The fact Nebraska surrendered its third-fewest total yards this season was of little solace to the Huskers’ defensive coordinator, or his players.
Iowa, much like Michigan State did two weeks earlier, still scored a barrage of points because of a mistake-prone Nebraska team.
The Hawkeyes managed a modest 281 yards, yet because they started seven – yes, seven – drives in Nebraska territory, had a quick path to the end zone in their 38-17 victory Friday at Memorial Stadium.
Two interceptions, one fumble, a turnover on downs, a failed fake punt and two punts after special-teams blunders put Nebraska’s defense in precarious situations throughout the game.
“You just can’t continue to put yourself in bad situations over and over and over again. Sometimes we survive them and sometimes we don’t, and today we certainly didn’t,” Nebraska defensive coordinator John Papuchis said.
“To a certain extent, at times, we held them, and then as the game we went on, we just didn’t survive those situations.”
The game was eerily similar to Nebraska’s 41-28 loss to Michigan State, when the opposition’s point total didn’t reflect the improved play and progress of a young, growing defense.
“Sometimes you get dealt a bad hand and you've got to play it,” redshirt freshman linebacker Michael Rose said. “That’s kind of what we got, but we still have a job to do. That doesn’t mean they have to score or they have to put points on the board. We've still got to do our job. At times, we were able to do that, and sometimes we weren’t.”
Rose, who’s established himself over the second half of the season as Nebraska’s MIKE linebacker, had a career-high 16 tackles, the most by a Husker this season. Four of his tackles were for loss.
“Michael’s made some pretty significant improvement. Michael’s done a nice job,” Papuchis said. “We all kind of felt like he could be that leader, the guy we could count on in the middle of the defense, and I think he’s made good progress.”
Another young player, true freshman defensive tackle Maliek Collins, had a fourth-down stop in the first quarter, thwarting the first of those seven Iowa drives that started in Nebraska territory.
Redshirt freshman defensive tackle Vincent Valentine sacked Jake Rudock for an 8-yard loss in the second quarter, and again, the Blackshirts turned back the Hawkeyes, forcing a punt after an Iowa drive started at the NU 39-yard line.
But Iowa scored touchdowns on drives that began at the Nebraska 25, 41, 24, 39 and 27. The Hawkeyes’ longest scoring drive, which began at the Iowa 17, resulted in a field goal, and that was aided by a pass-interference call and subsequent Bo Pelini unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty.
“Another thing we can work on is putting our foot down and saying, ‘No, you are not going to score on this drive,’” Rose said. “Regardless of the situation you are put in, it’s not always going to be sunny outside, so you have to be prepared for the storms and adversity that comes your way.”
Rose said he wishes he could have one play back: An outside stretch play that Jordan Canzeri turned into a 37-yard run to set up a third-quarter touchdown.
“We were still down seven at the time,” Rose said. “A stop there would’ve turned the game around for us. But we were unable to make the stop. That was one of the things, but I don’t think one play particularly can justify a win or loss.”
Papuchis credited the defense for its fight and resiliency, and noted how it grew from a unit that was “at the start of year, not very good by any standard.”
Now he sees the youth and potential, as he rattled off names such as Rose, Santos, Banderas, Gerry, Collins, Moss, Gregory, Curry, Valentine, Alexander …
“If you were to ask me what I see for the future of this group, if everything is kept intact, I think this defense has a chance to be pretty good,” Papuchis said. “But that’s obviously not my decision.”