10 things we learned from Nebraska's loss to Iowa
Here are 10 of our biggest takeaways from Nebraska's 28-21 loss to Iowa on Friday afternoon...
1. Close all season, yet so far away
It’s borderline impressive how often Nebraska was able to compete with nearly every team on its schedule yet found one way after another to finish 3-9.
All of the stats behind the Huskers’ NCAA-record eight one-score losses in 2021 show just how improbable this season actually was.
NU finished the season with a +63 point margin on the year, and its three wins came by a total of 119 points. That marked the highest point margin by a team that finished at least six games under .500 in the AP Poll era.
The Huskers’ nine losses all were by single digits, also an FBS record, and an overall difference of 56 points.
Breaking it down to just Big Ten play, Nebraska was at an equal balance of 239 points scored and 239 allowed, yet it somehow finished 1-8 in the conference.
2. Close or not, 2021 was historically bad
Head coach Scott Frost lost his first six games to start his tenure at Nebraska in 2018. On Friday, he matched that mark by dropping the final six contests of 2021.
While there are layers to how the Huskers came up short so often this season, the final record still places as one of the worst finishes in program history.
The 3-9 record marked NU’s worst winning percentage (.250) since it went 1-9 in 1957 (.100).
Nebraska won just one conference game, its lowest total since 1958, for a conference winning percentage of just .111, the lowest since the 1909 team went 0-1-1 in the Missouri Valley.
Frost is now 15-29 through his first four seasons in Lincoln. That’s the worst record a Nebraska coach has had over four years since Bill Jennings went 15-34-1 from 1957-61.
3. Special teams were NU’s undoing all year
Nebraska's special teams have been an unmitigated disaster all year long, and Friday was the punctuation mark.
The Huskers weren't great by any means for the first three quarters in the third element, but the bottom finally fell out in the fourth.
Leading 21-9 with just over 14 minutes to play, Iowa brought pressure up the middle, blocked William Przystup's punt, and returned it for a touchdown. Even Frost said the game flipped completely on that play.
That marked the first time an opponent had taken a blocked punt for a touchdown since 2005 (Kansas).
Whether it's been game-winning punt returns for touchdowns, critical missed field goals and extra points, shanked punts, or awful decisions in the return game, the Huskers were at a significant disadvantage all season due to their special teams.
After the game, Frost was asked if the issues on Friday - and for the entire year, for that matter - would impact his decision on whether to hire a full-time special teams coordinator.
"I'm going to talk about hiring people later," Frost said.
4. Smothers wasn’t perfect, but he held his own
Few freshmen will fare well when being tasked to make their first career start against a conference rival on a short week.
So for Logan Smothers to come in and play as well as he did was one of the day's highlights for Nebraska.
The second-year freshman came in having appeared in just five career games with 11 total pass attempts. He completed 16-of-22 attempts for 198 yards while rushing a team-high 24 times for 64 yards and two touchdowns.
Smothers entered the game with 189 yards of total offense in his career.
He accounted for all 67 of NU's yards on the game's opening touchdown drive and completed his first seven passes of the day.
It wasn't perfect, though, as he lost a fumble early in the fourth quarter and threw the game-clinching interception with less than a minute to play.
But Smothers definitely changed the conversation about Nebraska's 2022 quarterback situation with his impressive debut.
5. Nebraska’s running game disappeared after halftime
In the process of building a 14-6 halftime lead, Nebraska ran the ball 27 times for 11 yards (4.1 ypc) compared to just five pass attempts.
However, when the game started to turn in the second half, the Huskers went away from the ground game almost entirely.
NU ran it 16 times for 18 yards in the third and fourth quarters. In the fourth, when Nebraska still didn’t trail until the 2:58 mark, it had just eight rushes for minus-1 yard.
Of the Huskers’ final 15 plays in the loss, 14 were passes. The only run was a keeper by Smothers for two yards. A running back didn’t touch the ball for the final 12 minutes of the game.
Frost admitted that Nebraska needed better and more consistent production from its traditional running game. But when the pressure got turned up late, the Huskers became almost completely one-dimensional.
6. Allen rewrites the record books
Potential All-Big Ten tight end and team captain Austin Allen didn’t get a pass thrown his way until the third quarter and had just two targets the entire game.
That’s an issue unto itself, but if nothing else, the junior at least made his opportunities count in a significant way.
Allen ended up with two catches for 55 yards on the day with grabs of 27 and 28 yards. That moved him up to 602 receiving yards on the season, breaking Junior Miller’s school record by a tight end (560) in 1978.
His 38 receptions on the year were also the most ever by an NU tight end.
Allen announced his decision to move on to the NFL earlier this week. While he would have taken a victory over any individual accolade, at least the Aurora, Neb., native ended his Husker career with a few positives.
7. Tannor stepped up
For a guy who was questionable to play on Friday after missing most of last week’s game at Wisconsin due to an injury, Caleb Tannor certainly answered the call.
The junior outside linebacker battled through whatever undisclosed ailment he was dealing with and had three tackles and two pass breakups.
Those stats might seem modest on the surface, but the timing and significance of his plays were vital in NU having the success it did defensively.
In the first quarter, he pressured Iowa quarterback Alex Padilla and batted a pass to set up a third down. Later, he broke up a third-and-10 pass from the NU 30-yard line with 43 seconds left in the first half.
In the third quarter, the 6-foot-3, 225-pounder also chased down a screen pass that turned a potentially big gain into a third and long for the Hawkeyes.
8. With the game on the line, Huskers turned to Belt at RB
Nebraska’s running back room was a mess most of the season, as no one solidified the No. 1 spot all year and left the position as one big carousel.
Rahmir Johnson, the closest thing to a bell-cow back, missed his second straight game due to injury.
That left Jaquez Yant, who didn’t play a single snap last week at Wisconsin, as the starter against Iowa.
Yant had an OK day, rushing 13 times for 44 yards. Marvin Scott III was the second running back in the game, but he finely carried the ball twice for seven yards.
When the game was on the line in the fourth quarter, though, the Huskers turned to walk-on Brody Belt.
After leading NU with 31 yards on seven attempts vs. the Badgers, Belt was the go-to back for the offense’s final three drives. He rushed two times for 14 yards and caught two passes for 10 yards.
9. The Huskers were at a loss for words
Frost didn’t have many answers for why this season was such a disappointment, and his players had no explanations.
To the Huskers’ credit, they continued to fight all year despite not tasting the reward of victory for the final two months of the season.
But those that took the post-game press conference podium on Friday were just as confused as anyone why things fell apart.
“It’s unfortunate that a team so great can do so many things good, and it just turns up bad,” cornerback Cam Taylor-Britt said. “I have no answers for this game, honestly. It just feels like it’s an ongoing dream, and it happens week in, week out.
“We hold some of the top teams in the country to a certain amount of points or yards, you know, doing our thing. Just one play or one hiccup just knocks the whole tower down.”
Asked what was missing for NU to get over the hump, linebacker Nick Henrich added: “I honestly do not know, but I know we are going to work and figure out what it is and do whatever it takes.”
10. Nebraska fans still showed up
While the team itself was erratic all season, Nebraska’s fan base stayed consistent until the very end.
Even with a three-win team facing a top-25 opponent that had won the past six meetings, 86,451 fans still filed into Memorial Stadium like always and did their part.
National college football media members acknowledged the support on social media, some even saying that NU fans deserved better than the current program’s product for their loyalty.
Fans were still dealt another heartbreaking loss for their efforts, but the players made sure their gratitude was known.
“The last one in the stadium, the fans showed up, and they were loud and proud,” Allen said. “Them showing up every weekend on a Black Friday game means a lot to me as a player and as a guy in the state. The support that they showed for a 3-9 football team was tremendous. I can not thank the fans enough for that.”