10 things we learned from Nebraska's loss to Iowa
Here are 10 of our biggest takeaways from Nebraska's 26-20 road loss to Iowa on Friday afternoon...
1. Nebraska is a flawed team, and that probably won’t change this season
It’s to the point now where you could probably copy and paste all the things that went wrong in a Nebraska loss from week to week.
Offensively, the Huskers couldn’t run the ball consistently, couldn’t throw it downfield, had costly bad snaps, and seal the defeat with a sack and lost fumble on the final play.
Adrian Martinez’s return as the starter gave NU some life, but all of the same miscues around him remained.
Defensively, the Huskers forced a turnover, held up pretty well against Iowa’s run game, and forced the Hawkeyes to settle for three field goals in five trips to the red zone. But the Blackshirts eventually worse down, as UI ran 28 times for 94 yards in the second half.
And of course, there were the momentum-changing plays on special teams, highlighted by Cam Taylor-Britt’s muffed punt return that allowed Iowa to kick the go-ahead field goal.
Nebraska is what it is – a flawed team in many ways that is clearly nowhere close to figuring out any solutions to its problems.
Friday was another wash, rinse, and repeat performance in many ways, which has become expected in 2020. It’s unlikely that much will change the rest of the way.
2. Martinez bounces back in return to starting role
Nebraska’s quarterback carousel took another turn this week, as Nebraska went back to junior Adrian Martinez as its starter one game after being replaced by redshirt freshman Luke McCaffrey.
The switch wasn’t unexpected, as McCaffrey looked completely overwhelmed in his first start last week against Illinois. But Martinez’s poise still seemed to give Nebraska’s offense a bit of a lift.
Martinez completed 18-of-20 passes for 174 yards while rushing for a touchdown in the first quarter. He broke his own single-game record with a 90.0-percent completion rate, bettering his 25-of-29 performance (86.2 percent) against Minnesota in 2018.
The Huskers also still made sure to get McCaffrey involved early, as Frost said the plan going in was to put McCaffrey in the game on the third offensive series.
He completed three of his five passes for 21 yards and rushed five times for 42 yards.
Martinez’s fumble in the final seconds ultimately cost NU the game, but it was hardly the sole reason for the loss. How he responded to his benching and played on Friday makes it clear he’s the guy going forward.
3. Jurgens’ snaps continue to be a major problem
Cam Jurgens has started the past 17 games in which he’s played at center for Nebraska, and the same problems he had snapping the football in his debut continue to happen through start 17.
Whether it’s due to nerves, focus, injuries, or something else, merely snapping the football has been a liability with Jurgens far too often.
They were bad again on Friday, including one drive late in the second quarter where he snapped low at Martinez’s feet for a four-yard loss and then sailed one over Martinez’s head for a 19-yard fumble.
Frost finally decided to pull Jurgens for senior Matt Farniok, who started at center at Northwestern when Jurgens was out with an injury.
But when the Huskers returned to action to start the third quarter, Jurgens was back on the field. To his credit, he didn’t have any noticeable issues with his snaps for the rest of the game.
Afterward, Frost said that some of Jurgens’ struggles early on were caused by Iowa’s sideline simulating the “clap” signal to snap the ball. We’ll get to that next…
4. Examining Clapgate
As mentioned, Frost pointed out during his post-game interview that players or coaches on Iowa’s sideline were clapping in a manner that simulated Martinez’s pre-snap clap to signal he was ready for the ball.
“There was clapping going on on (Iowa’s) sideline,” Frost said. “Cam heard that clap and thought it was the quarterback clapping. We discussed it with officials, and it didn’t happen in the second half.”
Clips from the TV broadcast were circling social media during and after the game showing some examples of Iowa coaches clapping before NU snaps.
That might explain why Jurgens suddenly had no issues with his snaps after halftime, but Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz seemed annoyed, to say the least, when asked about Frost’s claim after the game.
“What the hell are we talking about?” Ferentz said. “Like, it’s stupid, right? I have no idea. Plus, I saw across the field (Nebraska) had a little clap routine for third downs or something, I don’t know. This is stuff - I’m in my 22nd year - I’ve never even heard or thought about that. What are we talking about?
“The next thing you know, we’re going to be treating this like golf… In golf, nobody’s allowed to say anything, right? Sorry. No.”
5. Robinson had his best game of 2020
It was only a matter of time before the volume of touches Wan’Dale Robinson had been getting the past few games translated into more production, and Friday was just that.
The sophomore receiver racked up 117 yards of total offense on a combined 15 touches, including a career-high nine catches for 75 yards and six rushes for 42 yards.
Of that total, 73 of those yards came on seven touches in the first half. His last catch of the game was an impressive sliding grab with 1:30 remaining to move Nebraska into Iowa territory for a chance to win.
Robinson has now posted back-to-ball efforts of at least 100 all-purpose yards following the 120 he had last week against Illinois.
6. The run defense did its job
Maybe the most concerning matchup for Nebraska coming into the game was how its defense would hold up against Iowa’s rushing attack, especially after getting gashed by a much weaker Illinois run game six days earlier.
But the Blackshirts more than held their own in that regard, keeping the Hawkeyes to 129 yards on 45 carries (2.9 yards per rush).
Not only that, but NU also matched Iowa’s physicality with punishing hits and adjusted to the cut-back runs that had burned them so many times in the past.
The problem was that as Nebraska’s offense started to sputter in the second half, the wear and tear started to show on the front seven as the game wore on. The runs that were only getting Iowa 2-3 yards eventually started netting 5-6, which allowed the Hawkeyes to hold the ball for 18:38 after halftime.
Tyler Goodson, who rushed 30 times for a game-high 111 yards, tallied 87 of those yards on 19 carries in the second half. He had just 24 yards at the half.
Still, to put that performance into perspective, Iowa had averaged 244.2 yards rushing in its past five games vs. Nebraska, including 6.2 yards per carry.
7. NU still has zero threat of a downfield passing game
Maybe it’s because defenses are playing deep in coverage and forcing Nebraska to nickel and dime its way down the field on every drive?
Maybe receivers aren’t getting the separation they need to get open on longer routes? Or perhaps NU’s quarterbacks are just not seeing open targets downfield?
Whatever is the reason, the Huskers haven’t had a semblance of a vertical passing game all season, and Friday was no different.
Nebraska attempted just two passes of longer than 20 yards, according to PFF. One of those was completed, but it took an incredible effort by tight end Austin Allen along the right sideline and a favorable replay review for it to happen.
Martinez was as efficient as could be in connecting on 18 of his 20 passing attempts, but when only five throws travel longer than 10 yards, that high of percentage is to be expected.
8. Bootle’s first interception was a bright spot
Dicaprio Bootle had played in 41 career games with 30 starts and broke up 23 passes as a Husker coming into Friday’s contest.
Finally, with 11:44 left in the second quarter, the senior cornerback hauled in the first interception of his collegiate career.
Bootle admitted that one of his goals this offseason was to finally get his first interception. To make it even better, the pick spotted NU at midfield and led to a field goal that trimmed the deficit to 10-6.
Bootle has been targeted by opposing quarterbacks a team-high 20 times this season and has only allowed 12 catches (a 60-percent completion rate).
9. Culp has been a significant upgrade
After missing a 38-yard chip shot in the second quarter at Northwestern, Connor Culp has been automatic as Nebraska’s placekicker.
The graduate transfer from LSU knocked in two field goals from 31 and 39 yards out on Friday, improving him to 9-of-10 on the season and giving him six consecutive makes.
Yes, all 10 of his attempts this year have come from inside of 40 yards.
But considering where Nebraska’s kicking game was a year ago, there’s a case for Culp single-handedly making kick the most improved position on the team.
10. Seeing Miller on the sideline was the best part of the day
Six days ago, Collin Miller was being carted out of Memorial Stadium and taken to a local hospital after suffering a neck injury vs. Illinois.
On Friday, the senior inside linebacker was walking around and firing up his teammates on the sideline.
Miller suffered a spinal concussion, which is characterized by a temporary sensory impairment and motor weakness. A couple of days later, he was at NU’s practices watching his team get ready for Iowa.
It’s unlikely that the Husker team captain plays another down this season, given his injury's seriousness. But to see him on his feet and full of emotion during Friday’s game was one of the highlights of the day.