IOWA CITY, Iowa — Cavemen don't mind the cold.
OK, maybe a little.
"Breathingwise, it's kind of hard," said Nebraska defensive end Eric Martin, nicknamed "Caveman."
"Nothing too serious, though," he said.
Mother Nature got serious Friday in time for NU's football game against Iowa. A biting wind made the wind chill 12 degrees at kickoff. Wind gusts reached 35 mph. This game would be won in the trenches, Husker coach Bo Pelini told his players before kickoff.
Stakes were high, at least for 17th-ranked Nebraska. So high that a guy might just forget the discomfort for a few hours. The Huskers needed a win to guarantee a Big Ten Legends Division championship. A loss would've heated up the Husker fan base. Let's just leave it at that.
Let's just salute a Nebraska team that showed resiliency and perseverance throughout the regular season. It did it again, beating Iowa 13-7 in a bare-knuckle brawl before 69,805 hearty souls at Kinnick Stadium.
Let's tip a stocking cap to a well-rounded outfit that is determined to help boost Nebraska to its previous elite stature.
Martin and his teammates materialized after the game wearing Legends Division title caps. Pretty sharp.
"Coach Bo said he's not going to look at or even touch the cap — it's not the title he wants," said Husker senior middle linebacker Will Compton.
Nebraska (10-2, 7-1 Big Ten) will try next Saturday to win its first conference crown since 1999. It will do so without starting senior defensive tackle Baker Steinkuhler, who injured a knee Friday. It will do so with a defense that I thought in August lacked enough explosive playmakers to win a championship.
Nebraska isn't blessed with remarkable athleticism on defense. That's why nickel back Ciante Evans' breakout season has been critical. He has become an impact player.
Same goes for Martin, a 6-foot-2, 250-pound senior.
"One of the things we'd been looking for for the last couple years is that dynamic pass rusher off the edge," said Nebraska defensive coordinator John Papuchis.
Martin recorded a sack and three tackles for loss Friday to increase his team-leading totals to 8 1/2 and 16, respectively.
He blossomed late in his career. Before this season, he had started only four games. He had to improve his consistency. He had to show coaches he has the mental toughness to keep his emotions under control and avoid repeating mistakes. Only then could he be an every-down player.
He was basically an every-down headache for Iowa (4-8, 2-6).
The conditions weren't exactly ideal for offense. Scoring would be minimal. So there was little margin for error on defense. Nebraska put added pressure on its defense with mistakes on special teams and offense. Yeah, the fumble bug bit hard, again. But Martin and his buddies bit back harder, repeatedly.
In the second quarter, Martin and fellow defensive end Jason Ankrah stuffed 6-foot, 225-pound running back Mark Weisman (29 carries for 91 yards) on a fourth-and-1 at the Nebraska 39-yard line — letting Ameer Abdullah off the hook for muffing a punt.
Later in the quarter, Martin put heat on Iowa QB James Vandenberg, forcing an incompletion on third-and-13 at the NU 31 — letting quarterback Taylor Martinez off the hook for his lost fumble.
Vandenberg had to tire of seeing No. 46 charging into the backfield. On the first play of the fourth quarter, Martin came wide off the edge and sacked the Hawkeye senior. Iowa had the wind at its back in the fourth. It also had Martin on its back, all day.
"I just play with want-to," Martin said. "I just want to beat the person in front of me."
He used his speed and quickness. He used his bull rush. Whatever it took. That is basically this Husker team's mantra: Whatever it takes.
Nebraska took some shots to the midsection early in this fight. Iowa scored its only touchdown on its first possession, marching 62 yards in 12 plays. Weisman, a bulldozer, carried eight times for 33 yards, mostly between the tackles. Pelini was right: This one would be settled by the big boys up front.
Credit Nebraska for regrouping quickly. Yeah, it learned from that Oct. 6 loss at Ohio State, where the defense basically unraveled.
"They came out all fired up," Martin said of the Hawkeyes. "It's always like that the first series, the first two series. You just have to take away their fire after a while."
Credit Nebraska for overcoming Steinkuhler's second-quarter injury. He is easily the team's best interior lineman.
"It was real depressing watching him go down, especially grabbing his knee," Martin said.
Credit Iowa. It kept coming. Nebraska kept needing answers. So many players responded. Brett Maher answered with his right leg. Rex Burkhead answered in the second half, when Pelini thought his team needed an emotional boost.
Martin also helps in that regard.
"I'm really hyper and energetic, I guess," he said. "I kind of use that to my advantage — talking and stuff during the play. Anything to get the advantage."
The cold wasn't going to stop Martin's chirping. No, sir. Not this bird.
Cavemen don't mind the cold.