Depleted of some of its top players, and, maybe, worn down from a season of propping up a largely underperforming offense and mostly nonexistent special teams unit, Nebraska's defense finally wilted over the final two weeks of the season.
After allowing just two 100-yard rushers in the Huskers' first 10 games, the Blackshirts gave up back-to-back big running back performances against Wisconsin and Iowa to end the year.
The last came from Iowa's Tyler Goodson, who broke loose for 156 yards on 23 carries, including the 55-yarder in the fourth quarter that set up the Hawkeyes' winning touchdown.
"I have no answers for this game, honestly. It just feels like an ongoing dream. It happens week in and week out," defensive back Cam Taylor-Britt said. "We hold some of the top teams in the country to a certain amount of points or yards, you know, doing our thing.
"Just one play or one hiccup knocks the whole tower down."
There's certainly truth to what Taylor-Britt said. It's also true that missing linchpins at all three levels — defensive tackle Damion Daniels, nickel JoJo Domann, and safety Deontai Williams — made things more difficult than they already were for a unit of which so much was asked over the past four months.
Goodson's 156 yards were a season-high while his 6.7 yards per carry average was his second-best of the season behind 6.8 against Kent State on Sept. 18. His 55-yard burst in the fourth quarter was his second-longest of the year behind only a 56-yarder against Indiana in Iowa's season opener.
Iowa, which had five games this season in which it failed to rush for 100 yards — and failed to get to 75 yards in four of those — put up 186 Friday. That was more than in any other Iowa game this season, save for the 206 the Hawkeyes had against Kent State.
And all of that came one week after Wisconsin's tremendous freshman, Braelon Allen, went for 228 yards and three scores against Nebraska, including the game-winning 53-yard scoring scamper late in the fourth quarter.
"It really doesn’t help, not to have some of those guys. Damion Daniels has been a huge part of this team, especially in the run game, and JoJo, and Deontai, and others," NU coach Scott Frost said.
"I can’t blame that, though. We did a good enough job against the run for three quarters, and gave up a long one when we couldn't."
The Blackshirts haven't had much time for excuses all season, and that was true again Friday. Iowa made the play it needed. Nebraska didn't. The Hawkeyes won.
And now NU, with questions all over the field, goes into the offseason needing to figure out just how its defense goes about reaching the level this year's unit got to.
"We just didn't get a stop when we needed to," linebacker Nick Henrich said. "We lost some momentum, and at the end of the day the defense just has to move on to the next play."