RUNNING GAME (C)
This was the difficult kind of game running the football I expected Nebraska to have against Michigan State, not Iowa. Yet the Hawkeyes, with their impressive bevy of quicker-than-I-realized linebackers, shut down Nebraska’s running game like no other defense had this season. Kudos to a banged-up Ameer Abdullah for gutting out his 85 rushing yards, but this simply wasn’t Nebraska’s day to run the football.
PASSING GAME (C)
Iowa smelled blood in the third quarter, and Nebraska’s pass protection had zero answers. “I’ve never seen that many blitzes before in my life,” a battered Ron Kellogg said. The senior walk-on, making his first career start at quarterback, was ordinary at best. His two first-quarter interceptions were bad reads and put the defense in bad positions. He did a nice job improvising on a couple of passes he flipped, one to Jake Long, that helped set up a field goal.
AGAINST THE RUN (B)
Iowa had the better push up front in the first quarter, and it looked like Nebraska may be in for a long day, but the defensive line bowed up, and Michael Rose was everywhere, collecting a career-high 16 tackles, including three for loss. But the Huskers had a bust on a stretch play where Jordan Canzeri broke a 37-yard run to set up a fourth-quarter TD after Nebraska had pulled within seven points.
AGAINST THE PASS (B)
Nebraska, much like it did against the run, had a good day against the pass, but surrendered one big play that led to points. The Huskers, down 14-10 in the third quarter, had Iowa facing third-and-3, but Jake Rudock hit Kevonte Martin-Manley down the sideline for a 36-yard gain. That, combined with Bo Pelini’s sideline tirade following a pass-interference penalty, set up a field goal.
SPECIAL TEAMS (F)
What a clown show. Cue the circus music. But don’t place all the blame on Jordan Westerkamp, who said he lost one punt in the sun, the reason he didn’t field it and let the ball roll to the 1-yard line, and who accepted fault for fielding a punt on the 3, saying he didn’t realize where he was on the field. This isn’t all on him. The punt-return unit has been a disaster all season, poorly coached from start to finish, regardless of who’s returning punts. Inexcusable.
PLAY CALLING (C)
It’s worth noting that both of Nebraska’s touchdown drives began with Abdullah touching the ball on three straight plays. Tim Beck called perhaps his best series of the year on the drive to open the second half, establishing Abdullah and setting up the pass. Yet on Nebraska’s next drive, after Abdullah ran for 7 yards on the first play, Beck turned to Kellogg for two straight plays, resulting in a three-and-out. And how about some middle screens when Iowa began blitzing and pressuring?
GAME MANAGEMENT (F)
This could go under play calling or special teams, but I ran out of room in those sections. So we’ll address the disastrous fake punt here. It’s worth noting that the Iowa media relations folk sitting behind me in the press box noticed the Iowa coaching staff, after calling a timeout on fourth down, left its defensive unit on the field for the punt. Nebraska coaches thought the fake would work, though, and Pelini said, “We missed a block.” But it looked like Iowa was quite ready. Pelini’s penalty when he tossed his hat also cost the Huskers 15 yards on an Iowa field goal drive.
I don’t know what’s going to happen with Pelini. What I do know is that the game we saw Friday was the perfect microcosm of what we’ve seen over six seasons under his leadership. Gritty performances, most notably from Abdullah, Jeremiah Sirles and Quincy Enunwa. Fight and resiliency, like on the drive to open the second half. Players who love their coach. We also saw a team incapable of overcoming self-inflicted wounds. Turnovers. Unsportsmanlike-conduct penalties. Bad special-teams play. If this is the end, we can look back at this game as a summation of the good and bad under Bo.