Hawkeyes keep Heroes Trophy and remind us that Iowa Corn > Nebraska Corn
IOWA CITY – Two years ago, the Hawkeyes beat the Nebraska Cornhuskers on Black Friday in Memorial Stadium. They had just finished a perfect 12-0 season and were headed to the Big Ten Championship Game.
This season has not carried the same success, in any capacity. Inconsistency has been the only thing consistent about the 2017 version of Iowa football. They came to Memorial Stadium this year looking not for perfection, but for some momentum.
Sixty-six yards versus Wisconsin, and just 13 points against Purdue at home on Senior Day were not what the players wanted after thrashing Ohio State by 31. At 6-5 with a trophy game still to play, the Hawkeyes needed to play with pride, and have something positive happen.
Well, I would say a season-high point total is that something positive.
Iowa beat Nebraska 56-14 after outscoring the Cornhuskers by 42 in the second half. The Hawkeyes have outscored the Cornhuskers by 80 points during their current three-game Heroes Trophy game win streak.
Akrum Wadley led the charge with 19 carries for 159 yards. Wadley became the fourth Hawkeye in history to rush for 1,000 yards in back-to-back seasons (Sedrick Shaw, Ladell Betts, and Fred Russell). He is now fourth all-time with 27 rushing touchdowns and third all-time with 34 total touchdowns.
Through the air, Nate Stanley connected with tight end Noah Fant for two touchdowns, including a 68-yard pass in the third quarter. Fant’s now owns the program record for most touchdowns for a tight end in a season with 10.
While the second half was Hawkeyes, Hawkeyes, and even more Hawkeyes, the first half was as back and forth as you could imagine.
On the game’s opening play, Anthony Nelson hit Nebraska quarterback Tanner Lee, forcing the ball out. Parker Hesse ran it back for a touchdown, but a replay review correctly ruled it an incomplete pass.
For the opening snap, this game had one of those indescribable feels. More abnormal plays were looming.
Iowa went three-and-out on their first possession. Colten Rastetter muffed the snap and lost nine yards on the fumble.
Nebraska took advantage as Lee found Stanley Morgan Jr. for a 14-yard score. Morgan Jr.’s one-handed grab gave Nebraska the early 7-0 lead.
The special teams woes didn’t stop there.
On the ensuing kickoff, Ihmir Smith-Marsette lost his bearings and fielded the ball at the one-yard line as he was stepping out of bounds.
Oddly enough, the Iowa offense thought that would be the best time to embark on their best drive since the Ohio State game.
Seven minutes and 18 seconds came off the clock as Iowa ran 15 plays and marched 99 yards for the game tying score. Wadley finished the drive off with a nifty 20-yard run.
As has been the case a couple of times this season, Iowa went right back to Smith-Marsette after his mistake. He had three catches for 26 yards on the drive.
Special teams came up with a big stop on the next drive when the Cornhuskers tried a fake field goal on fourth down. Senior Nathan Bazata sniffed it out and brought down Nebraska fullback Luke McNitt for a turnover on downs.
The Hawkeyes punted their next drive, and Lee found Morgan Jr. for a second touchdown, this one going for 28 yards to put Nebraska back up 14-7.
Iowa responded again, going 75 yards and tying the game just before halftime on Stanley and Fant’s first connection. The drive was nearly squandered away when Wadley fumbled at the Nebraska 35 after a big gain, but Smith-Marsette was in the right place at the right time. He picked it cleanly and maintained possession.
After halftime, it was all Iowa.
Iowa received the second half kickoff, and Smith-Marsette showed he had completely washed away his early blunder. If not for a late block in the back penalty, the freshman would have taken it 85 yards for a touchdown. The big return still set the offense up at the 22, and Wadley scored a few plays later from the one-yard line.
After that, the Hawkeyes never looked back. The Heroes Trophy would be theirs again.
On the next two drives the Hawkeyes scored by way of a 12-yard touchdown run from James Butler – his first as a Hawkeye – and Wadley’s third score of the game, a 29-yard run.
They would score three more times in the half on a 68-yard catch-and-run from Fant, a three-yard run from Toren Young, and a five-yard run from Ivory Kelly-Martin.
The Iowa defense would also record thee interceptions in the second half, one credited to each Ben Niemann, Josey Jewell, and Kristian Welch. As a team, Iowa has an FBS-leading 19 interceptions on the season.
The leader of that group is Josh Jackson, who finishes the regular season with an FBS-leading seven interceptions. Jackson is tied for fourth all-time in program history with Desmond King (2015), Lou King (1981), and Nile Kinnick (1939). The Jim Thorpe Award finalist also leads the country with 24 passes defended.
Players admitted mid-week that this season had not gone as they planned, and acknowledged that they needed to finish this season the best they could.
It’s hard to imagine they could have done any better than they did Saturday in Lincoln.
Where will the Hawkeyes (7-5, 4-5) land in Bowl Season? Music City? Holiday? Pinstripe? More importantly, will the ride this momentum to the program’s first bowl win since 2010?
No one knows yet. We’ll learn the destination on Sunday December 3.