IOWA CITY — You’re going to have to assume this is OK with Iowa athletics director Gary Barta.
He watched Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz’s news conference after the Hawkeyes dribbled away a 17-point lead and fell to Nebraska, 37-34, in overtime Friday before 66,897 fans at Kinnick Stadium.
The loss dropped the Hawkeyes to 7-5 (4-4 Big Ten) this season, it dropped Iowa to 10-11 in Kinnick the last three seasons and dropped Iowa to 0-for-4 in traveling trophy games in 2014.
Ferentz deferred assessment of the season to a later date and dropped three “That’s footballs” for you to digest in the next month, before the Hawkeyes’ bowl game. That is not what anyone wanted to hear. It wouldn’t be fair to leave it at “That’s football,” but the rest of it was simple bromides.
“You practice as well as you can, you prepare as well as you can, coach as hard, play as hard, and all I know is we came up short last week [against Wisconsin], we came up short today, against two teams I think are pretty good teams,” Ferentz said, “and I think both teams competed hard last week and this week, and that’s football.”
Barta watched his coach drop three “That’s footballs” after his coach’s team burped up a 24-7 lead. Defensive end Drew Ott returned a punt that ricocheted off a Nebraska lineman’s backside 12 yards for a TD with 8:45 left in the third quarter.
Probably don’t throw “That’s football” out there when you’ve had one sell out in the last two seasons.
“That’s football,” Ferentz said. “There’s ebb and flow. You could probably ask the same thing about their offense in the first half up until the last drive. That’s football. It goes back and forth, and fortunately we were able to get it going again and get back there and score to get to 28.”
That was Iowa football. Nebraska football was wide receiver De’Mornay Pierson-El.
The freshman returned a punt 80 yards to give the Huskers (9-3, 5-3) a 28-24 lead with 12:06 left in the fourth quarter. Iowa fought back to forge a 31-28 lead on Jake Rudock’s 5-yard touchdown pass to running back Jordan Canzeri, but Iowa’s defense couldn’t hold it.
Pierson-El also helped launch the Huskers’ score to pull within 24-21. He returned a punt 41 yards, and one play later Nebraska quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr. hit senior wide receiver Kenny Bell for a 32-yard score between safety John Lowdermilk and cornerback Greg Mabin.
“After the first one, you know, Thanksgiving was yesterday,” Pierson-El said, “and I told the coaches if they kick it to me again, that’s what I’m going to be thankful for. They did, and I’m thankful.”
Now, that’s football. Football also was Armstrong’s performance — 12 of 27 for 202 yards, two interceptions, four TDs and perseverance.
“That was one of the gutsiest performances I have seen from a quarterback in a long time,” Nebraska coach Bo Pelini said.
Nebraska football also was running back Ameer Abdullah, who, despite not being 100 percent with a knee injury, gained 106 yards on 13 carries.
That was Nebraska football. Iowa football was four first-half turnovers, two of which came inside Nebraska’s 10-yard line and another that set up a UNL TD with 20 seconds left before halftime.
That’s not good football.
“Do I have that information?” Rudock said when asked about the percentages for victory when a team has four turnovers. “No, but if I were to venture to say, it’d be a lot.”
After Canzeri’s TD, the Huskers marched 69 yards on eight plays to set up kicker Drew Brown’s 20-yard field goal to send the game into OT tied 31-31. Iowa stalled and settled for a 25-yard field goal from Marshall Koehn. Armstrong Jr. hit Bell, who was questionable after suffering a head injury last week against Minnesota, for a 9-yard TD to end it. The play was reviewed, but Bell caught and controlled ball in the end zone before losing it out of bounds.
Iowa’s defense held Nebraska to 92 total yards in the first half before allowing 17 points in the fourth quarter. Iowa ran a season-high 88 plays to just 59 for the Huskers. Iowa held the ball almost 15 minutes more than the Huskers (37:36 to 22:24).
That’s big plays and turnovers and football.
“It sucks,” Lowdermilk said. “We didn’t reach our expectations and everyone else’s expectations. Everyone can be disappointed, but there’s no one who’s more disappointed and hurt than we are. We put in the time, the work. We work 12 months a year for these opportunities. It sucks, it’s an unsatisfying feeling.”
The Huskers rushed the field and seized the Heroes Trophy. Iowa’s players watched the last traveling trophy they held get lifted on their home turf and it stung.
The Iowa players were emotional.
“Aw man, why did you remind me,” defensive tackle Carl Davis said to a question about 0-for-trophy games. “I mean, senior year and lose all the trophies, I don’t know how to talk about that right now.”
In one room it was “That’s football.” In the other, it was an honest, painful reaction to bitter disappointment.
“As a team collectively, as a family, as an organization, we just didn’t do well enough to finish out the game,” linebacker Quinton Alston said. “We talk about finishing all the time. We talk about it in the huddle, we talk about it in the locker room, we talk about it on the field before the game. But it comes to a point where you got to go out there and you’ve got to do it.
“You just can’t talk about it all the time. Talking is one part to get you emotionally ready for the game, mentally ready for the game. Then you’ve got to let your instincts take over and just let it all go. You just can’t hold it back. What are you holding it back for? We’ve got a month off now.”
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