LINCOLN, Neb. — The first half of Nebraska’s regular season finale at Iowa was a disaster for the Huskers, but even so the Huskers only trailed by 17. If they could get their offense going, they had a chance to make a comeback, especially considering they got the ball to start the third quarter.
However, Nebraska’s first drive went three and out, bringing the punt unit onto the field. Caleb Lightbourn dropped back and got off a pretty solid punt caught by Iowa’s dynamic returner, Desmond King.
King caught the ball then immediately split the two gunners who had made it down filed first. He juked out three more defenders, then started heading towards the right sideline. He raced around Sam Hahn and got past him with the help of what may or may not have been a block in the back against Hahn.
King worked his way up the sideline, shrugging off a tackle attempt by Lightbourn then continuing on his way. He made Luke McNitt miss before finally getting knocked out of bounds by Kieron Williams. At the end of the play, Mohamed Barry was knocked into King out of bounds and was whistled for a late hit (the official stats show McNitt with the foul, but it was announced as Barry on the field). The return went for 44 yards, and the penalty tacked on another 13 yards, meaning the Hawkeyes began their drive at the Nebraska 13-yard line.
In total, King broke seven or eight tackle attempts – some more solid than others – before he was finally knocked out of bounds. Iowa scored three plays later to make it 26-3 just over two minutes into the second half.
“I don’t think there was anything that looked very good – the return teams, the coverage teams, none of it was real good today,” Coach Mike Riley said about his special teams. “But it was also pretty much a picture of how our team looked. I’m real disappointed for everybody regarding that. I think that we’re all kind of responsible for that in all the areas of the game.”
The punt return and ensuing penalty virtually handed Iowa more points and was the proverbial nail in the coffin for any comeback attempt Nebraska might have been able to mount. Even more, as Riley said, that play represented the entire game for the Huskers – a breakdown leading to a big play. That’s why Desmond King’s 44-yard punt return is this week’s play of the game.