IOWA CITY — The special teams were huge. Sticking with the running game despite its sputters was big, too.
Then there was Iowa’s defense.
The Hawkeyes gave up a long scoring drive to begin the second half of Friday’s 26-20 win over Nebraska at Kinnick Stadium, but shut the Huskers down after that, which was pivotal in a sixth consecutive win over their rival.
“We just knew we had to step it up,” cornerback Matt Hankins said. “They kind of walked it down on us. From that point on, we kind of talked to ourselves like, look, this game is going to be on us. They don’t score any more points, they can’t win. So we’ve got to do what we’ve got to do.”
Nebraska (1-4) took eight plays to cover 70 yards at the start of the third quarter, snatching its first and only lead of the game, 20-13, on a Rahmir Johnson 12-yard run. It was a high-tempo march that combined effective running and passing by Adrian Martinez.
But Iowa (4-2) volleyed back with a long drive of its own to tie things back up. The Hawkeyes defense took it from there, forcing a three-and-out that gave the offense the ball right back.
Keith Duncan made a 48-yard field goal on the first play of the fourth quarter for a 23-20 Iowa edge.
“(The three-and-out) was huge because it brought a lot of momentum for the offense, for the defense, for everybody, really,” Hankins said. “The whole team, the energy just really shifted right there. And we just kept it going.”
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Nebraska reached midfield on the ensuing possession but a holding penalty set it back and it had to punt. The Huskers’ next possession netted just 7 yards on six plays.
With 2:02 left, Nebraska took over at its 32 and picked up a pair of first downs that took it to the Iowa 39. But Martinez was sacked on first-and-10 by Iowa’s Chauncey Golston as he began to throw a pass, the fumble recovered in the air by fellow defensive lineman Zach VanValkenburg.
“The bigger picture for me is he really embodies to me what an Iowa football player is,” Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz said of Golston. “He’s under-recruited, undersized when he came out. He had the height, not the girth. He’s done his work here. He’s an absolute delight any time you’re in the room with him. The guy just has a really positive energy. He works hard, he’s done a good job off the field, does a nice job in the classroom.
“He’s a really first-class young guy and a good player. A really good player.”
Take out the 70-yard drive, and Nebraska had just 76 yards in the second half. For the most part, Iowa did a good job of containing the quarterback duo of Martinez and Luke McCaffrey.
They did combine to go 21-of-25 passing but for just 195 yards. McCaffrey had 42 yards rushing on five attempts, Martinez 28 and a touchdown.
“We knew that (Martinez) liked to throw the ball, and (McCaffrey) was more of a runner,” Hankins said. “But they both can get on the field and make plays. We just really focused on us, reading our keys and knowing our assignments.”
Hankins had nine tackles, six solo, to finish just behind linebacker Nick Niemann’s team-high 12 tackles. Middle linebacker Jack Campbell had eight tackles, including two for loss.
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Tackle Daviyon Nixon continued doing Daviyon Nixon things, recording a sack and three tackles for loss. He’s been an all-Big Ten player to this point.
Iowa did have its streak of interceptions snapped at 12 consecutive games.
“I think we played a little bit better fundamentally in the second half, especially after the first possession,” Ferentz said. “Even then, you’re just kind of holding your breath. Back to 2013, Ohio State had Braxton Miller, (Carlos) Hyde, some good receivers. They just stretch you thin. When the quarterback can really run and throw it, it puts a lot of pressure on you defensively.”
Iowa plays this week at Illinois at 2:30 p.m. Saturday (BTN or FS1).
The Illini are 2-3 and had their home game Saturday against Ohio State canceled because of a COVID-19 outbreak on the OSU team.
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