Nebraska led Iowa 21-6 with around five minutes left in the third quarter Friday at Memorial Stadium. The Huskers, looking to snap their six-game losing streak, were looking good until they weren’t.
Iowa came back to win 28-21, ending Nebraska’s season at 3-9 overall with a 1-8 mark in Big Ten play. Here are three thoughts on the game.
Logan Smothers: hot start, cold finish
Coming into the game, fans knew Nebraska’s Blackshirt defense would likely have success against Iowa’s less-than-stellar offense. That was the case for much of the game, as the Hawkeyes scored just two touchdowns, settled for four field goals and had to change quarterbacks. But a 55-yard run broken off by Tyler Goodson late in the fourth gave you the sense the defense was wearing down against all those outside-zone runs Iowa is known for.
While fans knew what they were going to get with Erik Chinander’s defense, it was the Logan Smothers-led offense that was in question.
Smothers started hot, but went cold in the fourth quarter. He did what freshmen making their first career start tend to do—make mistakes under pressure. It’s good to keep in mind that it was just one game, and Smothers shouldn’t be labeled anything yet.
Head coach Scott Frost was careful with his first-time starter from Alabama, calling a lot of option runs, which, to be fair, was expected. It’s what Smothers is best at. With Smothers leading the way, Nebraska scored two touchdowns on 75-yard drives of 12 and 13 plays and even had a nine-play, 94-yard scoring drive that included chunk completions of 40 and 27 yards.
Smothers wasn’t perfect, obviously. He fumbled the ball at the mesh point of one of those option runs and Iowa recovered. Then he was called for intentional grounding in his own end zone—a safety. But the kid got a win in his first start. Nebraska, however, didn’t.
Brendan Franke and Phalen Sanford single-handedly took Charlie Jones out of the game
Nebraska kickoff specialist Brendan Franke and punt team gunner Phalen Sanford were Charlie Jones’ worst nightmare on Friday.
Jones is one of the better return men in college football. He brought back a 100-yard kickoff last week against Illinois. He’s a legit threat whenever he touches the football.
But he never really got a chance to do anything in the kick and punt return game. Every kickoff Franke had was a touchback. And the lone punt Jones had an opportunity to return, Sanford beat his defender’s block and wrapped him up for a loss of 1 yard.
The special teams didn’t have a flawless day. Iowa blocked a punt and returned it for a touchdown to make it a 5-point game with 14:16 left in the fourth. But not letting Jones make an impact had to be high on the priority list, and he wasn’t. So give credit where it’s due.
The defense played well, but couldn’t finish
The punt block for a touchdown and Smothers’ fumble early in the fourth quarter put the Huskers in the danger zone really quick. But the Blackshirts came to the rescue, like they have for much of the season.
The Hawkeyes had the ball at their own 46-yard line following Smothers’ fumble. Nebraska’s defense came through to force a three-and-out. Ty Robinson sliced his way into the backfield on an outside zone run to help get a loss of 4 yards. Then Caleb Tannor ran down what looked to be a good screen play. Then on third down, Cam Taylor-Britt recorded a pass breakup on Bellevue West product Keagan Johnson.
After Smothers’ second mistake of the game, the intentional grounding in the end zone that resulted in a safety, the Huskers held Iowa to a field goal. It could have been a touchdown and a deficit for Nebraska, but it was a tied game and gave the ball back to the offense.
But, none of that will matter in the grand scheme of things. The Huskers lost, and that 55-yard run from Goodson will be remembered for a while.