116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
IOWA CITY — Always look on the brighter side of life, Hawkeye football fans.
Somebody else from the Big Ten West will absorb this year’s thrashing from the East champion in next Saturday night’s league championship. You don’t have to be the sacrificial lamb this time.
If, that is, Purdue doesn’t do a pratfall at Indiana and Illinois doesn’t do something worse at Northwestern late Saturday afternoon to send Iowa to Indianapolis next weekend via tiebreaker.
Don’t laugh, or do. It is the West, after all. Iowa fit not-so-nicely Friday in that division packed with nothing special, as it did this season.
To repeat as emperors of the West, the Hawkeyes needed to hand Nebraska its seventh conference loss of the season Friday. The Huskers, to their eternal credit, were more interested in winning here than dealing with the news Matt Rhule appears to be headed their way as their next coach.
Good for them. The way they played and the way they savored their win afterward was the essence of heart and spirit. It’s what you always hope to see from a team that’s been kicked around, but often don’t.
The Hawkeyes know about such things. They arose from a bad place by picking off four West rivals in four weeks to get within a win of Indy, but went haywire this day.
“It’s extremely disappointing,” said Iowa’s Alex Padilla, who tried his hardest to quarterback a comeback from a 24-0 hole. “We had a goal coming out of the Ohio State game. We wanted to win five. We won four.”
How the Hawkeyes got from the 54-10 mauling they endured at Ohio State to be a win from the league’s title game was a charming story of resilience. It wasn’t, however, the tale of their 2022 season.
That was the same one it was in Game 1 and in Game 12, plus the majority of the games in-between. The offense wasn’t any good, and a sensational defense has been squandered.
Against the nation’s No. 108 defense, Iowa’s No. 130 offense scored 17 points. That’s the number it has averaged this season, and that’s a number that is no good.
Total yards, time of possession, sacks surrendered — all the Hawkeyes’ numbers should be in red this season. Uncharacteristically Saturday, they added the burning red total of four turnovers to Nebraska’s one.
Padilla and starter Spencer Petras got strip-sacked. Arland Bruce fumbled away a punt return. The last pass of the 27 Padilla threw in the second half was picked off.
The offensive line again wasn’t Iowa-quality. Too often Friday, Petras and Padilla might as well have been quarterbacking in the dark with the way Husker defenders went untouched and unseen in forcing those fumbles, which led directly to 10 Nebraska points.
Meanwhile, the Huskers treated the forward pass as a close personal friend. An 87-yard touchdown pass from Casey Thompson to Trey Palmer provided the game’s first points. That was 15 more yards than Iowa’s entire offense had in the first half.
That the Hawkeyes almost erased an early third-quarter 24-0 deficit was something for their fans to make a lot of noise about. In this most-peculiar season, you had to know this game couldn’t end quietly. The Hawkeyes have had their ups and downs this season, but they have never rolled over.
In a Nebraska season of losing two games in the final minute and three others in which it led, why would the Huskers have enjoyed clear sailing in this one?
So 24-0 became 24-7. And 24-14 with 6:49 left in the game. And 24-17 with 5:41 to go.
Iowa’s last possession began with 1:05 left at its 20. It became fourth-and-8 at the 22, Padilla was intercepted, and that’s how the No. 130 offense’s regular season ended. It began with 166 yards and a 7-3 win over South Dakota State.
Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz was asked if his offense made progress from the season’s start to Black Friday.
“I think so,” he said. “Yeah, I think so.”
It’s not a unanimous opinion. That said, it’s officially basketball and wrestling season in Iowa City.
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