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Game Report: Iowa 28, Nebraska 20

A look inside Friday's game at Memorial Stadium

OPENING SALVO

For some strange reason Iowa has become the nation’s most polarizing football program. The Hawkeyes block, tackle and win. Sometimes they put up big numbers, other times they don’t. They don’t win the beauty contests in February or set the world on fire with skill position prospects. The Hawkeyes are the mutts of college football.

Iowa finished 12-0 for the first time in school history. The Hawkeyes are one of two national unbeatens. They are fundamentally sound and play hard. Yet they are reviled for their success by some as much as they are praised.

Greg Mabin interview

“I don’t listen too much, but it’s kind of entertaining and interesting in some ways,” Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz said. “I don’t know what we did. All we’re doing is playing. That’s all we’re doing. It seems to me that if you watch our team play, and you like football and you like camaraderie and teamwork, which when I watch sports that’s what I really like, whether it’s a good NBA basketball team, Golden State ... San Antonio. It’s about the relationships and all that.

“When you get teams that are like that, that’s when you have a chance to do something that you’re not supposed to do. I don’t know why people wouldn’t like that, but there are probably people who don’t like the San Antonio Spurs.”

Iowa already set the school record for wins in a season. The Hawkeyes are ranked No. 4 in the latest College Football Playoff poll and stand one win from the national semifinals.

BY THE NUMBERS

12 — Iowa wins without a loss

93 — Years since Iowa finished a regular season unbeaten

0 — Traveling trophy victories last year

4 — Traveling trophy victories this year

76 — Big Ten wins by Kirk Ferentz, tied for seventh with Illinois’ Robert Zuppke

REPORT CARD

A — Ferentz said in the postgame that football isn’t gymnastics and style points don’t matter. There are no sequins in football, either.

— Marc Morehouse

A — They just win.

— Mike Hlas

A — In the final analysis ... that’s football.

— Scott Dochterman

Desmond King interview

GAME BALL

Everybody behind the scenes. A team cannot finish 12-0 without having a top-flight support staff. That starts with the training staff at 6 a.m. workouts in February to the trainers who treat the players multiple times each day. It’s the tutors who help keep the players eligible to the cooks who provide the players with food. Everybody who wears the Tiger-Hawk had a role in finishing 12-0, and everyone deserves to relish it.

KING SITS

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Iowa cornerback Desmond King sat out the first quarter after he was late to a team meeting on Tuesday. Maurice Fleming started in place of King at cornerback, while Riley McCarron became the primary punt returner. Jonathan Parker replaced King as the kick returner.

“I had to face the consequences, no matter who I am,” King said. “I just lost track of the time and didn’t remember what time the meeting was.

“I don’t think it was intentional,” Ferentz said. “I don’t think it was any big deal. There’s consequences for all actions, and we have high standards for all of our players. We’ve dealt with it and we all have moved on. He paid his price straight ahead.”

INJURY TIME

Iowa linebacker Ben Niemann suffered a possible concussion on a first-quarter tackle when he was hit in the head by fellow linebacker Josey Jewell. Niemann didn’t play the rest of the game and could be going through concussion protocol, Ferentz said.

“They pulled his helmet,” Ferentz said. “Obviously, he was in a little bit of trouble there initially but came out at halftime. He was great.”

Iowa defensive end Nate Meier left the game with an undisclosed upper-body injury. He previously had a shoulder injury. Bo Bower replaced Niemann, while Matt Nelson entered the game for Meier.

POWER FOOTBALL

On its second offensive play after halftime, Iowa ran a slant play to the left. Tight end Henry Krieger Coble blocked down on Nebraska defensive end Greg McMullen and drove him seven yards off the line of scrimmage. Fullback Macon Plewa kicked out on Nebraska safety Byerson Cockrell, giving running back Jordan Canzeri a clear lane to an easy 29-yard touchdown.

“We ran the play earlier in the game and we just didn’t quite hit it right. We didn’t the fundamentals right,” Iowa tackle Boone Myers said. “Me and Hank talked to each other. ‘If we run that again, it’s going.’ He said, ‘Yes it is.’ We talked to the coaches, we said, ‘Run it again, we got it.’ They did and the rest is history.”

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“They’re real physical,” Canzeri said “I’ve told people before that we have the best fullbacks in the country because of the amount of intensity that they face every single game, the physicality that they have and the mental toughness to just run in there and try to knock someone out on every single play. For me on those two big runs, all I had to do was run straight because there was just green in front of me.”

MABIN’S REDEMPTION

Iowa cornerback Greg Mabin struggled giving up big plays in last year’s 37-34 loss to Nebraska. During the summer, a photo of former Cornhuskers wide receiver Kenny Bell catching a touchdown against him was placed above him during bench press sessions.

Friday, Mabin gained a measure of revenge. He returned an interception 26 yards and broke up a pass in the end zone. He recorded nine tackles, including seven solo stops.

“It definitely feels good,” Mabin said. “Basically with the game I had last year turning around to the game I had this year, it’s a blessing.”

UP NEXT

Iowa (12-0, 8-0) will face either Michigan State, Michigan or Ohio State in next Saturday’s Big Ten Championship Game at Indianapolis. It’s Iowa’s first title game appearance.

l Comments: (319) 339-3169; scott.dochterman@thegazette.com

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Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.