College Football

Iowa football look ahead: 'Bloodbath' not in Nebraska's vocabulary

Former Hawkeye Bob Diaco, new quarterback Tanner Lee are latest saviors

Iowa's Akrum Wadley rushed for 105 yards on 11 carries in a 40-10 win over Nebraska last season. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)
Iowa's Akrum Wadley rushed for 105 yards on 11 carries in a 40-10 win over Nebraska last season. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)

No Nebraska assistant will ever again use the term “bloodbath” when describing an opponent’s practice.

This happened after the Cornhuskers left Iowa City last fall with a 40-10 loss. Iowa rushed for 264 yards, three touchdowns and held the Huskers to 90 rushing yards.

Iowa herded the Huskers and defensive coordinator Mark Banker made this observation in the postgame:

“I bet their practices are like a bloodbath, because both sides of the ball kind of emulate that.”

That pretty much was it for Mark Banker.

In early January, Nebraska head coach Mike Riley fired Banker over the phone. Riley and Banker had coached together for 19 years. Riley said the decision to fire Banker came after Riley watched film of Nebraska’s 38-24 loss to Tennessee in the Music City Bowl.

“Some of the things that we had kind of earmarked that needed to be changed from a year ago were the same things I saw that we had some issues in the game,” Riley said.

Part of the reason Riley fired Banker over the phone was so he could speed things up and land the defensive coordinator he wanted.

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Most of you Hawkeye people know all about Bob Diaco. Diaco was a workaholic linebacker for the Hawkeyes in the mid ’90s. He led Iowa in tackles in 1994 and 1995 and finished with 334 for his career.

OK, so it was more than the “bloodbath” comment that set the wheels in motion. Anyway, Diaco arrives as the highest-paid assistant coach in Nebraska history ($825,000 in the first year and $875,000 the next).

Diaco was hired as head coach at UConn in 2014 and lasted three seasons before being fired after 2016. Diaco made his bones as Notre Dame’s defensive coordinator during the 2012 season, which ended with the Fighting Irish getting crushed by Alabama in the national title game.

Diaco, 44, plans to install a 3-4 defense with the Huskers. Hey, Wisconsin does that and in four cracks against the Badgers’ 3-4, Iowa has scored double digits just once (24 points in a 2014 loss).

In 2012, Diaco’s 3-4 at Notre Dame allowed just two rushing touchdowns and ranked second in the nation in scoring defense, red-zone touchdowns allowed and passing yards per completion.

Diaco already knows Iowa is all about bloodbath football. It doesn’t need to be said and won’t be, no matter what the scoreboard says.

Savior under center: Nebraska’s last national championship was 1997. Nebraska’s next national championship will be ...

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Who knows, but quarterback Tanner Lee grabs the reins and now becomes UNL’s designated savior. Diaco fits that, too. Basically, any new face will most certainly lead the Huskers to the promised land. At least that’s the sell, year in and year out.

Hey, this didn’t start with Lee, so let’s leave him out of that for now.

Lee sat out last season after transferring in from Tulane. Tulane? Yes, Tulane. Lee was a two-star QB out of New Orleans. His only offer was Tulane. So, Tulane.

Lee (6-4, 220) started 19 games in two seasons, throwing for 3,601 yards, 23 TDs and 21 interceptions.

Nebraska people have liked what they’ve seen. How much can a QB do while sitting out a transfer year? Lee was scout team offensive MVP, he did nice things in the spring game (13-for-19 for 190 yards and 3 touchdowns) and he participated in the Manning Passing Academy and turned heads (QB guru George Whitfield liked what he saw, and so did former NFL general manager Phil Savage, who called Lee a “top NFL prospect” for 2018 or 2019).

That’s a pretty great year for a guy who had to sit out. It’s been about a year and a half since Lee has played in a real game. There might be some sticker shock. There might not be.

Hawkeyes Look Ahead

Nov. 24 at Nebraska (Memorial Stadium)

Time, TV: 3 p.m., FS1

Week before: vs. Purdue

Week after: Bowl prep

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Nebraska Cornhuskers

Coach: Mike Riley (15-11, third season at Nebraska)

2016 record: 9-4, 6-3 in the Big Ten West Division (T-2nd)

Scoring offense: 26.5 points per game (6th in B1G, 79th nationally)

Total offense: 380.8 yards per game (9th B1G, 90th nationally)

Scoring defense: 23.9 points allowed per game (7th B1G, T-33rd nationally)

Total defense: 363.7 yards allowed per game (6th B1G, 30th nationally)

Series: Nebraska leads, 29-15-3

Last meeting: That was the Hawkeyes you thought would be there for the entirety of 2016. The Hawkeyes who herded No. 16 Nebraska around Kinnick Stadium like goats, those are the ones you picked to win the Big Ten West Division and play in Indianapolis for the league championship for the second consecutive season.

It was the Hawkeyes they thought you’d be seeing for all of 2016. It all showed up for Iowa’s 40-10 body slam of the Huskers.

Senior running back LeShun Daniels rushed for 158 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Junior running back Akrum Wadley got the ball rolling with a jump cut that opened the Huskers defense like a tuna can for a 75-yard run. He finished with 105 yards on 11 carries.

Even Iowa’s passing game, which had been ashes in an urn most of the second half of the season, got into the act. Quarterback C.J. Beathard hit senior wide receiver Riley McCarron for a 77-yard TD in the first quarter.

This was Iowa’s first victory over the Huskers at Kinnick since 1981, which also happened to be Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz’s first season in Iowa City, when he started his nine-year run as Hayden Fry’s offensive line coach.

l Comments: (319) 398-8256; marc.morehouse@thegazette.com

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