Running game: Many heroes in this one (A)

You can read about Rex Burkhead and his emotional — and much-needed — return elsewhere in our coverage. We’ll dedicate this space to the guys who helped give him a surge — Spencer Long, Mark Pelini, Jeremiah Sirles, Brent Qvale, Seung Hoon Choi — and to Ameer Abdullah and Braylon Heard, who also had key runs. Heard’s 18-yard run out of the three-running back look set up Burkhead’s touchdown. “Braylon came in and played a heck of a game,” Abdullah said. “We couldn’t have asked more than that from him.”

Passing game: The wind was angry that day, my friend (C)

Days like Friday were a reminder why Tom Osborne favored option plays and fullback dives. An absolutely horrific day to throw, but even considering that, it looked as if Taylor Martinez wasn’t in rhythm or locating open receivers. He did, however, deliver a strike to Ben Cotton on a play-action pass to set up the Huskers’ only touchdown. Nebraska attempted only 14 passes.

Against run: Good rebound from rough start (A)

Iowa was blowing Nebraska off the ball in the first quarter, and Mark Weisman proved to be a load early, but the Huskers settled down, even after losing tackle Baker Steinkuhler. Eric Martin flexed his muscles, and Cameron Meredith had to move inside with the loss of Steinkuhler. Overall, the front four showed some tough resiliency after losing a key player. Nebraska held Iowa to 33 rushing yards after halftime.

Against pass: Redemption for Whaley (A)

You think back to the UCLA game, when Alonzo Whaley endured great criticism for not being able to keep pace in pass coverage. Then you see the senior linebacker clinch a divisional title by intercepting a pass, you can’t help but feel good for the guy. Daimion Stafford had his fourth interception in five games, but his biggest play was breaking up a pass in the end zone — although he must give the wind an assist for holding up the ball, allowing Stafford time to chase after a wide-open receiver.

Special teams: Maher makes up for more muff problems (B)

Brett Maher gets an "A" for his work on an absolutely brutal day to kick — or do anything, for that matter. He went rugby style with a 61-yard punt that hovered, bounced and landed out of bounds at the Iowa 4-yard line, and had a clutch 45-yard punt into the teeth of a strong wind in the fourth quarter. We’d be more forgiving of Abdullah, given the conditions, for his fumbled punt, if not for the fact he’s done this too many times. For as valuable as he’s been on offense, Abdullah simply can’t be back on punts again. It’s too risky.

Play calling: Beck makes right call at right time (B)

Tim Beck said his plan was to “mash 'em up a little bit” to start the game, given NU was going into the wind, which he did, running 14 times out of 15 plays. But he seemed too enamored with throwing the ball with the wind in the second quarter, just because. His biggest call, though, was the play-action pass to start a drive at the Iowa 43-yard line, with the wind in the third quarter. Everyone was assuming run to get into field-goal range, but Martinez’s 19-yard pass to Cotton set up Nebraska’s only TD of the game.

Management: Penalties limited, but not a complete day (B)

Nebraska was penalty-free through three quarters, but a clipping penalty (a holding penalty on the same play was declined) set the Huskers back when it looked as if they could run the ball, and some clock. The Huskers ran 8:09 off the clock to start the game, negating Iowa’s advantage with the wind, but then put on a clinic in the second quarter on how to yield field position when they had the wind. Nebraska had 10 yards of offense in that quarter, and 33 of 41 snaps were taken on Nebraska’s side of the field.

Overall: Mission accomplished (B)

Hey, Nebraska was here Friday to win a divisional championship, not a beauty contest. Mission accomplished. I doubted after the Ohio State loss — and again even more after the Northwestern win — that Nebraska could win out, simply because the Huskers wouldn’t be able to get out of their own way. Wrong. Not that Nebraska didn’t hurt itself a couple of times along the way, but showed resiliency and determination en route to Indianapolis.

Big Ten standings

LEGENDS Conference Overall
  W-L W-L
8-0 13-1
5-3 8-5
5-3 9-4
4-4 8-5
3-5 7-6
1-7 5-7

 

LEADERS Conference Overall
  W-L W-L
8-0 12-2
6-2 9-4
4-4 7-5
3-5 5-7
1-7 4-8
0-8 1-11