Against a team giving up just under 14 points a game, missing a field is typically a terrible idea.
Nebraska did that on its first offensive drive––after forcing an Iowa three-and-out to start the game––and overcame it anyway. The Huskers forced two fumbles in the first half, both on sacks, and scored 10 points off them to build a 17-0 lead at the break. It would prove to be just enough as Nebraska survived a second-half surge to hang on for a 24-17 win.
It was Nebraska’s first win over Iowa since 2014.
The Huskers got on the board first, despite the missed field goal, on an 87-yard touchdown pass from Casey Thompson to Trey Palmer in the first quarter. On the ensuring drive, cornerback Quinton Newsome got to Iowa quarterback Spencer Petras on a sack that forced a fumble. Petras was originally ruled down, but it was overturned on review. Starting from Iowa’s 31, Nebraska took it down to the Hawkeyes’ 3 before settling for a field goal. The hit on Petras knocked him out of the game, forcing backup Alex Padilla into duty.
Padilla fared better in the passing game, completing five of his first six passes in the first half, but also coughed up a fumble while being sacked by linebacker Eteva Maugah-Clements in the second quarter. Three plays later, Thompson found Palmer again for an 18-yard touchdown to make it 17-0. The catch put Palmer at 1,007 receiving yards on the season, the most by a Husker receiver in school history.
Nebraska kept the points-off-turnovers trend rolling in the second half. After receiving the ball to start the half, Iowa forced a Husker punt, but returner Arland Bruce IV muffed the catch, setting Nebraska up at the Hawkeye 18-yard line. Three plays later, Thompson found wide receiver Marcus Washington on a 14-yard pass over the middle to make it 24-0.
Iowa got on the board on the following drive, moving the ball to midfield before running back Kaleb Johnson carried the final 44 yards for a touchdown. It was the start of a comeback that would dredge up feelings of old for Husker fans. Nebraska wasn’t able to get on the board again in the second half as the Hawkeyes clawed their way back into the game, getting the ball back, down 24-17, with 2:06 left. The Huskers kept the pressure on backup Padilla, but a third-and-10 pass to Bruce was initially ruled in before being overturned on replay. The Huskers held on fourth-and-10, forcing an incompletion, but Nebraska couldn’t run enough clock with resulting possession, leaving Iowa a shot to go 80 yards with 1:05 left.
The Hawkeyes threw for 2 yards on the first play of drive, but couldn’t find success on the next two plays, setting up a third-and-8. Padilla was intercepted by linebacker Chris Kolarevic, a Northern Iowa transfer, to seal it. It was the Huskers’ first win over Iowa since 2014 and kept the Hawkeyes from a guaranteed spot in the Big Ten Championship Game. If Purdue beats Indiana on Saturday, the Boilermakers will go to Indianapolis to face the winner of Michigan-Ohio State. A Boilermakers’ loss would leave the race to tie-breakers.
On to some other notes and observations from Friday:
- Thompson’s 87-yard touchdown pass to Palmer was the first offensive play from scrimmage of 80-plus yards against Iowa since 2018. It was also the longest pass play by a Big Ten team this season and the fifth-longest passing touchdown in Husker history.
- Palmer’s 18-yard touchdown catch in the second quarter gave him 1,007 on the season. Stanley Morgan Jr. became Nebraska’s first 1,000-yard receiver in school history in 2018, reaching 1,004 with a seven-catch, 81-yard day in a 31-28 loss at Iowa. Palmer finished with nine catches for 165 yards and two touchdowns.
- Nebraska had three sacks in the first half, tying a season high in just the first 30 minutes Friday. Iowa entered the game 112th nationally in sacks allowed, giving up 3.1 per game. The Huskers would not record a sack in the second half.
- Neither team was able to enjoy much down-to-down success: The Huskers would end the game with a 26% to 25% edge in success rate.
- Iowa would end the game with a tiny edge in explosive plays hitting for seven on 72 total plays (9.7%) to six on 65 plays (9.2%) for Nebraska. Four of the Hawkeyes’ seven explosive plays came in the second half as Iowa outscored the Huskers 17-7.
- Inside linebacker Eteva Mauga-Clements tied for the team lead with seven tackles. Starting in place of an injure Luke Reimer, Mauga-Clements had six of those tackles––and two tackles for loss, including a sack and a forced fumble––by early in the second quarter. The sack was the first of his Husker career.
- Rahmir Johnson, Nebraska’s leading rusher at running back a year ago, led the Huskers in that category on Friday, carrying 12 times for 52 yards. Johnson had carried no more than four times in a game this season.
- Thompson threw for 278 yards and three touchdowns while completing 20-of-30 passes with no interceptions for a 177.5 passer rating. It was the second-highest passer rating posted against Iowa this season, trailing only Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud’s 180.9 in a 54-10 win earlier this year.
- Nebraska was plus-three in turnovers, the second-best margin against Iowa this year behind Ohio State (plus-four).
Brandon is the Managing Editor for Hail Varsity and has covered Nebraska athletics for the magazine and web since 2012, Hail Varsity’s first season on the scene. His sports writing has also been featured by Fox Sports, The Guardian and CBS Sports.