What a finale to the regular season that was.
Listen, I don’t buy or sell stock on opposing teams here. I keep it Iowa-centered.
But what the heck. Let’s get to it.
Stock down: Anything and everything Nebraska football
Nebraska began the season like bitcoin – this hot, trendy pick to win the Big Ten West. I’ll admit, considering how Nebraska finished out its season last year, I was somewhat intrigued.
Then the Husker stock plummeted. Now, it’s not even worth its weight in dirt. There is no such thing as currency in this Mad Max-type world where Scott Frost throws his players under the bus and routinely falls at the foot of an Iowa kicker.
I imagine life as a Nebraska fan is tough, but I have absolutely no sympathy. When you live in a constant state of denial and are infatuated with the past, this happens. I’ve never seen media members throw out all objectivity as those that drank the Kool-Aid in Frosttown.
Frost lives in a state of denial where nothing is his fault. It’s an incredible mix of blind self-awareness and hyper confidence. Or, as others would call it, a recipe for a 5-7 football program.
Anyway, back to Iowa.
Stock up: Kicker Keith Duncan
Keith Duncan is a weapon. He’s automatic.
Here’s a stat for you: Duncan scored more points against Big Ten opponents (80) than the entire Rutgers football program (51) this season.
Duncan closed out the year having made 10 of his last 12 field goals. On the season, he’s 29-for-30.
Iowa runs on (future Lou Groza winner) Duncan.
Stock up: Defensive end A.J. Epenesa
Another duh here.
I’ve said this earlier, but A.J. Epenesa’s 2019 season is like fine wine – it’s gotten better with age.
Here are Epenesa’s stats during Iowa’s first eight games:
21 tackles, 3.5 tackles for a loss, 3.5 sacks
Now, here are his numbers over the past four games:
24 tackles, nine tackles for a loss, 5.5 sacks, and three forced fumbles.
He’s a bull in a China shop.
AJ Epenesa (94) with the hesi/double swipe off the stunt.@ajepenesa24 sets it up w/ the hesi to draw out the hands/off-balance the blocker. Epenesa then perfectly times the swipe & knocks the blocker's hands away, giving him a clear path to the QB! #PassRush #Hawkeyes #NFLDraft pic.twitter.com/uTTmKsOZv6— DLineVids (@dlinevids1) December 4, 2019
This is the domination we’re used to seeing.
Stock down: Iowa’s second-half run defense
Iowa’s defense has been fantastic this season, but defending the run in the second half has been difficult at times.
After holding the Huskers to 71 yards in the first half, the Hawkeye defense gave up 113 yards on the ground in the second half.
It was a similar outing to the week prior, when Iowa surrendered 136 second-half rushing yards to Illinois, or to Nov. 9, when it gave up 151 yards to Wisconsin in the fourth quarter alone.
In all reality, Iowa should not have needed a last-second field goal to beat Nebraska. But the Huskers could run the ball fairly well in the second half, keeping Iowa’s offense off the field.
When Nebraska produced a 14-point third quarter, it dominated the time of possession, controlling the ball for more than 11 minutes. The Huskers had 81 rushing yards in the third quarter, too.
If Iowa’s defense shuts down Nebraska’s run game, this is a two-three score victory for the Hawkeyes.
Stock up: Running back Tyler Goodson
Keep. Giving. Goodson. The. Ball.
Just like Epenesa, it seems like Goodson just keeps getting better as the season progressed. Kirk Ferentz has slowly but surely transitioned Goodson into the driver’s seat of the Hawkeye backfield, and rightfully so.
Goodson ran for 116 yards on just 13 carries against Nebraska (8.9 yards per carry) and even ripped off a 55-yard score in the first quarter.
Oh, and this spin move? I could watch that over and over.
Goodson ended up being the Hawkeyes’ leading rusher in the regular season, netting 590 yards on the ground. He finished with 736 yards of total offense, second on the team to Ihmir Smith-Marsette.
Stock up: Wide receiver Ihmir Smith-Marsette
Speaking of Ihmir Smith-Marsette, he did just about everything against Nebraska.
Rushing touchdown? Check.
Kick return touchdown? Check.
He also caught a 22-yard pass, if that wasn’t already enough to impress you.
Fun fact: Iowa is undefeated when Smith-Marsette scores a touchdown this year.
I’m a firm believer that this Hawkeye receiving core is the best in program history, and Smith-Marsette is right at the core of it.
He’s so versatile. Smith-Marsette ranks fourth in the Big Ten in kick return average (25.8) of players with 10 or more returns. He also averages more than 16 yards per reception.
Essentially, Smith-Marsette is Iowa’s Swiss Army knife. I love it.