football Edit

10 things we learned from Nebraska's loss at Iowa

1. Armstrong's toughness wasn't enough

For much of this season Tommy Armstrong has earned the respect of his teammates, coaches, and Nebraska’s fan base for his toughness and resiliency in playing through one injury after another.

On Friday, though, his heart and toughness weren’t nearly enough.

Armstrong clearly wasn’t the same player he was earlier in the year, as his hamstring injury hindered him from the very first hit he took on the opening possession on through the final whistle.

He ended the day completing just 13-of-35 passes for 125 yards while rushing six times for 13 yards.

2. Quarterback injuries took their toll

Because both Armstrong and Ryker Fyfe (wrist) were far from 100 percent for the game, Nebraska’s offense could never seem to find an identity against a physical and sound Iowa defense.

Armstrong just couldn’t get on the same page with his receivers the entire day, and as a result the Hawkeyes were able to key in on stopping the run and essentially made NU one-dimensional.

The Huskers basically had a recipe for disaster in how their offensive game plan unfolded, as they threw the ball a season-high 37 times for just 127 yards while running it 31 times, the second-fewest total this year.

3. Nebraska was not mentally ready to play

Unlike its previous two losses this season, Friday marked the first time that Nebraska didn’t come ready to play in any facet.

The Wisconsin loss in overtime had great effort and came down to the final play, while the Huskers ran into an absolute buzzsaw at Ohio State against one of the best teams in college football.

This one was different. The Hawkeyes weren’t much better if better at all than Nebraska, but they came in ready to play and executed with confidence from the opening kickoff. In many ways, Iowa just wanted this one more.

4. Iowa was the tougher team today

Not only did Iowa play with an extra gear on both sides of the ball, the Hawkeyes dominated in the most important area of all the entire game - in the trenches.

Nebraska’s front seven was constantly moved backwards at the point of attack by Iowa’s offensive line, and the Huskers couldn’t get much of any push off the ball to establish the run.

Iowa’s offensive and defensive plans aren’t fancy. They rely on steady execution and winning at the line of scrimmage. The Huskers simply couldn’t match that on either side.

5. Special teams were as bad as ever

When asked about the struggles of the special teams earlier in the season, head coach Mike Riley did his best to stay positive and not be overly critical.

Following the loss to Iowa, he didn’t pull any punches. Riley said Friday’s performance was even less than the “mixed bag” he used to describe the special teams a few weeks ago.

Shanked punts, poor coverage and little to nothing in the return game summed up an all-around “lousy” effort for the Huskers’ special teams, and they would be well served to make some major adjustments in every area during bowl practices.

6. Deep ball was there, Huskers just couldn't connect

Yes, Nebraska needed to do a far better job of establishing the run against Iowa. But it’s hard to completely fault them for taking the shots they did downfield through the air.

The Huskers knew going into the game that one way they could attack the Hawkeyes’ defense was to stretch the field with deep passes, and the opportunities were definitely there.

Despite having several chances at potential touchdowns on those plays, the timing was just off all night and none of them connected. Had one or more been caught, it could have changed the entire tone of the game.

7. Explosive plays changed the game

Aside from the loss at Ohio State, Nebraska's defense had been significantly better at preventing explosive plays than it was a year ago.

That certainly wasn't the case on Friday, as Iowa turned a defensive struggle into a highlight reel by ripping off its three longest plays of the season all in one game.

The Huskers over-pursued against the run and took bad angles to the ball, making it easy for the Hawkeyes to make one cut and find nothing but open field. In all, Iowa averaged 6.6 yards per play compared to 3.2 by Nebraska.

8. Ozigbo is clearly in the doghouse 

We talked last week about how Devine Ozigbo losing the No. 2 running back job to freshman Tre Bryant might be more than a result of Ozigbo still recovering from an ankle injury.

Riley said on Monday that the sophomore was as healthy as he’d been since the beginning of the season and was ready to become more of a factor in NU’s running game.

Well, Ozigbo played merely a handful of snaps against Iowa and did not receive a single carry, even when starter Terrell Newby temporarily had to leave the game with a minor injury.

9. A lot of improvement was made, but NU ends on sour note

Even with the loss, Nebraska still ended the regular season with four more victories than it had in 2015 ago to mark its biggest two-year turnaround since 1961-62.

The Huskers also will still likely end up in a solid bowl game with a chance to get to 10 wins for the first time since 2012 and end a streak of 13 straight seasons with at least four losses.

That all being said, a 30-point loss to a border-state rival to close out the regular season is a very hard pill to swallow.

10. Next month will define Nebraska's 2016 season

Nebraska will now sit back and wait for its eventual bowl game destination and opponent to be announced, but regardless of the matchup, this next month will ultimately define how we look back on the 2016 season.

The Huskers will take a few days off before getting their bowl practices underway, and when they do get back to work the tone needs to be established right away that this team must finish strong.

The good news is Riley’s teams have traditionally performed well in bowl games throughout his career, and we saw how the NU responded last year in the Foster Farms Bowl.

Replicating a performance like that would go a long way in changing the feeling how successful this season actually was.