“I mean what are we talking about? It’s football.” - Kirk Ferentz (post game)
It wasn’t until after Iowa earned their 6th consecutive victory over Nebraska that the fireworks truly started. Nebraska head coach Scott Frost complained to the media that someone on Iowa’s sideline was clapping, and it was leading to the snap issues they were having during the first half. Kirk Ferentz wasn’t having it an dropped an eye roll that would make teenage girls jealous.
going in the Kirk Ferentz reaction folder pic.twitter.com/6rJSUdqNHm— Heavens! (@HeavensFX) November 29, 2020
Tale of the turnovers
It was another game between the border rivals that came down to the final possession. While Iowa has looked much better than Nebraska during much of the season, Nebraska was able to avoid the issue that has plagued them most this season, turnovers, until the 4th quarter.
With a 3 point lead early in the 4th quarter, Iowa is forced to punt from their own end of the field. The future All-American Tory Taylor once again shows what a weapon he is as he bombs a swinging kick that drifts on the returner. For the second time this season, the punt returner cannot handle the kick and special teams superstar Terry Roberts recovers the fumble.
When slowing the video way down, you can see Taylor kicks the ball with the tip of the ball down creating a less predictable flight (as opposed to a spiral that carries more like a pass).
The second 4th quarter turnover was the one that locked up the victory. Nebraska had just completed a big gain to push into Iowa territory with just over a minute to go needing a touchdown to win. As Martinez scans to his left, Chauncey Golston makes a big time play tossing the right guard to the side and finishing off Martinez. Golston can put this one not only on a highlight film, but in the textbooks as well. He perfectly closes on Martinez by putting his head on his throwing shoulder, left arm to the passing arm, and right arm around the quarterback’s waist. It is everything you want to see on a sack.
The ball floats in the air and is caught by the ever alert Zach VanValkenburg. Because the ball does not carom forward, it is ruled a fumble and recovery. Through six games, VanValkenburg now has an amazing four fumble recoveries. With this being officially ruled a fumble, it ended Iowa’s consecutive games with an interception streak.
Move them back
Through 6 games, the number that continues to jump off the page is the number of tackles for loss that are being generated by the Hawkeye defense.
When running a jet sweep, an offensive coordinator would not normally be concerned about the defensive tackle ruining the play on the outside. As we know, Daviyon Nixon is not a normal player. Iowa’s defensive line runs a twist with both defensive ends looping to the inside behind the defensive tackles. Nixon takes an outside release and shoots the gap between the offensive guard and tackle. That is just the first step, as he uses his impressive agility to beat the receiver to his spot and then toss him down like a big brother toying with his younger sibling.
Nixon wasn’t done there as he consistently punished the right side of Nebraska’s offensive line. It keeps happening, but each time I’m equally impressed as he beats a lineman and then finishes the tackle with a lineman still holding on to him for dear life.
That right guard is hoping no one else watches this film.
Iowa has found a trio of linebackers who are playing at a really high level at this point in the season. We were quick to find out how much of an impact not having Seth Benson and Jack Campbell was in the opening game against Purdue. Nick Niemann, the veteran of the group, has settled into his role at WILL by racking up 29 tackles in his past two games.
Campbell is the one from that group who continues to open my eyes during the rewatch. I’m pretty sure I’ve mentioned it nearly each week he has played, but his ability to cover ground is especially exceptional given his 6’5” 243 pound frame.
He starts as in interior linebacker on the opposite side of the field to where the zone read play is headed. Once he sees the play, his instincts take over as he shoots the seam and finishes off the tackle for loss. The speed at which he closes from the opposite side of the field is truly a rare ability. It is comical watching the right tackle try to make a block on him but he isn’t able to get within six feet of Campbell.
Side note: I would not recommend trying to read a guy like Nixon with Campbell attacking the other option. It will not end well for the offense.
Nebraska has a well time screen pass, and everything is looking like a big play as the ball is released. The issue is that Campbell is just too quick and the right guard, yes him again, whiffs on his block. Instead of a big play for the Huskers, it is a two yard loss to set up 2nd and 22.
Play off the run
It is no secret that Iowa wants to dominate the ground game. Sophomore Tyler Goodson showed the full trust of the coaches as he recorded a career high 30 carries. Nebraska’s run defense was shredded the week before against Illinois, but performed much better against Iowa. During his post game, Kirk Ferentz mentioned that Nebraska did a few new things up front and mixed up gap coverages. It took until a few halftime adjustments before Iowa was able to mount any movement on the ground.
A team who is struggling to stop the run needs to get more guys involved and help prevent a cutback as the defense flows to the ball. Iowa took advantage of boundary corner leaving the receiver once he sees Spencer Petras open up for the handoff. Instead, Petras whips around to hit Brandon Smith who is coming back for a screen. Alaric Jackson peels off the line to be the lead blocker as Smith picks up 12 yards.
Iowa came back to this play in the 4th quarter but the pass was a little low and dropped by Smith as he tried to catch it and get up field.
One of my favorite plays that Iowa is running this year is the skinny post off of play action. From shotgun, the fake to Sargent brings the play side linebacker forward two yards. That is just enough to create a passing lane to Ihmir Smith-Marsette who does an excellent job hanging on to the pass as the safety takes his legs out and flips him over.
One of Iowa’s most effective run concept this year has been misdirection off of a quarterback reverse pivot. Near the goal line, Iowa uses this concept, but with play action to hit Tyrone Tracy Jr for a touchdown. The reverse pivot take a little extra time, and creates a lot of traffic in the middle of the field. After Tracy fakes his crash block, he crosses the field for an open touchdown. This is the same concept Tracy scored on last year against Rutgers.
One of my favorite play calls of the game was on 3rd and 8 in the 3rd quarter. Iowa has meshing routes on both sides of the field. To the boundary, Brandon Smith sets a rub for Tyler Goodson running a wheel route out of the backfield, which was well covered by Nebraska. To the field side, Sam LaPorta’s route forces the safety, who is covering Nico Ragaini in the slot, to wait and go behind him. Ragaini runs a whip route and is wide open as he breaks to the sideline. It is a pass well short of the sticks but an easy first down. I’d really like to see more of these types of routes to get guys like Ragaini, Tracy, or Smith-Marsette. It creates a lot of pressure on the defense to not overplay the shallow cross and would allow those guys a chance to make plays in the open field.
Cumulative effect of the run game
As mentioned earlier, the run game was a real struggle in the first half. Nebraska did an excellent job limiting Iowa’s ability to consistently pick up 4 to 5 yards and kept Iowa’s offense from being able to dictate down and distance.
In the 3rd quarter, Iowa was not able to break big runs, but began to stay on schedule with 4 to 6 yard carries. It wasn't anything that would traditionally be put on a highlight reel, but it was an important step for this offense to maintain their commitment to running the ball. Goodson carried the ball 19 times for 87 yards, 4.6 ypc, in the second half.
The effect of those carries is not a touchdown run, but an important first down carry where Goodson breaks the first tackle and then, along with the help of a few lineman, move a pile of Nebraska defenders an additional 5 yards downfield. This allows Iowa to keep draining the clock and also pushes them into field goal range.
All of these runs helped to open up play action for one of the most important plays of the game. Following a short loss on first down, Iowa needs to find a way to keep moving the chains and eating more clock. With the success of the run game, a simple play action waggle goes for a big gain and first down.
Charlie Jones has brought a spark to Iowa’s special teams with his fearless punt returning. After two big punt returns, Nebraska started kicking short or to the sidelines. In return, Nebraska only averaged 37 yards per punt and just 29 net yards. Those numbers helped flip the field in Iowa’s advantage numerous times.
Keith Duncan was the Big Ten Special Teams Player of the Week with his 4 made field goals, but I feel a case could be made for both Taylor and Jones for what they do to help Iowa in the field position battle.
Traditionally a victory over Nebraska leads the Hawkeyes into a long break prior to a bowl game. This year, they will not be able to enjoy the win for quite as much time, but we as fans sure can soak this one in for as long as we want. I’ll be clapping for a while.