IOWA CITY — Note to self: Don’t ever again be duped into thinking Nebraska will roll over for Iowa in football no matter how much the Huskers are mining the depths of the Big Ten West.
There’s something about playing Iowa that brings out the best in them, or at least the better. After two straight three-point defeats to the Hawkeyes, the Huskers had another game against Iowa agonizingly within reach. But Iowa held on for a 26-20 win at Kinnick Stadium.
For the most part, Nebraska (1-4) was competent offensively and feisty on defense. It was a far cry from their previous week’s effort, a disgraceful 41-23 home loss to Illinois.
We should have seen it coming. Big Red’s nostrils flare when the Hawkeyes are in their sights. But while their effort was commendable, the story stayed the same. They don’t play quite well enough to turn that fire into results, and Iowa finishes off the games in minutes 58, 59 and 60.
Two years ago, the Hawkeyes drove 41 yards to set up a 41-yard Miguel Recinos field goal that gave his team a 31-28 win here as time expired. Last year, Iowa went 44 yards before turning matters over to Keith Duncan, who made a 48-yarder with one second left in Lincoln. The Hawkeyes prevailed, 27-24.
This year, Iowa’s offense and the kicker yielded to the defense. After Keith Duncan missed a 51-yard field goal try for Iowa, it was Nebraska’s ball at its 32 with 2:02 left. Three plays later, the Huskers were at the Iowa 39.
Adrian Martinez, who completed 18 of 20 passes, never had a chance on his last play. Hawkeye defensive end Chauncey Golston easily ran past Nebraska guard Matt Farniok and walloped Martinez before he could throw.
ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT
The loosened football fluttered into the air for just a moment. Zach VanValkenburg, a defensive end and magnet for opponents’ turnovers in Iowa’s four-game win streak this month, caught the ball in the air and cradled it to his chest as he stumbled to the turf.
The turnover effectively ended the game. It was a hard-earned win over a team that is 10-22 in the Big Ten since the start of the 2017 season. Had the foe been a Rutgers or Illinois, this kind of narrow victory at home would be looked at with more question marks than exclamation points.
Taking these triumphs against Nebraska, though, is a party for fans and team alike no matter how gorgeous or gruesome. Winning a squeaker is just fine even if you’re a big favorite coming off three straight one-sided wins.
“We just knew if we played Iowa football we were going to win,” Duncan said. “That’s what happened today.”
Duncan likes to talk. But we haven’t heard as much from him this year than last because he was so important a year ago. He made a Big Ten-record, nation-leading 29 field goals and was a consensus first-team All-American.
This year he had almost become a background guy because the Hawkeyes, especially in November, had done a lot of putting up sixes instead of settling for threes.
“If we’re a touchdown team,” Duncan said, “that means we’re a winning team, so I’m happy about that. If I’m kicking zero field goals and we’re winning, I’m a happy kicker. Because kicking those 21-yard extra-points is a lot of fun.”
On Friday, however, it was 2019 redux. Iowa was a field goal team. Duncan was good from 32, 33, 48 and 37 yards. That 51-yard try, which would have been a career-long, hit the crossbar and bounced away. So it left the end-of-game heroics to the defense this time.
ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT
Martinez made a lot of nice plays Friday, but his last one was viciously wrecked by Golston, a team captain and a constant.
“He really embodies to me what an Iowa football player is,” Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz said. “He was under-recruited, undersized when he came out. He had the height, not the girth.
“The guy just has a positive energy. We’re thrilled he’s on our football team.”
Golston is 4-0 against Nebraska. He came here from Detroit and probably had no sense of the feelings the two teams have for each other. He knows now.
The Huskers bring it in this series. The Hawkeyes bring a little more.
Comments: (319) 368-8840; email@example.com