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View from the Press Box: Hawkeye Hate Week Edition

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The final regular season game pits border rivals in a battle for bragging rights and respect.

NCAA Football: Iowa at Nebraska Dylan Widger-USA TODAY Sports

As the wise Proverb once said, “All good things must come to an end.” This particular season will not be a good one if you want to look back on this team and remember them in terms of wins and losses. It’s also probably not the first season that Husker fans will want to remember as they sit on their porch telling stories of the Scarlet and Cream to their grand kids. Maybe you should at least pause and recognize this season, warts and all, as what we hope will be the rebirth of our once proud program. Today, Senior Day, is a great moment to honor the 19 men who will be wearing those colors one last time as they look forward to their futures, on the football field or pursuing a life off of it.

This group has endured some hardships that no other graduating class has ever had to face. Multiple coaching changes, both in the head coach and positionally. High profile players coming in, and exiting town just as quickly. A freaking global pandemic that brought life to a screeching halt. Yes, the losing record is what people will look at when all is said and done surrounding this group. I think what's happening behind the scenes, those things that most of us as fans will never know about or understand are what will ultimately turn this around for Coach Frost and his staff. I still believe these young men have left a legacy that someday the fan base can look back on and say “They were the group that turned it around. They laid the foundation that our success is now built on.

So what would honor them in the here and now? What would be the instant legacy they leave as they walk off of Tom Osborne Field at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln, Nebraska one last time as a member of the Nebraska Cornhusker football team?

Beat the Iowa Hawkeyes.

PREGAME NOTES

So 19 Huskers were honored 30 minutes prior to kickoff between the Iowa Hawkeyes. Some were Super Seniors saying their goodbyes for the last time, while several Juniors chose to walk with this class, most notably QB Adrian Martinez, DL Damion Daniels and Deontre Thomas, as well as RG Matt Sichterman.

We will see what the future holds for some of these Juniors in the coming days, weeks, or months. But if today is there last in a Husker uniform, I hope the ones that are healthy enough to play put on a performance to be proud of.

Injuries are what they are at this point in the season. Martinez and Damion Daniels were not dressed, along with RB Rahmir Johnson. Look for a by-committee approach from Coach Ron Brown today. Deontai Williams was dressed, but was noticeably limping and looked more like an emergency option going into his final game as a Husker.

Logan Smothers will get the start under center. We’ve known all week. So has Iowa. Hopefully his limited game film makes him a mystery for the Hawkeyes defense today. If he struggles, we may get an opportunity to see in state 2021 QB signee Heinrich Haarberg.

The attendance is 85, 541. Lots of Black and Gold in the Sea of Red among the fans.

Not sure how I feel about that yet.

Iowa wins the toss and defers to the 2nd half. First opportunity for Smothers to lead during his first career start as a Husker.

FIRST QUARTER

Place Kicker Caleb Shudak kicks into the end zone for a touchback.

Delay of game before the first snap.

But no need to worry Husker Faithful. Smothers orchestrates a methodical 12 play, 75 yard drive that chews up 5:42 on the clock. Taking it in from 2 yards out on a QB run.

Some notable plays during the drive were two laser passes to Grad Transfer Samori Toure. Toure had 2 catches for 47 yards on the drive. Jaquez Yant saw the first reps at RB, getting 4 carries for 12 yards on the drive. He picked up a crucial 4th and 1 early in the drive.

Kicker Chase Contreraz makes the XP. 9:18 remaining in the 1st Quarter.

HUSKERS: 7 / HAWKEYES: 0

Brendan Franke kicks a touchback.

The Hawkeyes drive to the 8 yard line, bringing up a 3rd and 8 situation on Nebraska’s 8 yard line. The crowd noise causes a false start on RG Connor Colby, making it 3rd and 13. The noise was still quite deafening after the play, so Coach Kirk Ferentz burns a timeout to try and calm his offense.

After a 12 yard run by Hawkeye RB Tyler Goodson, it brought up a 4th and 1 situation. QB Alex Padilla sells a hard play action fake hitting TE Sam LaPorta for a touchdown.

As Lee Corso says...

The play was reviewed and it was deemed that LaPorta bobbled the football and did not secure it as he went to the ground, crediting the pass break up to LB Luke Reimer.

Turnover on downs. Huskers take over at their 1 yard line. 4:29 remaining in the 1st.

3 and out by the Husker offense. The Huskers punt from their 4 yard line. William Pryzstup boots it 43 yards to a dangerous return man in WR Charlie Jones. Reserve Nickel Phalen Sanford buries Jones for a 1 yard loss.

Hawkeyes start at the Huskers 48 yard line. 2:39 in the 1st.

After a 10 yard run by Goodson. The Blackshirts make their presence known. A 7 yard sack by DL Ty Robinson and a QB pressure by DL Ben Stille on consecutive plays sets up a tunnel screen to WR Arland Bruce IV that only gains 6 yards, bringing up 4th and 11.

Hawkeye punter Tory Taylor boots the ball into the end zone for a touchback. Huskers begin on their 20 yard line. 23 seconds remain.

A 4 yard run by RB Marvin Scott III ends the quarter.

HUSKERS: 7 / HAWKEYES: 0

SECOND QUARTER

Huskers punt on their 28 yard line on 4th and 2. Pryzstup connects with a 32 yard punt that is called for a fair catch at the Hawkeye 40 yard line. 13:36 remaining in the half.

After a 3rd and 2 run by FB Monte Pottebaum for a first down, LB Caleb Tannor was hit with a 15 yard Unsportsmanlike Conduct Penalty after the play was over. This moved the Hawkeyes from the Husker 49, to the 34.

Hawkeyes burn 2nd timeout of the half on a 2nd and 8 on the Husker 32. 1 timeout remaining for Coach Ferentz. 11:58 remains in the 2nd.

An illegal formation penalty on the Hawkeyes negates a first down catch by LaPorta. With a 3rd and 9 on the Nebraska 33 yard line, Padilla nearly throws a pick to Nickel Issac Gifford.

4th and 9. Shudak attempts a 51 yard field goal. Kick is good. 7 plays, 27 yards, and 2:57 off the clock. Big win for the Blackshirts. 10:39 remains in the half.

HUSKERS: 7 / HAWKEYES: 3

Shudak touchback.

Another methodical drive by the Huskers. 13 plays 75 yards, and 6:19 off the clock with Jaquez Yant going over the top for a 1 yard touchdown.

This offense seems to have an identity. A Triple Option game with Smothers and multiple WRs and RBs motioning in the backfield to create confusion and misdirection. Smothers is also completing passes when he needs to.

Contreraz connects on the XP. 4:20 remains in the half.

HUSKERS: 14 / HAWKEYES: 3

Franke touchback.

An 8 play 45 yard drive that took 3:41 off the clock stalls when Padilla nearly throws another interception to LB Tannor. Shudak attempts a 48 yard field goal.

Kick is good. 39 seconds remain in the 2nd.

HUSKERS: 14 / HAWKEYES: 6

Shudak touchback.

Yant runs for 3 yards to end the half for the Huskers.

HUSKERS: 14 / HAWKEYES: 6

HALFTIME MUSINGS

  • Logan Smothers is operating this offense calmly and effectively (5/5 for 58 yards, 14 carries for 64 yards and a TD). A lot of it due to the game plan, but the former Alabama high school product is showing poise and moxie. Running for tough yards and operating this spread-triple option attack.
  • This game was never going to be an offense juggernaut type game. Though the Huskers due hold the advantage at the half (169 yards to Iowa’s 135). The Blackshirts are playing a very much “bend, don’t break” game with an otherwise stagnant offense in the Hawkeyes. Coming up with crucial stops when it has mattered most.
  • Husker offense is 2 for 2 on 4th down conversion. Keep rolling the dice if you need to. Show confidence in the unit and have them show you they are capable of picking up those tough yards in crunch time.
  • Don’t look for the Hawkeyes to panic coming out of Halftime. They have played games close to the vest before. The last thing the Huskers need to do is be complacent on either side of the ball. Continue critical stops on key 3rd downs. As for the offense, stay on schedule. You have the lead, look to secure and build on it by sustaining who you’ve been the first 30 minutes of this game.

THIRD QUARTER

Franke touchback.

Spencer Petras replaces Padilla at QB. Not sure the reasoning there. He was Iowa’s starting QB for most of the season.

The move has paid off early. Petras leads Iowa down to the Nebraska 14 yard line. On a 2nd and 8 play, Coach Ferentz calls timeout to keep from getting a delay of game penalty assessed on the offense. 10:22 remains in the 3rd quarter.

Fumble by Goodson after the timeout. Deontre Thomas makes the recovery on the Nebraska 6 yard line. 10:12 remains in the 3rd.

Smothers runs another touchdown in from 1 yard out. A 9 play, 94 yard drive with 4:18 off the clock. This drive was a thing of beauty.

Highlighted in this drive were catches by Austin Allen of 27 yards, which places him atop the single season TE receiving yard total with 574. Another was a 40 yard bomb to Omar Manning to set up the offense at the Iowa 2 yard line. Smothers shook off pressure and delivered a dynamic throw to the Junior Wide Receiver.

Contreraz kicks through the XP. 5:54 remains in the quarter.

HUSKERS: 21 / HAWKEYES: 6

Franke touchback.

The Hawkeyes drive to Nebraska’s 18, but have to settle for another field goal attempt. Petras nearly throws a pick that sailed through the hands of LaPorta and into the hands of Safety Marquel Dismuke. A 10 play 57 yard drive stalls.

Shudak’s third attempt of the day from 36 yards out is true. 27 seconds remain in the 3rd quarter.

HUSKERS: 21 / HAWKEYES: 9

Fair catch called for by WR Alante Brown. 25 yard line to start.

1 yard fumble recovery by Logan Smothers to end the quarter.

HUSKERS: 21 / HAWKEYES: 9

FOURTH QUARTER

On a 4th and 8, Pryztup punt is blocked by DE Joe Evans and taken into the end zone by DB Kyler Fisher at the Nebraska 14 yard line. Shudak XP is good. 14:16 remains in the game.

HUSKERS: 21 / HAWKEYES: 16

Touchback by Shudak.

Miscue costs Huskers a possession. Smothers was stripped of the ball by DE Zack VanValkenburg and recovered by DT Logan Lee. Hawkeyes take over on their 46 yard line. 12:14 remains in the 4th.

The Blackshirts bow up and force a 3 and out. Taylor punts the ball to WR Oliver Martin, who calls for the fair catch at the Husker 7 yard line. 10:37 remains in the quarter.

Hawkeyes get Smothers in the end zone for intentional grounding. Safety for the Hawkeyes. 9:56 remains in the game.

HUSKERS: 21 / HAWKEYES: 18

Jones returns the free kick by Pryzstup for 25 yards to the Iowa 38 yard line. 9:49 in the game.

Drive stalls again for Iowa, but they manage to tie it up. On his 4th attempt of the day, Shudak nails a 44 yard field goal. 8 plays, 36 yards, 2:35 off the clock. 7:21 remains in the game.

HUSKERS: 21 / HAWKEYES: 21

Shudak touchback.

3 and out for the Huskers. The wheels are falling off. Daniel Cerni comes in for Pryzstup and boots it 47 yards to the Iowa 24 yard line. 5:58 remaining.

Goodson breaks off a 55 yard run, after being contained most of the day, and in 6 plays, 76 yards, and exactly 3 minutes, the Huskers lose the lead on a 2 yard run by Petras. Shudak XP is good. 2:58 remaining.

HUSKERS: 21 / HAWKEYES: 28

Shudak touchback.

This can’t happen again, can it? 9 losses by less than 9 points? 8 by less than 7? This cannot end this way for this team. History has never seen this before.

The drive starts with a 7 yard sack by DE VanValkenburg. Then a defensive hold by LB Jack Campbell. 3 small completions to WR/RB Brody Belt, WR Levi Falck, and WR Zavier Betts get the Huskers to their 38 yard line.

Then the lovely refs of the B1G Conference strike again.

A 2nd and 3 pass to Falck was deemed incomplete. Maybe I am football moron, but seeing it on the field made me fairly certain it was a catch.

The refs reward us with a 13 yard catch by Toure, that was at first called incomplete.

Then a catch.

The Huskers work it down to the Iowa 29 yard line when Smothers tried to take a shot for the end zone and their was apparently some confusion with his receiver, because it was waiting for the outstretched arms of DB Jermari Harris.

Iowa takes over at their 2 yard line. 43 seconds remain.

4 yards on the ground by Petras. Nebraska Timeout. Iowa kneels down.

Ball Game.

FINAL: HUSKERS: 21 /HAWKEYES: 28

WALK-ON WHO STOOD OUT

  • Offensively, I was, and have been, very pleased with the play of "Swiss Army Knife" Brody Belt. The Sophomore from Millard West had 2 rushes for 14 yards and 2 receptions for 10. I don’t know what his role will be in 2022, but the offense will definitely need to find ways to get him touches going forward. He's earned them.
  • Nickel Back Phalen Sanford with the key 1 yard loss to drop Iowa’s Charlie Jones. Special Teams wasn’t special late in the game. But the Benkelman, NE native was a sure fire standout with his key tackle in the clutch.

PLAYERS ON FIRE

I’m going to highlight the 19 men who were honored during Senior Day. Whether they played a single snap or none at all. They were on the sidelines with enthusiasm and passion during the game. Even down to the final possession, I still saw an engaged and focused group of guys that knew this was their last game. They all contributed, in one way or another, during their time here. Thank you Seniors!

FINAL THOUGHTS/ MY OUTLOOK GOING INTO 2022

It’s hard for me to say the things that this team did wrong today to lose this game, didn’t also get paired with a bunch of things they did right. Logan Smothers in his first start showed poise and toughness. I don’t know why there was such a hesitancy to play him with a banged up Adrian Martinez. As great a player as 2AM is, maybe Frost should have shut him down sooner for his own well being and health.

The defense did good things with strategic pieces out for this game. No Damion, Jojo, or Deontai. 3 leaders at 3 levels of defense was just too much to ultimately overcome.

As much as it pains me to say this out loud, credit to Coach Ferentz and the Hawkeyes for not folding early and staying the course. You might not want to hear it Husker Nation, but the Hawkeyes won this game because they have players like Nebraska who have endured close one score losses, but they have also won those close one score games as well. An experience this particular Husker team has not, and will not, achieve this season.

Here’s hoping 2022 will be a fresh start and something different. I know Coach Frost is not a slogan guy, but maybe the word “FINISH” needs to be plastered everywhere this off season. The weight room, locker room, meeting room. Just one word. FINISH. That needs to be the word resonating in these returning and incoming players minds. A team, a fan base, a Coach and his staff cannot endure another season like this one.

I look forward to seeing who the new offensive coordinator is, and if Coach Frost truly hands over the reigns as play caller. The offensive cupboard, while surely do for some attrition, will not be completely bare for the position coaches they bring in. I’ve said publicly I wish they at least retain Coach Brown for the RB room, and potentially make a call up to Elkhorn, NE to Barney Cotton to return to coach the OL. Other than that, your guess is as good as mine Husker Nation.

Thanks for letting me cover this team that I love with you. I’ve truly enjoyed every moment of this experience and I look forward to doing it again next season.

For now, enjoy the rest of your 2021. Cheer on the other great college athletics the Huskers have to offer. Happy Holidays to you and yours!

Onto 2022!

#GBR