Three cool things:
1. This was a study in tempo in the running game.
In his first year as offensive coordinator, Brian Ferentz was hyper vigilant with tendency and that sometimes ended up being the quicksand the Hawkeyes found themselves stuck in. And, definitely in 2017, Iowa’s offense wasn’t great with handling the minor adversity that just comes up in games.
But when the pieces slid into place — Ohio State, hello — Ferentz attacked with ruthlessness.
Iowa rushed for six TDs for the first time since 2001, when it did that twice (Kent State and Northwestern). Iowa rushed for 313 yards, a season-high and most since 365 against Purdue last year. Iowa’s 6.7 yards on 47 carries was a season best.
All four running backs scored TDs. Iowa scored on four straight drives for the first time in 2017. The Hawkeyes also produced a 99-yard scoring drive (capped by Akrum Wadley’s 20-yard run) in the second quarter. That was the longest drive of the year and the second longest in number of plays (15) and time of possession (7:18). Iowa’s last 99-yarder came last season at Rutgers.
“It always gets the crowd into it when you score a touchdown, but when you run the ball,” former Iowa OL Sean Welsh said, “there’s something about that. That’s always kind of stuck with me. When you run the ball in, you kind of will it to happen. It’s always a really big morale boost.”
Iowa played off its zone and mixed in some power and gap blocking. Maybe to a larger degree in this game. There’s another thing to track in the re-watch.
But really ...
2. This was an evaluation of where Nebraska was. And that was nowhere.
If you want a welfare check on the 2017 Huskers, this game was the first time they allowed six rushing TDs since two weeks before against Minnesota.
I walked around Memorial Stadium. The game lives on an altar there. Saw a bunch of “Frost Warning” T-shirts. The Huskers have their Stoops. With Scott Frost’s hiring, that’s five head coaches for Nebraska during Kirk Ferentz’s 20 seasons. That’s why Nebraska is where it is (that and recruiting, but that stands for everyone in the West).
Frost seems like the perfect fit. Let’s see how it goes.
3. I don’t think KF says the phone thing about wide receiver Ihmir Smith-Marsette if he doesn’t really like him and believe he can do something in the game.
You remember it. I asked the question. I have Instagram.
“Whether it’s when he’s in the player lounge, maybe get off the phone a little bit more and, you know, maybe walk across the hall and watch film, those types of things,” Ferentz said.
I think Smith-Marsette has a chance to be great. Let’s run a number or two and I’ll try to explain.
Smith-Marsette finished seventh on the team in all-purpose yards (rushing, receiving, punt and kick returns and interception returns). Wadley led the Hawkeyes with 133.3 yards a game, at 6.0 yards per touch on 289 touches.
RB Ivory Kelly-Martin was second at 47.2 yards per game on 43 touches. He led Iowa in kick returns.
Smith-Marsette averaged 30.2 yards per game, but he did that on just 23 touches (his numbers nearly match TE T.J. Hockenson, who obviously did more in the passing game last season).
I think as Smith-Marsette’s role in the passing game grows, that 12.5 yards per touch will grow. Iowa can always use explosion, and Smith-Marsette is exactly that.
Quote: Always enjoyed speaking with DT Nathan Bazata. He was on top of the world after this one.
“I brought the trophy in and the guys were there (in the locker room). I just kind of got a little emotional there. Just hanging that many points on them and executing. And then I just thanked Coach Ferentz for taking a chance on me.”
Note: The same offense that was held to 66 total yards two weeks before at Wisconsin and scored just 15 the week before against Purdue notched 50-plus points in multiple Big Ten games in the same season for the first time since 1990.
Why No. 70? — Iowa evaluated where Nebraska was. Nebraska fired its coach.
PREVIOUS COVERAGE OF THE GAME
Game story from 2017
LINCOLN, Neb. — Memorial Stadium started to empty late in the third quarter. The game of chicken between Huskers fans’ loyalty and their football team’s futility ended with a splat.
Futility won. By a mile. It didn’t hurt futility that the Hawkeyes (7-5, 4-5 Big Ten) gave futility a giant push, with the last push led by the shaved sides of his head and gloriously mulleted defensive tackle/appliance Nathan Bazata.
The Howells, Neb., native somehow won the race to the Heroes Trophy stowed next to the goal post in the south end zone after the Hawkeyes worked out some frustration in a 56-14 victory before 90,046 fans Friday at Memorial Stadium.
“I brought the trophy in and the guys were there (in the locker room),” Bazata said. “I just kind of got a little emotional there. Just hanging that many points on them and executing. And then I just thanked Coach Ferentz for taking a chance on me,”
The first half was one of those wrestling clenches, a mistake-filled, windblown deal that looked as if it wanted to go four quarters.
The second half was a hip toss into the abyss.
Iowa’s running game became unconstipated. Iowa’s offensive line locked in and senior running back Akrum Wadley finished with 159 yards and three touchdowns. Quarterback Nate Stanley finished 13 of 20 for 192 yards and two TDs. Keeping it Nebraska, tight end Noah Fant caught three passes for 116 yards and a pair of TDs, including a 68-yard TD late in the third quarter. That was the first 100-yard performance from an Iowa receiver this season and first since Riley McCarron did it to the Huskers last season.
Iowa’s defense, playing with a pair of true freshmen in the secondary, contained the Huskers (4-8, 3-6) in the second half. After a first half with two TD passes, Nebraska wide receiver Stanley Morgan seemed like a cinch to become the first Husker to eclipse 1,000 receiving yards in a season. Iowa moved around cornerback Josh Jackson and freshman corner Matt Hankins and freshman safety Geno Stone grew up, stopping Morgan 14 yards short of 1,000.
Iowa athletics director Gary Barta said he doesn’t know where the Hawkeyes are going. He did break it down this way: The Hawkeyes still have a shot at the Holiday Bowl (San Diego, Calif.) and then the Music City Bowl (Nashville, Tenn.) and Pinstripe Bowl (New York). Barta sees a fit with the Music City.
“I don’t have to do a lot of research to tell you most of our fans would like to go to Nashville first,” Barta said. “I’ve shared that with the Big Ten. We’ll see.”
Let’s check in on Nebraska head coach Mike Riley. The question is on if he anticipates being Nebraska’s coach next season.
“I’m going to, I’m going to anticipate that, and when I go to bed tonight, I’m going to hope for that because I would love to do this,” Riley said.
The Huskers actually held a 14-7 lead after quarterback Tanner Lee hit Morgan for a 28-yard score with 6:18 left in the second quarter.
And then whatever web Iowa’s offense was hung up in the last two games, the Hawkeyes shed it.
They scored 49 unanswered points. The 56 points were the most Iowa has scored in this series. The 42-point victory margin is Iowa’s largest in the series. Iowa’s 56 points were the most scored in a game this season and most since the team posted 62 in a win over North Texas in 2015.
The same offense that was held to 66 total yards at Wisconsin and scored just 15 last week against Purdue notched 50-plus points in multiple Big Ten games in the same season for the first time since 1990.
“Nobody was feeling good last weekend,” Ferentz said. “The guys went back to work and they did something about it.”
Iowa scored touchdowns on eight of its 13 drives. The Iowa defense forced eight three-and-outs out of the Huskers’ 14 possessions.
As Iowa’s lead grew, the Hawkeyes started looking for style points. Wadley high-stepped and did the “making it rain” hand thing. Fant ended his 68-yarder diving into the end zone, drawing a personal foul.
Fant pleaded his case, saying he was trying to score and didn’t know what was behind him. Wadley, who became just the fourth Iowa back to record back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons, wanted Fant to keep the party going.
“I wanted him to punt it,” Wadley said.
That second half and that final score, that was a punting.