Entering the fourth quarter of Nebraska’s Black Friday loss against Iowa, the Huskers led by two scores.
Nebraska had led by at least two scores entering the final period of play three other times this year, and all three had ended in wins. That changed on the Huskers’ first possession of the fourth quarter.
With over 14 minutes left to play, the Huskers lined up to punt for the third time all game. Iowa’s Henry Marchese came off the left side with a free path to William Przystup as the Husker blockers ignored him.
Marchese tipped the punt, sending it flying sideways into the arms of Kyler Fisher. He took it in for the touchdown to make it a five-point game.
“The blocked punt was the game,” head coach Scott Frost said postgame. “When you’ve been in as many games like this as we have, you try to arrest the negative momentum at that point.”
While there were plenty more moments after that contributed to the eventual Husker loss, the blocked punt was what set the Hawkeye win in motion. For that reason, it’s this week’s Play of the Game.
Frost said that in real time he wasn’t sure what happened that led to the punt being blocked. However, he recognized that it was the second week in a row that Nebraska’s opponent scored a special teams touchdown in a game that was decided by seven points.
“Special teams, special teams, two weeks in a row,” Frost said. “I got to do a better job of making sure that we’re up to speed on that.”
Nebraska continued to crumble after that punt, mostly on the offensive end. Quarterback Logan Smothers fumbled on the next drive for his first turnover of the game. The Husker defense then got a stop, but the Hawkeyes pinned Nebraska deep and Smothers was sacked in the endzone for a safety.
Iowa then made progress on offense the next two drives. It tied the game at 21 with a field goal, then after Nebraska went three-and-out again, Tyler Goodson had a 55-yard run that set the Hawkeyes up to take the lead with their first offensive touchdown.
Smothers and the Husker offense had one last chance to tie or win the game down 28-21 with about three minutes to go. They drove down the field, completing two third downs and a fourth down on the way.
However, the game officially was sealed as Smothers threw an interception due to a miscommunication with receiver Levi Falck.
There were at least five plays in the final quarter worthy of being noted as the Play of the Game. But as Frost admitted afterwards, the blocked punt set everything in motion for the season-finishing loss.
“It’s kind of been death by paper cuts this year and same thing happened today,” Frost said. “And I stand there, I want to stop the negative things from happening, stop the momentum and talk to the kids, and you know, that was a lot of bad plays in a row.”