boneheaded personal foul penalty, but bounced back with an otherwise strong game, leading with 12 tackles. Will Honas and JoJo Domann were key reasons why the Iowa running game was bottled up so much. Grade: A-
Secondary: I was somewhat surprised that Dicaprio Bootle’s interception was the first of his career. A decent performance, though Iowa’s receivers were open quite a bit early in the game. Some of that was by choice as Nebraska wanted to shut down the run. Grade: B
Special Teams: Usually my own laziness stops me from breaking out special teams on the report card, and you’d think that ineptness the last five years would have taught me different. Well, this week I cannot ignore special teams failures. Pooch kickoffs are fine when they are fielded at the 15 and run out to the 25; not so much when they are fielded at the 32. Punt coverage was dismal, and punt returns were a disaster. Grade: F
Overall: C This was a game that Nebraska could of, and according our our old friend Bill Connelly, should have won.
LOADS of odd results this week. Least likely wins, per postgame win expectancy:— Bill Connelly (@ESPN_BillC) November 29, 2020
* Rutgers-Purdue 12%
* Iowa-Neb 16%
* Ball St-Toledo 17%
* USA-Ark St 31%
* Stanford-Cal 34%
* Hawaii-Nev 37%
* Ore St-Oregon 37%
* Wash-Utah 39%
* BC-UL 40%
* Ok St-Tex Tech 45%
* ISU-Texas 49%
But they didn’t. Again. Maybe next year, Husker fans will wake up next to Andie McDowell on Black Saturday and the tomorrow we’ve been not-so-patiently waiting for will be here.
How would you grade the Huskers performance against Iowa?
This poll is closed
A - Almost won.
B - But for a few screwups, the Huskers could have won.
C - Could have won... but didn’t.
D - Didn’t win...and that’s all that matters.
Elsewhere in College Football
Fox Sports: ZERO. Good news, Husker fans. This week’s game against Purdue is on BTN, which means a 0% chance of BRIAN CUSTER.
Oregon State: A While it may twinge Husker fans hearts to see Tristan Gebbia pulling off the upset for the Beavers, keep in mind that Gebbia’s probably in the right spot for him. Until this week, he had thrown more interceptions than touchdowns this season and has lost more yards than he gained.
Iowa State: A The Cyclones are heading towards the Big XII title game. If not for COVID, Jerry World would need to be stocking up on as much Natty Light as they could possibly get into their taps.
Michigan State: A Sparty might be the most manic-depressive team in football this season. When Sparty is good, they are really good. The rest of the time, they are simply awful. This week, they were good and ended up crushing Northwestern’s COVID-aided dreams of beating Indiana to earn a College Football Playoff spot.
Big Ten: F As it became clear that Ohio State probably wasn’t going to be able to play this weekend, the league needed to be putting together a Wisconsin/Illinois rematch this weekend to get the Badgers another data point to help them get a better bowl game. Of course, maybe the Badgers didn’t really want to go.