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The Morning After: Row The Boat

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An impressive ten-win season comes down to rooting for one rival to defeat another rival while the Hawkeyes sit idle.

Syndication: HawkCentral
Kirk Ferentz beat Scott Frost again, but still needs help from PJ Fleck to win the Big Ten West.
Joseph Cress/Iowa City Press-Citizen / USA TODAY NETWORK

Another week, another win and another day filled with mixed emotions. Despite the change in game day from Saturday to Friday, Hawkeye fans were again left with the same feeling of despair for most of Iowa’s season finale against Nebraska on Black Friday. For many, it was a question of how much that pit in their stomach was related to overeating on Thanksgiving and how much was watching this football team.

It was, again, not pretty. The Hawkeye offense continued to be the same roller coaster ride we’ve been on all season, but this final regular season game came with an extra loopty-loop for Iowa fans as Kirk Ferentz pulled new starter Alex Padilla at the half for former starter Spencer Petras.

Padilla, in his half, completed 6 of 14 passes for 76 yards as the Iowa offense managed just six points. But that doesn’t exactly tell the whole story. Padilla and tight end Sam LaPorta had a touchdown wiped off the board on their first drive after the officials on the field disagreed with both their initial assessment of the play and rules expert Mike Pereira on what would have been a game-tying one-yard pass. The pass was a beautiful play call that likely doesn’t see the light of day if the officials don’t spot Tyler Goodson 34 of a yard short of where he actually landed on a third and goal run from the 13.

It as the beginning of a very rough day for the officiating crew and perhaps the best looking drive Iowa had all half but the result was Nebraska 7, Iowa 0 all the same. The Hawkeyes continued to find success running the ball against Nebraska throughout the first half, but saw two drives stall out in Nebraska territory to manage just two beautiful Caleb Shudak field goals before intermission.

In a move that caught just about everyone off guard, Kirk Ferentz and staff went to the bullpen at the half and inserted former starter Spencer Petras into the lineup as Iowa looked to mount what seemed like an impossible comeback. The Hawkeye defense struggled mightily to contain redshirt freshman quarterback Logan Smothers in his first career start as he ended the first half five for five passing to go with a game-high 64 yards rushing and a rushing TD.

A QB change seemed like one of the least necessary halftime adjustments and yet it was made and the Hawkeyes seemed to respond.

Petras looked much like Petras has looked all season upon his return and yet that sinking feeling in Hawkeye fans’ stomachs slowly started to fade as the second half played out, as if someone had unbuttoned that top button on their pants after the Thanksgiving feast and poured themselves a nice carbonated beverage.

That is, of course, because at the end of the day Nebraska is Nebraska and for all the hand-wringing about Kirk Ferentz and his at times questionable decisions (such as replacing his starting QB when QB play was not to blame for anything that was going wrong in the first half of a must-win game), Scott Frost is still the head coach at Nebraska.

After fumbling away a scoring opportunity at the six yard line and giving up a 94-yard scoring drive on the ensuing drive, the Hawkeye defense and special teams units returned to their normal state of operations while the Huskers returned to what has become their equilibrium in the second half of games not just this season but for the entire tenure of Frost at Nebraska.

Iowa put together a second consecutive quality drive, this time coming away with Shudak’s third field goal of the day, before LeVar Woods’s group turned the game on its head with a blocked punt by Henry Marchese returned for a Kyler Fisher touchdown. In that instant, all the consternation about Iowa’s struggles and seemingly every bounce going Nebraska’s way faded away and the outcome seemed all but locked in.

The Hawkeyes would go on to put ten more points on the board with offense while the defense held Nebraska to 79 total yards and no points on their next four possessions. Phil Parker’s group came away with a safety and two turnovers during those final four possessions and locked up another one-possession loss for Scott Frost.

The victory drops Nebraska to 3-9 on the season, their worst winning percentage since 1957, moving them to 15-29 in the four years under Scott Frost and 34-48 since the Huskers chose to evaluate Iowa as a program.

The Hawkeyes, with the win, move to 10-2 on the year for their highest winning percentage since 2015. It’s the third consecutive season Iowa will finish with a winning percentage above .750, pushing them to 34-11 during Frost’s time in Lincoln and 63-23 since that 2014 collapse against the Huskers.

Iowa retained three of four trophies and extended winning streaks over Nebraska and Minnesota to seven straight seasons, their streak against the Cyclones to six games amidst the most successful stretch in the program’s history and their streak against Illinois to eight consecutive years.

Now, Hawkeye fans are left wanting just one more win. But this time it comes from our hated disliked neighbors to the north. Iowa now sits and waits for the Minnesota Gophers to take down the Wisconsin Badgers for a return trip to Indianapolis. Despite all the success, Iowa is still need need of help and lacks control over their own destiny yet again.

So now, we sit and we wait. Rather than bask in the glory of a ten-win season, objectively one of the most successful seasons of the last two decades, Hawkeye fans now sit on the edge of their seats this Saturday and root for a coach and a team we collectively do not like.

There will soon be a time for reflection and perhaps celebration, but for now it’s time to row the boat.