Not a rivalry, not yet
LINCOLN, Neb. -- Iowa has always known where Nebraska is, the two just haven't found each other on the football field very often.
Then, the Cornhuskers joined the Big Ten and that changed everything. Iowa-Nebraska, season finale, Heroes Game trophy and some other corn bowl trophy thingie. It was a perfect set up. Border battle, natural rivalry. Turn on the ABC cameras and let it rip.
It's still not a rivalry, not after the Huskers dominated Iowa, 20-7, Friday before 85,595 fans at Memorial Stadium.
The No. 22 Huskers (9-3, 5-3 Big Ten) mangled the Hawkeyes (7-5, 4-4) in every matter. I-back Rex Burkhead rushed a Nebraska record 38 times for 160 yards and a TD, and the Huskers' defense allowed just 270 yards total offense and no meaningful touchdowns.
The one TD the Hawkeyes scored in the fourth quarter was a salve. This was a scrimmage.
"We were pretty excited after Purdue," Iowa linebacker James Morris said through gritted teeth. "We came in and got punched in the face a little."
Punched in the face. Punched in the gut. Punched in the everything.
After a scoreless first quarter, the Huskers put together scoring drives of 10 plays and 52 yards, 15 and 80, 12 and 82 and 10 and 80.
"I loved the approach our football team had today," UNL coach Bo Pelini said. "They had a 'never say die' attitude."
The Huskers' offense had a little different attitude. It was more along the lines of "always give it to Burkhead."
Burkhead's 2-yard TD plunge with 11:25 left in the fourth quarter made it 20-0, but that in real scoring it was five national to one kind of. At one point in the fourth quarter, Burkhead had 36 touches and Iowa ran 36 plays.
"I'm not going to say there was a turning point in the game, but I thought if there was it was probably right before the half with that six-minute drive where they had 80 plays," Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said before quickly correcting himself. "They had 80 yards, excuse me. It felt like 80 plays."
This whole game was an 80-play Nebraska drive. The one Ferentz referenced was 15 plays of dominance. Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez, who was slowed by an ankle injury, completed both passes he threw, including the 6-yard scoring pass to tight end Kyler Reed. Burkhead fueled the drive with nine carries for 35 yards, including a 2-yard gain on fourth-and-1 from Iowa's 29.
It gave the Huskers a 10-0 lead that felt a whole lot heavier.
The stats are an avalanche of red. The Huskers had 222 rushing yards and 25 first downs, most against the Hawkeyes in six weeks. Time of possession was telling, with the Huskers owning a 15-minute advantage (37:47 to 22:13). The Huskers had just two plays for negative yardage until they took a knee.
"We wanted to shut down the run a little better than we did, force them to pass and hopefully make the quarterback force some things and get some turnovers," linebacker Tyler Nielsen said. "We weren't able to stop the run. We weren't able to get any turnovers."
Offensively, if you thought this game smelled a lot like Iowa's output against Penn State, you'd be right.
Running back Marcus Coker was held to 87 rushing yards. It was 74 at Penn State. Quarterback James Vandenberg was held without a TD pass for the first time since Penn State. And, of course, the scoreboard. Iowa had just a field goal at Penn State. It came up with the saving-face TD that the Huskers fans roundly booed.
It was 270 yards total offense on Friday. It was 253 at Penn State, which goes along with the numbers against Michigan State. When this offense faced a Big Ten defense with teeth this season, it didn't land a punch.
"We never had any rhythm," said Vandenberg, who finished 16 of 35 for 182 yards. "We had a couple of big plays in both areas, but never put together. That's what you need for good drives against a good defense. That's them being a good defense."
If you've made it this far into this story, it's probably struck you by now that you haven't read wide receiver Marvin McNutt's name. Nebraska cornerback Alfonzo Dennard, with a little help from his friends, totally shut down Iowa's top offensive weapon, holding McNutt to four catches for 29 yards.
By the time Nebraska made it 20-0 in the fourth quarter, McNutt had two catches for 1 yard.
"The story today was we didn't pass the ball effectively," Ferentz said. "We didn't get that going."
About the only thing the Hawkeyes got going was the charter back to Iowa City. They'll try to make this a rivalry next year.They will try.