Last week, Iowa dominated the game in the box score, but only eked out a 24-21 win. This week, Iowa put together an utterly dominant final scoreline, 38-17, but did so without an equally dominant box score. Nebraska actually outgained Iowa for the game (288 yards to 282), had far more first downs (20 to 14), and actually punted fewer times than Iowa (6 to 7). So how exactly did Iowa win so comfortably?
Well, they flipped the script from last week's game in a few key regards: field position and turnovers. A week ago, Michigan benefited from Iowa's propensity to cough the ball up (4 turnovers) and often started the ball in great position on the Iowa side of the field. This week, Iowa was the beneficiary of a team that didn't seem to want to hang onto the ball (Nebraska had 3 turnovers, as well as a turnover on downs) and had an incredible starting field position of their own 45-yard line. (Nebraska's average field position? Their own 22-yard line.) Iowa also started SEVEN drives in Nebraska territory; five of those drives ended in touchdowns. That'll do.
Iowa's defense was also quite handy at forcing turnovers. Anthony Hitchens and James Morris intercepted Nebraska QB Ron Kellogg III on back-to-back possessions at the start of the game (the second of which became Iowa's first touchdown of the game) and then Hitchens and Christian Kirksey were able to sandwich Nebraska RB Ameer Abdullah and force a much-needed fumble that Iowa turned into another touchdown, one that gave them much-needed breathing room (a 31-17 lead).
Oh, and WE STOPPED A FAKE PUNT, YOU GUYS. IOWA SNIFFED OUT A FAKE PUNT AND STOPPED IT DEAD IN ITS TRACKS. IT WAS A BLACK FRIDAY MIRACLE, YOU GUYS. SERIOUSLY, IT HAPPENED: IOWA ACTUALLY STOPPED A FAKE PUNT FROM BEING CONVERTED INTO A FIRST DOWN. HALLE-FREAKING-LUJAH.
But about that defensive performance... holy hell, was it good. (Again!) Iowa held Ameer Abdullah to 85 yards on 23 carries, a season-low for the Big Ten's leading rusher entering today. UCLA was the only other defense to keep Abdullah under 100 yards in a game this season.... and Iowa more or less kept him in check (give or take that drive at the start of the second half). That said, I'd be remiss if I didn't give some props to Abdullah, who is one tough sonofabitch. He suffered a couple nasty-looking injuries today (a painful-looking ankle sprain and a twisted-up arm on that aforementioned sandwich-tackle by Hitchens and Kirksey) and he returned to the game and kept playing after both incidents. I may dislike Nebraska, but I tip my cap to you, Mr. Abdullah -- you're one hell of a player.
Iowa's defense also wreaked havoc on Mr. Kellogg. The official stats say that he was sacked twice (once by Kirksey and once by Morris) and that Iowa recorded only three official QB hurries (one each by Kirksey, Morris, and Hitchens), but... he was pressured a whole hell of a lot more than that. He was also hit a whole hell of a lot more than that. I'm pretty sure that Kellogg is going to spend the remainder of this holiday weekend in an ice bath to recover from the tenderizing that the Iowa defenders delivered to him. He spent as much time on the Memorial Stadium turf as the football.
Remember how much we praised the Iowa linebackers after last week's efforts? Well, they did it again this week. Goddamn, they're playing at an incredibly high level right now. The level they've been at the last few weeks is the best we've seen out of Iowa LBs since the Angerer-Edds days in 2008-09, at least. Today's stats? Ho hum:
Kirksey: 11 tackles (3 TFL), 1 sack, 1 forced fumble, 1 pass break-up, 1 QB hurry
Morris: 10 tackles (4 TFL), 1 sack, 1 forced fumble, 1 interception, 1 pass break-up, 1 QB hurry
Hitchens: 7 tackles, 1 interception, 1 pass break-up, 1 QB hurry
Beasts, all of 'em. Next year's linebackers are gonna have some pretty damn big shoes to fill.
But, hey, Iowa DID score 38 points today -- all on offense! -- so we probably should talk about the offense, too, right? Yes, we should. The strong play out of the defense is one big reason for Iowa's turnaround in November (first three-game winning streak in November since 2008), but another key reason for Iowa winning these games? The offense has finally figured out how to score in the second half. Iowa scored 24 (!) points in the second half today; that's more points than they were scoring in ENTIRE GAMES earlier in Big Ten play. That's on the heels of 17 points against Michigan and 24 points against Purdue. Iowa scored 16 points -- COMBINED -- in the second halves of their first five conference games this year. Maybe -- just maybe -- ol' Greg Davis is making some pretty savvy halftime adjustments these days. (And, yes, yes, the quality of the defenses is also certainly a factor to consider here, but still.)
Related point: Iowa went 5/5 on red zone trips today... including FOUR TOUCHDOWN DRIVES. That's exactly the sort of thing Iowa WASN'T doing earlier in the season, which is why Iowa had uncomfortably close wins in their games against Minnesota and Iowa State and why they weren't able to pull off upsets against Ohio State or Wisconsin. When Iowa's scoring 30+ points, making solid halftime adjustments, scoring touchdowns when they venture into the red zone... well, when that all happens I find myself kind of warming up to this Greg Davis fella. He might have a future here after all. (Also: the call that led to that Kevonte Martin-Manley's key TD late in the third quarter, immediately after the fumble recovery? PERFECTO. Words cannot express how much I liked that call, especially as opposed to running Mark Weisman off tackle.)
Oh yeah: the running game. 156 yards on 45 carries (3.5 ypc) is not usually the stuff that legendary performances are made of, but it sure did the trick here. Weisman was at his hammering best, pounding away at Nebraska to the tune of 73 yards and 2 well-earned TD runs. (He also had the most quintessentially Weisman TD run of the season, a run where he bitchmade no fewer than four Nebraska defenders, overturned on review; naturally, he finished off the TD on the following play anyway.) Weisman brought the beef to Iowa's rushing attack and he did just fine (most of his ineffective running plays came at the end of the game, when Iowa was just trying to bleed clock)... but, man, if I was to quibble with one aspect of the offense from this game (and quibbling is ALL we're doing when Iowa beats Nebraska 38-17 IN LINCOLN -- let's not lose sight of that accomplishment, friends), it would be the fact that Canzeri only had 7 touches (6 carries, 1 reception). He picked up 88 total yards on those 7 touches, or 31% of Iowa's offensive production for the day. He averaged 12.6 yards per touch. Let's try and get him the ball a little bit more, okay? He's clearly one of Iowa's most dynamic playmakers on offense.
A few other thoughts:
- Another pretty heady road performance for Jake Rudock: 9/15, 126 yards, 2 TD, 0 INT, including a great throw on that aforementioned TD pass to KMM. Rudock missed the end of the game after a lineman awkwardly rolled up on his leg, but thankfully it sounds like he again avoided major injury and just sustained a minor knee sprain. Heal up and we'll see you at the bowl game, Jake. And good news: bowl games are on the road, too!
- Another red zone trip, another TD pass to C.J. Fiedorowicz. I could grouse about why it took Iowa so long to realize how to use this exceptional red zone weapon, but let's not worry about that right now. Let's just be happy that Iowa is making very good use of The Polish Hat lately.
- Punting is winning! Kornbrath nailed some beautiful punts today, pinning Nebraska deep in their own territory on a few occasions, which helped maintain Iowa's immense field position advantage. And speaking of punting... REMEMBER WHEN IOWA STOPPED THAT FAKE PUNT, YOU GUYS? WASN'T THAT AWESOME?
- Loved seeing Iowa go for it on fourth down early in the game, too. They weren't able to convert (thanks in part to a truly horrendous spot from the officials), but the process behind that decision was sound. We're not quite dealing with Kasino Kirk here yet, but... baby steps!