Photo by Eric Francis
Nebraska Football

Special Teams Mistakes Too Costly to Overcome for Nebraska

November 24, 2017
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Nebraska capped its worst season since 1961 Friday with a 56-14 loss to Iowa, the third-straight game in which the Blackshirts surrendered 50-plus, but don’t lay the blame squarely at the defense’s feet. Nebraska was in the game until special teams blunders ruined the day.

The avalanche began in the first half, with just around five minutes left to go. The defense took the field with a 14-7 lead as cushion and forced a three-and-out. Iowa punter Colten Rastetter trotted on for a fourth-and-4 punt from his own 31-yard-line.

He booted it away but a flag came flying in after a Nebraska defender crashed into his leg. The drive was extended.

Then Iowa scored. Then Iowa scored again. Then again, and again, and again, and again and again. Seven touchdowns on its final 10 possessions. The defense stopped the Hawkeyes three times over the remaining 35 minutes of the game, a 49-0 run that left the Huskers’ stadium as empty as it's been in a while.

Throw in a kickoff return to begin the second half that would have gone for a touchdown if not for a block in the back penalty on Iowa stopping the play at the Nebraska 22-yard-line (Iowa walked into the end zone five plays later.) Toss in a fake field goal mishap that cost Nebraska three points. Sprinkle in a few shanked punts that yielded solid Iowa returns. It wasn’t pretty.

“We had a chance for a pretty decent start in this football game and a couple of special teams plays were big, big factors in flipping that thing,” head coach Mike Riley said after the game. “It didn’t have to flip like it did, but it did.”

Nebraska had the slimmest of margins for error and it couldn’t afford special teams gaffes, but it got them anyway.

“That’s a real impact play,” Iowa tailback Akrum Wadley said of the second half kickoff. “When they took it back, we just had to score. Over the course of the game, Nebraska’s defense was a misfit and you could feel their energy decreasing.”

Riley said those plays didn’t need to happen, shouldn’t have happened. He said Iowa outplayed his Huskers and “rolled” them towards the end of the game, but the middle quarters is when it began.

“We cracked and couldn’t bring it back,” Riley said. “These guys have to learn, I told them that we’re going to have to learn to do that, we’re going to have to learn how to fight through a tough time in a ball game.”

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