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Report Card: Iowa Hawkeyes 28, Huskers 21

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Stinky Iowa did what stinky Iowa does.

Iowa v Nebraska
Ballgame.
Photo by Steven Branscombe/Getty Images

I admit it... I was feeling pretty good after three quarters of this game. Holding Iowa to three field goals with a two score lead, it looked like Nebraska was going to break this hideous string of painful losses. Only to have Iowa play the most unlikely bingo card to tie the game up: blocked punt touchdown, safety and yet another field goal.

Nebraska’s big bugaboos from this season (awful special teams and offensive line play) came back to haunt in that fourth quarter, and Iowa did the most Iowa thing they possibly could do in dominating the fourth quarter.

Many people want Scott Frost to hire a dedicated special teams coach, and this week’s debacle provides a strong case to do that. I’m still leaning against that, because dedicating that staff position to special teams potentially constrains the staff elsewhere. But let’s make one thing clear: besides hiring a new offensive coordinator, hiring an assistant well versed in quality special teams are the two highest priorities for Frost over the next few weeks. It’s clear that nobody Frost brought to Lincoln is capable of coaching special teams.

With that, it’s onto the report card, and as always, your feedback is welcome in the comments.

QB: For three quarters, Logan Smothers sure gave Husker fans something to chew on with a perfect seven for seven passing. But 19 carries in those three quarters is simply not sustainable for a quarterback. In this game, with the offseason hours away? It’ll play, but Smothers will have to find ways to get the ball to others...and in the fourth quarter, with the game on the line, Smothers hit a bit of a wall. Too many swing passes for minimal gain kept his completion percentage up late. I didn’t feel like Smothers was going to be a threat to get the offense in position to tie the game up late, but the weird thing is... he was doing it. (Even if he had to exploit sideline routes to an almost ludicrous extent.) Some people would claim that means that Smothers had that “it” factor that Adrian Martinez has, but let’s not forget that in Smothers final five drives featured two fumbles, a safety and an interception. Not a horrible first game, to be sure...but not great either. Those of you who thought Adrian Martinez was Nebraska’s biggest problem hopefully have a better understanding of Nebraska’s issues now. Grade: C

I-Back: I know this room was decimated by injuries, but I’m not sure I follow the logic of the rotation this week. I presume Markese Stepp was unavailable due to injury, but Brody Belt was the primary back in the game late. The new offensive coordinator and running back coaches have to figure this room out, because it’s a mess. That being said, watching Brody Belt run an option pitch to Jaquez Yant was creative. It also makes me wonder if Scott Frost has been talking to Tim Beck about the offensive coordinator job, especially when you saw the “diamonds” formation show up in the playbook. Grade: D

Receivers: We’re really going to miss Samori Toure and Austin Allen next season, as they’ve been Nebraska’s two clutch receivers all season. Omar Manning only caught one pass, but that 40 yard catch is exactly the deep threat that this offense has needed the last few years. Whomever takes over as receivers coach needs to find a way to get Zavier Betts more involved in this offense. Those stretch catches on Nebraska’s final drive were pretty to watch. (And watch over and over, thanks to instant replay...) Grade: B

Offensive Line: Broc Bando rotated in on the right side of the line for Bryce Benhart at tackle and then for Matt Sichterman at guard...just in time to give up the pressure that resulted in the safety. Considering the muddled mess of Nebraska’s I-back room, I don’t know what to make of the running game. Pass protection early on wasn’t horrible, but it wasn’t great either. And if we’re speculating about Tim Beck’s return, might as well add offensive line coach John Garrison, who’s coached Outland Trophy semifinalist Ickey Ekwonu his entire playing career. Grade: C+

Defensive Line: Ty Robinson had a big game with a sack and several noteworthy plays. The targeting/roughing penalties were bogus; replay was able to negate the targeting call, but not the erroneous roughing the passer penalty. And in case you spent all of your time looking at whether Sam LaPorta made that fourth down catch in the end zone or not, count the number of Hawkeyes #99 sent flying. (Eric Crouch is envious...)

Ben Stille and Casey Rogers each also did well up front. Grade: B

Linebackers: This is where things got a little ugly. Luke Reimer had a tackle for loss, a pass breakup and two forced fumbles. But when the Pro Football Focus grades come out, I suspect we’ll have a bunch of missed tackles as well. Iowa’s Tyler Goodson found his way to the third level way too many times enroute to his season-high 156 yards rushing. Caleb Tannor had a couple of pass breakups as well, one of which I thought should have been interceptions. Maybe that would have been one of those game-changing plays Nebraska has needed this season. Grade: D+

Secondary: Marquel Dismuke and Myles Farmer switched off this week as to who was playing the deep safety; Dismuke had seven tackles while Farmer added three. Cam Taylor-Britt did his best to make Keagan Johnson’s return to the state of Nebraska less than stellar. (I’m not so sure on that pass interference penalty in the third quarter, but I don’t think it made any difference; they still would have likely made a 45 yard field goal to cut the NU lead to 21-9.) Bottom line was too many Iowa tight ends (and Tyler Goodson, for that matter) running free in the secondary. Grade: C-

Special Teams: It probably would have still been a low grade without the blocked punt, as William Przystup had a 32 yard punt go awry and Oliver Martin chose to fair catch a punt that probably would have bounced into the end zone, setting up Iowa’s safety. Other than Brendan Franke’s kickoffs, the lone bright spot was Phalen Sanford’s tackle of Charlie Jones for a one yard loss. Grade: 0.

Overall: D What would have likely been a B for the first three quarters was all for naught with a horrific fourth quarter. This season is all about being “close,” but a 3-9 record indicates the factors that turned prevented Nebraska from winning a handful of other games were critical. Nebraska could have and should have beaten both Iowa and Michigan, who will be playing next weekend in Indianapolis. To me, Nebraska’s awful special teams and offensive line play were the difference between, the 3-9 record and something that could have been something like 9-3. (Hell, maybe they could have been in Indianapolis as well next weekend, and possibly playing Ohio State.) That’s the conundrum Trev Alberts looked at, because from a football perspective, Scott Frost has built a contender despite the awful win-loss record. Fix those glaring lapses this offseason, and likely we’ll be looking forward to games after November next season.

Poll

How would you grade the Huskers play against Iowa?

This poll is closed

  • 13%
    A - A Hawkeye fan here! Don’t change anything!
    (77 votes)
  • 6%
    B - But for that fourth quarter, Huskers looked fine.
    (35 votes)
  • 5%
    C - Could have used a better finish
    (32 votes)
  • 24%
    D - Didn’t finish the game.
    (143 votes)
  • 50%
    F - This effin’ season is finally finished.
    (289 votes)
576 votes total Vote Now