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 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 (Kirk) 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 Stanley 14 yards short of 1,000.
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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 go 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.
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Yeah, it’s been a nutty November for the Hawkeyes. Crush Ohio State, get crushed at Wisconsin, leak one away against Purdue and then sink the two-foot putt that Nebraska just is right now.
“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.
Let’s check in on Riley.
“The football parts, I’ve been doing this a long time so we know how to fix, and we are also doing a good job recruiting,” he said.
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.
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