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The Morning After: Nebraska and the Regular Season

Iowa defeats Nebraska on a last second Keith Duncan field goal (twice).

Iowa v Nebraska
This was probably a seven yard quarterback sneak.
Photo by Steven Branscombe/Getty Images

We’re now at the end of the regular season journey and what a journey it’s been as a fan of the Iowa Hawkeyes. Like many of you, I have week-to-week angst when Iowa doesn’t score 40 points a game against inferior competition. I wonder to myself if there are better options, either on the coaching staff or even on the depth chart. I also know that if the spread of a game ever gets more than two touchdowns to hammer it for the opponent because we’re not going to cover.

But you know what? When all is said and done, you know what you’re going to get with a Kirk Ferentz coached team. You’re going to get a stout defense (praise to Phil Parker) and you’re going to have play calling that falls to the far left side of the aggressive scale. If you know what is going to happen, and it happens in a fairly successful fashion, what the hell else can you hope for? It would be like going to an AC/DC concert and then bitching that you didn’t hear any Taylor Swift songs. If you don’t like it, why not go root for one of the blue bloods like Alabama or Ohio State or Taylor Swift?

It’s easy to sit back and say that Iowa should be 12-0 because they could have beaten Michigan, Penn State, or Wisconsin if they were more aggressive on offense. It’s easy to look at the success at Ohio State and notice that they replaced their coach this year and didn’t lose a bit. But is it really that easy? How successful have former elite teams such as Florida State, Miami, Texas, or even the elite of the elite, Nebraska been doing lately?

As a reminder, Ferentz has been at Iowa for 21 years. He has a plan that he uses year after year and he makes it work. There’s a lot of bitching in the vocal minority about his ability to change or adjust but that’s not who he is or ever pretended that he was. Although Iowa lost a handful of players early to the NFL last year, this year’s team was looked at as one that would be on the high end of a typical Ferentz team. Guess what? After 12 games and nine wins, we were all correct.

In fact, this might have been one of the best years record wise for a Hawkeye team with a non-mobile quarterback. I love Nate Stanley and the heart and soul that he brings every single week, not to mention his legendary quarterback sneak, but he makes the expression “molasses in January” seem like the hare in the ‘Tortoise and the Hare’ fable. The years with the best win-loss success in recent memory have been led by more mobile quarterbacks like C.J. Beathard (2015 - 12 wins), Ricky Stanzi (2009 - 11 wins), and Drew Tate (2004 - 10 wins). Will Spencer Petras or Peyton Mansell be more mobile next season? Absolutely. Will this lead to a more prolific offense? Possibly, only time will tell.

As you all know by now, Iowa defeated Nebraska 27-24 yesterday on a game winning field goal by All-American kicker Keith Duncan** (if he doesn’t earn some kind of All-American honors, the process is more of a sham than the refs in the game yesterday). If you want a more detailed look at some of the game highlights, you can check out our article from yesterday for coverage.

As the game got tighter and tighter in the second half and ultimately tied in the fourth quarter, I asked myself (and others) why I was nervous when we all knew that the Iowa defense has been our rock the entire season. They deserved the benefit of the doubt and once again saved the day.

In fact, I would say that Iowa would not have won the game (in regulation at least) if the players didn’t have the composure that comes from playing for a veteran coach that just passed his mentor Hayden Fry for fourth all-time in Big Ten victories. A less composed team would have been complaining once the targeting call against Ihmir Smith-Marsette was reversed on the last drive. Complaining and unfocused would not have allowed them to complete another 20+ yard pass, this one to true freshman Sam LaPorta which then led to Duncan nailing his winning kick twice.

How about A.J. Epenesa? I do a weekly look at him so I won’t go into too much detail but let’s start with 14 tackles. What? That’s crazy. This included 4.5 tackles for loss and two sacks. What really pisses me off is the blowhard Matt Millen saying more than once during game that all Epenesa is missing to reach his potential is a better motor. Pardon my french but he’s fucking crazy. I believe his exact quote was “inconsistent with his motor”. Between this and comparing Stanley to future Hall of Famer Ben Roethlisberger, I hope not to hear Millen anymore. He’s as bad at announcing as he was as a GM.

I honestly am not going to give Nebraska any more coverage than they already get from the media across the country. Another reason I love having Coach Ferentz in black and gold is I know that we won’t have a team full of pompous asses. In fact, after Duncan made the game winning kick and pointed and gestured toward the Nebraska bench, I bet he was reminded after the game that he should act like he’s been there before, and I’m ok with that. The last I’ll say about Nebraska is that I’m sure they’ll be predicted by many next season as west conference champions and you heard it here first that you should ignore that like every other year. Until they get some more class in the program from the top on down, it will remain a shit show.

Back to the Hawkeyes. A win in the regular season finale in a season where a decent bowl game is on the horizon leads to 30 days of anticipation and excitement. While we will spend a month fretting over which players will leave for the NFL early, and maybe even skip the bowl game, we also will get to talk about another 15 practices and the opportunity of some younger players to get more reps.

We also will get to discuss how fun it’s been to watch the growth of some of our seniors like Stanley, Michael Ojemudia, Kristian Welch, Brady Ross, Nate Wieting, Amani Jones, the Paulsen brothers, Brady Reiff, and Cedrick Lattimore. It won’t all be sugar and sunshine as we’ll disect the offense and the heretofore mentioned struggles.

Besides the seniors there are stories to be written on potential NFL first round draft picks Epenesa, Tristan Wirfs, and Alaric Jackson. There are stories on true freshman getting playing time like Tyler Goodson, Sam LaPorta, and Dane Belton. There are great stories with this team.

I loved the regular season this year. It went as predicted but that isn’t all bad. I’m proud to be a Hawkeye and I always will be. Could things be better at times, absolutely but I’ll support Iowa football through the highs (ten wins) and lows (seven wins) just as I will all Iowa sports teams.

** So as I was writing this I read on Twitter (from Chad Leistkow) that Duncan JUST got a scholarship? Is this true? Why didn’t he get his scholarship after beating Michigan in 2016? This seems like the biggest travesty ever. Potential Lou Groza award winner barely getting a scholarship.