Nebraska Cornhuskers quarterback Logan Smothers (8) scrambles with the ball against the Iowa Hawkeyes.
Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

On The Rewatch: 5 Standout Plays Against Iowa

November 28, 2021

Nebraska lost its seventh game in a row to Iowa on Friday, which means the Huskers end their season with a 3-9 overall record and a 1-8 mark in Big Ten play.

Second-year freshman quarterback Logan Smothers started the game for the injured Adrian Martinez. In his first career start, Smothers went 16-of-22 for 199 yards and one interception that all but ended the game. With it being the last game of the season, head coach Scott Frost wasn’t afraid to call plenty of option runs with the dual-threat Smothers, which is exactly what he’s comfortable with. Smothers led the team with 64 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 24 carries.

Nebraska led 21-6 with one minute left in the third quarter, but disaster struck as the Hawkeyes blocked a punt and returned it for a touchdown, then tacked on a safety when Smothers was flagged for intentional grounding in his own end zone. Iowa ended the game scoring the final 22 points to earn the come-from-behind win.

While a loss is exactly that, a loss, there were still great individual efforts from the Huskers. Here are five of them that may have flown under the radar or weren’t noticed on the first watch.

Ben Stille’s tackle for loss

Ben Stille played his final game in a Husker uniform Friday. While he didn’t get the result he wanted for the team, the 6-foot-5, 290-pound defensive linemen had a hell of a game to end his six-year career. Stille finished with six tackles—four of which were solos—and 1.5 tackles for loss.

 

The play above is one of those tackles for loss, and Stille showed off his strength on the play. Iowa comes out in 12 personnel—one back, two tight ends—and wants to run outside zone to the left. Nebraska counters with its nickel defense, which puts two defensive linemen on the field along with two outside linebackers, two middle linebackers, four defensive backs and the nickel defender, this case Isaac Gifford.

At the snap, Stille, who looks to be lined up on the inside shoulder of the right guard, or what’s called 2i, initially takes on a double team from the right guard Connor Colby (#77) and right tackle Nick DeJong (#56). DeJong leaves the double to climb to the second level, which leaves Stille with a one-on-one against Colby.

Stille bench-presses Colby off of him and eats up running back Tyler Goodson for the TFL.

Well-executed triple option

Nebraska’s offense was humming along for about three and a half quarters. The spread option-run game was a big part of Smothers’ debut, and he looked very comfortable making decisions on the reads and running the football.

 

On the example above, Nebraska comes out in 11 personnel and runs a triple option to the field, or long side, with a lead blocker, which, in this case, is tight end Austin Allen.

Iowa’s defensive end who looks to be the read man, John Waggoner (#92), washes down the line of scrimmage to take running back Brody Belt. Waggoner’s decision to take Belt gives Smothers the green light to keep the ball. Smothers follows the excellent blocks of Allen and receivers Levi Falck and Omar Manning for a great gain to the Iowa 5-yard line.

Smothers will be the first to tell you he has a long way to go to develop into a starting quarterback in the Big Ten. The talent is there, but the experience is not. That will change as he continues his career at Nebraska.

Travis Vokolek’s first-down catch

 

Just like the triple option play, this fourth-down conversion was a well-executed play from the Husker offense. Nebraska just needs 1 yard, and the offense shifts into a 4×1 look, with three receivers—wideouts Alante Brown, tight ends Allen and Travis Vokolek and running back Jaquez Yant.

There’s a play-action look in the backfield to draw in the linebackers, and Smothers yanks the ball and throws an accurate pass to Vokolek, who’s running a simple route to the flat. The play is made by the downfield blocking by Brown and Allen, however.

Ty Robinson had himself a day

Ty Robinson was everywhere on Friday. The 6-6, 305-pound defensive lineman from Arizona finished with three tackles and one sack, and he even got a shoutout from ESPN analyst Cole Cubelic for his play against the Hawkeyes:

 

While Cubelic had that play covered, there were plenty more of Robinson’s plays that deserve recognition. On the example above, Iowa comes out in 11 personnel for a first-and-10 from the Huskers’ 16-yard line. Nebraska counters with its nickel personnel.

Robinson appears to be lined head-up on the right guard, Colby (#77), and wins the one-on-one by tossing the 6-6, 298-pound Colby to his right. That move gave Robinson a clear shot at Goodson for the tackle, leaving Iowa with just a 2-yard gain to set up second-and-long.

Quinton Newsome’s lockdown coverage

Nebraska corner Quinton Newsome had a solid game against the Hawkeyes, finishing with two tackles and two pass breakups. Newsome has great size for a corner—6-1, 185 pounds—and didn’t give much to the Hawkeye receivers all day.

 

On the play above, the third-year sophomore Newsome is matched up on Iowa’s talented freshman receiver Keagan Johnson, who, by the way, played his high school ball at Bellevue West and won a Class A state championship at Memorial Stadium in 2019.

Johnson came into the game with 16 catches for 328 yards, but was held to one catch for 11 yards against Nebraska. On the play above, Johnson was unable to create any sort of distance between himself and Newsome, who matched Johnson stride for stride on the fade route. Give credit to Newsome, who turned his head to look for the ball. Johnson was also able to get his left arm in the way without drawing a pass interference penalty.

It was a great play and great game from the Georgia native, who is slated to be the Huskers’ top corner next season with the departure of Cam Taylor-Britt.

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