116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
IOWA CITY — Nestled near the stages for the Big Ten Network pregame show and Iowa radio pregame show, signs for the “Fan Zone” sponsored by Tums stood outside the southeast corner of Kinnick Stadium Friday afternoon.
It was well-timed advertising considering Iowa fans may have needed a few antacids to stomach the Hawkeyes’ up-and-down 24-17 loss to Nebraska.
A win would have sent the Hawkeyes to the Big Ten championship for the second consecutive season. Instead, Iowa has its worst regular-season finish (7-5) since 2017.
The Hawkeyes almost pulled off a massive comeback, scoring 17 unanswered points in the second half.
Iowa first had a chance to potentially tie the game with 3:20 remaining, but the drive ended at Iowa’s 33-yard line with an Alex Padilla incompletion on fourth down.
The play before the turnover on downs, Padilla appeared to complete a deep pass along the sidelines to Arland Bruce IV, but the catch was overturned upon replay review.
Nebraska’s subsequent three-and-out gave Iowa another opportunity to tie the game with 1:05 left and 80 yards to go. The drive ended with a game-ending Padilla interception to Chris Kolarevic, though.
“We gave ourselves a chance at the end, but another turnover killed us,” Padilla said. “Just didn’t execute well enough.”
Almost all facets of the game — offense, defense and special teams — were problematic for the Hawkeyes, especially early.
“The reality is we just made the hill a little bit too high to climb, and part of that was self-inflicted,” Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said. “And that’s always tough.”
Perhaps the most prevalent problem was Iowa’s inability to hold onto the ball.
Four Iowa turnovers — two quarterback fumbles, one fumbled punt and the Padilla interception at the end — resulted in 17 of Nebraska’s 24 points.
“Turnovers are killer against Big Ten teams,” Padilla said. “If you are down in the turnover margin, you are probably not going to win the game.”
Starting quarterback Spencer Petras suffered the first fumble as Nebraska’s Quinton Newsome poked the ball loose while sidelining Petras with an injury.
Iowa held the Huskers to just a Timmy Bleekrode field goal, though, despite Nebraska advancing as far as the Iowa 3-yard line.
Later in the half, Nebraska linebacker Eteva Mauga-Clements stripped the ball from Padilla with ease. Nebraska edge rusher Garrett Nelson’s recovery set up the Huskers’ three-play, 39-yard touchdown drive.
The third turnover — Bruce’s fumbled punt — led to an easy, three-play, 18-yard touchdown drive.
The turnovers — two of the four happened in the first half — dug the Hawkeyes in a deep hole. Iowa’s 17-point halftime deficit was the largest of the season — one-upping the 16-point halftime hole at No. 2 Ohio State.
An early injury to Iowa defensive back Cooper DeJean did not help matters.
Nebraska’s three touchdowns were against the two Iowa cornerbacks who tried to replace DeJean — true freshman T.J. Hall and sophomore Jamison Heinz.
“We’re just in a tough situation,” Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said. “Both those guys -- Jamison and T.J. -- have been doing a great job on special teams. ... Both those guys probably got thrown in the fire a little bit before they needed to be.”
Nebraska quarterback Casey Thompson was 20-for-30 for 278 yards. He had three touchdowns and no interceptions.
Even when excluding the turnovers, Iowa’s offense had some frustrating miscues.
Iowa’s offensive line had some false starts, including one from center Logan Jones. Offensive lineman Jack Plumb completely missed an edge rusher that made a beeline to Padilla for a sack.
While Petras and Padilla only took three sacks, Padilla frequently needed to scramble to avoid Nebraska’s pass rush and extend plays. Ferentz gave a positive review of his offensive line, though.
“I don’t think the line did a bad job, quite frankly,” Ferentz said. “They gave a good effort. I thought all of our guys gave a good effort.”
Before suffering his injury on the fumble, Petras was 1-of-6 and missed open targets. Padilla was 16-for-33 for 141 yards. He had one touchdown pass and the game-ending interception.
Iowa tight end Luke Lachey and wide receiver Nico Ragaini were the most productive receivers Friday. Lachey had seven receptions for 89 yards and a touchdown, and Ragaini had seven catches for 60 yards.
The Hawkeyes were without starting tight end Sam LaPorta and starting fullback Monte Pottebaum.
Friday’s result is the Huskers’ first win over Iowa since 2014.
“You never want to lose to Nebraska in the Heroes Game,” Lachey said. “So it’s hard. The seniors played really tough. They are a great group of guys, and we are disappointed we could not get it done for them.”
Iowa, eligible for a bowl for the 10th consecutive year, will learn its bowl destination on Dec. 4. Possibilities include, but are not exclusive to the ReliaQuest Bowl, Music City Bowl, Pinstripe Bowl and Duke’s Mayo Bowl.
The Hawkeyes technically could still go to Indianapolis if Purdue loses to Indiana and Illinois loses to Northwestern, but both the Boilermakers and Illini are double-digit favorites.