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By Seth Roberts
LINCOLN, Neb. — Iowa’s offense has been one of the Big Ten’s best all season long.
But it sure didn’t look like it in a 20-7 loss to No. 22 Nebraska on Friday.
Iowa didn’t score until midway through the fourth quarter, and only held the ball for 22 minutes of game time. Eight of the Hawkeyes’ 12 drives lasted fewer than six plays.
“[The Cornhuskers] work hard and we didn’t get it done, up-front and at all positions,” offensive lineman Adam Gettis said. “We can do better.”
There are plenty of excuses for fans to use. Blame the roughly 85,000 screaming Husker fans in Memorial Stadium. Blame the tough Blackshirt defense. Blame the short week of practice that comes with preparing for a Friday game.
Blame whatever you want, but the fact remains that the Iowa attack lacked any potency on a warm, windy day in Nebraska.
“We couldn’t do anything in the passing game,” head coach Kirk Ferentz said. “… Especially in the first half, so we never really got much balance and weren’t able to sustain drives.”
The Hawkeyes had five drives in the first half. James Vandenberg completed four of his 10 pass attempts. He finished with a somewhat better 16-of-35 line, but five of those completions — and 47 of his 182 yards — came on the scoring possession in the fourth quarter.
Marvin McNutt’s numbers were similarly misleading; the senior wideout had four catches for 29 yards. That’s his lowest yardage total since the Ball State game last season, and 28 of the yards came on two catches in the same late drive in which the Hawkeyes finally scored and Vandenberg padded his numbers.
The fourth quarter was also responsible for 11 of Iowa’s 18 first downs. When the math is done the opposite way, the Hawkeyes made the field crew move the chains just seven times through the first three quarters.
“[Nebraska] tackled well and kept us contained all game,” Vandenberg said. “We did a lot of things to shoot ourselves in the foot — we could have had a first down or two, but we didn’t execute as well as we needed to against a good defense.”
The Cornhuskers’ defense certainly performed better than it did in a 45-17 blowout loss to Michigan last week. Linebacker Lavonte David had eight tackles, an 11-yard sack, and also forced and recovered a fumble. Alfonzo Dennard was matched up against McNutt and played a big role in holding the star receiver to almost 84 yards under his season average.
“Dennard is a hell of a corner and he did a good job with his coverage,” Ferentz said. “… We anticipated them taking [Dennard] and matching them up, I thought that was a logical assumption. We just didn’t do a good enough job finding other avenues.”
So Iowa punted on five of its first six drives — the lone exception was when time ran out at the end of the first half. The Hawkeyes crossed midfield on just three of their first seven possessions; they punted twice and fumbled on the Nebraska 48-yard line on the third opportunity.
Iowa’s longest drive before the fourth quarter, both in terms of time elapsed and snaps, lasted 4:44 and was a nine-play, 37-yard possession that ended with an Eric Guthrie punt on fourth-and-13.
“We needed to punch through early and maybe get a score, and we weren’t able to do that,” Vandenberg said. “The defense got us some good field position and we were able to make some first downs, and I felt we were moving the ball — and then, we’d sputter out.
“That starts with me.”