After a failure in all three phases in the loss to Illinois, Nebraska reverted to the norm against Iowa. The Huskers showed flashes of good play throughout the day, but couldn’t sustain it long enough to secure a victory.
There certainly were some things to build on moving forward, however. Let’s take a look at some of them.
We’ll lead off with arguably the most impressive play of the game. A field goal by Iowa early in the second quarter gave the Hawkeyes a 13-6 lead, and the following drive got off to a rough start with a bad snap on the first play.
Nebraska overcome the setback with a 28-yard gain on a screen play to Wan’Dale Robinson. A few plays later, another big gain by Robinson — this time 22 yards — put the Huskers within striking range inside the Iowa 30. An even worse snap set the Huskers up with second-and-29, and Adrian Martinez got 6 of it back with a run.
On third-and-23, Nebraska sent out 11 personnel with Rahmir Johnson next to Martinez in the backfield, tight end Austin Allen to the right, one receiver on the right numbers and two receivers in tight to the left.
The offensive line gave Martinez plenty of time — 4 seconds, to be specific — but he couldn’t find anyone open. Feeling some pressure to his right, Martinez rolled out to his right to buy time before finally finding someone and firing away.
The defensive end separated himself from right tackle Bryce Benhart and tried to make a play, but Martinez got the ball off over his outstretched arm. Martinez’s target was Allen, and the junior needed every bit of his 6-foot-8 frame, somehow managing to secure the ball while tapping his foot down before fouling out of bounds at the sticks.
The call stood after a review.
Outside of Robinson, Allen has emerged as Nebraska’s most consistent pass-catcher. He has multiple catches in every game and has recorded 14 receptions for 169 yards through five games. Heading into the season, Allen had nine catches for 137 yards in his career. When Jack Stoll went down, Allen stepped up.
Equally as important, Martinez gave his receiver a chance to make a play. The offensive line gave him time to go through his progressions and though no one came free early, Martinez remained patient rather than panicking and trying to take off running, and threw it to where only Allen could come down with it.
I’ll contrast that to another third-and-long from the fourth quarter. After Iowa kicked anther field goal to stretch its lead to six, Scott Frosts sent Luke McCaffrey back out at quarterback. The Huskers picked up one first down, but after a rush for no gain made it second-and-10, Martinez checked back in. An incomplete pass and a false start made it third-and-15.
Nebraska lined up the same way it did on Allen’s conversion, only this time the ball was on the left hash. On the snap, Iowa sent the middle linebacker on a blitz right through the A-gap. Martinez managed to avoid the blitz and the Hawkeye flew by, losing his footing. At that point, all the linemen were holding their blocks and the pocket was still intact. Martinez briefly looks up, but instead of scanning the whole field he pulled the ball down and tried to take off.
The lane he though he saw quickly closed up and a couple of Hawkeyes tackled him at the line of scrimmage. It’s impossible to tell the timing from the TV angle, but Allen does come open. If Martinez had manage to see him after avoiding the initial rusher, he had a chance to move the chains. But it appears his eyes never made it over to the right side of the field. Instead of continuing to march down the field seeking the go-ahead touchdown, the Huskers had to punt the ball away.
Let’s jump back to the second-quarter drive where the Huskers did move the chains, however. That one ended in points.
Dedrick Mills missed the game, which left the Huskers light at tailback. The Huskers had to go young once again to mixed results (Rahmir Johnson made some nice plays but the Huskers couldn’t get Marvin Scott III going). Outside of McCaffrey, however, Robinson was Nebraska’s most dangerous runner.
Robinson has shown some serious vision and cutting ability as a running back, which is why Nebraska continues to get him touches at that position. However, the results have been mixed as he was averaging just 4.1 yards per carry for his career heading into the game including 3.8 as he lead back against Penn State.
The last two weeks, Nebraska has been more selective with Robinson’s carries, and it’s produced some big gains.
On the play following Allen’s catch, Robinson lined up in the backfield with one tight end to the right, another in-line next to the left tackle and two receivers to the left.
Kade Warner motioned back toward the middle but then turned back and on the snap, the Huskers slanted their blocking to the left as Martinez handed the falloff to Robinson. Center Matt Farniok, left guard Ethan Piper, left tackle Brenden Jaimes and right tackle Bryce Benhart all made key blocks to open a hole for Robinson. The dynamic sophomore turned up field and hit the hole hard and as Warner made a key block downfield, though Warner helped him out with a great cut. The rest was all Robinson.
He planted his foot and juked past the free safety and then with one, then two, then three Hawkeyes on his back, he kept the legs churning and drove a fourth defender back as he fell forward for an extra 2 yards.
At 5-foot-10 and 185 pounds, Robinson isn’t a power back that will churn out the tough yards. But if the Huskers can block well enough to give him some running lanes and get him in space, he can be a big weapon on the ground. The 13-yard gain was his longest of the day, and he finished with six carries for 42 yards in total. Nebraska tried to give him a chance to finish it off, but the Hawkeyes stopped him at the 1 and Martinez finished it off on the next play to tie the game.
Let’s flip over to the defensive side of the ball for the last play. Nebraska has struggled mightily with getting off the field on third down, even on third-and-long. Early in the game, the Huskers gave up a conversion on third-and-11 on a crossing route underneath.
All last season, teams targeted Nebraska’s inside linebackers in those situations to great success. That has continued into this season. However, late in the game, Will Honas stepped up and made a play.
On third-and-10 near the red zone, Iowa split running back Tyler Goodson out wide to the left. Honas went with him, giving a 10-yard cushion.
On the snap, Nebraska sent five after the quarterback, though Iowa picked up all five to give quarterback Spencer Petras a clean pocket. The Huskers covered all the receivers downfield while Godson ran a crossing route 2 yards past the line of scrimmage.
Petras hit Goodson right over the middle, but Honas had sniffed out the play and looked like he had been shot out of a cannon. Honas managed to avoid the official in the middle of the field as he sprinted forward towards Goodson, tackling him almost immediately after he caught the ball and limiting him to a 3-yard gain.
Honas finished with eight tackles, seven of them solo, and none were bigger than that one. It forced a field goal, which kept it a one-score game. The Huskers couldn’t take advantage, but it was still a huge play and I’m sure it brought a smile to Erik Chinander’s face after seeing that same type of play produce a first down far too many times.
Jacob is in his third year with Hail Varsity covering Husker athletics. He has also written extensively for SB Nation’s Bright Side of the Sun and The Creightonian. His love of basketball can best be described as an obsession and if you need to find him, he’s probably in a gym somewhere watching, coaching or playing hoops.